Current Labor Secretary faces public heat. TRANSCRIPT: 3/20/19, The Rachel Maddow Show.

Guests: Julie K. Brown

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:  Good evening, Chris.  Thanks, my friend.  Much appreciated.

HAYES:  You bet. 

MADDOW:  Thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.  Very happy to have you with us.

Halfway through the week already, where does the time go?  Whether or not you regularly follow the trade war part of this presidency, whether or not that is part of the diet of Trump-related controversial news that you choose to partake in on a regular basis, and I realize everybody`s got to sort of pick their own, you know, items out of the salad bar, right?  You can`t gorge on all this stuff every day.  You sort of choose your stuff. 

What -- even if you haven`t been following the trade war part of the Trump administration, if that hasn`t been part of your regular diet of news about this president, odds are that you drive, or maybe even if you`re not a regular driver, odds are that you spend some time in automobiles and you recognize the centrality of automobiles to American life and the American economy.  Well, whether or not you have been paying any attention at all to Trump trade war stuff, one of the things you should know that the Trump administration appears poised to do and soon is that the president is apparently getting ready to make a unilateral presidential decision to hike up the price of cars by several thousand dollars each. 

President Trump has reportedly received from his Commerce Department a report that he requested which gives him a national security pretext that lays out some sort of legalistic national security justification that is designed to allow him to make a solo decision to put big new taxes on imported cars, which would make them thousands of dollars more expensive.  "Politico" reported today on the content of that secret report that has already been given to the White House.  The content of that report has been speculated about for a long time.  It seemed pretty clear that this was the direction that Trump was going with this, but now "Politico" today reports not only has that secret report been delivered to the White House, but it does, as expected, give the president this national security pretext that he needs to be able to institute those taxes on his own. 

Now, the reason President Trump wants to do that, the reason he wants to impose thousands of dollars in price hikes on cars is because he thinks this is a genius economic deal making strategy against foreign countries.  He apparently either doesn`t care or doesn`t believe that when he does this unilaterally to foreign-made cars, they`re -- he doesn`t get or he doesn`t believe or he is willing to call the bluff that there will be a similar reaction in all the other countries that we export American cars to.  I mean, everybody who looks at this type of economic policy believes that if we do this to other countries, they will do the same to us, and that will have the ultimate effect of pitch-forking the whole U.S. auto industry on which millions and millions and millions of American jobs depend, not to mention what it`s going to do to the price of cars for everybody, regardless of whether or not you depend on the auto industry or any of its subsidiary industries for your own job. 

Nevertheless, the president loved this idea, and apparently this policy decision is in the works from this White House.  Now, regardless of what you think of this as a policy idea, regardless of whether you think it is a good idea to do this to the price of cars on purpose, one major consequence of this right now, which could matter for everything in this administration is that the Republicans in Congress, and particularly Republicans in the Senate are reportedly mad about this, and they`re mad about this, A, because they don`t want these tariffs on cars, but B, they want to see this secret report that has been provided to the White House, produced by the U.S. Commerce Department, this report that reportedly gives Trump the legalistic national security justification he needs to be able to impose this policy on his own say so. 

So, Republicans in Congress, Republicans in the Senate have been demanding that they be allowed to see this report.  And the White House will not hand it over, and the Commerce Department will not hand it over.  And the little miracle on the side of the road on this one is apparently Republicans in Congress mind that.  They apparently care.  They are reportedly even slightly mad about it, which these days is like a blue moon and a four-leaf clover and a hen`s tooth all wrapped up in one. 

I mean, Republicans really don`t mind anything when it comes to the Trump administration.  But, apparently, they mind this.  And that might become important, not just on the question of whether the president is going to unilaterally make all cars way more expensive.  It may really matter for everything. 

Tonight, "The Wall Street Journal" reports that new requests for documents and information are being prepared by the Judiciary Committee in Congress for a whole new bunch of people who have not yet been targeted by these congressional investigations, people like Gary Cohn, the president`s economic adviser, also the president`s some time lawyer Rudy Giuliani.  Even Trump`s first secretary of state, Rex Tillerson.  They`re going to finally start asking questions of Rex Tillerson. 

I have questions for Rex Tillerson too, like, sir, for example, how did you get that job in the first place anyway?  I would love to know. 

Now, even in this "Wall Street Journal" report, they`re not suggesting that we have any information about what documents or what information are being requested from these folks.  I should also mention there has been pushback against this story tonight.  Reporter Natasha Bertrand at "The Atlantic" is throwing a little bit of cold water on the story tonight, saying that her reporting indicates that any planned second wave of Judiciary Committee document requests isn`t ready to go at this point, and the names reported by "The Wall Street Journal" tonight should not be seen as definitive targets of this committee.  We`ve done some of our own reporting on this show that suggests that Natasha Bertrand`s line here may be correct. 

But whether or not the second wave of document requests is going out, the first wave itself was pretty gigantic, right?  Eighty-one document requests from the Judiciary Committee alone.  And I mean, everybody from the NRA to former White House official Steve Bannon to the Trump inaugural committee to the Trump inaugural chairman Tom Barrack, to at least one of the Russians who went to the Trump Tower meeting during the campaign.  I mean, all of these entities that have received these document requests from the Judiciary Committee, a lot of them have started handing over documents to the committee.  As this committee, led by Chairman Jerry Nadler pursues multiple lines of inquiry about the Trump administration and the transition and the campaign. 

And it`s not just these document requests.  Next week, a week from today, we`re expecting some public testimony, televised testimony before the House Intelligence Committee from Felix Sater, who among other things worked on the Trump Tower Moscow project during the campaign with Michael Cohen.  We learned today that in addition to that partially open testimony next Wednesday, Felix Sater will also testify to Jerry Nadler`s Judiciary Committee behind closed doors the following day, a week from tomorrow, next Thursday. 

The deputy chairman of President Trump`s campaign, Rick Gates, who also served as the number two official in the Trump inaugural, his lawyers today told the Judiciary Committee that Rick Gates cannot at this point Cooperate with their request for information, but only because federal prosecutors have advised him that might be a bad idea.  Quote: Having received input from the various prosecution offices, I have concluded that for the time being, it is not in the interests of my client to provide testimony of documents to congressional investigators. 

Rick Gates, of course, is still awaiting sentencing on felony charges.  Prosecutors said as recently as last week that his cooperation with prosecutors is still ongoing and it`s still relevant to multiple pending and open investigations.  So, it`s not a huge surprise that with that open criminal case against Gates and with his involvement in all those other ongoing cases, it`s not that much of a surprise that prosecutors are telling Gates that he shouldn`t cooperate with congressional inquiries at this time while all those other matters are open. 

It`s interesting, though.  Even so, even with that, his lawyer also told the Judiciary Committee that that may soon change.  Quote: Our position in this regard may well be different in the coming months, after Rick Gates presumably comes out the other side of his own criminal case and out the side of his Cooperation deal with the Feds. 

CNN is reporting tonight that former White House communications director and long-time Trump organization employee Hope Hicks also plans to cooperate with the Judiciary Committee in their inquiries.  Hope Hicks and her attorney are not making any public comment, but the Judiciary Committee spokesman says tonight that Hope Hicks will be providing documents to their committee. 

AMI, the parent company of the "National Enquirer" supermarket tabloid that had a role in the hush money campaign finance scandal, they`re handing over documents to Congress.  Mike Flynn`s company, the Flynn Intel Group, they`re also handing over documents to Congress.  A former employee from Cambridge Analytica, the Trump data firm from the Trump campaign, they`ve got employee is also reportedly shipped documents in in response to the committee`s request. 

So, lots of people, lots of entities.  So you might expect to put up a fight or maybe try to take the Fifth or somehow try to make themselves scarce at this point.  Lots of people who you might not expect to be cooperating are cooperating, and they`re sending in material.  They`re even meeting the deadline, or getting close to it. 

But the White House is not doing any of that, at all.  The White House is thus far providing nothing to the Judiciary Committee in response to their requests.  And more broadly than that, they`re providing nothing in response to any congressional inquiries.  Not just about the Russia scandal and the obstruction of justice stuff that derives from the Russia scandal, but on anything.  They`re refusing to hand over a single document. 

Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings has just published this op-ed at "The Washington Post."  Quote: I serve as chairman of the Oversight and Reform Committee, the primary investigative body in the House of Representatives.  I have sent 12 letters to the White House on a half dozen topics, some routine and some relating to our core national security interests. 

In response, the White House has refused to hand over any documents or produce any witnesses for interviews.  Let me underscore that point, he says.  The White House has not turned over a single piece of paper to our committee or made a single official available for testimony during this Congress. 

Quote: The complete refusal by the Trump White House to produce any documents or witnesses to the primary investigative committee in the House reflects a decision at the highest levels to deny congressional oversight all together.  The president has dictated this approach.  President Trump`s actions violate our Constitution`s fundamental principle of checks and balances.  If our committee must resort to issuing subpoenas, there should be no doubt as to why. 

And this is not just standard bickering between the executive branch and Congress, the kind of stuff you see a little of at least in every administration.  This is apparently a decision by the Trump administration that is a sort of a block decision.  They`re not making a case by case determination as to whether or not they`re going to cooperate with this or whether they`re going to cooperate with this or whether they`ll hand over this document or whether they`ll make this person available. 

This apparently is their -- forgive me -- stonewall decision on everything, no matter what the request, you will get nothing.  And apparently, this is the big new idea for this part of this presidency.  They are rolling this out on purpose. 

Deliberately, they`re rolling out this story line to multiple news organizations.  This is how you ended up with all these headlines all over the place today that all said essentially the same thing.  Trump officials prepare to stonewall Democratic oversight demands.  White House ignores House panel`s request for documents. 

"The Washington Post" today lays it out as clearly as anyone, that this isn`t just Capitol Hill fighting as usual.  This is an intentional standoff being mounted by the White House in a way that no White House really ever has before.  Quote: The White House has ignored more than a dozen letters requesting documents from House Democratic chairman investigating President Trump.  The White House`s refused to share e-mails and correspondence. 

According to two senior administration officials, the move is intentional.  Quote: Those officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to freely discuss strategy said the White House is intent on challenging most if not all House Democrats` document requests.  We will give you nothing. 

They`re not waiting to find out what they`re being asked for.  They`re just announcing in advance, telling reporters, telling multiple news outlets in advance, no matter what they ask for, we`re giving them nothing.  And I am sure that is a strategy that appeals to every atom in every molecule, in every cell of this president`s body, right? 

I mean, this is -- this fits his personality.  Oh, the Democrats won control of Congress?  They`re going to use congressional oversight to oversee things, to investigate stuff I`ve done in and this administration has done to find stuff out? 

No.  The answer is no.  The answer is we will give you nothing.  That`s our final answer.  You`ll get zero from us. 

I`m sure that kind of approach meets all of the emotional needs this president has around this issue in governance.  The problem is in America, this is not allowed.  I mean, this has been tested before.  Never categorically the way this White House is trying to do it, saying we`ll give you nothing on anything. 

But this has been tried before on specific stuff by an American president who tried the strategy not all that long ago and very, very, very famously it did not work out for that president. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  In this instance, the president has concluded that it would not serve the public interest to make the tapes available.  Upon receipt of that letter, special prosecutor Cox called a press conference and announced that he would use his subpoena power to try to get the tapes.  Cox disagreed with the position taken by Mr. Nixon. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The effort to obtain these tapes and other documentary evidence is the impartial pursuit of justice according to law.  None of us should make assumptions about what the tapes will show.  They may tend to show that there was criminal activity or that there was none.  They may tend to show the guilt of particular individuals or their innocence. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  In a letter to Senator Sam Ervin, chairman of the Watergate committee, the president said the tapes fall into the category of presidential papers, which, as he has said before, the president won`t turn over to another branch of government.  And upon receipt of that letter, the Senate Watergate Committee met and unanimously voted to subpoena the tapes. 

Here is some of what Senator Ervin had to say. 

SEN. SAM ERVIN (D), NORTH CAROLINA:  Upon the receipt of this communication from the White House, the Select Committee held a meeting and unanimously voted to authorize and direct the chairman to issue two subpoenas.  One would require the president to produce the tapes.  I love my country.  I venerate the office of president, and I have the best wishes for the success of the incumbent, the president incumbent of this office because he is the only president this country has at this time. 

The president not only has constitutional powers which require him to see to it or to take care that the laws be faithfully executed, and I think his duty goes beyond circumstances to produce information which would either tend to prove or disprove that criminal activities have occurred. 

But beyond that, the president of the United States, by reason of the fact that he holds the highest office to the American people, holds an obligation to furnish a high standard of moral leadership to this nation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  The president owes it an obligation to furnish a high standard of moral leadership to this nation, Sam Ervin in the Watergate Committee.

In 1973, President Nixon tried to make history when he decided he didn`t need to hand over to Congress anything he did not want them to see that pertained to Watergate, specifically the White House tapes that they had learned of the existence of.  That forced a subpoena on the White House for those tapes.  Nixon defied the subpoena.  That ended up in court. 

The special prosecutor`s demand for those materials, those tapes ended up going all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. 

And, you know, this is really famous.  I mean, let`s say you only know three things about Richard Nixon.  What are the three things you know?  You know like Nixon had to resign the presidency, had a dog named Checkers, Supreme Court made him hand over the tapes, right? 

Even if you only know three things about Richard Nixon, even if you know nothing else about Richard Nixon, you know that unanimously in U.S. v. Nixon, the president was not allowed to say no, no, you can`t have it.  I say you can`t. 

But that "no, no, you can`t have it" policy today was rolled out by the Trump administration.  They plan to give no documents, no materials to make no witnesses available.  And, again, we`ll see how that works out. 

Honestly, in the courts, we know how it will work out.  This has been tested before.  This has been tried before.  It doesn`t work out well for a president who tries this. 

But in the meantime, while we are starting down the path to get there, in the meantime, if that is where this is heading, the speed at which this is all going to unfold and how everybody looks in the history books when it`s all over will depend in large part on whether Republicans in Congress, members of the president`s own party in Congress can bring themselves to summon the energy to care about a president who is trying to not only do this to Democrats, but trying to do this to them as well. 

Joining us now is the great Michael Beschloss, NBC News presidential historian. 

Michael, very happy to have you with us tonight.  Thank you for being here. 

MICHAEL BESCHLOSS, NBC NEWS PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN:  Thank you.  Delighted, Rachel, always. 

MADDOW:  I knew that I wanted you here tonight and particularly in the A block, because I knew I was going make assertions about presidential norms and history here for this context of what the Trump White House is rolling out right now.  I need you to fact check me a little bit on whether or not this is in fact something that Nixon tested and he lost that test. 

BESCHLOSS:  Yes, Nixon tried it.  You know, Nixon basically said to the Congress, I`m not going to give up my tapes.  I`m not going to give up related materials because they`re protected by executive privilege, which covers, you know, deliberations within the executive branch, and also separation of powers. 

And that went to a federal district court.  And they said they didn`t have jurisdiction.  So, as you showed us, Archibald Cox, the special prosecutor and his successor Leon Jaworski went to court.  They subpoenaed the tapes as well.  Went up through the system, went to the Supreme Court, and Nixon sort of cynically thought maybe he is going to prevail on the court because he appointed four out of the nine justices of the Supreme Court, thought maybe they would do him a favor. 

It didn`t work, of course.  U.S. v. Nixon, July of 1974, 8-0.  There was one who recused himself, which was William Rehnquist, who had served in the Nixon Justice Department. 

So, if Donald Trump has been advised that this can go up through the courts and it will go to a Supreme Court to which he has appointed Kavanaugh and Gorsuch, his two appointments might sort of defend him in the end, I think he better look back at Nixon and realize that history rhymes. 

MADDOW:  In terms of the White House rolling this out explicitly, that`s the other part of this that strikes me here.  We are not at a point where there is a specific document that a lot of people believe may be a smoking gun. 

BESCHLOSS:  Right. 

MADDOW:  That they`re trying to pry out of the White House and the White House knows how damning it`s going to be.  I mean, this isn`t exactly the same kind of standoff, the specific standoff they had over those White House tapes.  We had testimony as to what was on the tapes. 

BESCHLOSS:  And we all wanted to hear the tapes. 

MADDOW:  Everybody wanted -- this is the White House in advance broadly asserting that they are going to do this, and telling reporters about it.  Putting out White House officials on the condition of anonymity to explain that this is a deliberate strategy, and they want newspapers to write about it. 

And it strikes me in the Trump administration doing that that they think that there will be some political benefit to them to taking this kind of black and white stance with Democrats.

BESCHLOSS:  Totally.  I mean, it keeps his secrets, whatever secrets he is worried about that are in those documents and other materials.  He figures that it`s going to play to his base, who would love to see Trump standing up to Congress. 

And the other thing is that the Mueller report is coming out soon.  This is a big distraction.  People might notice this constitutional crisis more than they notice what`s in the Mueller report. 

But the other thing, Rachel, that is different from the Nixon period and also Iran/Contra where Ronald Reagan actually cooperated quite a lot with Congress is in the case of Reagan and Nixon, they at that point had to fear the very real possibility that they might be impeached and convicted if it came to that.  In Trump`s case, he may have calculated the House is not going to impeach, and he`s got Republicans in the Senate, and therefore the only thing he has to worry about is the courts, and maybe has an undo, as I was saying earlier feeling of complacency about how the Supreme Court might rule on this. 

MADDOW:  Michael, when Nixon did pick this kind of fight over the White House tapes, the Oval Office tapes back in 1973, did he expect that he would get support from his base, that he`d get -- it would become a rallying point of support for Nixon supporters and for Republicans more broadly, that he was saying no to the Congress, that he was saying, no, you can`t have these tapes? 

I mean, one of the things that strikes me looking back at the historical record was that unanimous bipartisan vote in the Watergate committee to issue a subpoena to the president for those things.  I don`t know what Republicans in Congress would do right now in the same sort of standoff that`s evolving with this presidency, but did Nixon think that Republicans would rally to him on this? 

BESCHLOSS:  In the end, he thought they would, because, you know, he felt that party loyalty would be important, and he said actually privately about some of them, I can`t believe he`s turning against me.  I campaigned for this guy, sort of a naive point of view. 

But the other thing is that in 1973 and 1974, Nixon did not have coming to his aid something like Fox News so that when this -- these developments began to turn against Nixon, the process was a lot more quick and he was disappointed.  So, instead, Nixon would make these pious pronouncements.  I`m not giving up the tapes because they would compromise the ability of all future presidents to solicit confidential advice.  People were not very impressed by the argument. 

MADDOW:  Michael Beschloss, NBC News presidential historian, keeping us all honest every day -- Michael, thank you very much. 

BESCHLOSS:  Thank you.  Happy spring, I hope. 

MADDOW:  Oh, indeed.  You as well, my friend.  Thanks. 

All right.  Coming up next, we broke a story here last night about the next trial.  Not the next indictment, not the next case, but the next trial that is expected to derive from the special counsel investigation.  We`ve got an important update on that story for you next. 

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Update for you on a point of intrigue that we reported on last night`s show concerning the next scheduled trial that derives from the Mueller investigation.  As you know, there has been only one trial thus far in this whole scandal.  Thirty-seven different people and entities indicted.  Lots of guilty pleas.  Lots of cooperation deals.  Several prison sentences already, but only Paul Manafort actually took his case all the way to trial. 

Well, the next trial, only the second one in the whole scandal is due to start in July when a Trump transition official named Bijan Kian is due to be tried on multiple felony counts in federal court in Virginia.  Among other things, Bijan Kian is charged with acting as a paid foreign agent of the government of Turkey, and that`s a serious charge in any context.  It`s particularly serious in the case of Bijan Kian since he was apparently the number two guy on the landing team for the Trump transition at the office of the director of national intelligence. 

The "A.P." reports that his transition responsibilities included helping pick the next director of the CIA.  Which is an important gig, and it`s the sort of thing you might not want a secret foreign agent taking part in.  Oh. 

Trump national security adviser Mike Flynn was Kian`s business partner.  Flynn is also expected to be a key witness in this trial against Bijan Kian.  And as that case gets closer to trial, Kian`s defense team has been asking the government, they`ve been asking prosecutors to give them a bunch of information about Mike Flynn. 

He is going to be a witness against their client.  They want to be able to cross-examine him.  They are entitled under federal trial rules and under the Constitution to receive whatever information the government is planning on using against their they`ve been asking prosecutors to give them a bunch of information about Mike Flynn. 

He is going to be a witness against their client.  They want to be able to cross-examine him.  They are entitled under federal trial rules and under the constitution to receive whatever information the government is planning on using against their client.  That includes, in this case, information about the key witness against their client who is Mike Flynn. 

And as we reported last night, the back and forth in that Bijan Kian case ahead of this trial that`s due to start in July, it now includes a provocative new assertion from Bijan Kian`s defense team.  They are asserting in court documents that after the 2016 election, Mike Flynn had contact with the head of a Russian investment fund.  The same head of a Russia investment fund who met with Erik Prince in the Seychelles Islands right before Trump was sworn in. 

"The Washington Post" has reported that the special counsel`s office has obtained evidence that that meeting with Erik Prince in the Seychelles Islands was a secret effort to set up back channel of communication between the incoming Trump administration and the Kremlin.  Why did they need a secret back channel of communication?  That remains unanswered this far into this scandal. 

Erik Prince has denied that`s what that meeting is for.  He has said that meeting in the Seychelles Islands between him and the Russian investment fund guy, that was just a business meeting and not an important one at that.  He said it had nothing to do with the Trump campaign or the Trump administration at all. 

But if that same Russian investment fund guy who met with Erik Prince, if that same guy was not just in contact with Erik Prince, but he was also in contact with the incoming Trump national security adviser Mike Flynn -- well, first, that would be something new we never heard about before concerning an alleged high-level contact between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin.  But also, it would make it much harder to believe that that meeting in the Seychelles was just some random Erik Prince business meeting that had nothing to do with Trump or the campaign. 

So we`ve been trying to track this down, because this is a new assertion.  There is an assertion in court filings from Bijan Kian that Flynn was in contact with this Russian investment fund guy named Kirill Dmitriev after the election.  Now, in the context of the way this has come up in this criminal case, what Bijan Kian`s defense lawyers are actually asserting when you get down to the nitty-gritty detail, they`re asserting not only did that contact happen between Flynn and this Russian guy, they`re asserting in this trial that the government prosecutors, they know that that contact happened between Flynn and that Russian guy. 

Kian`s lawyers are asserting that the government knows those contacts took place and the government has information about it, and they`re actually asking the prosecutors to hand over the information they`ve got about those contacts between Flynn and that Russian guy.  So, as of last night, all we were able to pry out on this story after noticing this thing in these court filings, all we were able to get for this story as of last night when we did this on the air last night was a no comment from Mike Flynn`s lawyers. 

Well, we`ve still only got a no comment from Mike Flynn`s lawyers.  But today we`ve also obtained a no comment from Bijan Kian`s lawyers, the ones who are making this assertion.  That said, a spokesman at their law firm tells us that they`re not just no commenting us on this story.  A spokesman for their law firm tells us they`re actually prohibited by law from giving us any comment on this matter in the middle of this case.  And so even if they did want to comment on it, they could not. 

But this is the really interesting part.  We did today get a letter from Russia.  We heard back from the lawyers for the Russian investment fund guy, and they told us today in no uncertain terms that this assertion being made about Mike Flynn and their client in the Bijan Kian case, they are telling us that that assertion is wrong. 

Quote: Kirill Dmitriev has never met Michael Flynn or had any contacts or connections with him. 

It`s nice to get a letter from Russia.  That was nice.  Today, we got this letter from Russia, and that`s what it says. 

So bottom line here, if this contact occurred, if this contact between Mike Flynn, the incoming national security adviser, and this Russian investment fund guy, if that contact did happen, it`s never been publicly reported.  This would be new. 

Bijan Kian, who is Mike Flynn`s business partner at that point, right, through his lawyers, he is telling a court that those contacts did in fact happen, and the government knows about it, and they`ve got information about it, and they want to see that information. 

The Russian guy in question, Kirill Dmitriev is saying it definitely didn`t happen.  Flynn isn`t saying either way. 

You know, this is why we have trials.  This is why we have trials.  Tell it to the judge ultimately, right?  Ultimately, the truth of this will out in court. 

And anybody who tells you we know the whole story already about what happened between the Trump campaign and Russia is bluffing.  I mean, two years in and it`s still like new stuff every day. 

So watch this space.  Still, again. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  The Trump administration is not that old, but it has had no shortage of senior officials who have resigned or who have been fired.  We don`t do the big board showing all of the departures and firings anymore because honestly, I know it`s hard to work on this show.  Like we drive people hard and people work long hours, and -- but we broke everybody by doing that. 

Doing that repeatedly was an unfair labor situation.  I mean, look at this.  That`s nuts.  We hurt people doing that here on this show. 

Anyway, besides, at this point, the senior ones you can rattle off the top of your head, right?  Former national security adviser Mike Flynn forced out after he lied to the FBI about his conversations with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. 

Anthony Scaramucci, right, fired after like three minutes as White House communications director, which included one vividly profane rant about then-White House chief of staff Reince Priebus. 

Tom Price resigned as secretary of health and human services after he spent a gazillion dollars in taxpayer money on luxury private air travel.  And don`t get me started on his stock trading.

Rob Porter gone as White House staff secretary after allegations surfaced that he abused both of his ex-wives. 

EPA Chief Scott Pruitt resigned after a whole big long string of embarrassment over his spending, including $3,000 he spent on tactical pants, tactical pants and tactical polos.  I can kind of imagine tactical pants.  But what`s a tactical polo?  Not to mention the conflicts of interest and all the rest. 

Ryan Zinke ousted as secretary of the interior, just as the Justice Department has started investigating him for possibly using his office for public gain. 

Well, there`s a lot of them.  Now, there`s another one.  Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta who is facing a massive scandal that is growing bigger by the day.  There are two big developments in that story tonight. 

That`s next.  Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Two new developments to report tonight in the scandal unfolding around Donald Trump cabinet official, U.S. Labor Secretary Alex Acosta.

Alex Acosta`s labor secretary now.  He was previously the U.S. attorney in Florida when a hedge fund millionaire named Jeffrey Epstein was investigated by the FBI for myriad child sex crimes.  Instead of bringing charges as a result of that investigation, the U.S. attorney in that jurisdiction, again now our sitting labor secretary Alex Acosta, he gave Jeffrey Epstein a deal, which gave him immunity from all federal charges. 

Instead, Acosta let Epstein plead guilty to just two state prostitution charges.  Since then, news organizations led by the "Miami Herald" have been battling in federal court trying to get records unsealed in a defamation case related to the case against Epstein.  The thinking is that those records might shed light on the lenient plea deal that was brokered by Alex Acosta.  It might also spread further light on any of Epstein`s crimes and any of his potential accomplices. 

The court set a deadline yesterday for anybody to come forward with justification for why records in that case should stay sealed.  Otherwise the judges said they were inclined to release those records to the public after all these years.  But look what happened right before the deadline. 

Quote: Two mystery parties tried to restrict release of documents in Jeffrey Epstein`s civil suit.  This happened right at the deadline. 

One of the mystery people who came forward right at the deadline is reportedly an Epstein victim who wants to keep information about herself out of any release documents.  The other is an unidentified man calling himself John Doe, and those two mystery parties at the very last minute are trying to block the unsealing of these court records about the Epstein case.  In the case of the victim, it`s easy to see why she might want her own self-defined privacy in this matter.  For the John Doe, though, who knows what his interests are here. 

The fight over keeping those records under seal or releasing them is coming to a head right now, and it`s all happening in the context of another brand-new revelation on this case from the "Miami herald."  Unbeknownst to everybody at the time, when Jeffrey Epstein cut that deal with Alex Acosta so he could plead guilty to just two state charges, the youngest victim involved in the crimes they let Epstein plead to was 16 years old, which is horrifying in itself, but they let him plead to a case involving a 16-year- old, despite the fact that other victims as young as 13 and 14 had come forward. 

And that`s not only new information in terms of understanding the deal that Alex Acosta brokered for Jeffrey Epstein, it also sheds light on just how much of a sweetheart deal Alex Acosta gave Jeffrey Epstein, because 16 is the age of consent in more than half the country.  So, allowing Epstein to plead guilty to charges with a 16-year-old girl, with an older victim instead of a 13 and 14-year-olds who came forward, that eased his obligations to register as a child sex offender. 

Why would you go out of your way to do that when making this deal with him, when you had younger victims who had come forward? 

Joining us now is Julie Brown.  She`s an investigative reporter at the "Miami Herald" who has done landmark reporting on the Epstein case and everything that labor secretary Alex Acosta did for Epstein in this case. 

Ms. Brown, thank you very much for joining us.  It`s nice to have you here. 

JULIE K. BROWN, INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER, THE MIAMI HERALD:  Thank you. 

MADDOW:  Let me ask you first about this new reporting that was just posted at "The Herald" tonight about the 16-year-old girl whose allegation against Epstein was the basis of his plea deal.  This is the headline on your scoop tonight.  Quote: She was the victim in Epstein`s secret plea deal.  She didn`t even know it. 

Can you explain that headline and what you found here? 

BROWN:  Well, for unknown reasons, all of the sudden, the state attorney in Palm Beach announced the birth date of the girl that was attached to the plea deal that Mr. Epstein agreed to plea to at the time that he was a suspect in a number of sex -- child sex trafficking crimes. 

Instead of charging him with federal sex trafficking crimes, he was allowed to plead guilty to prostitution charges.  The paperwork for that was very - - always very vague.  It wasn`t clear exactly which victim that was attached to.  There was no paperwork on it, and they didn`t present it even to the sentencing judge. 

And now, we know that this particular victim was 16 years old.  And the reason why they picked a 16-year-old was, again, not only did they manipulate the criminal case against him, sabotaged the criminal case against him, but they also manipulated the charge that he had to plea to which involves a registered sex offense.  And by doing that, he doesn`t have a strict monitoring and registration requirements. 

MADDOW:  In terms of what happened here with these victims, I mean, it`s striking that you have found that this woman who was the described victim essentially in the secret plea deal didn`t even know that hers was the case that he plead to. 

One of the things that`s striking is that it appears that in court, the judge asked about other victims, and the judge asked the prosecutors whether or not the victims were essentially okay with this deal or they were aware it had happened.  Prosecutors appear to have misrepresented the truth to the judge and told the judge that the victims all knew about this and also they seemed to have kept from the judge the total number of victims involved here. 

That suggests to me that the prosecutors may be in even further trouble than we`ve already seen as this case has broken open this year, in large part because of your reporting. 

BROWN:  Well, we knew from the paperwork we already had that they were trying to mislead the judge.  There were communications between the federal -- the lead federal prosecutor and Epstein`s attorneys basically where they were saying we really don`t want to tell the judge how many victims there are or how many charges that we could have gotten him on.  Let`s just not tell the judge all this information. 

But this, really, the significance of this latest story, now that we know who the victim was in this particular plea, it`s clear because the attorney for that woman, I spoke with him yesterday, and he represented 16, by the way, of Epstein`s underage victims. 

MADDOW:  Wow.

BROWN:  And he said none of his victims were ever informed of this plea deal.  So, when the prosecutor went in front of the judge and the jungle said have these victims been notified, and she said, yes, it`s clear that that was untrue. 

MADDOW:  Julie Brown, investigative reporter for "The Miami Herald" who among other things has won a Polk Award for this reporting -- Julie, thank you for updating us tonight.  Really appreciate your time tonight. 

BROWN:  Thanks. 

MADDOW:  Again, it remains -- I mean, we have seen a lot of scandal, we have seen a lot of departures and scandal from the Trump administration and even from the Trump cabinet.  It remains astonishing to me that in this case, with Alex Acosta as labor secretary, literally, a federal judge ruled that he broke the law when leading that prosecutor`s office into doing this deal with Epstein.  The law was broken by Acosta in his last federal job before the one he`s on now. 

And yet he remains as a cabinet secretary.  He remains as labor secretary in this administration.  The president as recently as this week gave support to him, despite him breaking the law in order to give a child sex offender a sweet deal that his victims were never allowed to know about. 

We`ll be right back. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  In 1982, the secret weapon of the Miami Dolphins football team was their defense, which they called the "Killer B`s", named for their ability to swarm the offense on the field the way that bees swarm and also because half the squad has names that started with "B."  The great Miami Dolphins Killer B`s from 1982. 

Now in 2020, we are apparently playing that out on the boys` side of Democratic presidential politics where it`s honestly getting a little bit weird because now we`ve got Bernie, Beto, Booker, Buttigieg, looks like Bennett, and now, also looks like Biden. 

According to "The Wall Street Journal," former Vice President Joe Biden has reached out to a half dozen supporters to tell them he intends to run for president.  He`s asking for help in raising a whole bunch of money very fast, specifically to keep up with two of the other Killer B`s who has raised more money than anybody else in the field thus far, Beto and Bernie. 

Biden has reportedly expressed concern about matching or trying to exceed the multimillion-dollar hauls that Beto and Bernie brought in on their first days after they announced.  If and when Joe Biden does jump in, we ought -- again, just among the men, you have Bernie, Beto, Booker, Buttigieg, Bennett and Biden.  And that`s only among boys who start with B, let alone the whole rest of the field. 

When we heard that Andrew Gillum, the former mayor of Tallahassee who lost his bid to become governor of Florida by less than half a percentage point, when we heard today that he was going to make a big announcement today, a lot of people wondered if Andrew Gillum would be the latest male candidate to jump into the race.  Turns out that was not it. 

But what Gillum did announce today might be just as important ultimately to the outcome of the race in 2020 because today, Andrew Gillum launched a new voter registration effort in his state of Florida with the goal of registering a million new voters in Florida to flip Florida blue and put the nation`s largest and most important swing state out of reach for Donald Trump in 2020. 

So that`s exciting about Florida politics.  It`s exciting about Democratic politics.  Andrew Gillum is not becoming one of the Democrats who is running for office. 

But at this point, it`s easier to count the numbers who aren`t getting in rather than the numbers who are. 

Stay with us. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Last week, news leaked that one of the Robert Mueller`s top prosecutors, Andrew Weissmann, is leaving the special counsel`s office and taking a new job.  NPR was first to report it and then the special counsel`s office confirmed that Andrew Weissmann is leaving the special counsel`s office soon to take a new job which we believe will be at the law school at NYU. 

Are you familiar with the idea of senioritis?  Like what happens to you when you have already figured out what you are going to do over the summer, maybe even next year and, yeah, you are still at school but you kind of have checked out? 

Today, the eagle eyed CNN Robert Mueller`s office stakeout team caught Andrew Weissmann showing up to work today in something unexpected.  Quote: Andrew Weissmann seen wearing a tan suit to work today.  What? 

Noah Weiland land then tweeted this photo of Andrew Weissmann picking up lunch with fellow Mueller prosecutors Jeannie Rhee and Rush Atkinson today in Washington, D.C.  Weiland described it as a tan blazer and chinos, but looks pretty close to a tan suit. 

It is possible that Andrew Weissmann was just celebrating the first day of spring today.  It is also possible that this is senioritis.  But in any case, you do you, Andrew Weissmann.  I know that people get upset about tan suits.  I think that looks nice on you. 

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

Now, it is time for "THE LAST WORD".  Ali Velshi filling in for Lawrence tonight.

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