RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: There are a lot of nights where at this point, if you had come to me now, I wouldn`t be here for another 30 seconds.
CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: I just jumped. I just jumped and then you`re there on the split screen. We did it.
MADDOW: Think of me as your human safety net, my friend. I`m always here. Not usually.
All right. Thanks, my friend.
And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. Very happy to have you with us.
So, the great state of Kansas is a red state, has been for a long while now. In the 2016 presidential election, Kansas went for Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton by something like 20 points, 21 points. Just a blowout in 2016.
But two years after that blowout in the 2018 election, which just happened in November, Kansas voters elected a Democrat as their governor. Her name is Laura Kelly.
On that same night that Laura Kelly was elected Kansas governor, an incumbent congressman from Kansas, Kevin Yoder, he also lost his seat to a Democrat. He lost his congressional seat to a Native American gay Democratic woman named Sharice Davids.
And amid all the glass ceilings that Sharice Davids smashed through in order to get that seat off Kevin Yoder, it`s also just sort of a partisan wonder that there is a Democrat in the Kansas delegation, but Sharice Davids is just that.
And it kind of just didn`t stop on election night. Since midterm election night in November, there`s been a little mini landslide of incumbent Republican members of the state legislature switching parties in Kansas. Since election night, four different members of the Kansas state legislature ditched the Republican Party and proclaimed that henceforth they are Democrats. And, you know, I mean, still nobody`s going to argue that Kansas should be called a blue state, even with the defections of all of those state legislators since election night, both the state house and the Senate are still really bright red in Kansas.
But with Sharice Davids taking that Republican incumbent congressional seat and with Laura Kelly taking the governorship and with these four members of the state legislature flipping from Republican to Democrat, Kansas is still red, but it is starting to take on a sort of light purple tinge around the edges.
And here`s another thing that has just happened in Kansas. You might remember that before the midterm elections this year, our show actually spent a pretty good amount of time in Kansas. Specifically in a famous and historic town called Dodge City, which is fan-Gunsmoke-tastic.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Jacquelin (ph), you take Buell and you take the rest of your men and you get out of Dodge.
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MADDOW: You get out of Dodge.
Dodge City of "Gunsmoke" fame. Dodge City is in southwest Kansas. They still do celebrate the old "Gunsmoke" vibe. There is a Gunfighters Wax Museum there. Coincidence with the Kansas Teacher`s Hall of Fame. It`s an awkward pairing but, you know, they both pay rent.
These days, Dodge City`s industrial base is meat packing and that meat packing industry has attracted a lot of Hispanic workers and their families. Dodge City, Kansas, is now a majority minority town, it`s majority Hispanic.
The reason we ended up spending time there before the midterm elections this past year is because Republican elected officials in red state Kansas made some striking decisions when it came to voting in Dodge City, which is the largest majority minority community in that entire state.
When Laura Kelly, the Democrat, was running for governor in Kansas this past summer, the Republican she was up against was named Kris Kobach. He`s known nationally as someone of national profile in part because he was the head of President Trump`s sort of bogus and now disbanded Voter Fraud Commission. Kris Kobach has also made somewhat of a national name for himself in recent years trying to sell other states besides Kansas on policies that are designed to make it as hard as possible for likely Democratic voters to cast their vote and get it counted.
But while he was running for Kansas governor this past November, he was simultaneously serving as the secretary of state in Kansas as the top elections official in that state and under his leadership it was decided that Dodge City, the largest majority minority town in the whole state, it was decided that they would be relieved of their one voting place, their one polling location. There`s like 13,000-ish registered voters in Dodge City. They were already in bad shape with regards to access to the polls before this past election. For those 13,000 voters, there was precisely one voting place in all of Dodge City before this last election.
But then for the midterms, for the November elections in which Kris Kobach was going to be top of the ballot as the Republican committee for governor, for the midterms, Republican officials in Kansas decided that that one polling place in Dodge City was one polling place too many, and so that polling place would be shut. They said it was because construction was going to make that one polling place in Dodge City inaccessible so they closed that one vote place for the whole town and instead opened up another one way outside the city limits.
So, that`s why we sent a staffer there. We sent a producer from the show to go to Dodge to see if there was any observable ground truth here, right? If there was any rhyme or reason to this claim from Republican elected officials in the state who decided that 13,000 mostly Hispanic voters in dodge city, Kansas should be afforded precisely zero places to vote in their town.
The first thing we learned when we got to Dodge is that the new polling place that they opened outside the city limits was hard to get to with a car. It was impossible to get to without one. The second thing we learned by visiting Dodge City was that the ostensible reason for closing the one polling place in town, the supposed construction at the traditional polling place, did not really seem to be much of anything that was directly impinging on access to that polling place. There were plenty of other events being staged at that location where the polling place had been. There was no kind of mass disruption that might justify what they were trying to get away with.
The whole thing seemed even more suspicious when we learned that county election officials had sent notices to new voters in Dodge City that contained the wrong address for their new outside city limits polling place. The situation seemed to get even worse than that when the ACLU of Kansas wrote to the local elections officials, the county official who had -- who had moved the polling place outside of town and who had sent out the wrong address for it. The ACLU wrote to that county election official asking for her help in publicizing a voter help line that would contain the correct polling place information.
That top county elections official forwarded that e-mail from the ACLU. She forwarded it to Kris Kobach, to the office of the Republican secretary of state, adding her own caption to this help that the ACLU had asked for, which she added to that e-mail was her own commentary and it was, I quote, LOL -- this is what I got in the mail from the ALCU, LOL. Which in this case means, of course, no, I`m not going to give you any help in publicizing the true address.
After all that, the ACLU sued. They argued what was happening in Dodge City was illegal. It was, for one thing, disenfranchising Hispanic voters in that town. One of the named plaintiffs in that case was a very impressive young man named Alejandro Rangel-Lopez, 18 years old, local high school senior.
He told us that for his 18th birthday last year, he was super psyched to be able to vote for the first time, but he really wanted to be able to vote in the town where he lives, and so he thought that was worth fighting for.
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ALEJANDRO RANGEL-LOPEZ, DODGE CITY HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT: My family is immigrants. My friends are immigrants. This community is made up of immigrants and many of those are undocumented or DACA recipients or are Dreamers. And they don`t have the right to vote or have any other rights that citizens like myself have.
And as instilled by my parents, it`s very important that people who have the opportunity to vote exercise that right to vote and do anything possible to make it easier or to make their voice heard about issues that are important to them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: In the end, Alejandro did not get to vote inside city limits in Dodge City in the 2018 election. Despite a lawsuit, a judge ruled that it was too close to make any changes to the planned polling places for November`s midterm elections. So, everyone who wanted to vote in Dodge City had to figure out some way to get to this out of town location.
But now, tonight, we can tell you that the next time there is an election in Dodge City, which is going to be primary elections in August of this year, for the next election in Dodge City, people will be actually allowed to vote inside city limits because that that lawsuit worked. All that pressure, all that fight caused the Republican county election clerk to finally give in. They`ve now announced, OK, fine, they will announce and open two new polling places inside the city limits in Dodge City and they will be ready for this year`s primaries.
Alejandro and LULAC, which is the League of United Latin American Citizens, and the ACLU, they filed a voluntary motion to dismiss their lawsuit once that announcement was made by the county because they got what they were after, and so, you know, they didn`t get it in time for the midterms but they got it.
Sometimes when you fight, you win. Sometimes when you are fighting in an environment that seems absolutely unforgiving and impossible, sometimes the environment changes around you and it allows you to win.
I mean, one of the places that Democrat Laura Kelly campaigned for governor when she was on her way to winning the statehouse. One of the places she campaigned was in Dodge City. What did she campaign on there? Improving voters` access to the polls. Now, voters` access to the polls is improved in Dodge City and she is in charge of state government and Kris Kobach is unemployed.
But, again, ground truth in Dodge City -- this next time, you will no longer have to leave town to vote like you did before.
I mean, there`s still a couple of things to watch here. The case was dismissed without prejudice, which means that case can come back to life pretty much instantly if the plaintiffs come to believe that they need to do that in order to hold the county and hold the state to account, right? To make sure that Hispanic voters are getting equal treatment in that town and in Kansas. It can come back. That`s what dismissing it without prejudice means.
And if you think about it, it is still a little bit nuts that for 13,000 voters, there is only two planned polling places in Dodge City. But it`s better, I mean, at least two polling places is two more than what they had, which is zero. So it`s not like that fight is permanently over, but they did win what they were trying to get, and a win is a win for Alejandro and for the ACLU and the voters in that town who were not going to take it lying down.
And it does show you that things change, even in places where it seems like they cannot ever change. Things change. Kansas voted for Trump by 20 points. Two years later, they voted for Laura Kelly to become the Democratic governor of that state.
That same night that Laura Kelly became the Democratic governor of Kansas, that`s the same night, of course, that Democrats won control of the House of Representatives in Washington. And over these last few days, we have started to see the substance of what that is going to mean in terms of how your federal government works, how Congress works, how it spends its time, what it works on. The first bill the Democrats brought up and held hearings on is what they call H.R. 1. It`s a big omnibus bill on voting rights and anti-corruption measures.
This is legislation that sort of hits all the high points on small "D" democratic reform. It would stop partisan gerrymandering for congressional districts. So instead of having state legislatures draw up the congressional districts to maximally benefit their own party, instead, it would be independent nonpartisan redistricting in every state, so you don`t have all these guaranteed Republican seats or guaranteed Democratic seats and it would be all across the country.
It would make Election Day a federal holiday, so nobody has to skip voting because they can`t get time off work to do it. It would guarantee early voting days for every federal election in every state in the country. Right now, some states offer early voting, some don`t.
It would establish nationwide voter registration, where you have the opportunity to opt out if you don`t want to be registered, but otherwise you`re registered. It would stop states from dumping registered voters off their rolls in purges like the ones that are advocated nationwide by Kris Kobach.
It would make the president and the Supreme Court subject to the same ethics and anti-corruption rules as everyone else in government. Imagine that. It would force dark money groups and super PACs to have to disclose their donors so we`d have no more anonymous money flooding into election campaigns.
When the Democrats first introduced this legislation, you always pick something to be H.R. 1, right? To show this is our first priority. This is what we want to be known for when we take the gavel. When the Democrats first put forward this legislation, I don`t think the Republicans worried or thought too much about it at first, but when the Democrats held this first hearings on H.R. 1 this week and the Republican witnesses just got roasted and Republican members of Congress had a very hard time mounting sober-sounding arguments against many of the elements of this bill, particularly the anti-corruption stuff, I think the Republicans started to take the threat and the potential appeal of this bill more seriously.
This is a House bill but in response to this House bill, Senator Mitch McConnell got up on the floor of the Senate and called a power grab. Democratic Senator Brian Schatz of Hawaii clapped back at him, yes, voting is a power grab by citizens.
One of the other elements of H.R. 1 that never would have been controversial, let alone a partisan issue as recently as just a few years ago, is a provision that would require candidates for vice president and candidates for president to disclose their tax returns to the public or they wouldn`t be allowed to run. The Donald Trump presidential candidacy was the first time since Nixon that a presidential candidate hasn`t disclosed his or her tax returns, let alone an actual sitting president not disclosing his or her tax returns. But despite that stark break from bipartisan precedent and ongoing questions about what it is about his tax returns that he did not want to disclose, Republicans absolutely decided not to care, at least they decided not to do anything about that when they held unified control of Congress for the first two years of the Trump presidency.
Today, we learned that will change under the new Democratic leadership in this Congress. Next week on Thursday, the subcommittee led by Congressman John Lewis, Subcommittee in Ways and Means, will convene the first hearing that has ever happened on candidate tax returns. The first tax returns hearing since Donald Trump became the first major party candidate to refuse to release his. The hearing will be called "Legislative Proposals and Tax Law Related to Presidential and Vice Presidential Tax Returns." Again, this is in the context of proposed Democratic legislation that would make it a requirement that all vice presidential and presidential candidates have to disclose them if they want to run.
That hearing will be a week from today, 2:00. They`re going to live stream it.
Already in the few days they`ve been up and running in Congress since the shutdown ended, Democrats have convened hearings on drug companies hiking the price of prescription drugs. You might remember the polling that showed health care and health care costs were the single greatest motivating factor who Americans who turned out to vote in this year`s elections. Those voters when they turned out, elected Democrats by a historic margin, they flipped 40 Republican seats to the Democratic Party. Democrats know that.
They know anger and fear and concern about health care costs is a big part of what drove voters to pick them and put them in office. And so, the first full day of hearings under the Democratic -- under the Democratic Congress included aggressive hearings on drug companies hiking the price of their drugs. Democrats have also convened hearings on the president`s remarkable and as yet explicitly unjustified decision to send thousands of U.S. troops to the border right before the midterm elections.
Was that a presidential stunt that was designed to have a political impact and for no other substantive reason? It`s at least worth asking. Democrats have started already.
Next week on Wednesday, for the first time in eight years there will be a House hearing on climate change. Actually, there`s going to be two -- one in the Energy Committee and one in the Natural Resources Committee. The chairs of those committees are Democrats now, Raul Grijalva and Frank Pallone, both Democrats. Neither of whom believe that climate change is a hoax invented by the Chinese that is easily disproven by the continued existence of winter.
Next week for the first time in eight years, there will also be a congressional hearing on gun violence. Think about that for a second. Eight years -- there has not been a House hearing on gun violence in eight years.
That means through Sandy Hook and through Aurora, Colorado, and through the Navy yard shootings, and what happened in San Bernardino and Orlando, the Pulse nightclub shooting, and Las Vegas, and Sutherland Springs, Texas, where 27 people were shot and killed, and the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre, and Parkland, Florida, through all of these -- those are just off the top of my head. Those are just some of them, right?
The House has held zero hearings. They have had zero response. They have paid zero attention to anything having to do with all of these gun massacres in the country. They actually thought about having a hearing on gun violence in 2017, they got close, but it got called off because of the congressional baseball shooting.
In 2016, after what happened at the pulse nightclub in Orlando where 50 people were killed, another 53 were shot and wounded that`s when Congressman John Lewis led Democratic members of the house in a sit-in on the floor of Congress. They sat -- remember that? They sat in overnight for 25 hours demanding Republicans allow some kind of vote on some kind of gun reform, some kind of response, anything.
Republicans did nothing in response. Nothing. Not a hearing. Not even a hearing to talk about it in eight years.
Well, now next week with the Democrats in charge, there will be a gun violence hearing. It will be in the Judiciary Committee.
California Congressman Ted Liu is on that committee. When that hearing was announced he said online, quote, the American people delivered control of the House to Democrats. What does that mean? No more stupid hearings about Hillary`s e-mails. Instead, next Wednesday, House Judiciary will hold a hearing on gun violence. Next Thursday, we will pass a bill on background checks.
And the House will hold all of these hearings and they will in all likelihood pass a ton of stuff. Nancy Pelosi is very good at managing her caucus so that when stuff comes to the floor, it comes to the floor because they know who is going to vote for it and they bring stuff to the floor because they want it to pass and then they pass it.
Now, when they pass stuff in the House, will any of that go anywhere? Will any of this pressure from Congress change anything? The attention that they can bring to stuff through hearings, will it change anything? Will it make new policy?
I know they`ll be able to pass bills in the House. Does that mean they`ll be able to pass new laws? There`s the Senate. There`s the White House.
I mean, I don`t know, but the prospect of what they are doing already, all of a sudden, makes Congress way more relevant than it has been in a long time. Democrats and some observers who do not want to be voted are already suggesting that even looking at some of that stuff that`s in the Democrats` big H.R. 1 bill, some of the anti-corruption measures in that bill, if they`re broken out alone, some of those might be too hard for Republicans to resist. Some of those might get sufficient Republican support. They could potentially become law. We`ll see.
There are real signs that things could actually change and maybe in short order on issues related to foreign policy, or even Republicans in the Senate appear willing to break with the president from time to time. The number of Republican senators who crossed over and voted with Democrats to try to stop the Trump administration from lifting Russian sanctions on Oleg Deripaska, that number of Republican crossovers was not sufficient to stop administration. They needed a couple of more votes but it did hit double digits. And in the House, it was well over 100 Republicans who joined with the Democrats to try to stop the Trump administration on that, too.
Today, Senate Republicans got behind a legislative rebuke of the president on Syria and Afghanistan. The president has tweeted stuff that looks like potentially he`s ordering U.S. troops out of Syria and Afghanistan. It`s really just his Twitter feed and it`s not quite clear what he`s trying to do and what he might actually be doing, but Senate Republicans showed today they`re willing at least to rebuke him on issues like that.
And that dynamic will be fascinating to watch, regardless of what you think about whether there ought to be more American troops in Syria and Afghanistan and for how long. I mean, the idea that congress, even the Republican-controlled side of the Congress in the Senate, that they might get up on their hind legs on issues like that and express themselves and take back some of their power on an issue like that, that would be the huge thing. I mean, war power issues and authorizing the use of military force have accrued increasingly to the presidency for a couple of generations now. For every president since Vietnam, increasingly and inexorably, it has been this one-way swing of U.S. military power being consolidated within presidency -- decision-making power and authority over U.S. military force being consolidated in the executive.
I read a book about it in 2012 called "Drift," in which I did not anticipate that the thing that might ever turn that drift around would be the election of a president who was so widely perceived on a bipartisan basis to be manifestly unfit to wield those kinds of concentrated powers when it comes to U.S. force, but that`s where we`re at. It has taken a Trump presidency to swing the pendulum now back in the other direction, to the point where Congress now maybe wants to assert that just like the Constitution says, actually, war and the use of military force is something that Congress is supposed to decide, not just the president alone. And so, we will see.
The realm of what is possible, the realm of what you might be able to achieve if you fight for it is something that is in flux right now in America. I mean, just ask Dodge City, Kansas, and their two new polling places and their Democratic governor and their deep red legislature that gets slightly bluer every day, every time a new legislator jumps out of the Republican Party and declares herself to be a Democrat. I mean, we will see. Things are in flux.
And some of the things people have been fighting for that seemed like hopeless causes, all of a sudden, are going to be causes that win this year. We are in that kind of an inflection moment.
But the one place in national politics where we don`t have to wait and see, where the change is already happening, where there has been a passing of the gavel in terms of who is empowered to make things happen and to say how things will end, that is in the realm of oversight, and we broke the news here last night about the Democrat who has just now newly been empowered as of now to take that gavel. Republicans delayed it as long as they could but he is finally now being allowed to start his work.
He is about to become one of the most powerful figures in Washington and one of the most powerful Democrats in the country and he joins us live next.
MADDOW: Congratulations, America, we finally got a committee, a whole committee.
It`s not totally clear why it took this long but Republicans yesterday finally named the Republican members who will sit on the house intelligence committee this Congress. They waited two weeks. Over the course of that two weeks, all they did was swap out one dude and just leave in place everybody else they used to have on that committee so nobody quite knows why it took them this long, but regardless, here they are.
And the important thing about those Republican members being named to the intelligence committee is that now that those Republicans are in place, now that the membership is known and intact, now that committee can finally start working under their new Democratic chairman, Congressman Adam Schiff.
Now, Congressman Schiff has said the first act of business on this newly constituted committee will concern the transcripts of interviews from more than 50 witnesses who have testified behind closed doors in the committee`s Russia investigation. Congressman Schiff says under his leadership, the first thing House Intel will do is get official copies of those transcripts into the hands of special counsel Robert Mueller and his prosecutors. And Mueller, of course, has shown that he will bring charges for lying to congress. Just ask Michael Cohen or Roger Stone.
Joining us now is Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff.
Mr. Chairman, thank you so much for making time for us tonight. Really appreciate you being here.
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), CHAIRMAN, HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Good to be with you.
MADDOW: So can you explain to us what is the importance of these transcripts, the transcripts from witness testimony that`s happened behind closed doors to your committee. What`s the importance of those transcripts and their being conveyed to the special counsel now?
SCHIFF: Well, it`s important for a couple of reasons. It`s important because if the special counsel wants to bring perjury charges, they need to have access to those transcripts. They need to be able to compare the testimony with the facts they`re aware of, otherwise, they can`t use those transcripts in a court proceeding.
It also may be important in terms of the report that Bob Mueller makes to the Congress or to the attorney general that he be able to use the facts that we`ve been able to uncover as part of his analysis and his report. So, this is something we`ve been looking forward to do, that we wanted to do frankly long before now. But now that we do have that final Republican member appointed, we can finally get underway.
MADDOW: Are you frustrated that it took this long and are you worried about the reasons there may have been this long delay in getting your Republican colleague seated?
SCHIFF: It does concern me because clearly they weren`t going to make changes to the committee. They merely added a member where one of the termed out members was leaving the committee. That doesn`t take weeks and weeks. Even if it did, they had all that time to prepare for it.
So, it looks like this was an effort to delay the investigation. I think it`s a pretty pointless effort, but if it`s an indication of what`s to come, they intend to play an obstructionist role or continue the role they played for the last two years like acting as an extension of Giuliani`s defense team, that would be deeply regrettable. We`ll go forward anyway. But I`d much rather go forward in a bipartisan basis if they`re willing to work with us.
MADDOW: On the issue of witness testimony, one of the things that is interesting here is that the Republican majority in the last Congress essentially declared the Russia investigation over. They put out a report that could be I think briefly summarized as all caps "no collusion" and said it was done. You and your Democratic colleagues at the time indicated you did not think that investigation was done. And clearly, under your leadership, that investigation is going to be reconstituted in a significant way.
But despite all of that, there are these 50 witnesses who have come before your committee. As you say, there is this issue with the transcripts and conveying them to the special counsel.
Can I ask if your committee has the ability to or has considered or has indeed made any criminal referrals to the Justice Department in reference to any witnesses who you do believe lied to you in their testimony?
SCHIFF: We have not made criminal referrals. What we have wanted to do is really provide the evidence to the special counsel and let him make a judgment about who he thinks has violated the law, particularly as it pertains to false testimony before our committee. I will tell you, though, in terms of that report that you mention that the Republicans put out about nine months ago, essentially was a report saying we believe every denial we heard in our committee.
So we completely believe everything Michael Cohen had to say. We completely believe everything Roger Stone had to say. We don`t need to go any further.
We don`t need to get documents. We don`t need to get records. We`re going to take everything we heard at face value.
You can`t conduct a credible investigation that way. We had wanted to look into, for example, the issue of the use of the NRA as a potential back channel, people like Maria Butina, but, you know, their view was there is nothing to see here. Well, apparently there was something to see here. This was a Russian asset working trying to infiltrate the NRA.
So we are determined to get to the truth of this. They were also great many witnesses, Rachel, who came in and simply said we`re not going to answer questions. Steve Bannon refused to answer whole categories of questions. Don Jr. refused to answer whole categories of questions, among others, and you can`t conduct an investigation if you let the witnesses pick and choose what they`re going to answer.
MADDOW: Congressman, CNN and ABC report tonight that on the Senate side, investigators have obtained -- and it`s sort of vague language and I don`t want to try to be any more specific than they`re saying in their reporting. This is not MSNBC reporting and NBC hasn`t confirmed this. But they`re saying that Senate investigators have obtained information about something you have asked about in the past concerning Donald Trump Jr. In the lead up to the 2016 Trump Tower meeting during the campaign, he had made a couple of calls to blocked numbers.
And you had suggested that was one of the things that was important for your committee to figure out, whether those blocked numbers might have indicated -- might have been an indication that Mr. Trump Jr. was actually calling his father, potentially talking to Donald Trump the candidate about that Trump Tower meeting with all those Russians.
What do you make of this new reporting and what do you think about the importance of that incident now overall?
SCHIFF: Well, the problem is that we are not in a position to be able to confirm the reporting because the Republicans wouldn`t let us get the phone records. It was such an obvious investigative step and is an obvious investigative step and one that we will take very early on now that we are under way. That is find out who Don Jr. was talking to about that meeting at Trump Tower. Those conversations could have taken place over the phone or they could have taken place by Don Jr. walking down the hall to talk to dad.
But it`s key to understanding the president`s involvement in all of this, and if we look at what we already know, we already know that the president and his son misled the country about meetings the campaign was having with Russians. They denied they even took place.
And then when they were confronted with meetings like the meeting in Trump Tower, they misled the country again about what took place in that meeting. The president and his son, it is reported, helped fabricate together this false statement that the meeting was about adoptions, that it wasn`t about getting dirt on Hillary Clinton or an effort by the Russian government to help the Trump campaign when, in fact, that`s apparently what that meeting was supposed to be about.
So we`re going to get to the bottom of this. Why all the lies? Why the cover-up? What more was going on here?
And I think a key part of that is to find out what the president`s role was in all of this.
MADDOW: Congressman Adam Schiff, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee -- sir, I know that your life is about to get very, very busy. Thanks for taking time to talk to us tonight.
SCHIFF: You bet. Thank you.
MADDOW: All right. We have lots more to get to tonight. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Now that Democrats have control of half of Congress and they`re about to hold first hearing on American gun violence in eight years, one tree that might shake a little bit is the National Rifle Association, which Congressman Adam Schiff, the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, just mentioned moments ago.
The NRA, of course, is a legendary organization. It`s like the classic modern American case study in terms of political power, money and lobbying force.
But it turns out if you shake the NRA`s tree these days, it kind of just falls over on top of you. Tim Burr, whatever`s going on with the NRA right now, it is not what it used to be. I mean, their finances have apparently collapsed in the last couple of years.
They had started an NRA TV network, which is a very high-profile thing. That apparently is imploding.
There have been reports they`re trying to save some money at headquarters by even taking away the free coffee machine for their employees. Their spending on the last election was completely upside down from previous history. In all previous elections, the NRA absolutely dominated spending for anybody who`s donating on issues of gun reform and gun rights. This year, they were vastly outspent by people on the other side of their issue.
But then there`s this, quote, NRA seeks distance from Russia as investigations heat up. This is from "The New York Times" this week, quote: When a delegation of high-profile donors, boosters and board members from the NRA travelled to Russia in 2015, they visited a gun factory in Moscow, took in a ballet and met with members of Vladimir Putin`s inner circle. But now, the NRA is seeking to distance itself from that trip after revolutions that a Russian woman who helped arrange, Maria Butina, was conspiring to infiltrate the organization.
The NRA`s lawyer telling "The Times" this week that the NRA`s chief executive Wayne LaPierre was opposed to that trip. He forbade NRA staff members to go to Russia says his lawyer now.
The NRA president a the time of the trip now says, oh, I was also opposed to the Russia trip, just like Wayne was. Yes, we both knew it was a terrible idea. "The Times" rather dryly notes, quote, given Mr. LaPierre`s power within the organization, it`s unclear how such a trip would have proceed at all despite his opposition to it. You can understand why the NRA might now want to disavow that 2015 Moscow trip.
And the public narrative of why they took the trip was always weird enough. I mean, the narrative about this trip was that the NRA guys went to Moscow to make connections with a Russian gun rights group that mysteriously had been blessed by Vladimir Putin`s political party. Now, in reality, here on earth one, there is no gun rights movement in Russia, certainly not one sanctioned by the powers that be, right? Not one that would be headed up by high-ranking members of Putin`s political party like the people who hosted the NRA delegation in Russia.
So the cover story never made sense in the first place. And, of course, now we know for certain that the trip was a Russian intelligence operation, because the woman who ran that supposed gun rights organization has pled guilty in the United States to acting as a secret agent of the Russian government, using gun rights as a pretense to infiltrate American conservative circles through the NRA.
Maria Butina has pled guilty. She is now cooperating with federal prosecutors. Court filings would seem to indicate that she has testified multiple times before at least one grand jury.
Ms. Butina`s American boyfriend, who is essentially her unnamed conspirator in her indictment, he is also reportedly in prosecutors` sights and has received a target letter from prosecutors. There are inquiries into the NRA`s ties to Russia from Congress and from the FBI and from special counsel Robert Mueller. And, you know, it is -- it`s one thing, and it might explain the little freak-out happening right now at the NRA if all these innocent NRA folks who just wanted a tour of a Russian gun factory and a trip with this nice Russian lady, if it turns out they were all duped by Russian intelligence and they had no idea what this was all about.
But the more we learn and what we have just learned today shows us that actually there is really no chance they were duped at all and the more we see about what happened in that relationship, the more we can see about whatever was going on with America`s great gun rights group and the Russian government, it is weirder than they`ve ever admitted to before.
We`ve got that story next. Stay with us.
MADDOW: In 2015, an American Republican activist, a manned named Paul Erickson wrote an e-mail to a member of an NRA delegation that was heading out on a trip to Moscow. Paul Erickson was the boyfriend of Mary Butina. She`s the Russian citizen who has now pled guilty to trying to infiltrate conservative American political circles and the Republican Party on behalf of the Russian government using the gun rights movement as a pretext. She had played a key role in organizing that NRA trip to Moscow in 2015. So, her boyfriend, Erickson, sends this e-mail to a member of the delegation just before that trip departs.
Reporter Betsy woodruff at "The Daily Beast" has quotes from his e-mail in a new piece that "The Beast" just published today. Erickson wrote in this email that the former NRA president who was leading the delegation to Moscow was angling on the trip to get a private interview with Russian President Vladimir Putin. He said that the Russian official organizing the trip, Maria Butina`s handler in the Russian government had, quote, dangled the possibility of such an interview and therefore the NRA delegation really needed to impress their Russian hosts. Quote, high stakes all around.
Erickson also appears to spell out in this e-mail that the trip to Moscow was much more than a gun rights networking event. He wrote this to a member of the NRA delegation who was about to head to Moscow, quote, as we discussed over lunch in Iowa, Russia believes that high-level contacts with the NRA might be the best means of neutral introduction to the next American president. This simple goodwill trip would have enormous diplomatic consequences for a future U.S./Russia bilateral relationship to the world.
It certainly appears from that e-mail that Paul Erickson and at least one member of the NRA delegation had a shared understanding that what Russia wanted out of this trip, bringing these guys to Moscow, was political access in the United States, and they appeared to have been on board with that as they set off for the trip.
Well, now the NRA` leadership is like, oh, we definite weren`t on board with that. We tried to stop that. We didn`t think people should do it. The NRA trying to distance itself from this trip that happened to Moscow in 2015 appears to be happening amidst a bit of a meltdown at the NRA.
We don`t exactly understand the significance of what might have happened that they`re so worried about. But, clearly, you can see from their own behavior and their own sort of now wrong after the fact denials that they at least believe this is a big deal.
It makes you wonder what they know and what these reporters are on to who have been digging into this story and turning up worried about, but clearly, you can see from their behavior and long after the fact denials they at least believe this is a big deal. I mean, it makes you wonder what they know and what these reporters are on to who have been digging into this story and turning up new details about it all the time.
Joining us now is the reporter who broke the story, "Daily Beast" political reporter Betsy Woodruff.
Betsy, it`s great to see you. Thank you for being with us tonight.
BETSY WOODRUFF, POLITICAL REPORTER, THE DAILY BEAST: Sure thing.
MADDOW: So, I feel like there`s two things happening at once. The NRA appears to be kind of falling apart, appears to be kind of in meltdown. And they appear to be freaking out about whatever happened between them and Russia.
Is it your understanding that this is about their worries about the Moscow trip in 2015? Is it about the arrest and the cooperation agreement of Maria Butina? Do you have a big picture sense of what is so concerning to them?
WOODRUFF: What I can tell you is that, ironically, the Trump administration time period has been a surprisingly challenging window of time for the NRA. Historically, the NRA is at its most successful. It gets the most members and the most money when Democrats are in power because the NRA can push the narrative that a Democratic president is going to steal your guns and use the regulatory power to drive up the cost of ammunition.
So often when Democrats become president or when they expand their political power, we see conservative Americans who perhaps would buy into some of these theories rushing to buy ammo, rushing to support the NRA and to help fund, it out of fear that their right to have any sort of weapon whatsoever is on the line.
So, when Trump became president, surprisingly enough, even though the group had an ally in the highest levels of the American government, many of their grassroots supporters and at least this is the view in the American gun rights community, have become a little complacent and a little less invested in supporting the NRA simply because as long as Trump is in office they`re not worried that anyone is going to try to grab their guns.
MADDOW: And, Betsy, this Paul Erickson e-mail you obtained about the Moscow trip of all these NRA honchos in 2015, it makes it seem like it trip to Moscow was a really big deal for the NRA, that this was something connected to big geopolitical aims.
Why do you think the NRA is now reframing how this trip happened and claiming that actually all their leadership was very opposed to it and they didn`t want it to happen?
WOODRUFF: There`s no doubt that part of the reason they`re reframing it is they`re expecting things to get significantly worse. We`ve reported that the Senate Intelligence Committee has been receiving e-mails from the NRA related to their trip to Moscow as part of that committee`s investigation into Russian efforts to influence American politics and Senator Ron Wyden has also been helming a robust investigation of this same thing.
So within the NRA, there`s an expectation that ultimately everything is going to become public in one way or another, that these Senate investigators are going to present to Americans a broader view of how Russians tried to use the NRA to influence American politics. So my sense is that people in the gun rights community and the NRA are certainly concerned about that and trying to get out ahead of it and sort of start to shape the narrative.
And that`s part of the reason this e-mail is so important, is that it shows not what the NRA is saying right now as they try to craft the way we view their place in the American political sphere but rather what Paul Erickson, who was a long-time NRA insider and very influential member of the American gun rights community, was saying at the time when he though the was having a private conversation.
One detail in this e-mail that I find really striking was the fact that Paul Erickson, and he`s not the world`s most reliable narrator, but he claims that David Keene, who at the time was a former NRA president, was absolutely irate that Allan Cors, who at the time was the NRA`s president, made a last-minute cancellation of going on the trip. And according to Erickson, and to be clear I reached out to Keene and to Cors, I didn`t get any pushback from them about the claim that Erickson makes.
According to Erickson, what he says in this email is that David Keene, the group`s ex-president considered ending his friendship with Alan Cors, the group`s current president, because Keene was so concerned and so invested in this trip to Moscow being a success. We know Keene was hoping to get some face time with Putin out of the trip. An important detail is part of the trip was funded by a group supported by a Russian oligarch. We know Keene was deeply invested in this trip being a success, having a successful trip and the emotions were really high.
MADDOW: Yes. And so, now, for the NRA trying to say like oh, this trip, this is nothing and we probably shouldn`t have done it and we knew at the time it was a bad idea, it`s fascinating to see this evolving story.
Betsy Woodruff, political reporter at "The Daily Beast" -- great work, Betsy. Great to see you. Thank you.
WOODRUFF: Thanks, Rachel.
MADDOW: All right. We`ll be right back. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Today, some new breadcrumbs were dropped in the mystery case that has been winding its way through the federal courts in D.C. since last August. It`s a case that is very intriguing, in part because what we don`t know about it. We know it involves Robert Mueller and the special counsel. We know it`s being handled with alacrity in the federal court system.
But we otherwise don`t know what it`s about. It involves a corporation. We don`t know which one. A corporation that is wholly owned by a foreign country. We don`t know what country.
It appears this mystery corporation has been fighting a subpoena from Mueller. And we think we know now that a federal judge is he fining this corporation $50,000 a day for every day that they refuse to comply with that Mueller subpoena. Well, late last night, we got a few more breadcrumbs in this case when the court unsealed a redacted version of the docket for this case. From that, we can now see that a few weeks ago, the mystery corporation filed a motion asking the court to find that its prior order saying that the corporation was in contempt for not responding to the subpoena, that order was, quote, "unenforceable" and that blank property is immune from execution or attachment.
What we think this means is because this mystery corporation has been skipping out on paying their $50,000 a day in fines for not complying with the subpoena, we think that the Justice Department, the special counsel`s office, may be entitled to go get that money some other way, for instance, by seizing the mystery corporation`s property here in the United States. So this part of the docket is the mystery corporation telling the judge, hey, don`t let Mueller take our stuff. Our redacted property is immune from execution or attachment.
On January 24th, we can now see the judge denied that request and basically told the special counsel`s office he`s more than welcome to go seize stuff from this mystery corporation. We can see that ever since the judge gave Mueller the green light to seize their stuff, the mystery corporation has not tried to pump the brakes. They have not filed an appeal. So, it looks like from this docket that Mueller and the Justice Department still have the judge`s blessing to go take stuff to account for the 50 grand a day that this corporation apparently isn`t paying.
Now, we still don`t know who the corporation is or what country owns them. But they apparently have property or assets in the U.S. that appear to be fair game for the Justice Department to seize to cover these $50,000 a day penalties the court has imposed. What this means for you is that if anybody has seen federal marshals cutting off the gold doorknobs from some wholly foreign-owned corporation in the United States, please snap a picture of that for us -- www.sendittorachel.com. We`d love to know.
That does it for us. See you again tomorrow.
Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL".
Good evening, Lawrence.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END