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Federal Judge in DC denies reporters request. TRANSCRIPT: 4/1/19, The Rachel Maddow Show.

Guests: Katie Townsend, Raja Krishnamoorthi

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST:  Thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. 

It has been a busy news day today.  Lots going on. 

One developing story we are keeping an eye on tonight is that it looks like President Trump`s latest appointment to the Federal Reserve board may be falling apart.  President Trump`s nomination of Stephen Moore to the Federal Reserve Board was sort of a difficult choice to begin with, but now tonight it is producing ominous headlines like this one at "The Wall Street Journal." 

Do we have that headline?  Thank you. 

About how the White House is standing behind the Stephen Moore nomination.  You never have to stand behind something in a headline unless there is a reason to think a nomination like that is in trouble. 

Since President Trump first nominated Stephen Moore and described him publicly as a respected economist, it has emerged sort of sequentially and with increasing awkwardness that: A, he is not an economist.  B, he owes over $70,000 in unpaid taxes to the IRS.  C, he was recently held in contempt of court for not paying over $300,000 in child support and alimony.  D, Mr. Moore apparently lost his last job as a newspaper columnist, thanks to an ethics dispute with his paper about giving paid partisan speeches which is a thing he was not supposed to do while having that kind of a job.  E, the political action committee where he worked had to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in FEC fines for legal violations occurring during the time he was in charge of that PAC. 

I mean, I don`t know how far we`re going to get down through the alphabet when it comes to Stephen Moore, but hey, he did also write a book called "Trumpomics."  So, obviously, that trumps everything.  Pun intended.  Clearly that alone makes him the best man in the country for that job, or for any other. 

But Stephen Moore`s nomination to be on the Federal Reserve board, a job he admits he knows nothing about, it does appear to be sort of teetering tonight as this torrent of bad news about him and the White House`s apparent total failure to vet him for this nomination continues to pile up in a bad way. 

For what it`s worth, I will just mention Steve Benen who writes the blog for this show at, Steve normally a very reserved guy.  He is an understatement kind of guy.  But I have to say Steve Benen called this one from the very beginning.  If you read, you will recognize this.  When Stephen Moore was first nominated by President Trump, Steve then said, quote: Stephen Moore isn`t just an unfortunate personnel selection for this president, he is a uniquely ridiculous choice, quite possibly the least defensible personnel appointment of the entire Trump presidency to date. 

Strong words upon the appointment of Stephen Moore.  Again, as of tonight, the "Wall Street Journal" says the White House is standing behind the Moore nomination.  But this one feels like it is on its way out.  Keep an eye on that. 

We`ve also got a little bit of exclusive news tonight.  I believe that we are first to report anywhere that there is going to be another bunch of protests this week on Thursday over the Trump administration`s decision thus far to not release the report of the special counsel`s investigation by Robert Mueller. 

It is, of course, now ten days since Robert Mueller submitted his report.  So far, Trump`s newly appointed Attorney General William Barr has only released statements about the report, but he has released none of the report itself.  The weird vagueness with which William Barr has been describing Mueller`s findings came to sort of its absurd apex on Friday night when Barr released yet another statement, a third statement in a week about Mueller`s findings.  In that third Friday night letter, Barr oddly insisted that nothing he had said about Mueller`s findings thus far should be described as a summary of Mueller`s findings. 

He wants it to be known that he is definitely not summarizing what Mueller said.  Although in plain English, it is hard to understand what exactly he`s been saying about Mueller`s report when he has put out what appeared to be a summary of Mueller`s principle conclusions.  In any case, the continued effort by Attorney General William Barr to hold back the Mueller report itself is running into stiff resistance.  Six committee chairmen in the how many times set tomorrow, Tuesday as the deadline for Barr to hand over an unredacted copy of Mueller`s report to Congress.  The attorney general does not seem intended to meet that deadline, but we shall see. 

If the attorney general misses the deadline to hand over the report tomorrow, Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler now says his committee will meet the following day on Wednesday to consider issuing a subpoena to obtain the report.  And we still do not know how Attorney General William Barr would respond to that kind of a subpoena if one was issued. 

A reporter for a local ABC News affiliate says tonight that he got the chance to ask Attorney General William Barr if Barr plans to comply with any such subpoena that tries to obtain Mueller`s report.  In response to that question, Barr, quote, laughed, and then said, we`ll have to follow the law.  So we will see. 

If William Barr does not meet the deadline set by Congress to hand over that unredacted report by tomorrow, and if he is subpoenaed for it on Wednesday, and if the subpoena on Wednesday also doesn`t compel him to turn over the report to Congress, then on Thursday, we can report tonight a group called the Trump is not above the law coalition, they`re planning over 175 protests all over the country on Thursday in response. 

This is a coalition group that has a lot of big name members.  It`s component organizations include groups like Move On and Indivisible and People for the American Way, and a whole bunch of other groups.  And this coalition planned actions like this in advance, basically, on speck, saying that they would -- these demonstrations would be triggered if steps were taken by the Trump administration to go after the Mueller investigation.  This group formed in advance and made this plan in advance to try to plan public demonstrations and public response to protect Mueller and his investigation in anticipation that the Trump administration would take steps to block it or would try to keep Mueller`s findings secret. 

Again, ten days into the Mueller report having been submitted but not yet release, that coalition confirms to us tonight that unless the Mueller report is out by Thursday, those folks are going to be out in the streets that day in response. 

To that point, though, you should also know that late today, we got a ruling in the mystery case.  Did you hear what I said?  I said "the mystery case".  That`s better. 

This ruling we just got late this afternoon, it`s an interesting thing about the mystery case, but I think it may also be a little bit of a heads up for all of us about what`s going to happen with the Mueller report and when.  You probably remember the basics here about the mystery case and why it is so mysterious. 

In July of last year, some unknown company that is owned by an unknown foreign country, they received a subpoena to provide evidence to a federal grand jury sitting in the District of Columbia.  This was the D.C. grand jury that was convened to handle a whole bunch of special matters derived from the Mueller investigation.  So, Mueller`s grand jury in D.C. is the grand jury that approved the indictments of campaign chair Paul Manafort, whose 70th birthday is today. 

Happy birthday.  That`s both nice for him because it`s his birthday.  It`s also sad for him because he is spending his 70th birthday in prison. 

Nevertheless, the same grand jury that approved the indictment of Manafort also approved the indictment of Trump`s deputy campaign chair Rick Gates.  Also, their business associate Konstantin Kilimnik who is said by prosecutors to be associated with Russian intelligence.  This is the same grand jury that handed down indictments against the GRU, the Russian military intelligence officers, also the Internet Research Agency, the troll farm and Concord Management, this company that was allegedly organizing and funding them in Russia. 

When this mystery company owned by some foreign country, we don`t know which, when this mystery company received their subpoena from that grand jury July 11th last year, they initially negotiated with the special counsel`s office, apparently trying to find some way out of having to respond to that subpoena.  According to court documents, after about a month of negotiations, the mystery company moved to quash the subpoena.  And that started months and months of litigation that was both sort of straight forward, but also still shrouded in mystery, because the basis of the legal fight was easy to understand, even for those of us who aren`t lawyers. 

The legal fight was that the mystery company tried to argue in court that they didn`t have to comply with the subpoena from Mueller`s grand jury specifically because they were a company owned by a foreign country.  And because they were owned by a foreign country, that made them immune from this whole part of the U.S. legal system.  That was their legal argument.  They fought that out in federal court in D.C. and they lost. 

Then they appealed it to the appeals court in D.C., and they lost.  Then they appealed it to another iteration of the Appeals Court in D.C., they lost there.  Then they appealed to it the Supreme Court, the United States Supreme Court, and the Supreme Court said, no, we`re cool with the lower courts that have ruled against you thus far.  We are not going to hear your appeal and potentially overturn this. 

So they`ve taken this all the way to the very top and they`ve lost every step of the way.  That means in legal terms, the straight forward part of this is very straight forward.  The mystery company is in a simple legal dead-end. 

I mean, according to the U.S. court system, mystery company has to comply with the subpoena to provide evidence to Mueller`s grand jury.  They have to.  And for every day that they don`t, they have to pay a fine of $50,000 a day.  And that has now been in place for long enough that that`s starting to add up, right?  Even if this is a very rich foreign company owned by some very rich foreign country, 50 grand a day, day after day after day, it adds up. 

So, that`s the part of it that`s straight forward, the legal fight.  The mysterious part of it is that we still don`t know who this freaking company is or what country they`re from.  And last week, we got a surprise in this case, because there is a First Amendment group called the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press that has been trying to intervene in this case to say the American news media and the American public have an interest in knowing what`s going on in this case, what company this is that`s refusing this subpoena, what foreign country this is.  That`s incurring $50,000 a day fines rather than hand over evidence to Mueller`s investigation. 

Again, this company is not seen as a target of Mueller`s investigation.  They`re just a witness.  But they`re willing to incur a $50,000 a day penalty to avoid handing over evidence as a witness in this investigation? 

Who is this company?  Who is this country that has that kind of interest in this investigation and with doing everything they can to block it? 

Well, last week -- so, after Robert Mueller handed in his report, after we got this announcement from Attorney General William Barr that the special counsel`s investigation is over.  Mueller has completed his work.  He`s completed his report.

After all that happened, last week, that First Amendment group, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, they went back to court to try to clean this thing up once and for all, right?  Because you think this might be the point where they could finally get this settled.  They could finally lift the mystery here and tell all of us, the American public what this whole fight has been about and who the players are in this part of the investigation. 

It seemed clear going into that court hearing on this case late last week that finally, the mystery would be solved, right?  Mueller`s investigation we`ve been told is done. 

We would assume that means that the grand jury Mueller had convened that issued the subpoena to the mystery company, we would also assume that they are now done with their grand jury investigation as well, right?  So they would no longer need whatever information they would have been trying to get from this company.  So this thing is moot now, right?  We can figure out who the parties are now, right? 

No.  The surprise in the story came in open court late last week when the chief judge of the federal district court in D.C., Judge Beryl Howell, turned to the prosecutors in open court, who are now handling the mystery case, quote, let`s start with the first question.  Is the grand jury investigation over?  To which the prosecutors responded, quote, no, your honor.  It is continuing.  I can say it is continuing robustly. 

The judge then immediately moved to clarify saying, quote, all right.  So this is the situation where the court must evaluate the reporters committee request for unsealing in the context of a robust and ongoing grand jury investigation.  Is that correct?  The prosecutors respond, exactly.  And the judge responds, all right. 

So that was a surprise.  Robert Mueller may have closed up shop at the special counsel`s office.  The special counsel`s office may have handed off all of its ongoing cases, including the mystery case to other prosecutors and other U.S. attorneys offices, but we have now learned in court, in Judge Beryl Howell`s courtroom, that the grand jury investigation that was being ran by Mueller, it continues robustly. 

And on that basis, tonight we got a ruling from Judge Howell in federal court in D.C. in the mystery case. 

Quote, the grand jury investigation to which the underlying subpoena relates is ongoing.  Redactions must thus be applied to maintain the secrecy of all matters occurring before the grand jury. 

Quote: As the reporters committee conceded, the need for secrecy is heightened during an ongoing investigation and warrants redactions to preserve grand jury secrecy. 

Quote, the Reporters Committee has no constitutional common law or rules- based claim of entitlement to learn the corporation`s identity.  Certainly not while the grand jury investigation persist. 

Quote, at this time, the court will not direct that the public records identify the mystery corporation. 

So we still don`t know who the mystery corporation is because the grand jury investigation that this pertains to is ongoing.  And I should say in this ruling tonight, Judge Beryl Howell goes on at length about all the reasons why it`s so important that the secrecy of information before the grand jury is preserved as long as the grand jury investigation is ongoing. 

So this is important now when it comes to the mystery case.  These still outstanding questions about who this entity is, what country this is that`s going to these crazy lengths to avoid giving Mueller any evidence, this is important about the mystery case.  But this is also now potentially really important for the whole kit and caboodle, for the whole Mueller report and when and if we are going to get to see it. 

I mean, it`s ten days already.  How is it going to be decided?  How is it going to be decided when it goes to Congress and what goes to Congress?  How is it going to be decided when it comes to us, the public, and what`s in it when it does? 

Judge Beryl Howell, who wrote this ruling tonight in the mystery case, as I mentioned, she is the chief judge in the federal district court in Washington, D.C., that means that she now holds the job which used to be held by this guy, John Sirica. 

John Sirica was the chief judge in federal district court in D.C. in 1964 when Watergate exploded.  John Sirica, 1973 and 1974, he is the judge who presided over a whole bunch of the Watergate trials, but because the grand jury convened to investigate Watergate by the Watergate special prosecutor was convened in D.C. and Sirica was the chief judge of the federal court in D.C., he was also the judge who made the call when that Watergate grand jury decided that the information they had obtained, the evidence they had amassed and reviewed that pertained to potential criminal conduct by President Nixon, when they decided that information should be sent over to Congress, to the House Judiciary Committee in March 1974, they made that plea to judge John Sirica, the chief judge. 

The grand jury wrote to the chief judge, Judge Sirica, and said hey, we`ve amassed a whole bunch of evidence that pertains to potential criminal behavior by President Nixon.  We the grand jury strongly recommend that this information be conveyed to the House Judiciary Committee for them to consider what to do with it. 

The grand jury information obviously is usually secret for very good reasons.  It usually gets conveyed nowhere because it is used only for the purposes of drawing up indictments, supposed to be sort of a closed system.  You either indict with that information or it disappears. 

But in the case of the grand jury`s information that they had collected about President Nixon, President Nixon, who they did not believe they could indict because he was a sitting president, that grand jury went to Judge Sirica and asked him basically to make a special dispensation so that they could do something useful with the evidence that they had amassed.  They asked Judge Sirica to issue a court ruling allowing that the grand jury information about Nixon could be shown to the Congress, specifically, to the House Judiciary Committee in Congress.  That was the decision that Sirica had to make in March of 1974.  And it was a really, really dramatic and important turning point in the whole Watergate saga. 


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Good evening.  Judge John Sirica said today he will send a secret grand jury report on President Nixon and the Watergate cover- up to impeachment investigators in the House of Representatives.  Sirica allowed lawyers in the case two days to appeal his decision. 

In that decision, Sirica said he had no choice but to send the grand jury`s report and supporting evidence to the House.  The judge described the report as a compilation of information and said it contained no formal charges, was not accusatory.  But he said he feels that the evidence in the report is material to the impeachment inquiry and said it is obligatory that the information on the president be given to the Judiciary Committee. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Said the judge, the person on whom the report focuses is the president of the United States.  He said he had carefully examined the contents of the report and that there was no question regarding their materiality to the House impeachment inquiry.  Said the judge: The court concludes that delivery to the committee is eminently proper and indeed obligatory. 


MADDOW:  Eminently proper and indeed obligatory.  It`s information about the president that is material to the House Judiciary Committee in terms of oversight there was a reference there to the judge when he issued this order giving a two-day window during which an appeal could be filed against his decision. 

In fact, there was an appeal.  Nixon`s White House chief of staff, H.R. Haldeman, who was indicted by that same grand jury, Haldeman did appeal Judge Sirica`s decision.  Haldeman tried to get a higher court, tried to get the D.C. Appeals Court to block Sirica`s decision, to block the conveying of that grand jury information to Congress, but Haldeman lost that appeal quickly. 

And so, ultimately, actually, that same week as those reports, the grand jury information about potential criminal conduct by the president, it did get conveyed to the House Judiciary Committee.  It became the road map for the impeachment articles that were ultimately drawn up against Nixon. 

But there is two interesting/amazing things about the way that all landed, that I think now we need to figure out what they mean for us.  In what really feels like an allegorical time to that moment in history, we are at this -- we`re in between moment, right, where Mueller`s report is in.  We`re told by the attorney general that Mueller`s report contains some amount of grand jury information.  The attorney general says he won`t let anybody see Mueller`s report, not yet. 

One of the things he says he is doing before he lets anybody see Mueller`s report is he is going through it to take out any grand jury information that`s contained in Mueller`s report. 

Well, the first thing that may be material here in terms of the historical precedent is that when John Sirica issued his opinion in 1974, which was upheld on appeal, which allowed the grand jury information to be conveyed to Congress, that grand jury information about Nixon, I mean when Sirica issued that landmark ruling, one of the things he noted in his opinion was that most of the typical concerns that might exist about releasing grand jury information didn`t apply in this case because he said in his ruling, quote, here for all purposes relevant to this decision, the grand jury has ended its work. 

Again, this was about the Watergate grand jury.  Because the Watergate grand jury had ended it work, quote, therefore there is no need to protect against flight on anyone`s part, to prevent tampering or restraints on any jurors, to protect grand jury deliberations or to safeguard un-accused or innocent persons with secrecy.  In other words, all the reasons we might otherwise keep grand jury information secret doesn`t apply here, in part because here for all purposes relevant to the decision, the grand jury has ended its work. 

In 1974, part of the reason the grand jury information was conveyed to Congress by this court order is because the judge essentially said in his ruling that he was more comfortable doing that because the grand jury investigation for all purposes relevant to this decision was not ongoing. 

Well, in this case, in the one we`re living in right now, the judge, who has Sirica`s old job, the judge who will be called on to make ultimately likely I guess I should say this same decision that Sirica made in 1974, if she is asked to issue a court order allowing the conveying of grand jury information about president Trump to the House Judiciary Committee.

Well, she has now laid down a predicate in open court and in this ruling that she`s just issued tonight in which she says in our experience now, in the grand jury that was convened by the special counsel by Robert Mueller she has now laid down the predicate that that grand jury investigation is not over.  It is ongoing.  It is continuing robustly, and she has already cited that as a reason, this judge has cited that as a reason that she does not want to release grand jury information, at least from the mystery case, at least when it comes to us learning the identity of the mystery corporation that won`t comply with Mueller`s subpoena. 

The other amazing thing about where this lands is that when John Sirica ordered that grand jury information to be released to Congress in 1974.  That grand jury information was only given to Congress.  He wasn`t releasing that information to the public. 

The only reason we the public ever got to see all that grand jury information about Nixon is because last year, 2018, there was litigation on the Nixon case asking to open that material up to the public for the first time, 45 years down the road.  Open it up in the interest of the historical record. 

The judge who ruled last year to allow the Nixon grand jury evidence to release to the public for if first time 45 years down the road, that was Judge Beryl Howell, the same judge who is now the chief judge in D.C. who will likely field any legislation about whether Trump grand jury information can be released to this Congress this year in 2019. 

So, if you think that the grand jury information in Mueller`s report that pertains to potential criminal behavior about this president, if you think that information is going to be key to us understanding as a country what happened in this scandal and the president`s potential liability here, you`re in sort of a glass half full, glass half empty situation here tonight, right?  Because now we know the judge who will likely make that determination about the release of grand jury information.

She has recently ruled in favor of transparency when it comes to that kind of information, at least when it comes to a president who wasn`t in office -- who hasn`t been in office since 1974.  This judge has ruled in favor of transparency when it comes to grand jury information about Richard Nixon. 

But this same judge also says this year that the grand jury proceeding that started under Robert Mueller isn`t done.  It`s ongoing.  And she has ruled tonight in the mystery case that the fact that the grand jury is an ongoing concern is a reason to continue to keep information under wraps right now. 

And as of tonight this is no longer just an academic or theoretical dilemma, because as of tonight, this judge, Judge Beryl Howell in D.C. has in fact been asked to wade in now and make the call when it comes to Trump and whether or not grand jury information about him in the Mueller report can be released to Congress or the public.  She has already been asked to do it.  She has already been asked to rule.  And the lawyer who filed that request joins us next. 

Stay with us.


MADDOW:  In an application filed with the federal district court in Washington, D.C. tonight, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press has asked that court for an order allowing any grand jury information in Robert Mueller`s report to be released to Congress and ultimately to the American people.  In response to assertions from newly appointed Attorney General William Barr that he intends to redact any grand jury information from the Mueller report before he lets even Congress see it, the Reporters Committee argues tonight, quote: The material at hand -- excuse me, the material at issue is of singular historical and public value.  The public should be able to access it. 

Joining us now is Katie Townsend.  She is legal director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. 

Ms. Townsend, I really appreciate you being here tonight.  Thanks for your time. 


MADDOW:  So, you guys are at the intersection of two really interesting open cases here.  One is the mystery case where we don`t know the identity of this foreign-owned company that is facing a $50,000 a day fine rather than comply with the subpoena from Robert Mueller`s grand jury.  And now, also this effort to try to pry loose the grand jury information from Mueller`s report so at least Congress can see it. 

Do you see these two cases as essentially part of the same effort, or are you pursuing them on two different tracks? 

TOWNSEND:  We see them a bit on two different tracks.  I mean, ultimately, our goal is transparency, getting as much information to the press and public as possible about the grand jury -- about the Mueller investigation as a whole.  I think there is a distinction between the grand jury investigation and the mystery foreign-owned company matter that is ongoing that is being handled by the U.S. attorney`s office in D.C. and the Mueller investigation, which we know is finished.  It`s closed. 

The special counsel`s investigation is over.  The final report has been submitted.  So, I think in some ways, they are on two different tracks. 

MADDOW:  When the judge said in the mystery case ruling today that -- she said in court in a way that was dramatic and had the big reveal last week, and then she reiterated essentially the same reasoning in her order today, saying that because the grand jury proceedings are ongoing as pertains to the mystery case at least, she cited that as a reason for you guys to not be able to unseal the identity of the mystery foreign corporation. 

Was that reasoning from her a surprise?  And it sounds like you`re drawing a distinction between that reasoning as it pertains to the mystery corporation and how that might relate to the Mueller report more broadly? 

TOWNSEND:  I am.  I can say it was surprising at the hearing when we heard that this aspect of the grand jury investigation was continuing robustly, in the words of the prosecutors.  That was a surprise.  When we heard that and given Judge Howell`s approach in the hearing, I don`t think it was terribly surprising that she concluded at this time, she was not going to order the public records that were being disclosed to include the name of the mystery company, at least for now, given the ongoing nature of the investigation. 

But, again, I do think there is a distinction between that matter, which is being handled by the U.S. attorney`s office now in D.C. and the Mueller investigation, which as you know is completed.  And I think is in a different posture. 

MADDOW:  Let me ask you also just about the issue of who has standing to ask for the release of that grand jury information.  I mean, looking back at that precedent from 1974, not every case is the same and things change.  And special prosecutors aren`t the same as special counsels.  I get that. 

But in `74, when that grand jury information was released to Congress, it seems to have originated with a request from the grand jury itself asking the judge in that case please, we`d like to let this stuff go to Congress.  Obviously, the special prosecutor at that time supported that.  The White House didn`t object to it formally, although some defendants did. 

In this case, Jerry Nadler on the Judiciary Committee has suggested that the Attorney General William Barr himself should make a request to the judge, to Judge Howell that this grand jury information be released, that it be cleared to be conveyed to Congress.  He clearly thinks the attorney general has standing to do that.  You guys have asked the judge to release that grand jury information. 

I`m wondering why we haven`t seen Nadler himself ask the judge to release that information.  I mean, could I ask?  Could anybody ask?  Who has standing? 

TOWNSEND:  That`s a great question.  I think Congress certainly has grounds.  It has a basis to request access to this, to the entire Mueller report that may differ from the grounds that are being asserted by the reporters committee.  We`re arguing on behalf of the public.  We are arguing that the court, which has the power to issue an order allowing grand jury material to be disclosed publicly, not just to congress, but publicly, should do so here. 

Attorney General Barr, as you mentioned, has made it clear that he does not believe that he has the power or he is unwilling in light of Rule 60 of the federal rules of criminal procedure to release these portions of the Mueller report that contain grand jury information to the public.  We wanted to take that prohibition away.  And the court can do that. 

So, we`ve asked in our application that the court do that and say to both the attorney general and to Congress, if Congress obtains the report that you can release these portions that the attorney general is now redacting to protect grand jury secrecy to the public. 

MADDOW:  Katie Townsend, legal director of Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, you guys have been running a full-court press on this, trying to pry loose information in these various strands of this investigation.  You`ve had a ton of success thus far.  It`s been interesting.  And I think satisfying as an observer to see the judge give you guys so much respect in terms of the way you guys have pursued this thus far. 

Please keep us apprised.  This has been an amazing thing to watch. 

TOWNSEND:  We will.  Thanks so much, Rachel. 

MADDOW:  All right.  Thanks.

All right.  Another big, intriguing story in the news tonight is just ahead involving the security clearance crisis at the White House and how that may be starting to unfold as soon as tomorrow morning. 

Stay with us. 


MADDOW:  The White Pagoda is a big white tower and a beautiful national park in China just northwest of Shanghai.  Very nice. 

Three years ago, 2016, the Chinese government announced plans to build a smaller duplicate of the White Pagoda here in the United States, in a new Chinese garden at the National Arboretum in Washington, D.C.  And right away after they made that announcement, people started to kind of freak out about the possibility of a new Chinese White Pagoda in downtown Washington, D.C. 

This is how "The Wall Street Journal" explained it.  Quote: The project was deemed a national security risk because it included a 70-foot-tall white tower that could potentially be used for surveillance. 

Quote: The garden was planned on one of the higher patches of land near downtown Washington less than five miles from both the Capitol and the White House.  "The Journal" then reported that this woman was believed to be lobbying for that white tower behind the scenes on behalf of the Chinese government. 

Her name is Wendi Deng Murdoch.  She is a prominent Chinese-American businesswoman.  She used to be married to the media mogul Rupert Murdoch.  She is known to be close friends with the president`s daughter and son-in- law, Ivanka and Jared Kushner. 

Last year, U.S. intelligence officials reportedly warned Jared Kushner that his friend Wendi Deng Murdoch might be acting as an agent of a foreign government to help try to get the big white tower built, specifically telling Jared that she could be using her friendship with him to, quote, further the interests of the Chinese government. 

Now, she denied any such thing, but the reporting is still striking, right, and dramatic.  Intelligence officials having to warn the president`s son- in-law that he was the target of an ongoing covert influence campaign.  Around the same time, there was other public reporting that U.S. intelligence agencies had started picking up intercepts from foreign countries in which they could hear foreign officials talking about ways they could try to manipulate Jared Kushner, taking advantage of his business interests and his lack of experience to influence U.S. policy on behalf of other countries. 

Reportedly, the FBI sent a top agent to warn Jared Kushner that he was a top target for ongoing foreign influence operations.  The real problems for Mr. Kushner began when he applied for his security clearance to work in the White House as a senior adviser.  When he applied for a security clearance, he failed to report, for example, his meeting with the Russian ambassador and a Russian banker and more than 100 other foreign contacts.  Jared Kushner had to revise his security clearance application a whole bunch of times before he finally got it anywhere near right. 

Now, if it`s your job to decide who gets a security clearance, if you`re the one combing through the personnel files to get to decide who handles the government`s most sensitivity secrets, this is your biggest nightmare, right?  It`s the president`s son-in-law with secret foreign contacts he is not reporting who is turning into a magnet for ongoing foreign covert influence operations.  Should he get a security clearance?  If no, who do we say no to? 

I mean, that`s perhaps why Jared Kushner needed some help to get his security clearance.  In January, NBC News reported that when Jared Kushner first applied for his clearance, he was initially rejected until the career officials who made that decision got overruled by highers up in the Trump administration.  "The New York Times" followed up with this bombshell that it was actually the president himself who ultimately intervened so Jared could get his clearance. 

In short order, CNN reported that it wasn`t just Jared, it was also the president`s daughter Ivanka Trump who had to have her dad weigh in and pressure White House staff to get her a clearance she otherwise wasn`t able to get.  So, high-ranking official applies for security clearance.  High- ranking official gets turned down for serious security reasons.  That decision gets overruled by the White House, specifically on orders from the president. 

We had heard reports of that happening in the Trump White House two times.  Well, today, the overruled security clearance determination list got a lot longer.  The Democratic chairman of the oversight committee, Elijah Cummings, has sent this letter to the White House in which he says an employee at the White House, a veteran employee who works in the security clearance office, has now told his committee that security clearance applications were, quote, not always adjudicated in the best interests of national security.  She is reporting what Congressman Cummings calls, quote, grave and continuing failures when it comes to the security clearance process in this administration. 

Cummings says this whistle-blower kept a list of all the times the career staff rulings about who could safely hold a security clearance got overturned by the Trump White House.  Quote: Her list eventually grew to 25 officials, including two current senior White House officials as well as contractors and individuals throughout different components of the executive office of the president.  According to the whistle-blower, these individuals had a wide range of serious disqualifying issues involving foreign influence, conflicts of interest, concerning personal conduct, financial problems, drug use, and criminal conduct.  Other than that, it`s a totally normal White House. 

But now, Democrats say they want that list.  They want that list of 25 people who were turned down by career staff for their security clearances because of stuff like that who the White House, the Trump White House nevertheless intervened to ensure they got their clearances anyway. 

Key member of the oversight committee joins us next.  Stay with us. 


MADDOW:  Tomorrow, the Oversight Committee is expected to issue a subpoena to the former security director at the White House personnel office.  A man named Carl Kline.  Mr. Kline was the person in charge with approving security clearances for White House staff during the time when a whistleblower now says as many as 25 officials who were turned down for clearance by career security staff nevertheless got their clearances anyway because of intervention from on high. 

As of tonight, neither Mr. Kline nor the White House has given any indication of whether they are going to comply with this subpoena that again is expected to be issued tomorrow. 

Joining us now is Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi, a Democrat from Illinois.  He is a member of the House Oversight Committee. 

Congressman Krishnamoorthi, I really thank you for being here tonight.  Thanks for your time.


MADDOW:  So, today, we saw this memo from your committee summarizing testimony from this whistleblower about the Trump administration ignoring red flags in the security clearance process, and the list was striking to me -- foreign influence, conflicts of interest, concerning personal conduct, financial problems, drug use and criminal conduct. 

Despite all those red flags, she is saying that the White House intervened in the process to make sure people with those kinds of problems got clearances anyway. 

Is that the basic gist of what she`s conveying?  Have I got the nut of that here? 

KRISHNAMOORTHI:  You do.  You know, basically, since it`s baseball season, she is alleging a baseball roster full of individuals, 25 individuals had their cases adjudicated by her and her staff.  This is Tricia Newbold, and basically, the White House then overruled the judgment of the staff with regard to whether they should have access to top secret materials.  And there is all kinds of irregularities in the process as well. 

MADDOW:  In terms of the irregularities in the process, that appears to be a key part of what Newbold is alleging, because obviously if the president wants to walk down Fifth Avenue handing out security clearances willy- nilly, basically, it`s his right to do as the chief executive.  He can be as irresponsible with security clearances as he wants to be within his rights.  But she`s alleging that when these decisions were made to overrule the recommendations from career staff, there was basically no process.  It was sort of done capriciously. 


MADDOW:  Why is that so much more of a concern to her than just the clearances being awarded themselves? 

KRISHNAMOORTHI:  So, it`s true that the president has the prerogative to award these security clearances, but there is a process by which the staff vets people.  So, just as an example, one of the things that they do for everybody is they basically require a credit check of all applicants which makes total sense.  Well, believe it or not, they stopped doing credit checks as part of this process. 

MADDOW:  Wow. 

KRISHNAMOORTHI:  And why should anybody who fails a credit check have access to top secret materials?  So, these are the types of questions that are being raised because of the irregularities in the process. 

MADDOW:  And when the process works properly, it`s my understanding and again, I only know this from reading the news and from reading information that Congress released about this process.  This is usually a pretty secretive thing. 

But as far as I can tell from how it looks when the process works properly is that if you do get somebody who`s going through the security clearance application process who would be a valued member of the presidential or White House staff or the administration otherwise, the administration has a strong interest in them getting clearance despite the fact that some red flag has appeared, usually when the process works properly, there`s some effort made to mitigate any risk that may have arisen from that person`s red flag.

KRISHNAMOORTHI:  Yes, that`s correct.

MADDOW:  From this list -- if it`s concerning personal conduct of a specific kind or financial problems or the kind you described, some mitigation plan would be arrived at in order to make sure the clearance could still safely be given, right?

KRISHNAMOORTHI:  That`s exactly right.  They have a process whereby they basically list the factors that are concerning.  And then the supervisors basically say, OK, well, this is how we`re going to address each of these factories.  There might be a mitigation plan with regard to each of those factors or maybe some of those factors or maybe some of those factors, they decide they`re going to weigh less heavily than some other considerations. 

But in a lot of these cases, they were just completely ignored.  And this gentleman named Carl Kline basically overruled the judgment without addressing any of those factors or presenting a mitigation plan and just basically handing the top secret clearance or the higher clearance to that individual. 

MADDOW:  Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi, a member of the Oversight Committee, we do expect that a subpoena will be issued to the gentleman you just described that Trump appointee, Carl Kline, we`ll see how he responds when he gets it.  Sir, thanks for helping us understand tonight. 

KRISHNAMOORTHI:  Yes, Rachel, thank you. 

MADDOW:  All right.  Much more to come.  Stay with us. 


MADDOW:  The presidential campaign of California Senator Kamala Harris has just in the last hour announced she has raised a total of $12 million in the first quarter of this year for her presidential campaign.  To put it in perspective, that is what we technically call a lot. 

Also, the Harris campaign says 9 percent of its contributions were under $100.  That`s important because it means the Harris campaign can go back to those donors again and again without them hitting their donation maximum. 

The reason we`re getting this declaration from Senator Harris is because we just hit the end of the first quarter of the calendar year.  And that means all the campaigns, all of the presidential candidates have to report their fund-raising totals.  So, we`ll start to get those totals in.  They`re due every quarter. 

We also got numbers today from the mayor of South Bend, Indiana whose star is rising as fast as his name recognition in the field thus far.  Pete Buttigieg has raised over $7 million in the first quarter.  Again, that`s versus $12 million for Senator Kamala Harris.

I should also tell you that Pete Buttigieg will be on live with Lawrence O`Donnell in the next hour.  You definitely want to stick around and see that interview. 

Every declared candidate that was going to have to release these numbers and pretty soon.  And you know, numbers aren`t anything and money isn`t everything.  But these fund-raising totals will tell us a little bit about how much cash these candidates are going to having to run their campaigns.  It`s also going to matter in the practical sense that fund raising is part of how people are going to make the cut or not to get into the first Democratic debates. 

So these fund-raising numbers are important in terms of understanding how well these candidates are doing in the money part of the race, but also whether they`re going to be on stage when it comes time for the first debate in June. 

Now that the first quarter is done, we`ll get fund-raising totals from all the other candidates today following Harris and Buttigieg.  They`re going to start to trickle in.  I`m also happy to tell you, in the meantime, that one of the first candidates to launch a campaign is going to be right here for the first time tomorrow night, Julian Castro, former secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development under Barack Obama. 

He will be my guest right here on studio.  We`ll be speaking for the first time since he launched his presidential campaign right here tomorrow night.  I am already studying. 


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

Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD" with the great Lawrence O`Donnell. 

Good evening, Lawrence. 

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