SEN. ED MARKEY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: And we`re ready to have a political showdown on climate change.
JOY REID, MSNBC HOST: All right. Well, we shall see. We`ll be watching it.
Senator Ed Markey, thank you so much for your time. Really appreciate it.
And that is ALL IN this evening.
Marathon show to Rachel Maddow starts now.
Good evening, Rachel. I need a nap.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Joy, this is one of those days. It`s like one of those what we train for kind of days. You know what I`m saying?
REID: Why you watch.
MADDOW: Thanks, my friend. Much appreciated.
Thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.
You know, Joy is right. This is one of those days. Sometimes, some nights, everything just happens all at once and when that happens, it`s easy to get overwhelmed. It`s impossible to absorb everything all at once, and in circumstances like these, the only way to understand the importance of what has just happened in today`s news is not get overwhelmed by it, to try not to get it all at once. Instead, you just do it piece by piece. You do it one step at a time.
So that`s what we`re going to do tonight because a whole bunch of interrelated stories have just had really important developments this afternoon and tonight. We`re going to go through it piece by piece.
We`re going to start in federal court in the Southern District of New York right before Christmas, in mid December, this past December. That`s the day that the president`s long-time personal lawyer Michael Cohen was sentenced to three years in federal prison. It was a dramatic day. He wept in court. His family wept.
Cohen and his defense team and his family all clearly thought he was going to get a much lighter sentence in recognition of his cooperation with prosecutors from the special counsel`s office and for their part, Robert Mueller, the special counsel and the prosecutors in his office, they did recommend to the judge sentencing Michael Cohen that Cohen should be treated leniently because he had been so helpful to him in his -- in the special counsel investigation, in Cohen`s cooperation with them.
But the prosecutors from the special counsel`s office were not the only prosecutors involved in the Cohen case and they were not the only prosecutors making their case to the judge that day. There were also prosecutors from the Southern District of New York. Those were the prosecutors who obtained guilty pleadings from Michael Cohen on a whole bunch of felonies and those prosecutors from the Southern District of New York told the judge sentencing Michael Cohen that Cohen really should do serious time.
And so, he`s going to do three years. He`s about to start the three-year prison sentence a month from today. But on the day he was sentenced back in mid December, that exact same day within about an hour or so of when we learned that Michael Cohen was going to do that serious time, that same day, we also got, surprise, a whole new thing that we weren`t expecting from those prosecutors in the Southern District of New York.
That day that Michael Cohen got sentenced, we also got this from the federal prosecutors` office in the Southern District of New York. It`s a non-prosecution agreement that those prosecutors entered into with an entity called AMI, American Media Incorporated. They`re publishers of the supermarket tabloid "National Enquirer".
And that non-prosecution agreement with AMI, it was unsealed. It was made available to the public, basically upon Michael Cohen being sentenced for his crimes. It`s interesting. You can see from the date on it that it had actually been entered into several months before. We learned about it that day in mid December when Cohen was going to be sentenced by the date is September 20th. It was in force since the fall, since September.
And you remember, of course, what Michael Cohen pled guilty to and sentenced to prison for, right? This whole big long list of felonies, tax evasion, bank fraud, all these things related to his personal business interests, his own real estate transactions, something weird about him selling an expensive purse, which I never totally understood. His business work on the sort of shady side of the taxi medallion industry.
Most of the felonies, numerically, pertain to all that kind of stuff. Michael Cohen`s business life. But then there were those two felonies that Michael Cohen pled to that were really the real headline, right, that had huge political resonance ever since. The two campaign finance felonies that he pled to and those felony campaign finance charges were the ones that derived not from his personal business life, they derived from paying about a quarter million in hush money to these two women who are otherwise going to go public ahead of the presidential election in 2016 with their allegations that they had had extramarital affairs with then-candidate Donald Trump.
Prosecutor`s descriptions of those crimes and Cohen`s own allocution in court about those crimes made clear that he wasn`t the only one involved in the commission of those crimes. Prosecutors and Cohen himself made clear that the president himself was implicated in those felonies. Cohen himself said Trump directed him to commit the felonies and the president was described as Individual 1 in the charging documents, spelling out the commission of the crimes.
What was also clear in those charging documents about the felonies is that there was yet another party to the campaign finance felonies besides Cohen and President Trump, another party that played a knowing role in that transaction. But like individual one, like the president, that entity was also not prosecuted, right? So in the description of that crime, we get the description of a number of people involved in the felony. Cohen gets prosecuted. He`s going to prison for it in a month.
Individual one, the president, does not get prosecuted for that felony despite his alleged role in it and that may be in part because he`s the president and there is legal ambiguity as to whether or not the president can be indicted for anything while he is still serving as president.
But the other party that did not get prosecuted for his role in that felony transaction was AMI, the publisher of "The National Enquirer". And learned that day in December, the day that Cohen got sentenced, we learned that AMI wasn`t prosecuted for their role in the crime because they entered into an overt, non-prosecution agreement with the federal prosecutors in New York, who nailed Cohen for that crime and who designated the president as individual one.
In that non-prosecution agreement, prosecutors committed that they wouldn`t prosecute AMI for its roles in those crimes and for crimes related to those felonies and they would agree not to prosecute AMI, essentially as a reward for AMI cooperating, for AMI helping prosecutors in their inquiries into that matter.
Now, that surprise revelation about that non-prosecution agreement that prosecutors entered into with AMI, it also bolstered some reporting we have got last summer from "The New York Times." Last summer, "The New York Times" have reported that the CEO of America Media, the president`s long- time friend David Pecker, had himself personally done some sort of immunity deal with prosecutors in exchange for his own cooperation in their investigations. That seemed to be borne out when we got to see the non- prosecution agreement unveiled by the court in December.
Now, as I said, sometimes, like nights like this, sometimes everything happens all at once. So, we got that background, right? We know about -- we`ve all absorbed all that stuff about Cohen, that crime, the implication the president was involved in it, the implication that AMI was involved, the fact that AMI had a deal so they wouldn`t get prosecuted for it. That all happened before tonight.
But tonight, a lot of the things initially raised by that set of circumstances now seem to be coming to a head. First of all, there is the question of the ultimate dispensation of Michael Cohen. He is going to prison in a month. There is ongoing wrangling over whether over the course of the next month, before he goes to prison, he will testify to Congress. We can surmise that there is something important going on with his case and his role in the larger Russia investigation because of that wrangling, because the House Intelligence Committee announce yesterday that Michael Cohen`s planned testimony tomorrow is being delayed, quote, in the interests of the investigation, and they won`t say what exactly they mean, but they did go ahead and rescheduled him to testify February 28th.
By deduction, we can tell that means they think something is going to happen between now and February 28th, something that needs to be done and out of the way before they take Michael Cohen`s testimony at the Intelligence Committee. We don`t know what that thing is, what`s going to happen between now and February 28th that will make it possible for him to testify but presumably, we just have to wait and see, tick tock.
There is also further evidence today that something else is going on with Michael Cohen and his case and his case`s connection to the larger Russia investigation because today, we got this court ruling from a federal judge in New York. This is a judge who is considering legal action by a bunch of media outlets who have been trying to make public a whole bunch of material related to the Cohen case. These media organizations want search warrants and law enforcement affidavits and other materials related to the Michael Cohen case, they want that unsealed and made available to the public just in the public interest.
So this judge today was considering that request from media organizations, and the judge ruled that in fact, some of the material that has previously been sealed in Cohen`s case, it can be unsealed. It will be unsealed. It will be released to the public and shortly.
Namely, what we should expect to be unsealed is the stuff about Cohen`s tax fraud and bank fraud and the taxi medallion business stuff and other stuff that didn`t get the lion`s share of attention when Michael Cohen first pled guilty. But what it comes to the really high profile stuff he pled to, when it comes to those felonies that Cohen pled to that purportedly involved the president, that purportedly involved AMI, those hush money payments to benefit the president`s campaign, those campaign finance felonies, the judge today said actually those materials can`t be unredacted and can`t be shown to the public any time soon because those are still live legal issues that pertain to ongoing investigations.
So, here is a little bit from the judge`s ruling where he just lays it out bluntly. Quote: This court concludes that disclosure of materials with redactions strikes an apro -- excuse me, this court concludes that disclosure of materials with redactions strikes an appropriate balance between the strong presumption of public access to search warrant materials and to the countervailing interest identified by the government. In particular, the government represents aspects of its investigation remain ongoing, including those pertaining to or arising from Cohen`s campaign finance crimes.
Indeed, the search warrant applications and affidavits catalog an assortment of uncharged individuals and detail their involvement in communications and transactions connected to the campaign finance charges to which Cohen pled guilty. According to the government`s ex-parte submissions, these individuals include those cooperating with the government, those who have provided information to the government, and other subjects of the investigation. At this stage, wholesale disclosure of the materials would reveal the scope and direction of the government`s ongoing investigation and would also unveil subjects of the investigation and the potential conduct under scrutiny.
The disclosure of such information may enable uncharged individuals to coordinate or tailor their testimony and interactions with the government and the judge says, if the past is any prologue, unmasking those cooperating with the government`s investigation or who have provided information to the government could deter further cooperation with the investigation by subjecting those individuals to witness tampering, harassment or retaliation. Accordingly, the judge says the portions of the materials related to Cohen`s finance crimes shall be redacted.
Ruling today from a federal judge.
So Michael Cohen`s bank fraud, tax fraud, the expensive purse thing, fine. That can come out and will all come out. But the stuff about the hush money payments to benefit the president, the stuff that involved the president`s campaign and the president`s business and AMI, all this stuff, no, no, no, that stays redacted because that`s a live issue. And there are witnesses and subjects of the investigation and cooperators that cannot safely have that stuff disclose in public, at least when it comes to the safety and integrity of that ongoing investigation, that live legal issue. So, that stuff won`t be unsealed any time soon.
And remember, that`s the live legal issue. I mean, those are the charges as described by prosecutors and as described by Michael Cohen in court, those are the charges that implicate the president directly, as the person who benefitted from that illegal scheme and who allegedly directed it.
The Trump Organization also appears to be implicated as the entity that effectively laundered those illegal contributions, and this company AMI is also implicated as participating in the hush money scheme, right? It`s their gigantic illegal corporate contribution to the Trump campaign, their help with this hush money plan. And they skated and they didn`t get in trouble for it because they entered into a non-prosecution agreement.
I mean, remember, AMI`s involvement here as described by prosecutors is that they effectively during the campaign entered into a deal with Donald Trump they could contribute to his campaign as a corporation. They would help him politically and materially by making adverse stories go away. They would expend resources as a corporation that would never be declared as campaign contributions but they would nevertheless be expended in order to benefit Trump`s campaign and the hopes of his eventual election by paying off or otherwise disappearing material that might hurt Trump`s political chances.
In the non-prosecution agreement that AMI entered into with prosecutors, we learned AMI is told explicitly by prosecutors in the Southern District of New York that they won`t be prosecuted for their role in the campaign finance felony scheme that Cohen is going to prison for. They won`t be prosecuted for their role in it as long as AMI, quote, truthfully and completely discloses all information with the respect to its activities and itself and its officers. Those activities as they pertain to the company itself, its officers, agents and employees.
AMI pledges to cooperate fully with the Southern District of New York and any other law enforcement agency designated by that office. AMI agrees to provide all records. They agree to turn up at all meetings and it`s kind of a throw away line at the end but AMI also in that agreement commits for a period of three years to, quote, commit no crimes whatsoever. Oh.
Quote: It is understood that should AMI commit any crimes subsequent to the date of signing this agreement or should the government determine that AMI or its representatives have knowingly given false, incomplete or misleading testimony or information, or should AMI otherwise violate any provision of this agreement, AMI shall therefore, ahem, be subject to prosecution for any federal criminal violation of which this office has knowledge. Oh.
The agreement goes on to say that if AMI commits crimes, any crimes after signing this agreement, any statement made by AMI or by any of its representatives to prosecutors or any other law enforcement agents or any grand jury proceedings, any such statement, quote, shall be admissible in evidence in any criminal proceeding brought against AMI. Think about the situation that AMI is in right now. They had to come completely clean with federal prosecutors about their role in those campaign finance felonies during the 2016 election in order to get this non-prosecution agreement. I mean, at least one other dude is going to go to serious federal prison time because of his role in that crime.
Their role in the crime, uh-uh, they are OK because they got this agreement. They had to come totally clean about their involvement in the crime to get the agreement. But for a period of three years, if they violate this agreement by, say, jaywalking or removing the tag from a mattress, or I don`t know, continuing to engage in a criminal extortion scheme designed to silence people who might hurt the president politically, I mean, any crime, any crime at all, then everything AMI and all of its officers and employees have said is fair game and admissible for their prosecution on anything, including the crimes they have already fulsomely confessed to.
And so, now, here we are tonight when everything is coming together, when everything is happening all at once. This is a man who will recognize. His name is Jeff Bezos. He is the founder of Amazon. He is one of the richest men on earth.
Actually, today, we checked. Today, technically, he is the richest man on the face of the earth. He`s also the owner of one of the greatest newspapers on the face of the earth, "The Washington Post."
The president has made no secret of the fact that he does not like "The Washington Post", he does not like the way "The Washington Post" and its reporters cover him and his administration. He also been remarkably unsubtle in connecting his complaints about the journalism of "The Washington Post" to Jeff Bezos personally and to his concurrent ownership role of both "The Washington Post" and Amazon.
In May of last year, for example, you might remember we learned that the president had personally, personally, individually directed the postmaster general of the United States that the Post Office should financially stick it to Amazon, that they should hurt the company and by extension, Jeff Bezos` personal bottom line by doubling the postal rates that the U.S. Post Office charges Amazon to ship its packages. The president personally giving that directive to the postmaster general in order to hurt Amazon, in order to hurt Jeff Bezos, in order to hurt "The Washington Post."
I mean, that itself would be the single biggest scandal in most modern presidencies, right, or any other president. I mean, for this president, that was like, you know, an average Friday morning, maybe it will make the front page kind of thing but like honestly. But again, there is no subtlety about the president`s antipathy for "The Washington Post". His personal antipathy for Jeff Bezos. It`s all quite out in the open.
Well, last month, "The National Enquirer", the flagship publication of AMI, they published private intimate text messages that were exchanged with Jeff Bezos and a woman he was romantically involved. Mr. Bezos and his wife of 25 years upon that publication of that story announced the disillusionment of their marriage, and their impending divorce, and president reacted to that with glee.
The president said publicly, quote: So sorry to hear the news about Jeff Bozo being taken down by a competitor whose reporting I understand is far more accurate than the reporting in his newspaper, the Amazon Washington Post. Hopefully, the paper will be placed in better and more responsible hands.
So, it`s the president delighting in Mr. Bezos` divorce of 25 years, delighting in the role of the "National Enquirer" in bringing that about, saying out loud that he should lose the paper. "The Washington Post" shouldn`t be in his hands. Look what "The National Enquirer" turned up about him.
Before long, there were signs that perhaps this story existed on more than one level at once. Report that Bezos himself have launched a private investigation what was behind this "National Enquirer" story, what was behind their publication of his private text messages.
Yesterday, "The Washington Post" had this headline, was tabloid expose of Bezos affair just juicy gossip or a political hit job? If it many was a political hit job, one hot potential implication of that kind would be that it was perhaps carried out by AMI to help President Trump politically, once again, by hurting or trying to take out of the equation somebody who Trump perceives to be doing him political harm.
I will tell you there is also a Saudi Arabia component to this with "The National Inquirer", which is a related but separate angle. We`ll get to that in a different part of tonight`s show.
But now, tonight, this is how this all came together. Mr. Bezos tonight published this ten-page post online. And it is titled, as you can see, "No thank you, Mr. Pecker." Mr. Pecker in this case is not an insult to somebody, it`s the name of the CEO of American Media, David Pecker, long time friend of President Trump.
No thank you, Mr. Pecker. In this post tonight, Mr. Bezos push accomplishes what he says is the full unredacted, recent correspondence he`s had with the "National Enquirer", with Pecker`s company, AMI, which he describes as a, quote, extortion and blackmail effort. Now, we should note that NBC has not independently verified these emails. We`re going off what Mr. Bezos has published, but here we go.
Quote: Rather to capitulate to extortion and blackmail, I have decided to publish exactly what they sent me despite the personal cost and embarrassment they have threatened. Bezos says, quote: A few weeks ago, when intimate text messages from me were published in "The National Enquirer", I engaged investigators to learn how those texts were obtained, and to determine the motives for the many unusual actions taken by the "Enquirer". As it turns out, there are now several independent investigations looking into this matter.
Quote: Several days ago, an AMI leader advised us, meaning him and his lawyers and this guy who he`s hired to lead an investigation for him, several days ago, an AMI leader advised us that Mr. Pecker, David Pecker, the CEO of America Media, is, quote, apoplectic about our investigation. Quote: A few days after hearing about Mr. Pecker`s apoplexy, we were approached verbally at first with an offer. They said they had more of my text messages and photos they would publish if we did not stop our investigation.
I guess we, me, my lawyers, the investigator we hired did not react to the generalized threat with enough fear so then they sent this. And then Bezos publishes what he says is the full letter that he received this week from AMI, describing in graphic detail ten different personal and embarrassing photos that "The Enquirer" has obtained and is threatening to publish in order to hurt Jeff Bezos.
Quote: With "The Washington Post" poised to publish unsubstantiated rumors of "The National Enquirer`s" initial report, I wanted to describe to you the photos obtained during our news gathering.
AMI, according to Bezos, then goes on to demand that Bezos affirmatively say publicly that he quote has no knowledge or basis for suggesting that AMI`s coverage was publicly motivated or influenced by political forces. And unless Bezos says that, they will publish these embarrassing photos of him that they have obtained.
So, like I said, everything happens at once, right? But the bottom line here is that Jeff Bezos, the richest man on the face of the earth, the guy who owns "The Washington Post", he has just blown this up by publishing what he says is this extortionate, threatening, blackmailing, panic button stuff by the "National Enquirer" and AMI. Don`t you say what they are doing is politically, don`t you say that this has any political intention, don`t you say that we did this for any reason other than embarrassing you. Don`t you say that this comes from a political place, or we will drop this nuclear bomb on you.
Whoa, why? I should tell you AMI declined to comment tonight since Mr. Bezos has made public what he says is their correspondent. But there`s questions here, right? Why is AMI freaking out? Why are they going nuclear against Jeff Bezos now? I`m they`ve already exposed his affair. They`ve already said his divorce in motion. They`ve already caused him all this pain and embarrassment. The president has already danced on his divorce, right?
I mean, specifically, they appear to be quite panicked about him turning up any evidence and making any credible allegation that they may have acted once again with political intentions. And we know because we follow the news that when AMI panics about that, we know they are doing so in the context of their still active non-prosecution agreement with the Southern District. It is still enforced.
AMI`s obligations under that continue until a period of three years from the signing of the agreement which would be the fall of 2021, or the date on which all prosecution are rising out of the conduct described in the agreement are finally, whichever is later. So, at least the fall of 2021.
And frankly, when it comes to whether all the prosecutions are final, we know from a judge ruling on the Michael Cohen case it sounds like the prosecutions might not be over when it comes to those campaign finance felonies that AMI is implicated in, that they have fully opened with prosecutors about already under the protective umbrella of a non- prosecution agreement.
They are currently benefitting from this non-prosecution agreement as long as they are still holding to it.
So, the wheels do appear to be coming off here a bit. One of the parties to the two felonies in which prosecutors may have violated the terms of the prosecution agreement while the judge today let slip the fact that the prosecution of those felonies is an ongoing law enforcement matter.
And by the way, the acting attorney general who the president appointed to oversee the Mueller investigation, who ignored ethics advice that told him he had to recuse to overseeing that investigation, he`s going to appear in Congress tomorrow to answer questions in open session. And the Saudi Arabia part of this blew up, too, and some nights everything happens at once but you get through it one step at a time.
Stay with us. More to get to.
MADDOW: Tomorrow, the Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker is going to testify in Congress in open session before the Judiciary Committee. This was not at all certain for the rest of the day today, including a lot of wrangling over whether Whitaker would be subpoenaed to appear, or whether he would appear voluntarily.
End of the line, Judiciary Chairman Gerald Nadler now confirms that Whitaker will be there 9:30 Eastern Time. That explains why your bodega has already run out of jiffy pop tonight, because this should be fairly incredible.
There has been a lot of wrangling over this appearance. There`s reportedly been a lot of consternation in the Justice Department about how Whitaker might do in this hearing. Because of this back and forth and the questions as to whether or not he would be able to appear, and I mean able in a number of different ways.
Whitaker`s already been advised about a lot of the things he`s going to be asked about. Questions about the firing of former Attorney General Jeff Sessions and whether White House officials or the president himself contacted Whitaker about replacing Sessions. Whether those discussions included the possibility of whether Whitaker would recuse from overseeing the Mueller investigation. Questions about whether Whitaker consulted with the White House on his decision that he wouldn`t recuse despite the fact that ethics advisers told him he needed to.
Also questions about these advisers who Whitaker consulted who told him it was OK if he didn`t recuse. Questions about whether Whitaker was briefed on the Mueller investigation and if he has shared information from those briefings with anybody at the White House or the president himself or the president`s legal team. Questions about reports that Trump lashed out at Whitaker after his longtime personal lawyer Michael Cohen pled guilty and after federal prosecutors identified President Trump as individual one associated with two of the felonies to which Cohen pled.
Questions about whether the president contacted Whitaker after Cohen pled guilty or after the president was identified as Individual 1. They intend to ask Whitaker if the president expressed concern or anger or frustration with the Southern District of New York. The prosecutor`s office that handled the Cohen case. Questions about whether the president discussed the possibility of firing or reassigning anyone from that prosecutor`s office in reaction to what happened there with Michael Cohen and the individual one designation for the president in conjunction with those felonies.
Now whether or not acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker is actually going to answer those questions or how he`s going to try to not answer them once he`s in that seat, that remains to be seen tomorrow morning. All we know is that as of right now he is expected to show up.
Joining us now is Congressman Eric Swalwell of California. He`s a member of the both the Intelligence Committee and the Judiciary Committee.
Congressman Swalwell, it`s nice to see you. Thanks for being here.
REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D), CALIFORNIA: You, too. Thanks for having me back, Rachel.
MADDOW: I have to tell you, I have lots of questions to ask you about this Whitaker thing. I do actually want to ask you about some news that has just crossed since I have been talking, which is that former Michigan congressman, longtime, longtime Michigan congressman and beloved figure in the Democratic Party, John Dingell, has just died at the age of 92. We had heard from his wife yesterday that he had entered hospice care. His wife, of course, is Democratic Congresswoman Debbie Dingell.
John Dingell served in Congress for 59 years, longest-serving member of the House. He has just passed at the age of 92.
I don`t know if you personally knew Congressman Dingell or if you had any reaction to the news of his passing tonight, sir?
SWALWELL: It`s crushing news, Rachel. Thank you for bringing it up to tribute his service.
I did know him. I was a freshman member during his final two years. He was a giant of the Congress and set an example for us new incoming members as to how congressional oversight was to be conducted. He was famous for making every witness raise their right hand and go under oath because he really deeply believed in congressional oversight of the executive branch.
I remember the first time I met him, I went up and introduced myself to him. He was in a wheelchair on the floor and I kneeled down next to him to introduce myself and he looked at me and said, you can stand up when you talk to me. He didn`t want to be treated any different just because he was in a wheelchair, but the character of this man, his integrity will last for many, many years throughout -- through his wife Debbie who serves now, but also in the next generation who has come to know him through his sick burns on Twitter. So, we`re going to miss John Dingell.
MADDOW: Yes, I will just say at a personal level, I had the opportunity to meet with Congressman Dingell around the time that he was leaving Congress just to personally chat, to talk about the news, to talk about his time in Congress, not anything that he wanted to do on camera. He just wanted to meet and talk human-to-human, and I was -- it`s just --
MADDOW: -- an incredibly impressive career but just an incredibly impressive person to be with.
SWALWELL: And you remember he was seated next to President Obama when President Obama signed into law the Affordable Care Act because of the work that Congressman Dingell, Chairman Dingell had done on the Energy and Commerce Committee.
MADDOW: Yes, and the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act. I mean, a giant.
Well, thank you for being willing to divert from news of the day and talk to us about that as we get that news in, Congressman. But let me ask you about what you are expecting tomorrow. There was a lot of uncertainty, today in particular, but also in recent days as to whether or not the acting attorney general would turn up tomorrow to answer questions.
What are you actually expecting to happen tomorrow now?
SWALWELL: Yes, this is about, you know, one individual, Acting Attorney General Whitaker, but it`s also about something larger than that, and it`s a damage assessment of the rule of law. As in, is it still standing after two years of a wrecking ball being taken to it and very little congressional oversight on the rule of law?
And so, we want to know, you know, is it still standing? Is the Mueller investigation -- does it have the freedom of movement to follow the evidence?
And then also just looking at the waypoints of Mr. Whitaker`s tenure so far -- the fishy way in which he got the job by essentially auditioning for it through his opinions of the Mueller investigation, the fishy way he has refused to recuse, despite opinions from the department that he should. And the fishy way that he went out there and announced that the investigation was nearly complete. You know, was that his wish and Donald Trump`s wish or was that something contrary to what was going on with the special counsel`s office?
So, there`s a lot of questions for him but it`s really a damage assessment to the rule of law in our country.
MADDOW: After -- given all the wrangling today whether he would be appearing voluntarily, or under at least under the implicit threat of a subpoena if he decided not to turn up. Do you expect he will actually answer questions or are you expecting tomorrow is going to be a big fight over what we can say and what he uses to try to evade answering some of the questions that have already been put to him in writing in advance of tomorrow`s sit-down?
SWALWELL: We expect him to be there and to answer questions. We`ll be ready if he does not. Rachel, you know, in what country does an executive tell elected representatives that they are not going to come in if they are subpoenaed? Well, I`ll tell you, it`s China, it`s Russia, it`s Iran, but it`s not the United States of America.
So, the days of presidential immunity are over. And, you know, we`ll be ready today. We authorized a subpoena in case we needed to use it. We did this because we`d actually sent over last week the questions that we wanted to ask him just to know if he was going to be obstructing or invoking executive privilege so that we could be ready and they never responded.
So, that`s why we wanted to be ready with the subpoena in case that`s necessary. I hope it doesn`t come to that. I hope the takeaway is that the rule of law still stands and that he is honoring the Mueller investigation and just letting it follow the evidence.
MADDOW: Congressman Eric Swalwell from the great state of California, I really appreciate you being here tonight, sir. Good to have you here.
SWALWELL: Of course, thank you.
MADDOW: Thank you.
All right. Much more to get to tonight. Busy night. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Jeff Bezos, the owner of Amazon and "The Washington Post," had his private text messages published by "The National Enquirer," supermarket tabloid last month. That reporting appears to have led to the dissolution of his marriage of 25 years.
Tonight, Jeff Bezos says "The Enquirer" has threatened him that they will publish more of Bezos` text messages and intimate, embarrassing photos if he doesn`t call off his investigation of "The Enquirer" and its parent company AMI. He`s been investigating the question of whether their actions against him were politically motivated.
Because of AMI`s involvement in the hush money scheme during the campaign that resulted in felony charges against the president`s lawyer Michael Cohen and federal prosecutors implicated the president in those felonies, the immediate implication here is that any political motivation by AMI might have been to help President Trump who has declared Bezos essentially to be his sworn enemy. That said, Bezos writes tonight about that potential political motivation, quote, for reasons still to be better understood, the Saudi angle seems to hit a particularly sensitive nerve, meaning a sensitive nerve with AMI.
He`s referring to, well, what -- some of what you can see here. What appears to be a strange relationship that AMI and its chief executive David Pecker have had recently with the government of Saudi Arabia. You might remember our reporting on this big glossy mash book that "The Enquirer" published last spring celebrating the beauty and awesomeness of Saudi Arabia and specifically its Crown Prince MBS. Also, there was Pecker`s Oval Office visits with advisers to the Assad crown prince while Pecker was reportedly trying to drum up some sort of business for his company in Saudi Arabia.
Jeff Bezos is suggesting that AMI`s Saudi connection may be the reason that Jeff Bezos was targeted by "The Enquirer" in the first place. He writes tonight that as the owner of "The Washington Post," quote, it`s unavoidable that certain powerful people who experience "Washington Post" news coverage will wrongly conclude: I am their enemy. Quote, "The Post`s" essential and unrelenting coverage of the murder of its columnist Jamal Khashoggi is undoubtedly unpopular in certain circles.
Jamal Khashoggi was murdered at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October. Since then, "The Washington Post" has been furious and relentless in trying to get justice for their murdered reporter, particularly because of the prospect that he was killed on orders from MBS, from the Saudi crown prince, something the Saudi government has emphatically denied and the Trump administration has emphatically ignored.
Well, tonight we have the latest damning evidence tying the Saudi crown prince, MBS, to Jamal Khashoggi`s murder. "The New York Times" with remarkably detailed reporting tonight on intelligence intercepts of MBS, of the Saudi crown prince, the kind of material we rarely get to hear about as members of the public, while the president has shown little interest in finding out who was respond responsible for murdering Jamal Khashoggi in that Saudi consulate, "The Times" reports that the intelligence community has actually been working hard at, quote, sifting through years of the crown prince`s voice and text communications, communications that the national security agency routinely intercepted and stored.
Included in that material was reportedly a phone conversations the year before Jamal Khashoggi was murdered in which the crown prince, MBS, reportedly told an aide that if Jamal Khashoggi could not be brought back to Saudi Arabia, either through enticement or by force, then he personally would go after Khashoggi, quote, with a bullet.
And, yes, that`s the same guy featured on the cover and on nearly every page of "The National Enquirer`s" inexplicable special issue, the new transformative leader of the magic kingdom.
Tonight, "The Washington Post" says "The Enquirer" is threatening to publish his private and embarrassing photos unless he says publicly that "The Enquirer`s" parent company AMI definitely, totally has not been motivated or influenced in any way by political forces as they have launched this hit piece and these additional threats against Jeff Bezos.
Why are they so concerned about that? Hold that thought.
MADDOW: This story is so nuts but it boils down to a very simple question. I mean, not so long ago, just back in the fall, the owner of "The National Enquirer" acknowledged paying hush money to a woman who allegedly had an affair with the president to prevent her story from influencing the election. Federal prosecutors waited until December to reveal it, the day that the president`s lawyer Michael Cohen was sentenced, in part for his role in that scheme.
Because of his role in that scheme, Michael Cohen is headed for prison next month. But despite AMI also having a role in those crimes, AMI appears to be off the hook, right? Because they cooperated with prosecutors and they`ve been keeping up their end of a non-prosecution agreement that prosecutors gave them. That agreement that they made with prosecutors includes this line, quote, it`s understood that should AMI commit any crime subsequent to the date of the signing of this agreement, AMI shall thereafter be subject to prosecution for any criminal violation of which this office has knowledge, including perjury and obstruction of justice.
So, the deal for AMI not getting prosecuted as only as good as AMI`s own behavior from the day the company`s lawyers signed that agreement.
Tonight, Amazon`s CEO and "Washington Post" owner Jeff Bezos is publicly accusing AMI of extorting him and blackmailing him when Bezos said AMI is threatening to publish private text messages and embarrassing photos of him if Bezos doesn`t stop his investigation into the tabloid and its motivations for targeting him.
Now, AMI declined to comment tonight, but that accusation by Bezos against AMI raises one kind of simple question, right? I mean, does the behavior that Bezos describes and the behavior he`s published evidence of tonight in a legal sense, does that amount to blackmail or extortion like he says? I mean, AMI is in really, really, really big trouble if they have committed crimes while they are still bound by a non-prosecution agreement that requires them not to commit any crimes.
Are they potentially on the hook here legally, and is that what`s driving their what appears to be panic toward Jeff Bezos?
Joining us now is Elliot Williams. He`s a former deputy assistant attorney general in the Obama administration.
Mr. Williams, thank you very much for joining us. Much appreciate you being here.
ELLIOT WILLIAMS, FORMER DEPUTY ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL, DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE: Hey. Thanks, Rachel.
MADDOW: So, Jeff Bezos says in his statement tonight after he publishes what he says is this correspondence from AMI that they are attempting to blackmail or extort him. I don`t know legally what the threshold is for something being considered blackmail or extortion.
Does he have a case to make that this is criminal behavior?
WILLIAMS: So, look, sort of big picture, there`s no question this is an act of sexual violence. It`s this increasingly common act of, you know, sextortion is sort of the term that`s used, where these photographs, whether it`s Jeff Bezos, a billionaire or a 16-year-old kid with photos on their phone. It`s a violative act right now.
Can you charge this as extortion? Extortion is the big umbrella over a bunch of conduct that includes blackmail. Extortion usually involves violence. So, you`ve got some nice legs there, it would be a shame if one of them had to break. You know, that`s the kind of thing, sort of give me some money from that. That`s the kind of thing you get through extortion.
Blackmail is a little trickier, at least in this case because what you have is, you know, if -- with respect to let`s say you can`t do something -- like I will -- I`m trying to think of the simplest way to put this. You know, deriving a benefit from somebody not doing something, right?
So the question here is, is that transfer of information, is -- is making him make a statement a benefit to "The National Enquirer"? That`s really complicated. Usually it`s give me money or I will embarrass you or give me money or I will post these pictures. But, the question, does making a statement counts as a thing of value?
So, you know, it`s not a slam dunk. There is no question that it`s bad. It`s ugly conduct. Like I said, sexual violence.
But, again, it`s -- you know, can you charge it? I just don`t know. It`s a tricky question.
MADDOW: The thing that strikes me is what Bezos laying out is that this activity by AMI may essentially mirror what they got caught up in when it came to those campaign finance felonies with Michael Cohen and the hush money payments to the women who were going to say damaging things about Trump. Now, obviously, this is not happening in the context of an election and an active campaign in the same way, but AMI does seem to be palpably panicking here.
I mean, they already inflicted great harm on Jeff Bezos with their initial story. They`re now threatening to inflict nuclear-level harm on Jeff Bezos if he publishes information or if he comes to some sort of public, you know, supported allegation that AMI is targeting him for political reasons. And I guess the question is whether or not that is the sort of thing that they might have to worry about when it comes to this non-prosecution agreement that they`ve got with SDNY. Whether this might open up their potential prosecution for all the things they`ve already confessed to prosecutors.
WILLIAMS: There`s no question about that. And, again, AMI exists in a world of, you know, testing the bounds of where the First Amendment and criminal law will allow you to go. The very concept of catch and kill, which is this, you know, this practice of paying people off to not tell their stories, which was at the heart of this Michael Cohen/McDougal and Daniels story. It`s a legal practice, but it really steps up to the line of what`s permissible under the First Amendment.
And so, what you`re seeing again here is testing the limits of what they can get away with. And yes, this is going nuclear on Jeff Bezos. Now, again, he`s an individual who perhaps to some, including the president of the United States, is less sympathetic than many others. He`s a billionaire and so on. But at the end of the day, this is very bad, very threatening, very ugly conduct that steps right up to the line and probably over the line of legal conduct.
And so, you know, there is -- if you -- maybe they can`t charge it federally. Now, once they click that -- sorry, once they click that e- mail, it -- once they click that e-mail it sort of becomes a more federal offense, but it might be a state offense. So it`s not going to be good for them, no question.
MADDOW: Right. And it doesn`t, as far as the way I read the non- prosecution agreement, they don`t need to commit a crime for which they are going to be prosecuted here.
MADDOW: If prosecutors believe they have committed a crime, they can simply use that as an opportunity to open up everything else they know that AMI has already confessed --
MADDOW: -- that they`ve done.
Elliot Williams, former deputy assistant attorney general in the Obama administration, thank you for being with us tonight. Much appreciated.
WILLIAMS: Thank you.
MADDOW: All right. We`ll be right back. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Let`s say you live in northern North Dakota or northern Washington state or Maine, if you live in one of those very northerly places, the news from across the border in United States doesn`t necessarily feel like international news to you. It can feel like news from your own backyard, because it`s sort of is.
Same goes if you live in southern Arizona or the Rio Grande Valley or El Paso, right? What happens in nearby Mexico is local to you in your part of the U.S.
So when President Clinton ordered the clearing of an old mine field at an American military base in Cuba, the editors of the nearby "Miami Herald" saw that as kind of a local story and they sent a reporter from Miami to go follow the dangerous work of digging up the old explosive mines and getting rid of them safely.
By June 1999, the mine field had been cleared and "The Miami Herald" had a reporter on staff with experience at the American military base at Guantanamo. That reporter`s name was Carol Rosenberg.
And because she had covered that sort of extended backyard story for "The Miami Herald." Rosenberg was the natural choice to send back there when news broke at Guantanamo again in January 2002, a few months into America`s post-9/11 war. That prison at Guantanamo, that prison camp is still there today, 18 years later. It`s still a sort of lay-by, in American legal limbo.
Through it all for 17-plus years, Carol Rosenberg has been covering this secretive corner of American justice, hounding the prosecutors and the defense attorneys at tribunals, scrapping information from Guantanamo to D.C. to Mauritania. So all could better understand this strange forever prison where we keep people indefinitely without any due process. In a speech a few years ago, Rosenberg explained that she does this work precisely because the U.S. doesn`t have an exit plan for Guantanamo. She says we are stuck and, well, we`ve got her stuck with it, too.
And for that, Carol Rosenberg is a national journalistic treasure. He`s been covering this from the beginning intensively. She`s the only one. She`s a legend.
And Carol Rosenberg tonight is on the brink of losing her job. "The Miami herald" and its sister papers the McClatchy chain have put 450 staffers on a list for voluntary buyouts, for volunteering to take a lump sum and go home. On that list so happens to be this nation`s sole full-time reporter on America`s forever prison at Guantanamo, the one reporter who has followed it from day one, who understands it better than anyone on earth and who knows where to dig when stuff needs to be dug up.
Carol Rosenberg told "The Washington Post" this week, quote, I don`t want to stop covering this story.
She has just under two weeks from McClatchy. She can take her chances, decline the buyout, stay at the paper for now, maybe she won`t get laid off, maybe another paper would pick her up if she did. But meanwhile Carol Rosenberg keeps reports, she keeps filing.
Just in the past day, she has delivered the news that hundreds of suspected ISIS fighters could soon find themselves at Guantanamo. For long, who knows?
But nobody in America, nobody on the planet is better equipped to follow that story for you than Carol Rosenberg, reporter for the "Miami Herald". Guantanamo is her backyard story. She wants to keep covering it. Frankly, the nation needs her to keep covering it because nobody else can the way that she has.
Does she get that chance? There has to be some kind of way, right? Guantanamo is something that we will all own at the end of our lives. Carol Rosenberg will be the reason we know the story of it. She can`t lose that job.
That does it for us tonight. We`ll see you again tomorrow.
Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL".
Good evening, Lawrence. I`m sorry I took your minute.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END