Special Counsel investigation approaching two-years. TRANSCRIPT: 3/19/19, The Rachel Maddow Show.

Guests: Michael Rothfeld

CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST:  That is ALL IN for this evening. 

"THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW" starts right now.  Good evening, Rachel. 

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST:  Chris, I am super excited about your Green New Deal town hall thing.  That`s awesome.

HAYES:  I am, too.  You know what?  Here`s a great detail.  It`s in the Bronx.  It`s in the hospital I was born in which is in Alexandria Ocasio- Cortez`s district. 

MADDOW:  That is going to be amazing.  That is the last Friday in March, that`s Friday, the 29th.  Awesome.

HAYES:  Yes, Friday next.

MADDOW:  I have to find about these things watching TV. 

HAYES:  That`s how you get it.

MADDOW:  Jeez, you know, I work down the hall.  You could --

HAYES:  Well, you`re welcome to come if you want, although you got to a show to do.  All right.

MADDOW:  Yes.  Thanks.  Well done.

Thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.  We`ve got a lot to get to tonight.  You can always tell that when my desk is piled up like this before we even gotten started talking about anything. 

But we`re going to start tonight with something that arrived in today`s news as a surprise.  About a week and a half ago, "The Washington Post" filed a motion with the federal court in Washington, D.C. that was handling the criminal case of the president`s campaign chairman Paul Manafort.  And that motion from "The Washington Post" called on the judge in the Manafort case in D.C. to release un-redacted filings and transcripts from Manafort`s case.  So that "The Washington Post" and by extension the American people could get a gander at those documents. 

Specifically, "The Post`s" motion called for unredacting a whole bunch of the court materials from Manafort`s case that related to how he broke his plea deal when he repeatedly and the judge ruled intentionally lied to prosecutors.  The motion also called for the release of an un-redacted version of the sentencing submission about Manafort that was filed with the court by Robert Mueller and the special counsel`s office. 

It was fascinating, the parts we could see, but large parts of it looked like that. 

So, "The Post" filed to have all that stuff unsealed.  And, you know, this is -- this is actually an important dynamic to watch, you know?  Today, we got the public release of all of these hundreds of pages of documents from the Michael Cohen trial, which we`ll be talking about a little later on. 

The reason we got these documents released today is because of a motion filed with the court by "The New York Times."  "The Times" asked the court to unseal all these stuff, which is why we got all this today, which is what drove the news cycle all day.  In the Paul Manafort case, this motion to release all the stuff from his trial, it was filed with the court by "The Washington Post."

See, this is why you need to subscribe to more newspapers.  They are doing good work with your money.  Subscribe to your local paper.  Subscribe to national papers that you read. 

Heck, if you`ve got the money to do it, give people gift subscriptions to those papers whenever it comes time to give a present.  You will feel great about it.  Your country needs you to do it.  Half the news that we`ve got is stuff that newspapers dig up, but about another half of the news that we get is stuff they pry loose by other means. 

Anyway, in the Manafort case today, it`s "The Washington Post" and they`re telling the court please unseal all this stuff from Manafort`s case.  So, the judge when she got that motion from "The Washington Post" a week and a half ago, she set a deadline for the prosecutors to respond as to whether they had any objections to unsealing that material, whether they wanted the judge to continue to keep under seal all the redacted stuff about what Manafort lied to the prosecutors about and how they wanted Manafort sentenced because of it.  The judge set that deadline for Mueller`s office to respond as Thursday.  So the day after tomorrow is their deadline. 

Surprise.  Mueller`s office today warned the judge that they don`t think they`re going to be able to make that deadline and do you know why? 

This is amazing.  This is what they said today: On March 7th, "The Washington Post" filed a motion under Local Criminal Rule 57.6 for public access to certain un-redacted records from United States v. Manafort, specifically the motion seeks un-redacted versions of filings and hearing transcripts related to this court`s determination of whether Manafort breached his plea agreement and the government`s un-redacted sentencing submission.  The government`s response is presently due on March 21st, 2019, the day after tomorrow. 

The government respectfully requests an extension to respond to the motion through and including April 1st.  They want to be extended to a week from Monday. 

Why do they want this extension?  Quote: the counsel responsible for preparing the response face the press of other work and require additional time to consult within the government. 

The counsel responsible for preparing the response, they face the press of other work.  You do?  Tell me more. 

I mean, this is the special counsel`s office saying this.  It`s signed on behalf of Robert Mueller by Michael Dreeben, who is the top appellate lawyer on the Mueller team, also by another lawyer named Adam Jed. 

What is this press of work they`re facing right now this week that prohibits them from getting a motion into this judge by two days from now as it pertains to unsealing stuff from Manafort`s case?  And why would a -- filing the special counsel`s motion on that subject require, quote, additional time to consult within the government?

I mean, at a surface level, I don`t think anybody much cares about whether we`re going to get the Mueller`s team response about unsealing all of Manafort`s stuff by Thursday of this week or by April 1st, which is a week and a half from now.  I mean, this filing today from the special counsel`s office says in fact even "The Washington Post" doesn`t mind about this delay at all.  They consent to this delay as well.

But why is the Manafort team peeping here really for the first time about some crush of work that they`re facing right now this week?  Why are they peeping to the judge right now about consultations they need to pursue within the government on this matter?  Consultations that will require more time?

I don`t know.  And neither do you.  But we can figure I think a little bit of this out from context.  Again, this whole thing, this whole motion filed by "The Washington Post" is about whether the court will make public some of the stuff that has been redacted and sealed in Manafort`s case.  We know from the wrangling over this issue in Manafort`s case that when prosecutors told the judge this stuff needed to be redacted or sealed in the first place, they said it was because these particular parts of these filings and these particular parts of these courtroom discussions had to be kept from the public because they related to ongoing investigations, and individuals that had been not charged or at least that hadn`t been charged yet. 

Now, we know from context that the sealed material in question relates to Manafort`s lies to prosecutors.  And we know from what we could see in his trial about that that what Manafort lied to prosecutors about included his interactions with the guy who handled polling for the Trump campaign.  We know that Manafort lied to prosecutors about a large payment he received from the Trump campaign pollster. 

We know that Manafort also lied about his communications with a Russian guy who prosecutors say is tied to Russian intelligence.  We know Manafort also specifically lied about providing complex internal polling data from the Trump campaign to that guy linked to Russian intelligence while the campaign was under way. 

Well, now today, in a surprise the special counsel`s office says before it can tell this judge whether information on those matters can be unsealed, they`re going to need more time.  They need more time specifically to consult within the government as to whether these matters can be unsealed, and also they`re just going to need more time because right now this week between now and two days from now, they are crushed with a ton of work.  What work? 

I mean, it`s -- it`s interesting to see them make this public-facing argument.  We`ve never seen them say anything like this before.  I find this super intriguing.  I also know that we`re going to need some expert help to try to figure it out.  So we`ll have that ahead on this show this hour. 

But I have to say, this is particular surprising and particularly intriguing news because of all the mixed signals we are getting right now about whether or not all these Russia-related investigations are coming to an end or not.  I mean, you have probably seen the headlines over the past week or so about some of the prosecutors and lead FBI agents who have been working for the special counsel that are now leaving the special counsel`s office and they are taking new jobs.  Well, that sort of seems like maybe the special counsel`s office is pulling up stakes and wrapping things up. 

On the other hand, you probably saw the headlines today about the hundreds of pages of Michael Cohen case materials that were just unsealed today, in which, among other things, the redactions in these documents in particular make it seem like there really is some central key stuff that came up in Michael Cohen`s case that isn`t over, that doesn`t appear to be resolved by Cohen going to prison and that may involve other people who as far as we know haven`t been charged thus far.  We`ll have more on that coming up this hour as well. 

But there`s one other piece of this -- along these lines, amid all of these mixed signals we`re getting, that things definitely look like they`re wrapping up and these other signals that we`re getting that make it seem like things definitely aren`t wrapping up, there`s one other thing going on right now that I think informs our sense of whether or not this thing`s coming to an end.  It`s not something that has been getting much attention yet but to me this is something jumping up and down yelling look at me, look at me, and I think it deserves a little bit more attention. 

In all the work done so far by special counsel Robert Mueller, of all the indictments and the court filings and the plea deals, you know, and statements of the offense and all that stuff, for all of it, if you think about it, we haven`t had much courtroom action, right?  I mean, there`s been lots of hearings before judges and stuff, but in terms of actual litigation with a jury and a defendant and everything, that`s only happened once.  We`ve only had one trial so far. 

That was when Paul Manafort took his case to trial in federal court in Virginia.  It didn`t work out well, right?  Manafort got convicted there.  That`s part of why he is now starting his seven-plus year federal prison sentence.  Regardless of what happens with the unredactions or not in his case files, which is still a matter of dispute in the court. 

But Paul Manafort, his trial, that`s the only trial we`ve had in this whole scandal thus far.  That said, another one is coming.  The second trial from this whole saga, the one -- you know, it might not happen, might fall apart, there might be a plea deal, they might drop charges, you never know.  But right now what appears to be coming for the second trial for all this stuff is the same federal district court where Manafort went on trial. 

It`s the case against this guy.  A Trump transition official named Bijan Kian.  He`s charged with conspiracy and illegally operating as a foreign agent in this country.  Again, his name, Bijan Kian.  He`s not a famous guy.  What he`s known for is having worked with the consulting firm of Trump national security adviser Mike Flynn. 

In court papers, in fact, Flynn is described as having participated in some soft criminal schemes for which Kian is now being charged and expected to go on trial this summer.  But Bijan Kian isn`t just an associate of Mike Flynn.  Kian also did go on in his own right to get a real high-ranking gig in the Trump transition.  He was on the landing team for the Trump transition at the office of the director of national intelligence. 

Remarkably, his LinkedIn page is still up today even after he`s been indicted and he got a trial date, and it still has his Trump transition title.  Quote: Presidential transition teams intelligence community deputy lead.  According to "The Associated Press", the responsibilities associated with that Trump transition job included Bijan Kian taking part in, quote, sensitive, hiring and policy decisions involving U.S. intelligence.  Those sensitive decisions included, quote, scrutinizing then Congressman Mike Pompeo before Pompeo was named Trump`s CIA director. 

So that means this guy was serving as a senior official in the Trump transition, working on intelligence matters.  Among other things in that role, he was helping select the next CIA director while prosecutors say he was also allegedly at the same time illegally serving as a paid secret agent of a foreign country.  Oh, what could possibly go wrong? 

Well, now as that guy`s case is heading to trial in July, now the reason that Mike Flynn still hasn`t been sentenced, the reason his sentencing has been delayed for another couple of months at least is because Flynn might be done cooperating with the special counsel`s office but he is still working with prosecutors in this case against Bijan Kian.  Mike Flynn is due to be a witness for the prosecution against his former business partner, against Bijan Kian this summer in eastern district of Virginia.  And that is turning out to be a very newsy, very interesting little sticking point in terms of the way all these cases are wrapping up and the way all of these guys` ultimate fates are being decided because the Bijan Kian defense team by rights, under the Constitution and under federal trial procedure, if they get access to any evidence the government plans to use their client.  In this case, it seems like quite a lot of the evidence the government plans to use against their client is going to come from Mike Flynn. 

So, now, Bijan Kian`s defense team is mounting this stand in federal court which I think deserves a little more attention than it`s getting because what they`re demanding of the court is that they get access to everything the FBI and the special counsel and all of these other prosecutors have obtained from Mike Flynn since Mike Flynn started cooperating with the government.  And that`s a lot of stuff they want access to.  I mean, Flynn has been cooperating since 2017. 

The FBI produces a formal record every time they do an interview with a subject or a witness or a cooperator, I guess.  In Flynn`s case, there are apparently at least 19 different 302s from the FBI, specifically about Flynn, because he has been cooperating with them for so long on so many different things.  Kian`s defense team wants all of those.  They want the ones that relate to Bijan Kian`s case directly and the illegal lobbying work for the nation of Turkey that he`s charged with.  They want everything on that subject matter.  Naturally, that makes sense.

But they also want everything else.  They want the whole universe of everything that Flynn has said to anybody from the government, including the special counsel since he became a cooperating witness.  And they had a big fight about it in court on Friday.  We have obtained the transcript of that.  I`ll read you a little piece of it. 

Quote: From the defense lawyer, quote, your honor, this is not an ordinary case by any means.  The judge, right.  Kian`s defense lawyer.  The office of special counsel has disclosed that they interviewed Mr. Flynn, who`s the key witness in this case, 19 times.  If you had to that the interview that led Flynn`s prosecution, that`s at least 20, probably more than that. 

But the reason that we`re before the court is that Mr. Kian has a great deal of work to do to put together a cross-examination of Michael Cohen that is effective.  This is not simply asking a witness if he`s got a conviction.  Was it for a false statement and sitting down?  There is a great deal there. 

And in order for us to be effective, your honor, we have to understand what it is.  That`s the defense team pleading to see everything Mike Flynn has told prosecutors in the special counsel`s office.  Then the prosecutors get up in court to make the opposite case, to tell the judge that, judge, listen, there`s no way we can let people see all that information we`ve gotten from Flynn. 

Even opposing counsel in -- representing this defendant who is on his way to trial, even opposing counsel -- no, they can`t see all the stuff that Flynn has given the government.  It is just too sensitive.  It`s about cases that are still ongoing. 

Prosecutor, quote: Your honor, we`re not trying to hide the ball here at all.  In addition to all of general Flynn`s 302s having to do specifically with this investigation, we`re also willing to produce redacted portions of any 302 of the general`s, of General Flynn`s that were collected or made in the course of the special counsel`s investigation that do relate specifically to this case.  Your honor, we do draw the line, though, at a fishing expedition into everything else the special counsel might have been investigating, and, of course, it is a sensitive investigation and also there are spending investigations that concern the subjects that would be revealed by an unfettered review of his 302s. 

What we are objecting to is a frolic through everything else that the special counsel`s office produced in connection with entirely unrelated matters.

So this is -- we`ve only had one trial so far from Mueller.  This is likely the next trial that derive from the special counsel`s investigation.  Mike Flynn is going to be art part of it.  He`s apparently the key witness against the defendant in this trial. 

Mike Flynn`s cooperation has been extended.  His sentencing has been delayed again in part because of his role in this trial.  Because he has a role in this trial, the defense wants access to everything Flynn has said as a prosecuting witness. 

The prosecutors are saying no, no, no, no way.  Flynn`s cooperation involved matters that are still pending investigations.  Stuff that`s still live. 

Now, that`s where it was with this pending Kian trial and the fight over Mike Flynn`s information.  Now, it`s getting to be even more dramatic because now Bijan Kian`s defense has sent this letter in relation to this fight in the government.  They`ve sent this letter to the U.S. attorney`s office, to the prosecutors who are handling this matter.  And this is sort of their next offer. 

Say in this letter, you know, basically, well, if you won`t give us everything, if you won`t show us everything Flynn has said to the government, at least give us everything you`ve got on Flynn on these eight specific matters.  And they lay out all these things they want information about when it comes to Flynn and Flynn allegedly lying and Flynn`s sort of bad behavior and Flynn behaving unethically. 

And in that list of bad behavior by Mike Flynn that they say they want information about, they reveal a brand-new allegation that I don`t think we`ve ever heard before.  Do you remember that weird meeting in the Seychelles Islands with Erik Prince?  Do you remember that? 

"The Washington Post" broke the news of that meeting just a few weeks after Trump was inaugurated.  What they -- the story they broke was during the transition, there had been a secret meeting in the Seychelles Islands in this luxury resort between Erik Prince, the founder of Blackwater, big Trump donor, the brother of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.  A meeting between him and a Russian guy close to the Vladimir Putin who is the head of a Russian state-controlled investment fund.  A guy named Kirill Dmitriev. 

"The Washington Post" first disclosed the existence of this meeting just a few months after it happened, in April 2017.  They described that meeting as part of an apparent effort to establish a back channel line of communication between Moscow and President-elect Donald Trump.  Now, Erik Prince publicly contradicted that, right? 

He gave denials in which he said, yes, he took that meeting, but it was just him being a private businessman.  His presence there and his taking that meeting had absolutely nothing to do with the incoming Trump administration at all.  He told the House Intelligence Committee under oath this was just a chance encounter over a beer that took place on the sidelines of some totally unrelated business meetings he was having.  Prince told House investigators, quote, it was a matter of, hey, while you`re here, there is a Russian guy we`ve done some business with in the past.  It would be interesting for you to meet him. 

Except, as it turns out, that doesn`t appear to be true.  A year after its initial reporting on that meeting in the Seychelles Islands, "The Washington Post" was still developing the story further, reporting this time last year that Mueller was investigating this matter and, quote, a witness cooperating with Mueller has told investigators the meeting was set up in advance so that a representative of the Trump transition could meet with an emissary from Moscow to discuss future relations between the countries.

And there has always been this mystery surrounding that meeting and what may have been discussed between Erik Prince with his links to the Trump campaign and this high-level emissary of the Russian government, particularly because it appears like Erik Prince has not been telling the truth about that meeting for some time.  Now, we have a new piece of it.  In the new filing in the Bijan Kian case, which suggests that that Russian guy close to Putin running that investment fund, he wasn`t just randomly having a beer with Erik Prince.  Erik Prince might, in fact, not have been the only person from Trump`s campaign to have had secret contact with him during the transition. 

As part of this effort to get discovery in the Bijan Kian case, Kian`s lawyers now say in this letter they want information on, quote, Mr. Flynn`s contact with Russian officials including Kirill Dmitriev, following the presidential election in 2016.  Mr. Flynn`s contacts with Russian officials, including Kirill Dmitriev after the presidential election in 2016. 

Trump`s national security adviser had contacts with that guy, too?  The money guy close to Putin who everybody has been lying about talking to?  I mean, we`ve never heard this allegation before. 

I mean, we know that Dmitriev went out of his way to praise Mike Flynn during the transition, his willingness to have an open dialogue with Russia.  But as far as we can tell from public reporting, there were never any known contacts between Mike Flynn and this Russian guy.  There were never even any public allegations they had any contact. 

Now, I should say this is just an assertion by Bijan Kian`s lawyers in a criminal case.  Asserting it is not the same as proving it in court.  They might be wrong.  We might found out further in trial proceedings or if they try to bring it up in court that this something that isn`t true and they`re just blowing smoke. 

But if it is true, if Trump`s incoming national security adviser was meeting with this guy close to Putin who is this money guy for the Russian investment fund also meeting with Erik Prince, and Erik Prince wasn`t exactly forthcoming about that when he`s asked about it even under oath.  I mean, if this is true, this is a whole new element about the Trump-Russia scandal that we didn`t know about.  This is a whole new contact between the Trump campaign and the Trump transition and the Kremlin that we didn`t know about before. 

Why would the Trump transition at the highest levels secretly be communicating with the guy who runs Russia`s sovereign wealth fund for Putin?  We reached out to Bijan Kian`s lawyers today to dry to get clarity on these bombshell assertion.  We haven`t heard from them. 

Mike Flynn`s lawyer declined to comment on this matter today.  But if this assertion is true, this would be a whole new kettle of fish, right, on the central issue that the Mueller investigation is supposedly all about, and it arrives today at a time when we keep hearing there is definitely no more fish in any of these kettles.  This is definitely all coming to an end, definitely all wrapping up. 

With all this new stuff coming out now, it really doesn`t feel like it`s wrapping up. 

Stay with us.  Lots to come tonight.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  It was four days before the election in 2016.  It was the Friday before we all voted on the following Tuesday when a team of reporters at "The Wall Street Journal" published this scoop, that Donald Trump`s friend, the publisher of the pro-Trump supermarket tabloid, the "National Enquirer," had agreed to pay 150 grand for a former "Playboy" model to keep her from telling her story of an alleged affair with Trump. 

Then a year into his presidency, it was again "The Wall Street Journal" who broke the news of another payment, reporting just before the election Trump`s personal attorney Michael Cohen arranged to pay a different woman, a former porn star, who also was alleging an affair with Trump.  And less than three months later, federal prosecutors were raiding Michael Cohen`s home and hotel room and safe deposit box and seizing his electronic devices and blah, blah, blah. 

And by the end of summer last year, Michael Cohen had pled guilty to multiple crimes, including two campaign finance felonies for those payments that were reported in "The Wall Street Journal."  Felonies in which he said the president was essentially a conspirator.  The president was the person who directed the commission of though felonies. 

Now, in just a few weeks, Cohen will report to federal prison to start serving three years for his crimes.  And so at one level, case closed, but today, we learned maybe not case closed.  Today, we learned a lot more about Cohen`s case, even as he heads off to federal prison. 

When prosecutors investigating Cohen decided last year that they wanted to raid his home and his office and seize his electronics and all the rest of it, they had to apply to a judge for warrants to do that.  And when prosecutors make those kind of applications, they have to lay out exactly what problem cease they want to raid and what devices they want to seize and why they want to do so.  Exactly what they`re investigating and what evidence they think they`ll find in all those places that will be material to their investigation. 

Well, today a judge released the warrants and all the supporting material that led to those warrants from the raids on Michael Cohen.  A judge released hundreds of pages in response to a request from "The New York Times." 

But if you`re hoping to learn more specifically about the investigation of campaign finance violations, about the payments to those women, about that hush money scheme, you`re actually out of luck in these documents today because that section of these documents is 18 1/2 completely redacted grayed out pages, and we don`t have to guess why those 18 pages are redacted.  The judge told us why in his order releasing them. 

He says, at this stage, wholesale disclosure of the materials would reveal the scope and direction of the government`s ongoing investigation.  It would also unveil subjects of the investigation and the potential conduct under scrutiny, the full volume and nature of the evidence gathered thus far and the sources of information provided to the government. 

Accordingly, the portions of the materials relating to Cohen`s campaign finance crimes shall be redacted -- 18 1/2 pages, nothing.  Nothing on the campaign finance stuff.  Nothing on the hush money payments. 

But that`s how we learned in black and white today that the campaign finance investigation is still ongoing one way or another.  I mean, we know it`s not ongoing when it comes to Michael Cohen.  He has pled guilty already.  He is headed to prison for, among other things, those crimes.  So what else is still being investigated when it comes to those crimes?  What`s ongoing? 

I mean, according to these warrants that we got unsealed today, prosecutors expected to find evidence of a conspiracy around the hush money payments when they raided Cohen last year.  Well, I`m not a lawyer, but I did look it up and I know that you can`t conspire alone.  So does that mean if this case is ongoing that other people who are potentially involved in these -- who were potentially involved in these crimes should be concerned about the fact that this judge is saying this stuff needs to be kept from the public even now because this is still an ongoing matter? 

Joining us now is Michael Rothfeld.  He`s one of the "Wall Street Journal" reporters who first broke the story of the hush money scheme.  He`s been following it ever since. 

Mr. Rothfeld, nice to see you. 

MICHAEL ROTHFIELD, REPORTER, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL:  Nice to see you, Rachel.  Thank you.

MADDOW:  First of all, did I get any of that wrong? 

ROTHFELD:  No, spot on. 

MADDOW:  Did you learn anything surprising in the Cohen stuff uncovered today? 

ROTHFELD:  Well, what we did learn which was interesting was that the campaign finance investigation started actually in April or between February and April of 2018 after Robert Mueller turned over the Michael Cohen investigation to the prosecutors in the southern district of New York.  So up until that point, they had been investigating Cohen for various financial crimes, potentially foreign money, money laundering, bank fraud and then in February of 2018, which is after you and I were sitting here first discussing the Stormy Daniels payment, they sent it to New York and a couple of months later prosecutors in New York revealed, OK, now we`re investigating campaign finance, we`ve uncovered some new evidence.  So, the investigation kind of took a turn when it got to New York and after we had revealed that. 

MADDOW:  Just to be clear, so I make sure I understand your point -- it`s not that Mueller and his team said there are -- there are indications that there are campaign finance crimes here.  Hey, SDNY, you go check it out.  This is something that SDNY decided to do after it had already been referred to them. 

ROTHFELD:  Right.  And we don`t know what the internal discussions were, but in the filings made by the special counsel`s office, they had requested his e-mails several times from Google, his iCloud account.  They never cited a campaign finance investigation through July of 2017 until the end of 2017, only after it got to New York did they cite that as a possible crime. 

MADDOW:  What do you make of the fact that this is redacted and we get the judge`s explanation of why all the campaign finance stuff is redacted?  Honestly, from your reporting and from other stuff that we have figured out about this through Cohen`s case, it seems like we can name or point at a lot of the people who seem to have been involved in this scheme.  The fact that it`s being described as an ongoing matter in a legal context, does that indicate that the other people who may have been involved in this scheme may still be in legal jeopardy? 

ROTHFELD:  It`s possible, although we don`t have a sense that there are imminent charges, but we know that the government has said it`s ongoing and it`s possible they`re just tying up loose ends.  But as you said, we know there were several Trump Organization executives involved.  There was the president, obviously, who was implicated in the federal crime.  Although it`s unlikely that he would be charged while he`s sitting as a president. 

So, you know, those are basically the cast of characters here. 

MADDOW:  Let me just -- something you don`t have to answer.  Somebody who knows more about this than anybody else I know because of your pioneering role in reporting it.  If prosecutors in the Southern District looked at the evidence that they had against President Trump in regards to these two felonies and they spelled it out in court that they believe he directed the commission of these felonies, that he was involved not only in the decision to handle it this way but also in the cover-up of it, obviously these the person who benefitted from it in the end, there is evidence from prosecutors that his business was used essentially as the organization that kind of -- that covered it up, if not laundered what happened to these funds. 

If prosecutors took all that evidence and decided, you know what?  Justice Department policy says that we cannot prosecute a sitting president, but we`re going to indict him and keep it sealed until he leaves office, would they need to keep all this stuff sealed in the way that we saw today in these documents in order to protect that future prosecution of a president? 

ROTHFELD:  I would think so, yes.  I mean, I`m not saying that`s what`s happened, but definitely I would think they would want to keep that sealed if that were the case. 

MADDOW:  Michael Rothfeld, one of the "Wall Street Journal" reporters who broke this story that has become so much bigger than it seemed the first days -- thank you so much.  Appreciate you being here. 

ROTHFELD:  Thank you so much. 

MADDOW:  Coming up, a progress report of sorts.  Stay with us. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JERRY NADLER (D-NY), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN:  A lot of people have responded.  A lot of entities have responded.  Some have said that they`re going to, that they want to work with us.  Some have said that they will respond if we give them a subpoena.  And we`ve gotten responses from surprising people, like, for instance, Steve Bannon, who sent us a few thousand documents. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Steve Bannon sent you a few thousand documents? 

Last night, that was House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler here on this show talking about what his committee had received thus far when the deadline arrived yesterday for 81 people and entities who were sent document requests related to all that committee`s multiple inquiries into President Trump.  And, of course, it is intriguing that former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon gave the committee thousands of documents. 

We have no idea what those pages cover.  We can see from the document request that was sent to Bannon that it was more than a dozen topics that he was asked about, so we don`t know exactly what he`s given them or what it relates to. 

Today, politico.com, though, gave us more numbers, showing that it`s not just Bannon turning in thousands of documents.  They say that Tom Barrick turned in more than 3,000 pages, the NRA turned in nearly 1,500 pages.  There`s also been submission from George Papadopoulos, just under 50 pages, J.D. Gordon, about the same number. 

Rinat Akhmetshin, one of the guys who went to the Trump Tower meeting, nearly 500 pages.  A couple dozen pages from Sam Nunberg.  The Trump Inaugural Committee has handed over more than 100 pages. 

That`s a lot of material, as reported today by "Politico".  But it`s interesting.  I think the main point of this politico piece was that only a small proportion of the 81 people who were supposed to hand stuff over have turned over anything at all. 

That may be a little bit misleading.  We can report tonight from the committee that there are a number of other people who have also made submissions, who have also handed their stuff over to the committee and hit the deadline in order to do it.  We`re told that part of the reason the records may not have been handed over to the full committee membership, including the Republican sources who apparently provided those numbers to "Politico", is apparently because the other submissions that have come in have come in on actual paper rather than as electronic filings. 

And whenever you mail a physical thing, including paper to Congress, it, of course, has to go through a crazy Rube Goldberg machine and series of bureaucratic hurdles in which it gets screened for anthrax and all sorts of things.  So, it sounds like the judiciary committee is getting a ton of stuff, some of it electronically, some of it on paper.  Obviously, they`re just getting started. 

But we`ve got more on who might not just be getting started, who may actually be wrapping up ahead.  Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Brandon Van Grack, my favorite name in the whole Trump-Russia probe.  Honestly, if there wasn`t a person involved in this investigation named Brandon Van Grack, you`d have to invent one. 

He is a real person.  He`s the veteran espionage prosecutor who joined the special counsel`s team early on.  Brandon Van Grack -- sorry, Mr. Van Grack, I`ll say it normally.  He worked on the case against Paul Manafort, also on the case against Mike Flynn. 

By October last year, we learned he last the special counsel`s office and returned to his old job in the Justice Department.  Brandon Van Grack was not the first to go.  But lately, the pace of departure seems to be speeding up, just since the beginning of this month, David Archey, a lead FBI agent on the Mueller team, he ran to run the Richmond FBI field office. 

Also, Andrew Weissmann, arguably the highest profile prosecutor on the Mueller team, the lead prosecutor on the Manafort case.  Weissmann is also leaving the investigation.  NPR had the scoop he`s leaving to go teach at NYU Law. 

Then we got another just yesterday.  Zainab Ahmad, another counterterrorism prosecutor.  She worked on the Flynn case.  She has also gone back to her old job. 

And, yes, the special counsel is basically done with Mike Flynn in terms of his cooperation, but that is not the only case Ahmad was working on.  She`s also been part of the mystery case involving Mueller`s office and some mystery corporation we`re not allowed to know the name of that`s run by some foreign country we`re not allowed to know either.  That case does not seem to be done.  Zainab Ahmad was apparently part of that, but nevertheless she is leaving the special counsel`s office. 

And what do we make of these departures?  I mean, it`s been argued in some cases, more was made of these exits than should have been made, but there is enough of them that they`re starting to feel like a criminal mass.  Whether or not Mueller is wrapping up, and how would we know? 

It`s also seeming relevant that the Mueller team is starting in some important ways to show their work to the public.  Today, we got these hundreds of pages related to the Michael Cohen case that were just unsealed by the court.  What does that tell us about how they have been approaching this work thus far, where they might be in the course of their work? 

And specifically, are we right to look at the stuff that was released today and that`s being released in other parts of these investigations?  Are we right to look at the stuff that is being made public now and to check the stuff that`s still redacted as a sort of key into what`s ongoing and what`s still pending in terms of future prosecutions or existing prosecutions that we, the public, don`t know about yet? 

Joining us now is Chuck Rosenberg.  He`s a former U.S. attorney in the Eastern District of Virginia, former senior FBI and Justice Department official. 

Chuck, it`s great to see you.  Thanks for being here. 

CHUCK ROSENBERG, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY:  Oh, my pleasure.  Thank you for having me.

MADDOW:  Let me ask you about that last question first.  I am self- conscious about the fact that I`m reading a lot into the redactions, that when prosecutors tell the judge or when judges explain that some stuff needs to be kept from the public and it needs to be held behind those black boxes or conducted under seal because it relates to ongoing investigations and uncharged people, my layman`s eye reads that as something that is intriguing, that there might be additional prosecutions.  There might be live cases that we don`t know about that explain why that stuff is being held from the public. 

Is that a fair supposition? 

ROSENBERG:  Absolutely.  I mean, I read it the same way, Rachel.  Those redactions -- the 18 pages are significant. 

Now, it doesn`t mean the Mueller team is going to handle that prosecution, but it`s one Justice Department and one FBI, and somebody`s going to handle that prosecution going forward.  So I think you`re reading it correctly. 

MADDOW:  As you see these announcements that we`ve had over time and also there`s been a few of them recently with some of the prosecutors who were detailed to Mueller`s team leaving to go back to other parts of the Justice Department. 

I think Brandon Van Grack is going to be running a FARA unit within the Justice Department, working on people who aren`t registered as foreign agents.  We see Zainab Ahmad who is leaving, apparently going somewhere else in the Justice Department.  You see Andrew Weissmann reportedly leaving to go back to academia. 

Does that give you the sense that things are changing fundamentally at the special counsel`s office, that things are wrapping up, that they may be handing off any unrelated stuff to non-special counsel prosecutors? 

ROSENBERG:  Yes, I think it`s a fair proxy for that.

Look, it`s not binary.  It`s not as if the Mueller shop is fully open or fully closed.  All these people, particularly those remaining within the justice department, can be recalled to work on, you know, bits and pieces of their case that remain.

But by and large, Rachel, Mueller`s remit 22 months ago was rather narrow.  It was Russian interference in the 2016 election and links or coordination with those associated with the Trump for president campaign.  What animates Mueller is that he`s a marine infantry officer.  If he`s told to take the hill in front of him, he`s not going to take the hill to the left of the right.  And so, he`s going to hue closely to that order and hand off, I think properly so, things that fall outside of that. 

And that`s exactly what we saw with documents unsealed today, that handoff, particularly on the campaign finance matter involving Cohen and others, including individual one, the president. 

MADDOW:  In terms of these documents that were unsealed today, Chuck, is there anything else that spoke to you in terms of what it showed us about how they`ve been doing their work? 

ROSENBERG:  It sure did.  You know, I was really struck by the level of professionalism, the diligence.  Remember, in order to get a search warrant, you need to show probable cause.  That standard comes right out of the Fourth Amendment. 

It is the lowest standard in the criminal law.  To convict someone at trial, you need proof beyond a reasonable doubt.  At a detention hearing, you need a moderately high standard of clear and convincing evidence. 

For a search warrant, you only, and I sort of say that in quotes, you only need probable cause, and yet you see hundreds and hundreds of pages documenting their investigation and establishing their probable cause.  To the extent anybody claims this is a witch hunt or a hoax and still has an open mind, they ought to read these documents and you`ll see the amount of diligence, the amount of work that went into establishing the probable cause to get the search warrant.  It`s extraordinary, Rachel. 

MADDOW:  Chuck Rosenberg, former U.S. attorney, former senior FBI official -- Chuck, it`s great to have you here. 

ROSENBERG:  My pleasure.  Thank you.

MADDOW:  We`ll be right back.  Stay with us.. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  You have your cirrostratus, your altostratus, your nimbostratus.  There`s also just plain old stratus clouds.  The hazy shapeless kind that are hard to see. 

There are cumulus ones and stratocumulus.  There`s also altocumulus. 

My favorite ones to say are the cumulonimbus clouds. 

But if you know all of those, you know enough to know that this is something else entirely, something that is a lot less friendly looking and for a very good reason.  And that`s story`s next.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Early Sunday morning, a storage tank filled with an ingredient for campfire fuel leak and that tank burst into flames.  Unhappily, the fire was not alone, it took place at a chemical storage facility belonging to the Intercontinental Terminals Company in Deer Park, Texas, which is about 20 miles east of Houston. 

When the first tank went up in flames, the fire spread to other nearby tanks full of chemicals.  Tanks filled with chemicals that make gasoline.  Also nail polish remover and glue and paint thinner.  It was Sunday morning this all started.  It`s still burning tonight. 

Firefighters said today they have no timetable for how long it will take to contain this inferno.  They said they have to wait for all of the chemicals in all these tanks that are on fire to burn off before they can control it at all.  The fire marshal today said it`s anybody`s guess when that will be. 

Meanwhile, as Deer Park, Texas waits for those chemicals to burn themselves out, this was the view over Deer Park, Texas, today.  A big black chemical smoke plume that sprouted out of that fire and spread across the entire city and then started stretching for miles.  Way beyond where the fire first started. 

I mentioned Deer Park is about 20 miles east of Houston.  The smoke cloud billowing out of that petrochemical fire has now stretched all the way across Houston and even toward the Austin area. 

Despite how massive this thing is, and despite the fact that it is made of up burning chemicals, officials are insisting there`s nothing in that smoke that is toxic.  Officials say the air quality is safe, so long as the cloud remains high enough above land.

But as that plume continues doing this, continues to creep across Texas and with the chemicals still burning tonight, you cannot blame people for how they`re feeling about this right now. 

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

Now it`s time for "THE LAST WORD" with Ali Velshi filling in for Lawrence tonight.

Good evening, Ali.

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