IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

The Mueller report. TRANSCRIPT: 3/28/19, The Rachel Maddow Show.

Guests: Jim Himes, David Fahrenthold

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST:  What is it and as a related matter, why does it make them so crazy?

CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST:  So nuts, bonkers.  Yes.

MADDOW:  It makes me all the more interested.  Tomorrow is going to be fantastic.  I cannot wait.  Well done, my friend.  Thanks.

HAYES:  Thank you.

MADDOW:  Al right.  Thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. 

It was September 9th, 1998, which is a Wednesday, two vans -- two white vans pulled up to Capitol Hill and what Capitol Hill police officers opened up the back of the vans, they started pulling out big banker-sized file boxes and hauling them into the Gerald R. Ford office building.  And that day, that unexpected arrival of those vans containing big banker`s boxes is how their learned that independent counsel Ken Starr had finished his years-long report on President Clinton. 

Ken Starr had been appointed independent counsel to investigate the Whitewater real estate deal that to this day nobody understands.  Ultimately, though, that investigation by Ken Starr morphed into an inquisition of the president over his affair with the young White House intern named Monica Lewinsky. 

But that four-year-long investigation, it ended with an exclamation point.  That Wednesday afternoon, 1998, when without warning, those vans pulled up and that`s how we learned, hey, here it is.  It`s done.  A 445-page long report from Ken Starr and his investigators typed, bound and presented to Congress. 

But those boxes and boxes and boxes pulled out of those vehicles, they were not multiple copies of the 445-page long Ken Starr report.  What all of those boxes contained was the report but also all the accompanying evidence that went along with the report, as well. 


TOM BROKAW, NBC NIGHTLY NEWS:  Tonight, the future of the Bill Clinton presidency is in a locked vault in a congressional office building.  The voluminous report of independent counsel Ken Starr, transcripts, depositions, video and audio tapes.  Starr`s office says it all adds up to substantial and credential information that may support impeachment of the president of the United States.  The White House immediately denied that claim. 

REPORTER:  On Capitol Hill, the independent counsel report arrived this afternoon, 36 boxes, two copies of each piece of evidence that could lead to impeachment hearings against the president. 

REPORTER:  After 4 1/2 years of investigation, it took two FBI vans to deliver the evidence, 18 boxes of what Ken Starr and his prosecutors say is proof of possible impeachable offenses by the president.  Starr`s almost 500-page report, grand jury transcripts, the president`s videotaped testimony and more than 20 hours of audio tapes of Monica Lewinsky telling Linda Tripp lurid details of her relationship with the president all were delivered to Congress this afternoon with a copy for each political party. 

REPORTER:  Starr aides shed no official light on the contents of the boxes they delivered into the hands of Capitol police today.

GWEN IFILL, NBC NEWS:  But, Tom, House leaders will move quickly to move on the Starr report as much as they can. 


MADDOW:  So what got delivered that day?  I said it was white vans.  Obviously, it was a mix of white and black and navy blue vans?  Hard to tell.  Anyway, I stand corrected. 

But, anyway, what all those vans brought up to Capitol Hill that day, that Wednesday afternoon September 1998 was the Starr report itself, which is again more than 400 pages, but then it was these 18 boxes of supporting evidence, including everything from audio tapes to videotapes to transcripts of witness testimony before the grand jury.  They made two copies of all of that material. 

So, it`s 36 boxes in all, 18 boxes of evidence.  They made a copy to give one complete set of evidence and one copy of the report to the Democrats and one complete set of evidence and one copy of the report to the Republicans.  And they hauled all of that stuff up to Congress.  It`s all on a Wednesday afternoon. 

You want to know when the public got the report?  Friday.  Yes.  I mean, all the supporting evidence, all the grand jury material, that went only to Congress that didn`t get disbursed to the public. 

But the report itself, 445 pages, it was in the public domain less than 48 hours after Ken Starr finished with it and submitted it.  I should say more or less 48 hours. 

The way Congress chose to release that report to the public in September 1998 was by using a then quite newfangled machine called the Internet, and in 1998 really nobody knew how to download anything.  A 400-plus page document that they didn`t break into smaller parts to make it an easier download, that was basically an impossible Mount Everest of an online task for the slow dialup modem speeds we had at the time, but they did do their best to make it available to the public that Friday after they received it only two days before. 

Trying to post it online, they crashed every server that they posted it on.  News organizations ultimately did get their hands on the Starr report.  They distributed it as best as they could. 

I remember also, the Starr report was very quickly published as a pulpy paperback.  That`s how I remember it, as I remember.  And then I showered. 

But the legacy there, the precedent there, is that that report on that presidential scandal, it was turned around to the public within two days, after being completed and submitted.  And there was, of course, immense public interest in the report.  Tens of millions of Americans reportedly read that thing within a couple days of it being released. 

But that is apparently nowhere near what we are doing this time with this report on this scandal, involving this president.  It has now been six days since the special counsel`s report from Robert Mueller was completed and submitted.  And this time, the Trump administration appears to be in no rush whatsoever to provide anyone access to it. 

I mean, forget the public.  They are not even letting Congress see it.  After releasing a less-than-four-page document from Trump`s newly appointed attorney general, which provides a largely but vaguely exculpatory summary he says are Robert Mueller`s findings, now nearly a week after Mueller`s actual report was completed, the actual report remains totally unseen. 

And given the historical precedent for how things like this have been handled in the past, given the intense public interest in this matter, given the strangely vague, non-specific but definitely supposed to be exculpatory summary that we`ve been asked to swallow by this administration, by a Trump appointee, this effort by them to keep the actual Mueller report completely under wraps indefinitely, well as of today, it`s showing its first cracks. 

Today, for example, we got the first credible reports about the rough size the Mueller report might be.  You know, if you squint from a distance or maybe weren`t wearing your glasses but could get up close, could you tell the general size of it?  "The New York Times" was first on the spot the size of the Mueller report story today. 

But over the course of the day, we got a bunch of different sources and leaks saying Mueller`s report is multiple hundreds of pages of long.  Ultimately a justice department spokesperson did confirm in the most general terms, that, yes, OK, in fact, the Mueller report is over 300 pages. 

So, that`s your range.  Minimum number is 301, maximum number of pages is infinity.  So, somewhere in there. 

And that, of course, even that tells us nothing about the content of the report.  It doesn`t even really tell us the minimum length of it, right?  The pages could be the size of a postage stamp or the size of a bed sheet.  The print could be like a billboard or could be like inscribed on the head of a pin.  I don`t know.  It`s a minimum of 301 pages. 

Is that double-sided?  Single-spaced?  I don`t know.  We don`t know.  We know nothing about it. 

But with a Justice Department spokesperson confirming this one barely useful metric about the actual Mueller report, even that just puts a brighter spotlight on the fact that they are trying to keep this thing secret from everybody.  I mean, if they are now confirming the thing is over 300 pages long -- that doesn`t tell us anything what is in it but it does raise further questions about why thus far we are only allowed to see the less than 50 words of it that were quoted in William Barr`s statement about it, which is nuts, right? 

I mean, on what basis has he selected those 42 words as the only ones we`re allowed to see indefinitely?  Also, Congress, those are the only words in the Mueller report they are allowed to see.  I mean, especially since the one statement William Barr quoted from Mueller, that the White House and the conservative media are coming apart at the seams over, right?  They`re so excited to the grounds in which they are declaring this scandal to be over and settled, and the president to be heroically exonerated, that one quote from Mueller that appeared in Barr`s letter is not even a full sentence.  You notice that, right? 

I mean, in Barr`s report, this is what they are also excited about, that line that he quotes from Mueller.  Quote: The investigation did not establish members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities. 

Look at the first letter of the quote.  They had to put the first letter in brackets in order to make it a capital letter, in order to make it look like that was the start of a sentence and that is a complete sentence.  But the brackets mean there isn`t actually a capital letter there, which means that isn`t where the sentence starts, which means this statement about there being no criminal conspiracy established by the investigation, that`s the back half of a sentence that starts some other way. 

But we`re not allowed to know how that sentence starts.  We`re not allowed to know what else is in that sentence.  I mean, literally at this point, on the right and in the Republican Party, they are hanging the entire Trump presidency on that fragment of the sentence and not letting us see what else is in that sentence. 

Why is that?  Why do we only have William Barr`s statement about what Mueller found instead of anything at all from Mueller? 


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE SPEAKER:  I have said and I`ll say again, no thank you, Mr. Attorney general.  We do not need your interpretation.  Show us the report and we can draw our own conclusions.  We don`t need you interpreting for us.  That was condescending, it was arrogant and wasn`t the right thing to do. 

REPORTER:  Do you feel that the committee should still be full steam ahead on the issue of collusion?  Or given the discrepancy between the Mueller report and Barr summary should it be on obstruction of justice? 

PELOSI:  How can I say this more clearly?  Show us the report.  Show us the report. 


MADDOW:  Nancy Pelosi speaking to reporters and getting more and more blunt about it with each passing phrase, where at the end, she`s like, show us the report.  This is not that hard.  This is not that complicated.  I can`t say this any more clearly.  Show us the thing. 

I mean, it is amazing that as of tomorrow, we will be a week into the existence of the completed Mueller report and they are still sitting on it.  Still trying not to release it.  Not release any of it. 

Democratic congressional staffers today started circulating lists of previous reports into president`s scandals and executive branch scandals and how long -- how the dispensation of those reports had been handled on Capitol Hill and in terms of public access.  The last time there was a special counsel, which is what Robert Mueller is, that was John Danforth`s report about the Branch Davidian standoff at Waco.  His report was released publicly. 

Before that, it was independent counsel Ken Starr, his report was provided in full to the House on a Wednesday afternoon.  It was then released to the public on a Friday morning.  Even as the grand jury material and underlying evidence was held just within Congress and not released to the public, the public got the report Congress got all the underlying evidence and it happened zip, zip. 

Before that, it was the independent counsel Lawrence Walsh and his report about Oliver North and the Iran-Contra scandal.  That was released fully to the public. 

Even some lesser known ones.  There was an independent counsel who looked in to then HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros.  That was released fully to Congress and released with very limited redactions to the public.  There was an independent counsel report into an agriculture secretary named Mike Espy.  That was released fully to the public. 

It`s just the Mueller report they want to sit on.  This isn`t how things like this are previously handled.  But for this one, we`re heading -- tomorrow, it will be a week and we haven`t seen any of it. 

A few days ago here on the show, we talked about the precedent of the Watergate report that came to be known as the road map to Nixon`s impeachment.  This was a document drawn up by Watergate special prosecutor Leon Jaworski, and the grand jury in Washington that he had convened to hear evidence in the Watergate scandal. 

And this one was a little bit of a special case.  This was purely grand jury information, right?  And a federal judge signed off on that grand jury conveying the information they had collected about the president directly to Congress in a confidential manner so Congress could look at that grand jury information and consider what it meant in terms of drawing up potential articles of impeachment against Nixon. 

Now, that one, it took us a long time to get access to the 62-page stack of grand jury material that did form the basis of the impeachment articles against Nixon.  But honestly, the precedent still stands here because that information on Nixon, that wasn`t kept secret and put in a vault inside Nixon`s Justice Department where only his appointees were allowed to look which is what we got now.  I mean, that Leon Jaworski grand jury Watergate road map against Nixon, that was conveyed to Congress as soon as the grand jury assembled it.  They asked the judge`s permission, we would like to give this to congress, your honor.  The judge said, yes, it went to Congress that day. 

In this case, we`re not getting the Mueller report but Congress isn`t getting it, either.  Only Trump appointees get to see it and assure us, it`s all good news for the president.  Don`t worry your pretty little heads about it.  We`ll just keep this right here to ourselves.  NBC News today had some interesting reporting on Democrats` plans not just to try to obtain whatever version of the Mueller report Trump`s attorney general wants to allow them to see, they plan in addition to try to obtain both the Mueller report and any grand jury information that William Barr says he plans to try to cut out of it. 

Also, as in the case of the Starr report, they say they want all of the underlying evidence that led to Mueller`s findings.  They want vans pulling up on Capitol Hill unloading boxes of evidence for them to look at.  They are now citing that president of Leon Jaworski and the Watergate grand jury of 1974. 

Apparently, congressional Democrat say they believe they can bypass Trump`s Justice Department and William Barr.  They can bypass them altogether and go directly to the courts, as Jaworski and his grand jury did in 1974 to get a federal judge to clear the release of grand jury materials directly to the House Judiciary Committee so that committee can on behalf of Congress assess the president`s behavior as a co-equal branch of government. 

Think about where this is going now.  I mean, if Trump`s Justice Department continues to try to keep the Mueller report secret, and if they try to keep grand jury information from that report and the underlying evidence for that report secret, and the Democrats and Congress are going to go not just to fight the Justice Department about this, they`re going to go to the courts directly to go around the Justice Department, to get that material, this is going to be a rip-roaring fight about whether and when we get to see this stuff and whether and when Congress gets to see it, too. 

And meanwhile, Democrats are not playing along with the White House effort and effort that conservative media to declare this over based on one sentence fragment about the president and Russia and one full sentence that Barr quoted about obstruction of justice.  A full sentence incidentally in which Robert Mueller says the president is not exonerated on obstruction of justice. 

Today, the House Intelligence Committee convened an open hearing on Russian intelligence and Russian influence operations around the world and how those things work.  House Republicans at the outset tried to sort of hijack the hearing to declare the Russia scandal over, to declare the president totally exonerated and in so doing, they decided to declare that they were demanding the resignation of Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff for him having temerity to investigate this matter. 

And I`m guessing, because they all have been watching conservative media and listening to White House statements on this issue, I am guessing those Republican members of Congress thought that this would be a big triumph and moment for them.  I think they thought they were going to score big with their chest pounding demand today that Adam Schiff had to resign from the committee because the Russia stuff is all fine, it`s all been cleared up, everything is good.  That`s what they have been hearing from the White House and conservative media, because that`s what they have been hearing, I am quite sure they were not expecting what they actually got from Adam Schiff in response. 

And part of the way you can tell is how absolutely flabbergasted they were by the end of what Adam Schiff said.  You might have seen some of Adam Schiff`s remarks today.  You might have seen coverage that this sort of remarkable moment happened in Congress today, but I -- you may not have seen how Republicans responded at the end.  This was just incredible. 

There`s actually two things -- no, there is three things to watch here.  First, watch what Schiff says, which is sort of stunning, this riff, right?  Two, watch how the people around him at that moment respond including like his fellow Democrats, at one point you`ll see Val Demings sitting and in the room, and watch to see how she reacts to what is erupting from Adam Schiff in this hearing room today. 

And the third thing that you really have to see is just watch Republicans completely bamboozled and upset and sputtering with what he serves up to them.  They can`t believe he`s saying this stuff, and gosh, when you put it that way, it sounds terrible and that`s not what we mean.  You -- stop talking about it like that.  Oh, geez. 

I mean, this was just a signal moment, I think, in this whole two-yearlong saga.  This is incredible.  Sit down and watch this. 


REP. MIKE CONWAY (R-TX), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE:  We had no faith in your ability to discharge your duties and at the manner consistent with your constitutional responsibility and urge immediate resignation as chairman of the committee. 

Mr. Chairman, this letter is signed by all nine members of the Republican side of the House -- of the committee.  And I ask that it be entered into the record of today`s hearing. 

I go back. 

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), CHAIRMAN, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE:  Without objection, I`m going to turn to our witnesses who are the subject of the hearing today.  But before you, as you have chosen, instead of addressing the hearing to simply attack me, consistent with the president`s attacks, I do want to respond in this way. 

My colleagues may think it`s OK that the Russians offered dirt on a Democratic candidate for president as part of what was described as the Russian government`s effort to help the Trump campaign.  You might think that`s OK.  My colleagues might think it`s okay that when that was offered to the son of the president, who had a pivotal role in the campaign, that the president`s son did not call the FBI.  He did not adamantly refuse that foreign help. 

No, instead that son said he would love the help with the Russians.  You might think it`s OK that he took that meeting.  You might think it`s OK that Paul Manafort, the campaign chair, someone with great experience in running campaigns, also took that meeting. 

You might think it`s OK that the president`s son-in-law also took that meeting.  You might think it`s OK that they concealed it from the public.  You might think it`s OK that their only disappointment after that meeting was that the dirt they received on Hillary Clinton wasn`t better.  You might think that`s OK. 

You might think it`s OK when it was discovered a year later that then lied about that meeting and said it was about adoptions.  You might think it`s OK the president is reported to have helped dictate that lie.  You might think that`s OK.  I don`t. 

You might think it`s OK that the campaign chairman of a presidential campaign would offer information about that campaign to a Russian oligarch in exchange for money or debt forgiveness.  You might think that`s OK.  I don`t. 

You might think it`s okay that that campaign chairman offered polling data, campaign polling data to someone linked to Russian intelligence.  I don`t think that`s OK.  You might think it`s OK that the president himself called on Russia to hack his opponent`s e-mails if they were listening.  You might think it`s OK later that day the Russians attempted to hack a server affiliated with that campaign.  I don`t think that`s OK. 

You might think that it`s OK that the president`s son-in-law sought to establish a secret back channel of communications with the Russians through a Russian diplomatic facility.  I don`t think that`s OK.  You might think it`s OK that an associate of the president made direct contract with the GRU through Guccifer 2 and WikiLeaks and considered that it`s considered a hostile intelligence agency. 

You might think it`s OK a senior campaign official was instructed to reach that associate and find out what that hostile intelligence agency had to say in terms of dirt on his opponent.  You might think it`s OK that the national security advisor designate secretly conferred with a Russian ambassador about undermining U.S. sanctions and you might think it`s OK he lied about it to the FBI. 

You might say that`s all OK.  You might say that`s just what you need to do to win.  But I don`t think it`s OK.  I think it`s immoral.  I think it`s unethical.  I think it`s unpatriotic and yes, I think it`s corrupt and evidence of collusion. 

Now I have always said that the question of whether this amounts to proof of conspiracy was another matter.  Whether the special counsel could prove beyond a reasonable doubt the proof of that crime would be up to the special counsel and I would accept this decision and I do.  He`s a good and honorable man and he`s a good prosecutor, but I do not think that conduct, criminal or not is OK. 

And the day we do think that`s OK is the day we will look back and say that is the day America lost its way. 

And I will tell you one more thing that is apropos of the hearing today, I don`t think it`s OK during a presidential campaign Mr. Trump sought the Kremlin`s help to have a real estate deal in Moscow that would make him a fortune.  According to the special counsel hundreds of millions of dollars.  I don`t think it`s OK he concealed it from the public. 

I don`t think it`s OK that he advocated a new and more favorable policy towards the Russians even as he was seeking the Russians` help, the Kremlin`s help to make money.  I don`t think it`s OK his attorney lied to our committee. 

There is a different word for that than collusion and it`s called compromise.  And that is the subject of our hearing today.  Mr. Ambassador, I will not yield --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Will you yield you made up things about all of us -- we think --

SCHIFF:  I will not yield.  I will not yield. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We think you should allow us to speak. 


SCHIFF:  You can use your five minutes to speak.  You attacked me in your opening statement. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I haven`t had an opportunity to respond at all especially because of what we think.  No one over here thinks that. 


SCHIFF:  Mr. Turner, you`re not recognized, Ambassador McFaul, you`re recognized. 


MADDOW:  And thus began the hearing on how Russia uses its various points of leverage to compromise people around the globe including potentially people in our own government.  The gentleman will not yield. 

And until the Mueller report actually gets released, any of it, I don`t think anybody should expect him to yield not an inch. 

Stay with us. 



SCHIFF:  But I do not think that conduct criminal or not is OK.  And the day we do think that`s OK is the day we will look back and say that is the day America lost its way. 


MADDOW:  The House Intelligence Committee today was an epic clash of civilizations maybe?  An epic clash of partisan.  It was an epic clash in which Republicans demanded the resignation of the Democrats for investigating what happened with Russia in the 2016 campaign and Democrats came back and gave them what four ten times and six times extra on Sunday about what Russia did, and how important it is. 

Joining us now is Congressman Jim Himes of Connecticut, who`s on the Intelligence Committee.  And he was there today.

Sir, I really appreciate you being here tonight.  Thanks for being here. 


MADDOW:  Let me just start by asking you what was that?  I mean, this was a hearing on the Kremlin`s use of oligarch`s money and intelligence in 2016 and beyond, but it started off with what really looked like a battle scene. 

HIMES:  It was remarkable.  My pulse was around 200 just watching you replay it.  I was sitting right next to Adam, and I`ll tell you, the emotional energy in the room was amazing.  And you sort of saw this happening, you know?  You know, the former chairman, Devin Nunes with the midnight run to the White House and his activities ultimately resulting in Nancy Pelosi after a year and a half of antics calling on him to step down. 

You know, you can just tell the Republicans were just waiting for this moment.  And of course, what they did was they created a moment in which Adam Schiff reminded the nation that while -- and we`re going to accept Mueller for his conclusion, while the president`s behavior does not rise to the level of an indictable conspiracy, inappropriate, outrageous, unpatriotic, of course, every one of those actions was.  So, it put a little bit of a damper on the Republican celebration. 

MADDOW:  In terms of both where the hearing went today and with the grounds on which Chairman Schiff made the stand, that he`s made over the last few days, it`s interesting to me he has been asking, as an open question, even to you guys on the Intelligence Committee, he`s been asking whether the counter intelligence probe opened by the FBI into President Trump and campaign, whether that investigation has concluded along with the broader Mueller investigation. 

Do you have any further insight into that and into whether any counter intelligence findings were part of what Mueller produced as his report? 

HIMES:  Yes, I mean, that is a really good question and it`s not necessarily true that those findings or ongoing questions that are counterintelligence related will necessarily find their way into the report. 

I mean, there is three big shoes that have yet to drop.  One of course is that.  They one may not drop.  At the end of the day, if this is about compromise in a way that would be classified, that shoe might not drop. 

But, of course, the other two, and I think the Republicans realize that the high water mark of their political experience was probably, you know, two hours after the report was released because there are two other shoes to drop.  Number one is when the report comes out, just as Adam detailed in his speech the behavior that the president and his people engaged in is not going to make these guys look good and secondarily, this is why I wonder why we see so many victory dances on the other side, it was apparently not clear that the president did not obstruct justice. 

So when we see that, and I haven`t seen it, but when we see that, and when we are asking ourselves looking at actual facts and stories and saying, did the president of the United States obstruct justice, a crime for which two presidents were found themselves in impeachment proceedings, that`s going to be a pretty ugly political situation for the president and for the Republicans who have defended him. 

MADDOW:  But that`s all dependent on the idea that we`re going to have access to the Mueller report.  I mean, one of the things -- I started with the show tonight is the sort of remarkable situation we`re in right now, six days after Mueller submitted his report and we still have only seen like 40-something words of it including sentence fragments that were quoted by William Barr. 

I don`t know whether or not to be confident that the Trump administration is ever going to allow it to be released and I feel like the more I talked to Democrats about this, people, you know, who are on -- in the House, people who are in the Senate, people who are staffers, people who have every intention of trying to pry this report out, it`s not clear to me what the levers are by which they are going to try to get this released.  It`s both crazy to me that we haven`t seen it yet and I don`t know how we ultimately are going to get to the part where we do see it. 

HIMES:  You know, I have a little more confidence than you do, Rachel.  If worse comes to worse, we will subpoena the report.  And part of the reason we haven`t seen it so far is that unlike the Clinton report which you were talking about, in this case, there is lots of -- I`m almost certain, there is lots of classified information which needs to be redacted.  Where it gets interesting, because at the end of the day, look, we had a unanimous vote in the House of Representatives, and the president himself said that the report should be made available to the public. 

It feels to me like only Lindsey Graham doesn`t want this report out in the public.  So, I think eventually it becomes public.  I think where the fight is, of course, this White House and president is going to demand that anything that is embarrassing to him, and I think that of those 300-plus pages, a lot of that will fall into the embarrassing category.  They will use the tool of executive privilege to redact that.  And, of course, if they do that, which I have every expectation they will do, we will find ourselves in the court, which could get ugly and lengthy. 

MADDOW:  Congressman Jim Himes of Connecticut, member of the House Intelligence Committee -- sir, thanks for being here.  Appreciate it. 

HIMES:  Thanks, Rachel. 

All right.  One of the best reporters on the president`s business dealings, has a very, very, very big news scoop today.  That story and that reporter are going to join us here next.  Stay with us.


MADDOW:  The letter was weird in general.  But it was particularly weird given that it was supposed to be a health related document.  You probably remember this, right? 

Quote: Mr. Trump has had a recent complete medical examination that showed only positive results.  His blood pressure and laboratory tests were astonishingly excellent. 

Quote: His physical strength and stamina are extraordinary. 

Only positive results.  Astonishingly excellent.  Extraordinary. 

This is the way it ended.  This is the last line.  Quote: Mr. Trump, I can unequivocally state will be the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency. 

Ever elected.  We went back and checked all the corpses.  Yes.  Really?  Are you sure?  Really?  Did you mean that? 


NBC NEWS:  Dr. Bornstein, phrases like "astonishingly excellent" seem a little over the top to some people.  What do you think about that?  Is that the way that you write most of your medical letters? 

DR. HAROLD BORNSTEIN, DONALD TRUMP`S DOCTOR:  No, but for Mr. Trump, I wrote that letter that way. 


MADDOW:  That was Donald Trump`s personal physician, Dr. Harold Bornstein, back in August 2016.  He was Trump`s gastroenterologist, and he released this most over-the-top medical letter ever about then candidate Donald Trump.  It was baffling, right? 

For one, this is not a thing that candidates usually fudge.  Also, it was worded really strangely.  For example, that thing about all positive results.  In the medical world, having all positive results, that`s not usually a good thing.  If you get test results back from your physical and your doctor is like everything is positive, that`s not good. 

But it was also just, you know, obviously weirdly exaggerated.  We later learned that Donald Trump himself literally dictated that letter describing his own health, basically told the doctor what to write, to try to create the impression he was the healthiest, strongest person on earth.

And as crazy and as weird as that was, that early experience gave us as Americans some valuable insight into our new president`s way in the world.  It should probably have prepared us for "The Washington Post" scoop that dropped today about how Mr. Trump also did this exact same kind of thing all the time when it came to his finances. 

Here is the lead.  Quote: When Donald Trump wanted to make a good impression on a lender, a business partner or a journalist, he sometimes sent them official looking documents called statements of financial condition.  These documents sometimes ran up to 20 pages.  They were full of numbers laying out Trump`s properties, debts and multibillion dollar net worth.

Quote: But, for someone trying to get a true picture of Trump`s net worth, the documents were deeply flawed.  Some simply omitted properties that carried big debts.  Some assets were overvalued, and some key numbers were wrong. 

"The Post" was able to report this out because they got copies of these statements of financial condition for five different years and in those documents, you know, it`s all astonishingly excellent and extraordinary and very clearly fake. 

Trump claimed, for example, that his national golf club in Southern Florida had 55 home lots, that he was going to sell along the golf course.  In reality, only had 31 lots available for sale.

He also claimed his Virginia vineyard had 2,000 acres.  It only had 1,200 acres.  He also claims that the Trump Tower is 68 stories tall.  It is only 58 stories tall. 

These are all easily fact checkable things but Trump lied about these things in financial statements again and again and again, and we first learned about this as one of Trump`s ways of doing business last month during Michael Cohen`s testimony before the House Oversight Committee.  He testified that Trump regularly used statements like this to inflate his wealth or to reduce insurance premiums or to try to get loans. 

That put the question squarely on the issue of legality.  I mean, the question is, is this just run of the mill lying and self-aggrandizing behavior by Donald Trump, or is this something potentially more serious?  It is one thing to lie to impress people, it`s another thing to lie to impress a bank or an insurance company or some other tightly regulated industry. 

The question that derives out of this is not just what`s the president`s character.  That`s quite clear, but whether or not this might prove to be troubling for the president, as well.  We`ll have more on that, next.


MADDOW:  When "The Washington Post" dug up financial statements from President Trump for a scoop that shows how much Trump regularly exaggerated his assets and his wealth in these documents to potential investors and journalists and other people he wanted to impress, on one hand, that was yet another example of the president telling lies about provable things.  On the other hand, though, this isn`t exactly likely lying about your hand size.  Is there a potential legal liability for the president in producing financial statements that materially misrepresent how much he`s worth?

Here is how a professor from George Washington University characterized it to "The Washington Post" today.  Quote: How much would the errors impact an investor?  I should also tell you this professor adds he`s never seen a documented stretched so far past the normal conventions of accounting.  The professor told "The Post", it is humorous.  This is a humorous financial statement.

Joining us now is David Fahrenthold, Pulitzer Prize-winning "Washington Post" reporter who broke this story today. 

Mr. Fahrenthold, it`s great to have you with us.  Thanks for being here. 


MADDOW:  So, this feels a little bit like some of the stuff that Michael Cohen laid out in his bombshell testimony before Congress couple weeks ago where he talked about the president augmenting his assets and playing down his liabilities in order to try to get loans from banks or to try to reduce his insurance premiums.  That seemed like potential legal jeopardy for the president because of the banking industry and insurance industry are tightly regulated and lying to those institutions can send you to jail, which Michael Cohen is now about to do. 

This reporting, though, is about President Trump trying to impress different sorts of people.  So I wonder where you come down on the issue of whether or not this might actually be a legal problem for him. 

FAHRENTHOLD:  Well, in the short term, it is a legal problem.  In the last few weeks since Michael Cohen testified, we`ve seen subpoenas from the New York attorney general to Trump`s lender, Deutsche Bank.  We`ve seen subpoenas from the New York insurance regulator to Trump`s insurer and some document requests of the House Oversight Committee, all focused on these statements of financial condition, basically asking these folks that Cohen said Trump had influenced with these inflated statements, asking to provide documents about how exactly they were influenced and what Trump told them. 

So, I don`t know in the long term, will this lead to civil charges, a lawsuit, will lead to something criminal?  That`s in the way in the future.  We have to know a lot more before we can say what`s going to happen with that.

But, already, we`ve seen this issue go from kind of an issue as you said of character or morals into a legal issue as all these investigators start to dig in.

  MADDOW:  And, David, one of the things you point out is that there is in the first paragraph from the statements, there is a caveat from Trump`s accountant that says we have not audited or reviewed the accompanying financial statement.  That seems like kind of a CYA, forgive me, statement from the accountant saying, like, don`t blame us, don`t hold us accountable for what`s in here. 

Is that kind of a caveat so legally significant that it could actually be kind of a get out of jail free card for numbers and documents like this that might otherwise potentially get you in trouble? 

FAHRENTHOLD:  It could.  The experts we talked to said that yes, that kind of disclaimer, it`s a two-page -- that`s how many things were wrong with these documents according to normal accounting standards.  It`s a two-page disclaimer at the beginning of a 20-page statement describing all the different ways that Trump has diverged from normal practices.  But even at two pages, it doesn`t cover all the document`s flaws.  That`s the important thing here. 

There are other errors in the document, errors of fact, that are not disclaimed, that are not caveated that you wouldn`t know if you were reading the whole thing, you wouldn`t know are wrong.  One of the ones you mentioned earlier is a $72 million error.  Trump said he had 24 more home lots to sell in California than he did and he said he was going to sell them at $3 million apiece. 

So, if you look at Trump and say here`s a guy who`s got $72 million worth of future cash flow he really doesn`t have, that could be a material distinction. 

MADDOW:  David, does it make sense to you that New York state authorities are among the law enforcement entities and sort of accountability entities that are looking into these matters?  Obviously, the Trump Foundation which you did such groundbreaking work on, the Trump Organization headquartered in New York, President Trump is a resident of New York, these things mostly pertain to his time, all pertain to his time before he was president. 

Does it make sense that New York state would be the entity that would be pursuing this now? 

FAHRENTHOLD:  It makes sense that it`s one of the entities pursuing it.  Deutsche Bank which was one of Trump`s main lenders of this period.  Michael Cohen said they got a lot of these flawed financial statements.  They`re headquartered -- this particular office Trump went to is down at 30 Wall Street. 

So, the insurance regulators and the New York attorney general have jurisdiction over both ends of the transaction.  The accountants, Trump, as well as his insurer and his lender. 

MADDOW:  David Farenthold, reporter with the "Washington Post," Pulitzer Prize winner -- sir, thank you for being with us tonight.  Much appreciated. 

FAHRENTHOLD:  Thank you. 

MADDOW:  All right.  Much more to come here tonight.  Do stay with us.


MADDOW:  After postponing the sentencing several times so she could continue cooperating with federal prosecutors, today, the U.S. attorney`s office in D.C. told a federal judge they were ready to sentence Maria Butina.  Maria Butina`s the Russian national who pled guilty in December for running an influence operation targeting the NRA and other U.S. conservative groups.  Butina will now be sentenced by that federal judge on April 26th.  About a week before that, we should see prosecutors` recommendation for her sentencing, which should hopefully tell us more about what kind of cooperation she`s provided since she pled guilty, how helpful she`s been to prosecutors. 

That U.S. attorney`s office in D.C. has taken on a whole bunch of the case that`s have been handed off by Robert Mueller`s office or that derive from Mueller`s work or that are connected to the Russia investigation.  That U.S. attorney`s office in D.C. has been handling Butina.  Also, the Roger Stone case.  They`re also handling the Manafort case now, the Rick Gates case, the case against Konstantin Kilimnik. 

They`re also handling -- the mystery case of some mystery company from some mystery country that`s being fined $50,000 a day for not complying with a Mueller subpoena.  That office may also get the Flynn case or the concord management case or the GRU case.  That U.S. attorney`s office in D.C. is handling a huge chunk of what started as Mueller`s work.  And Trump had been planning on taking that U.S. attorney out of that office, out of that job. 

A couple of weeks ago, the Trump administration announced their intention to move U.S. attorney Jessie Liu out of her U.S. attorney`s job in D.C. where she`s been handling all these Russia-related cases, to instead bring her over to the Justice Department, to give her the number 3 job in the justice department, where incidentally she would not be handling any of the cases she`s previously been working on.  She wouldn`t be handling criminal or national security matters at all. 

So we got that news in the first week of March.  The White House was going to move that crucial U.S. attorney out to a new job that would handily give the president the opportunity to put somebody else in that U.S. attorney job to handle all of those cases.  Presumably, it would be like a Trump child or like Melania`s Pilates instructor or something.  Somebody who would do what he wants. 

Today that fell apart, actually.  Jessie Liu`s name withdrawn for consideration for that DOJ job.  A Republican in the Senate apparently objects to her nomination.  We think it might be because she`s not anti- abortion enough or something else random like that.  But that effort to take her out of that U.S. attorney`s job, put her at DOJ has come to an end unexpectedly today.  We don`t exactly know what that means, but watch this space.


MADDOW:  That does it for us tonight, but I will see you an hour early tomorrow night, at 8:00 p.m. Eastern.  Because before you watch my show tomorrow, we will all be watching the Chris Hayes town hall with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on the Green New Deal at 8:00 Eastern tomorrow night, right here on MSNBC.  I will see you there. 


Good evening, Lawrence. 

                                                                                                THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END