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Michael Flynn's lawyers file sentencing update. TRANSCRIPT: 3/12/19, The Rachel Maddow Show.

Guests: Chris Murphy

TRESSIE MCMILLAN COTTOM, AUTHOR:  So, it`s about not only getting in through a guaranteed side door but getting in in a way that says you deserve to be there even knowing that you got in through the side door and that`s the system in which they are trying to preserve. 

CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST:  Tressie McMillan Cottom and Anand Giridharadas, thank you both. 

That is ALL IN for this evening. 

"THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW" starts right now.

Good evening, Rachel. 

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST:  Good evening, Chris.  Thank you, my friend.  Much appreciated.

Thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. 

The Indonesia plane crash that happened at the end of October, that was Lion Air Flight 610, 189 people were killed.  The investigation into that crash showed that the pilots had the plane unexpectedly go nose down on them while they were trying to lift it up.  That was a Boeing 737 MAX 8. 

Boeing 737 is the most popular, the most widely sold modern passenger aircraft in the world.  And this is the new 737.  This was a new plane, the new iteration of that absolute workhorse of the commercial aviation industry. 

But in that new plane, something happened shortly after takeoff on that day in October.  The pilots were reportedly basically wrestling with the plane, trying to get its nose up, but an automatic leveling feature in the plane seems to have been fighting them, pushing the nose down.  The pilots on that flight requested permission to return to the airport because of the trouble they were having with that aircraft, but shortly after making that request, the plane went down, hit the ocean, 189 people killed. 

Then this weekend on Sunday, it was in Ethiopia, same type of plane, the new 737 MAX 8, the new iteration of the Boeing 737 jet.  This time, 157 people were killed.  And the circumstances appear to have been remarkably similar. 

Now, the investigation into the crash this weekend in Ethiopia has only just begun.  We don`t yet know how closely it will ultimately be mapped on to the circumstances of that other recent plane crash of that other same kind of plane in Indonesia but this one was very soon after takeoff while the plane was ascending.  Flight data shows the plane initially ascended as normal, then it descended, then it ascended sharply again while accelerating. 

As in the previous crash in Indonesia, the pilot this weekend in Ethiopia radioed back to the airport, asked to return to the airport from which he had just taken off because of the trouble he was having with that aircraft.  But soon after relaying that request, again, the flight crashed, no survivors, 157 people dead. 

Now, it was the same kind of plane in each crash.  Boeing insists these planes are safe.  But after these two crashes under remarkably similar circumstances, nearly 350 people killed between them, I mean, in the modern age, in the modern aviation age, trained commercial pilots flying large commercial passenger jets just don`t crash them very often.  It doesn`t happen, let alone twice in five months. 

And, you know, maybe it`s just a coincidence that these two brand-new jets of the exact same kind came down in similar circumstances within just a few months of each other, but now that both of these crashes have happened in this close proximity, news organizations, including the A.P. and the "Dallas Morning News" this afternoon, today have been scanning a U.S. database where American commercial pilots can voluntarily report aviation incidents and aviation concerns.  And it turns out that in this publicly accessible database, there`s a whole bunch of reports that show American pilots flying American commercial flights expressing not just concerns about this particular new Boeing aircraft, but American pilots on domestic flights describing the same sort of difficulty on takeoff, the same specific problem where they`re ascending after takeoff, rising toward their cruising altitude when something in the automatic -- automated systems in that plane basically takes over and pulls the nose down. 

Here`s one from a first officer.  So, from the -- basically the co-pilot of a Boeing 737 MAX.  This is a U.S. flight that happened some time in November 2018. 

Quote: Day three of three departing in a MAX 8 after a long overnight.  I was well-rested.  On departure, we had strong cross winds directly off the right wing.  The aircraft accelerated normally and the captain engaged the "A" autopilot after reaching set speed. 

Within two to three seconds, the aircraft pitched nose down.  I called descending just prior to an aircraft safety systems sounding, "don`t sink, don`t sink."  The captain immediately disconnected the autopilot and pitched into a climb. 

The remainder of the flight was uneventful.  We discussed the departure at length and I reviewed in my mind the automation setup and flight profile, but can`t think of any reason the aircraft would pitch nose down so aggressively. 

That`s from a first officer.  Here`s another one.  This was from an American captain this time from the pilot reporting on a domestic flight in the United States.  Again, some time in November 2018.  And this captain describes a remarkably similar circumstances. 

After what the captain describes as a takeoff and climb in light to moderate turbulence, the plane`s nose started to dive.  Quote: The pilot monitoring system called "descending" followed by an almost immediate "don`t sink, don`t sink."  Quote: The pilot monitoring system called descending followed by an almost immediate "don`t sink, don`t sink," quote, I immediately disconnected autopilot, it was engaged and resumed climb. 

With the concerns with the MAX 8 nose down stuff, we both thought it appropriate to bring it to your attention. 

So, in this database, again, where pilots and first officers can report concerns and flight difficulties without worrying about career repercussions for themselves.  They just post this information and allow it to go into this database.  The synopsis at the end of that one is actually nice and blunt, quote, B-737 MAX captain reports autopilot anomaly which led to an undesired brief nose down situation. 

I mean, these things are out there in this public database.  Quote: Aircraft pitched nose down after engaging autopilot on departure. 

And, you know, I am not a trained aviation professional.  Statistically speaking, neither are you, but people who are aviation safety professionals the world over are all having the same reaction to all of this news.  As of today, the list of countries that has suspended all flights of this specific type of Boeing aircraft includes the U.K., France, Germany, Australia, China, Singapore, UEA, Oman, Kuwait, Indonesia, Malaysia.  Stop me when you`ve heard enough. 

After a bunch of major European countries started individually banning 737 Max 8s today, the overall safety regulator for the whole European Union stepped in and for the whole E.U., they blocked flights by these Boeing planes.  And that`s in addition to specific airlines all over the world taking it upon themselves to stopping flights by these planes, whether or not their country of origin or their destination country specifically has banned them. 

And this is -- I mean, this is -- this is an unequivocal reaction everywhere outside the United States.  I mean, some countries, including the U.K., aren`t just banning takeoffs and landings by these planes, they`re even banning overflights by these planes, which means they won`t allow these planes to be flown over their airspace.  These flights are to be kept -- these planes are to be kept out of their airspace until further notice, even if they`re not planning on landing inside the U.K.

But that is not how it`s being handled here at home in the United States, which has long been the international gold standard and essentially the international arbiter of what counts as passenger airline safety standards.  I mean, as all of these global airlines and all of these countries around the world banned flights by these Boeing aircraft, here is our FAA as of tonight. 

Quote: Thus far, our review shows no systemic performance issues and provides no basis to order grounding the aircraft. 

Now, I mean, this could be happening at any time in modern American history, right?  I mean, this type of a crisis in the global aviation industry is the sort of technologically driven, surprise external security crisis that you don`t wise on anybody, right?  And it just makes you wish and hope and pray for competence and capacity and the leadership you`ve got that has to deal with the crisis like this at all levels, right?  You just want -- this is the sort of thing that makes you want really good, really smart, really qualified people in place, when a crisis like this arises. 

With this particular crisis happening now at this point in our country, of course, we have some novel concerns right now in our country that we might not necessarily have with any other president in place, with any other presidential administration in place.  For example, that statement from the FAA today saying everything`s fine, as far as they can tell, everything`s fine, no need to worry.  As you can see from the sort of headline there that we`ve got marked there in orange, that statement was put out in the name of the acting FAA administrator, Daniel K. Elwell. 

Nothing against Mr. Elwell whatsoever, but it is a little bit odd, if you think about it, that this far into the Trump administration, more than two years into the Trump presidency, why do we still have an acting administrator in place at the FAA?  I mean, Mr. Elwell has been there in an acting capacity since President Obama`s FAA administrator left the job when his term came to an end in January 2018, well over a year ago. 

And again, I`m not casting aspersions whatsoever on the acting administrator himself, but the reason there isn`t a Senate confirmed official permanent leader in that agency even now is because President Trump hasn`t formally nominated anybody for the job.  Within the last few days he said that -- it`s been reported that he has expected to name a Delta executive for the job, but nobody`s nominated yet. 

And this time last year, the guy he was putting forward as his first choice for the job, remember that, his own personal pilot.  President Trump wanted to install as the administrator of the FAA the guy who flies the Trump plane.  Not Air Force One, like, no, the plane that says "Trump" on it.  Remember the one from the campaign? 

I remember at the time they even tried to roll this out like it was some sort of, you know, some sort of like bold, smart move by Trump that he would tap his own plane`s pilot to run the FAA.  They rolled out -- they even rolled out an anonymous administration official to try to sell reporters on it.  Quote: John Dunkin isn`t just a pilot, he oversaw the Trump presidential campaign`s air fleet, says anonymous White House official put out for this purpose.  Oh, he oversaw the Trump campaign`s air fleet?  Wow. 

No one`s disputing that`s true, but remember during the campaign when the Trump presidential campaign plane got grounded for awhile?  The heat of the campaign.  It was like April, late April 2016.  The reason his campaign plane got grounded because it turns out they had been flying that jet for months without it being registered.  Oops. 

Yes, well, the director of aviation for the Trump Organization, who is responsible both for flying the plane and for directing all aviation operations, for making sure that stuff like, I don`t know, the plane is registered so it can legally fly, that`s the guy who President Trump initially tapped to put in charge of America`s $18 billion federal regulatory agency overseeing the international gold standard in airline safety.  He`s so good at flying my plane, except for the fact that it`s, well, you know, look, he`s an expert.  He works for me.  It`s got to be the best.  Only the best people. 

That did not work out.  That time the president wanted to nominate his personal pilot to run the FAA, that nomination did not ultimately come to fruition.  But apparently that`s the only person he wanted, as far as he could imagine in terms of a good person for the job.  So here we are two years into the Trump administration, there is still an acting director, and now, tonight, the FAA increasingly stands alone on the international stage in saying these Boeing planes, they`re fine.  We see no problem whatsoever here. 

And, again, there are just novel concerns we never had to think about before this presidency.  But since President Trump has been in office, the CEO of Boeing, the company that makes these planes, has made a point of visiting with the president at the president`s private for-profit Florida club Mar-a-Lago. 

Since this crisis has emerged, it`s reported today that same CEO has been personally lobbying the president by phone, surely reminding him of his Mar-a-Lago trips and telling the president that the planes are just great, there`s no problem, definitely shouldn`t be grounded here in the United States.  No, everything`s fine.  Boeing says they`re fine.  And as of right now, that`s what the FAA is saying, too, alone in the world. 

Now, that position by the president and by the FAA is being rejected on a bipartisan basis on Capitol Hill, rejected by senators who range from Elizabeth Warren to Ted Cruz to Dianne Feinstein to Mitt Romney.  There have been multiple bipartisan statements today from senators from all over the country defying the president on this, defying the FAA on this, calling on these planes to be grounded in the United States, like they are all around the world.  Senator Cruz oversees a key subcommittee that has oversight responsibilities in the aviation industry.  Senator Cruz says he will convene an emergency hearing to try to address this matter. 

You might remember back in the Obama administration in 2013, there was another Boeing plane that was ordered grounded all across the United States.  Do you remember that?  That wasn`t the 737.  That was the Boeing 787. 

And back in 2013, all of those planes were grounded on orders from the U.S. government when there was what seemed to be a recurring problem with overheating battery packs, overheating lithium-ion battery packs.  And at that time when that problem arose in 2013, President Obama`s transportation secretary ordered Boeing to ground all of its 787s. 

The grounding ultimately lasted less than a month.  Boeing crafted a new part, a fire resistant compartment to put around those batteries and that passed muster and ultimately were back up and flying. 

The transportation secretary in the Obama administration was former Republican Congressman Ray LaHood.  He spoke with the "Associated Press" today in the context of this new crisis.  He pointed out today that even if the FAA continues with this line that everything`s fine, nothing`s worth worrying about here, we`re not going to do anything, even if the FAA hues to this line, Ray LaHood is pointing out that Trump`s transportation secretary, who is now Elaine Chao, she has the power, if she so chooses, to overrule the FAA and to herself ground of these Boeing 737s.  If she feels it is warranted she can do it on her own say-so as secretary of transportation. 

Ray LaHood speaking out to the "Associated Press" about that today, reminding Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao of her power to do so, and, in fact, calling on her to do that in the case of these Boeing 737 MAXes. 

So these planes are being grounded all over the world.  In some cases it`s not just takeoffs and landings, it`s overflights even, countries closing their airspace to these American planes.  Airlines all over the world are stopping flying these Boeing planes.  In some cases today, airlines that had flights in the air, this type of plane in the air, in some cases today, airlines turned those flights around midair, flew them back to where they started and grounded them once they landed.  Wouldn`t even let them complete their flights. 

While here in the United States, we`ve got a president who has been personally chatting to the CEO of this company on this matter, who has apparently been telling him everything is fine, nothing is worth worrying about here.  Hey, do you maybe want to play golf next week? 

The president`s FAA would now be led by the president`s pilot from his own private jet if the president had had his way on the matter with the FAA, but he didn`t.  As a consolation prize, we still have no permanent person running that agency, more than two years into this presidency.  The FAA, for its part in all this, says everything`s fine.  No need to worry. 

Now, Congress may try to act, including Republicans in Congress who may try to act.  The Transportation Secretary apparently has the option to act, although she is the wife of the top Republican in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, and so maybe it`s hard for her to make such a decision outside the political crosswinds.  But there`s one other piece of this that you may not have heard about today that you should know about in the middle of this crisis.  And, honestly, you should know about it because I think it will curl your hair. 

Again, remember based on these two recent crashes of this type of plane that have killed almost -- almost 350 people.  Based on those crashes, and based on other similar descriptions from American pilots describing domestic flights here in the U.S. type of plane, a similar problem they have encountered in these planes.  Remember, what pilots at least are describing as the problem here, what their perceived problem with this aircraft is appears to be related to some kind of automated system, an automated leveling system in this plane that for some reason on departure has a propensity or at least an episodic problem in which it unexpectedly yanks the plane`s nose down toward the ground when the plane is supposed to be climbing. 

Well, the good news is it turns out that Boeing has in the works a software fix that they believe will address that problem in these planes.  Good.  "The Wall Street Journal" had the scoop on this this afternoon.  And where it ends is not good. 

But here`s where it starts.  Quote: Boeing is making an extensive change to the flight control system in the 737 MAX aircraft, going beyond what many industries familiar with the discussions had anticipated.  The change would mark a major shift from how Boeing originally designed a stall prevention feature in the aircraft. 

A company spokesman confirmed the update would use multiple sensors or data feeds in the plane`s stall prevention system, instead of the current reliance on a single sensor.  The change was prompted by primarily results from the Indonesian crash investigation of Lion Air Flight 610 in October.  Those preliminary crash investigation results indicated that erroneous data from a single sensor, which measures the angle of the plane`s nose, caused the stall prevention system to misfire. 

And then a series of events put the aircraft into a dangerous dive.  The anticipated software fix from Boeing, quote, will limit the extent of the flight control systems` downward push on the plane`s nose.  That seems like a good idea.  How soon are they going to have it ready? 

Well, according to this scoop today from "The Wall Street Journal," the FAA, U.S. aviation regulators, are now expected to mandate this change, this change in software in these Boeing planes by the end of next month.  OK, so that`s still a ways off, but at least it`s in the works, they believe they`ve got a way to fix the accidental nose dive problem. 

You know, why didn`t you say so?  How soon could this thing have been ready?  Should it have been ready before the Ethiopia plane this week crashed that killed 157 people? 

Well, here is the back story on the timing of when this thing is going to be able to be rolled out.  Ready? 

A software fix to this particular flight control feature had been expected early in January, but discussions between the FAA and Boeing dragged on.  Officials from various parts of Boeing and the FAA had differing views how extensive the fix should be.  U.S. officials also say the federal government`s recent shutdown halted work on the fix entirely for five weeks. 

So did everybody enjoy their 35-day government shutdown?  I mean, you might have thought we got nothing out of that as a country, but it turns out not just us, but the whole world got something.  We got a five-week delay in the implementation of the software that they think will solve the unexpected nose dive problem in the Boeing 737 MAX 8 jets, and in the meantime, Ethiopia Airlines Flight 302 has crashed, killing more than 150 people.  The investigation into that crash is now underway, closely on the heels of the other 737 MAX 8 crash that happened in Indonesia. 

And now countries all over the world and airlines all over the world are grounding these flights, sometimes in the middle of flights, turning those flights around and grounding them, grounding these planes, prohibiting these planes from even flying through their airspace, throwing global passenger aviation into chaos.  And maybe now this gets fixed by the end of next month.  But in the meantime here in the U.S., continue to enjoy your flights on Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft.  Don`t worry, the president talks to the Boeing CEO on the phone about it all the time. 

And the president himself knows aviation.  After all, he had the best pilot you could ever imagine, who was amazing.  He would have been perfect to run the FAA.  I don`t know why anybody didn`t go along with it. 

Or, you know, maybe Elaine Chao will fix it. 

So, you know, it`s easy for everybody to take pot shots at government, right, and the people who run government, the people who work in government, until something comes up and it turns out you really need them and you really need them to be great, you really need them to be up to it.  And usually in the middle of the crisis, it`s too late to go back and make sure you`ve got all the right people in place and you made good decisions about who ought to be running things. 

But that crisis is full fledged right now and there are, you know, there`s a lot going on.  There`s a lot else besides that in the news.  There`s a ton of plates that are basically spinning in the air right now. 

The big Brexit vote today was in the U.K.  The Brexit plan still not approved by the British parliament.  There`s going to be two more crucial votes over the next two days that will determine the fate of what is going to happen between the European Union and our closest overseas ally, the U.K., the prospect of a catastrophic economic and regulatory break between the U.K. and the E.U. at the end of this month is still very much live. 

The ongoing political crisis in Venezuela now has rapidly unspooled into a fairly massive humanitarian catastrophe.  We`re going to have more on that coming up later this hour with Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy. 

The big college cheating scandal that was exposed today, just mind- boggling.  If you did not see Chris Hayes` show, his discussion on this earlier, watch the rerun later on tonight.  He has excellent coverage on this story. 

But today, we saw dozens of indictments and arrests announced by the U.S. attorney`s office in Massachusetts because there are celebrities and rich people and rich famous universities involved in this scandal.  You can expect this one to play out for a long while yet, but today is day one of this revelation of a massive bribery and cheating scandal with America`s very top colleges. 

And on top of all of that, the out of control spinning carousel of scandal around this president is about to enter one of its most kinetic and dramatic periods yet.  Today, prosecutors filed notice with the federal court in Virginia that they wanted president`s campaign chair Paul Manafort to pay $25 million in restitution, on top of the four-year prison sentence the judge in that case has already given him.  That restitution part, the $25 million, that will not be addressed by that judge in Virginia until after Paul Manafort is sentenced by a different federal judge tomorrow in a different jurisdiction in Washington, D.C. 

That Manafort sentencing hearing in D.C. is due to start at 9:30 a.m. Eastern Time.  Now, in terms of monitoring what happens there, it`s federal court so there`s not going to be any cameras in the courtroom.  I can tell you there will be lots of reporters in the courtroom.  You should expect live coverage fairly soon after that hearing starts tomorrow. 

Again, that`s Paul Manafort`s second federal sentencing, tomorrow in the morning, 9:30 Eastern time.  He`s facing up to and an additional ten years in prison. 

And tonight, I am told since we have been on the air -- that`s what this is that was delivered to me moments ago.  I am told that we just got in an update from prosecutors in the special counsel`s office on the troubling case of Trump national security adviser Mike Flynn.  You will remember that Mike Flynn was essentially thrown out of his sentencing hearing in December by a federal judge who was sort of all but warning him that he was not going to like his sentence if he went ahead with it that day in December.  Wouldn`t General Flynn like to go back to go work with prosecutors some more to see if he could become an even better cooperator, to see if he could do anything else to mitigate the sentence this judge was prepared to give him that day in that court in December. 

General Flynn finally realized what the judge was trying to tell him and agreed he would go back and cooperate further, try to improve his station further before this judge sentenced him.  That was three months ago.  Tonight is the first time we`ve heard from prosecutors since about what has happened between them and Mike Flynn since that bizarre and dramatic day in that courtroom in December, when his sentencing got called off.  There will be a status conference in the Flynn case tomorrow.  We have just started to get the documents -- we`ve just started to get in tonight the documents that will be the predicate of that sentencing hearing for Mike Flynn tomorrow.  We`re going to get more on that breaking news in just a moment.  That`s just happening right now. 

And on top of all of that, authorities in New York state, interestingly in both the legislature and in law enforcement and the attorney general`s office, they have started today to turn their own state-level law enforcement resources on this president and his business.  And they`re starting to do it, like they`ve got him in a tractor beam.  State law enforcement sort of sounds less threatening than federal law enforcement when you`re talking about a federal elected official like a president.  In this case, don`t be so sure, and in this case specifically there may be some special problems for this president when it comes to the prospect of state-level charges or even investigations emanating from New York state targeted at him and his family and his business. 

So we`ve got more on that coming up as well.  But again, we`ll have some breaking news for you on what`s expected tomorrow for Mike Flynn, the president`s national security adviser who looks like he may finally be facing the music.  That hearing is tomorrow and that story`s next. 

Stay with us. 


MADDOW:  We have news this hour in the special counsel`s case on Trump national security adviser Mike Flynn.  We have been watching for a crucial status update on his case in D.C. as of tomorrow.  This would be the most substantially update in the Flynn case since he went through that disastrous sentencing hearing in December, that basically aborted hearing. 

The judge in his case said Flynn had all but betrayed his country.  The judge suggested that Flynn consider not being sentenced that day so he could cooperate some more and try to improve his circumstances.  What we expected to get tomorrow in a status report in the Flynn case was basically a sense of how that cooperation has been going. 

Now, in a new filing that`s just been put in this hour, we`ve essentially got the news ahead of time.  What we`ve got is a quick joint status report between the prosecutors and the defense in which the defense lawyers for Flynn ask basically for another 90 days for Mike Flynn before his sentencing goes ahead.  I`ll read from the filing. 

Quote: On December 18th, 2018, the court held a sentencing hearing in this matter.  The defendant requested a continuance of that hearing to allow him to complete his cooperation and related case charged in the Eastern District of Virginia.  At this time, the defendant continues to request a continuance since the case in EDVA has not been revolved and there may be additional cooperation for the defendant to provide pursuant to the plea agreement in this matter.  Accordingly, the defendant respectfully requests that the parties provide a status report with 90 days. 

The government, meaning the prosecutors, takes no position on the defendant`s request for a continuance.  However, and this is interesting, while the defendant remains in a position to cooperate with law enforcement authorities, and could testify in the EDVA case should it proceed to trial, in the government`s view, Flynn`s cooperation is otherwise complete. 

So that`s the special counsel`s office saying they`re done with Flynn.  If the defense wants to go another 90 days, that`s fine.  The related case in EDVA is Flynn`s former business partner Bijan Kian who has been charged -- who was charged with some of the things that -- some of the same things that Flynn admitted to in terms of his unregistered lobbying. 

Right now, Kian has pleaded not guilty and is due to go on trial starting on July 15th.  His lawyers saying he may need to testify, he may need to continue to cooperate in that case.  Special counsel`s office is kind of saying, eh, maybe.  If you want another 90 days, we don`t object, but we`re done talking to him. 

So, fascinating.  We`ll wait for the judge`s order now here in response to this.  If the court grants this 90-day request that would push the next status update to at least June 10th.  Bijan Kian is still going to trial on schedule.  He still won`t have gone to trial at that point, so I`m not exactly sure why they asked for 90 days and not 120 days to encompass the start of that trial, but we`ll see. 

Mike Flynn, if the judge says yes, on the hook for another 90 days.  Another status report would be June 10th, and then presumably sentencing finally to follow. 

We`ll keep you posted.  Stay with us. 


MADDOW:  Joining us now, I am grateful to say, is former U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Alabama, the great Joy Vance. 

Joyce, thank you so much for joining us tonight.  I`m so happy you`re here. 

JOYCE VANCE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY:  Thanks for having me.

MADDOW:  So I did not expect to get this news involving Mike Flynn and his potentially sentencing until tomorrow, which is when the status report was due, but it`s come out ahead of schedule.  We`ve got a joint status report from his defense lawyers and from prosecutors in the special counsel`s office.  Bottom line appears to be that Flynn`s defense is asking for another 90 days before that judge considers going back to the process of sentencing him. 

After we saw these dramatic -- that dramatic hearing in December where we thought Flynn was going to be sentenced and it sort of got called off in the middle of that hearing, what do you make of this development tonight? 

VANCE:  You know, I think General Flynn was very frightened by Judge Sullivan`s approach in that case.  He was not -- he made it very clear that he wasn`t interested in accepting the prosecution`s recommendations that General Flynn should serve no time in jail.  He made it clear that Flynn should take advantage of the opportunity to go back and continue to cooperate. 

And so, Flynn makes it very clear here that he`d like to have additional time so that he can either testify in this trial involving his former business partner or let that case conclude with plea agreements as a measure of his worthiness to the judge, and, of course, the government says that they`re agnostic.  They don`t take a position in this case, indicating that they believe and that they stand by their recommendation that Flynn receive no time. 

But you can tell there is a little bit of an edge here and he wants to do as much as he can before he has to go back into that courtroom. 

MADDOW:  And with the government, with the prosecutors pledging as you say, agnosticism and them saying, we don`t take a position on that.  We recognize that`s what he`s asking for, but we`re basically done. 

Would you expect the judge to accede to this request, to go along with it, given the prosecutors aren`t involving themselves as adversaries in this process at all? 

VANCE:  It`s a really good question.  I suppose it will come down to whether or not the judge is satisfied, whether the prosecution submits additional information or the judge has a change of heart or whether he really wants to see Flynn go down to that very last, you know, finishing spot. 

I will say, Rachel, it`s unusual for prosecutors to be willing to give a cooperator credit at sentencing before his cooperation is done, before he testifies in the last case.  Here we have the government saying his cooperation is complete, so I think that there is something that we don`t know that Bob Mueller`s team does. 

MADDOW:  In terms of looking ahead to this news tomorrow, I think we`re now just waiting for the judge`s order in response to this joint submission in the Flynn case, right?  But in the Manafort case, we are going to have his sentence -- second sentencing hearing tomorrow before Judge Amy Berman Jackson in Washington, D.C.  Anything that we should be watching for in particular as that sentencing hearing takes shape tomorrow morning? 

VANCE:  I thinks the most important outcome of that sentence will be seeing whether Judge Jackson runs the sentence she gives in D.C., concurrent or consecutive with the sentence in the Eastern District of Virginia.  That means will Manafort get to serve the two sentencing essentially at the same time or does he have to serve first one and then the other? 

If she gives him the maximum that she can give him, which is about ten years, and he has to serve that after the sentence in Virginia, he`s looking at a much longer sentence than if she runs them together. 

MADDOW:  And that`s totally within -- that`s within her purview.  She gets to decide that just on her own? 

VANCE:  That`s her discretion, absolutely. 

MADDOW:  Former U.S. attorney in Alabama, Joyce Vance.  Joyce, thank you for joining us tonight.  Much appreciated. 

VANCE:  Thanks. 

MADDOW:  All right.  Still lots more to get to tonight.  Stay with us. 


MADDOW:  On January 23rd, the head of the national assembly in Venezuela, Juan Guaido, declared himself interim president of that country.  He had an arguable claim to it.  After a botched presidential election and given what Venezuela`s constitution says you`re supposed to do in that sort of eventuality, him being the leader of the national assembly gave him claim to being the country`s rightful president. 

Now, the U.S. wasn`t the first country to do so, but ultimately the Trump administration decided they would back Guaido`s claim and officially recognize him as the leader of that country.  In response, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said that he would break off all diplomatic and political relations with the United States.  He ordered that all U.S. diplomats should leave that country within 72 hours. 

The State Department responded by saying no, basically no and who are you?  They said they had no plans for evacuating U.S. officials and would maintain diplomatic relations with the interim president, Juan Guaido, not the, quote, former President Nicolas Maduro. 

And on the one hand, that`s the U.S. putting a line in the sand, making a statement about who they believe to be the legitimate leader.  On the other hand, it was a difficult response because the person who still runs that country and still controls its military is still Nicholas Maduro. 

So, one lingering question for the U.S. is, are our diplomats safe there?  Do they have proper security in place?  Are we putting them in undue danger given the standoff between the two countries and us not recognizing the leader of that country as who he says he is?

By the following day, the State Department changed its mind and they did order all nonessential U.S. government employees to leave Venezuela.  The State Department continued to maintain a diplomatic presence in Venezuela, just a smaller one.  That`s where we left it as of January 24th. 

Well, that all changed last night.  Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announcing that now the U.S. will withdraw all remaining U.S. personnel from our embassy in Venezuela this week, citing the deteriorating situation in the country. 

Much of Venezuela has been without power for almost a week now.  Hospitals struggling to keep equipment running.  Food is rotting.  The water distribution system is down.  And you can only live without water for so long. 

Even the U.S. embassy in Caracas is currently not connected to water or electricity.  Without electricity in particular that means our diplomats have no way of communicating with HQ here in the United States. 

Venezuelans were out in the streets demonstrating yet again today, but it is absolutely unclear what happens next.  And what it means if we are pulling all our diplomatic personnel out now.  Does that mean that we`re giving up on any U.S. presence in Venezuela, any diplomatic efforts in Venezuela? 

Senator Chris Murphy from the foreign relations committee is our guest next.  Stay with us. 


MADDOW:  Reading from this travel advisory, quote: U.S. Department of State announced the temporary suspense of operations of the U.S. embassy in Caracas and the withdrawal of diplomatic personnel from Venezuela.  The U.S. embassy in Caracas is not providing any consular services.  Quote: U.S. citizens residing or traveling in Venezuela should depart Venezuela.  Should depart. 

This is the newly updated travel advisory from the State Department on Venezuela, as the situation on the ground there has deteriorated into disaster. 

Joining us now is Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut. 

Senator, thanks for being with us tonight.  Much appreciated. 


MADDOW:  So there`s -- obviously there`s a lot of news all the time now.  Lots of homegrown crises.  I mean, the president`s campaign chairman is about to find out tomorrow how long he`s going to spend in federal prison. 

But with everything going on, I wanted to talk to you tonight because you have been telling Americans basically to be aware of and to be smart about what`s going on in Venezuela, what are own government appears to be doing there now. 

What is your concern?  What do you think people should be watching for? 

MURPHY:  Well, there`s been plenty of reporting going back almost a year about president Trump`s inquiries about military intervention in Venezuela.  It`s curious because the president seems to get along just swimmingly with lots of other brutal dictators around the world, but for whatever reason, he has pegged Nicolas Maduro as someone he is going to have a different relationship with. 

Maduro is an illegitimate ruler.  He stole this election and refuses to call a new free and fair election, but there is no pathway to oust Maduro and usher in a new stable regime, democratically elected in Venezuela, that runs through U.S. military intervention. 

Now, the U.S. has cooled its talk of military intervention generally over the last week, but there is no doubt that president Trump has had a lot of interest in that kind of move in Venezuela, and I think it`s just important for all of us to make sure that we are not setting ourselves up for a giant mistake there.  When we pull our diplomats out today, I will note that we did say that one of the reasons was that it was constraining our options in Venezuela.  Some of them -- some people read that to mean with our diplomats there, military intervention was harder. 

MADDOW:  You wrote online today that the -- essential raising the prospect that the U.S. might be trying to incite a civil war in Venezuela with no real plan for how it ends.  When you talk about that sort of a scenario, is that the same thing that you`re talking about when you talk about U.S. military intervention?  Is there some sort of third-party bank shot that the United States government may be trying to pull off here in terms of trying to achieve those sorts of ends that you`re describing there?  How do you think they`re planning on trying to do what you think they`re going to do? 

MURPHY:  Well, you know, we made a big call here.  We called Maduro illegitimate and we recognized Guaido as the leader of the country, and we did that without a really well thought out plan for how we were going to execute that.  One of my worries has been that we have used humanitarian aid as a political tool, trying to use it as a means to try to promote regime change instead of really staying single-mindedly focused on getting the humanitarian relief on the ground. 

There is a pathway, a diplomatic pathway, but it runs through countries like China and Cuba and Russia, countries who the Trump administration really cannot deal with today.  We`re in the middle of a trade war with China that basically eliminates our ability to try to get them to the table on Venezuela.  The Trump administration has reversed the cooling off with Cuba that would have if not reversed allowed us to talk to the Cubans about a pathway forward. 

So, there aren`t a lot of people we can work with to try to land this plane in Venezuela, and we don`t seem to have any other solid means by which to make good on this promise we made that Guaido would eventually be elected, would be made president, and then my worry becomes if all those other options are off the table, does somebody make a mistake here and move forward with some kind of military option? 

MADDOW:  Right.  And this latest surprise move with all U.S. personnel being pulled from Venezuela after the U.S. was initially resisting that, that at least is being taken as a sign to worry about that prospect. 

Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut, thank you very much for your time tonight.  Come back to talk to us about this any time.  I`d love to stay in conversation with you on this. 

MURPHY:  Thanks, Rachel. 

MADDOW:  All right.  Thanks, sir. 

MURPHY:  We`ll be right back with one last bit of breaking news, I`m told.  Stay with us. 


MADDOW:  Before we go tonight, some late breaking news from California.  NBC 4 in Los Angeles is reporting tonight that the new Democratic governor of California Gavin Newsom is planning to take executive action to eliminate the death penalty in California.  NBC 4 reporting that Governor Newsom has been calling elected officials across the state, basically giving them a heads up that he`s about to do this on his own, on his own say-so. 

If this is in fact what`s about to happen, we think we may hear the details from the governor at a news conference he has called for 10:00 a.m. Pacific Time tomorrow. 

It will not be a total surprise if that`s what he`s about to do.  Newsom has been telegraphing this for a little while.  He told the "L.A. Times" recently, the minute I got elected in the transition, I prioritized this issue.  I don`t want to react to something.  I want to be proactive. 

California has had the death penalty since 1978 when California voters reinstated it in a statewide ballot measure.  California also operates one of the largest prison systems in the world.  This report, if true, if the governor`s about to personally take executive action to eliminate the death penalty there, that will change history.  Watch this space. 

That does it for us tonight.  We will see you again tomorrow. 


Good evening, Lawrence.

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