Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: April 4, 2019 Guest: Philip Lacovara, Carol Leonnig
CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: You can find that and all of our other episodes wherever you get your podcasts.
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.
HAYES: You bet.
MADDOW: And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.
One of the all-time great lines in Congress, one of the all-time great lines in the modern history of Washington is the fake humble brag "I`m just a country lawyer." It was Senator Sam Ervin, the guy who led the investigative committee in the U.S. Senate that looked into Watergate. He was an experienced senator. He was a Harvard-trained lawyer. There was nothing simple about him at all, but he would do this thing.
He would turn on this folksy "country lawyer" humble thing as a prolog to his most devastating to the point questions. Now, I`m just a country lawyer, but, like, walk me through this.
Sam Ervin is the one who started that during Watergate. You hear members of Congress now use it all the time. It is Sam Ervin that they`re referencing, but usually it means they`re about to say something pretty good.
Today, it was Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal`s turn with the whole "I`m just a country lawyer" trope.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D-CT), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Now, we have gotten from the attorney general of the United States -- we have been so fortunate to receive a summary of the report. You know who is beginning to say that report is inaccurate and unfair? The Mueller team is beginning to say you didn`t do justice to our report, you didn`t provide the findings and evidence.
Now, I`m -- I`m just a country lawyer from Connecticut. But I can tell you the law is pretty clear, there is no executive privilege. Congress deserves that full report and so do the American people. You pay for it. You deserve it. The full Mueller report, release the full Mueller report.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Senator Richard Blumenthal speaking in Washington today at one of the several hundred protests that happened around the country today.
This afternoon and this evening, protests calling for the release of the Mueller report. Thirteen days now since it was completed by Robert Mueller and handed in to the office of Trump`s newly appointed attorney general, and it hasn`t been seen since. There were protests today in Washington, D.C. There were protests in New York City. Good sized protests in New York City. There were protests in Chicago and Philadelphia and Raleigh, North Carolina, and Albuquerque, New Mexico, protests from Denver to Boston to St. Paul, Minnesota, to Langhorne, Pennsylvania.
And it`s interesting, these are not policy protests. This is not an interest group that is fighting for more attention to its cause which is sometimes what you see in coordinated nationwide protests, where people protest at hundreds of different sites. What these protests are about is a real live active fight right now that is under way and we really don`t know how it`s going to end.
At the D.C. protest this afternoon, the one where Blumenthal spoke, the House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler also spoke and he said although we are in the midst of this fight right now, of course, he`s the one really leading it for the Democratic-controlled Congress. Nadler turned on a bit of the history professor thing today. Blumenthal was the "I`m just a country lawyer". Nadler turned on Professor Nadler who was your favorite guy from U.S. history, right? Junior year.
He told this crowd outside the White House today that we as a country have had this kind of a fight before, that presidents in trouble do this kind of thing that president Trump is trying right now with the Mueller report. We should expect that they will try to get away with the sort of stuff they`re trying to get away with now, but ultimately, history teaches us that presidents in the end when they try this stuff, they lose.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JERROLD NADLER (D-NY), CHAIRMAN, JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: To do our job, we need the Mueller report. Not the attorney general`s summary or a significantly redacted version of the report that the attorney general has offered to give us without the underlying evidence collected by the special counsel.
You know, we have seen this before. In 1973, the Nixon administration had an idea. They didn`t want to give up the tapes. They didn`t want the tapes to be public. They didn`t want the special counsel to see the tapes, or to hear the tapes.
So they decided -- or they proposed that we`ll let Senator Stennis -- who is famously hard of hearing, by the way -- we`ll let Stennis listen to the tapes and he`ll tell us what he thinks is suitable for Congress and the public to know. Special Counsel Cox rejected that recommendation. And was fired the next day because of that. Special Counsel Cox knew that he need access to the oval office tapes and the evidence of significant abuses of power by the president.
Today, the Department of Justice, the attorney general, seeks to limit our access to the Mueller report. As if we learned nothing from the Stennis proposal of the Nixon administration. But we have ample reason to suspect the administration`s motives.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Congressman Jerry Nadler, the head of the Judiciary Committee, today speaking at a protest outside the White House, calling for the release of the Mueller report, saying we have ample reason to suspect the administration`s motives, when it comes to trying to keep the Mueller report under wraps.
That Stennis compromise that he was describing there was a real thing. The Nixon administration really did try to offer that instead of releasing the White House tapes. They would have an end immediate year, a mostly deaf, very friendly intermediary listen to the tapes himself and he`d be the only one who would get to listen to them, but then don`t worry, he would totally tell everybody what they said.
And that`s, you know, that would be good enough. There is no reason anybody should be dissatisfied with that as a substitute for actually hearing the tapes themselves. Nixon really did try to get away with what that as one of his strategies for not releasing the White House tapes. Did not work, but nice try.
Today, just since Robert Mueller`s report was submitted 13 days ago, we got the first, second, third, no, the fourth statement, the fourth statement today from Attorney General William Barr and the Justice Department attempting to describe some thing that he wants us to all know about the Mueller report while still releasing absolutely none of the report itself.
Trust me, just I will describe to you what you need to know about it. Why do you need to see the thing? Aren`t I nice? Don`t you like me? I will tell you about the thing. Trust me.
Today, the fourth statement from Barr`s office characterizing the Mueller report, and this came in the wake of this really important new reporting from "The New York Times," which quickly followed by "The Washington Post," quickly followed by NBC News and then later into today by CNN. All of these news agencies now reporting that something apparently quiet serious has gone wrong between the special counsel`s office and the attorney general, between the time when Mueller handed in his report two weeks ago tomorrow and the time when Barr started telling people what he wanted them to know about what he says is in that report.
This time last night on the show, we were just absorbing the breaking news from the first story on the subject from "The New York Times." This, again, was that "Times" headline. Quote: Some on Mueller`s team say report was more damaging than Barr revealed, the lead of that piece, quote, some of Mueller`s investigators have told associates that Attorney General William Barr failed to adequately portray the findings of their inquiry, and that those findings were more troubling for President Trump than Mr. Barr indicated.
Quote: The special counsel`s investigators had already written multiple summaries of the report and some team members believe that Barr should have included more of their own material in the four-page letter he wrote on March 24th, purportedly laying out their main conclusions. Quote: Government officials familiar with the matter and others interviewed declined to flush out why some of the special counsel`s investigators reviewed the finds as more intentionally damaging to the president than Barr explained. Quote: It was unclear how much discussion Mueller and his investigators had with senior Justice Department officials about how their findings would be made public.
That`s the story that broke just before we got on the air last night. It was like, you know, for the first time in 22 months, we`re getting reporting from Mueller`s team.
Hours later, in the middle of the night, "The Washington Post" broke not just their own version of the story, but actually another story on the same subject that advanced the issue considerably and actually sort of seemed to clear up some of the stuff that didn`t necessarily make sense in "The Times" initial report. Specifically what was going on with the summaries that Mueller`s office wrote about their own findings, that stuff didn`t make much sense in the initial reporting. It makes more sense the way "The Washington Post" has reported it out.
There is this question of what it means that William Barr chose to ignore the summaries written by Mueller`s team and instead produce his own. Mueller`s office apparently says that his representation of their findings is not an accurate representation of what they really found. Here is how "The Washington Post" explains it.
Quote: Members of special counsel`s Robert Mueller`s team have told associates they`re frustrated with the limited information Attorney General William Barr has provided about their nearly two-year investigation. Barr told lawmakers that he concluded the evidence wasn`t sufficient to prove the president obstructed justice, but members of Mueller`s team have complained to close associates that the evidence they gathered on obstruction was alarming and significant.
One person telling "The Post," quote, it was much more acute than Barr suggested. Some members of the office were particularly disappointed that Barr didn`t release summary information the special counsel team had prepared.
According to one U.S. official briefed on the matter, quote, there was immediate displeasure from the team when they saw how the A.G. had characterized their work. The official said that the Mueller team prepared its summaries for different sections of the report with the view that they could be made public. The official said the report was prepared, quote, so that the front matter from each section could have been released immediately or very quickly. It was done in a way that minimum redactions, if any, would have been necessary and the work would have spoken for itself.
Mueller`s team, in fact, assumed that information was going to be made available to the public. Quote: They prepared their summaries to be shared in their own words and not in the attorney general`s summary of their work, as turned out to be the case.
So this is a -- this is a big development in this -- in this whole scandal, right? And this is a brand-new thing that is just being reported for the first time in the last 24 hours. This remarkable piece of news in this whole two-year scandal, in this whole investigation and what now appears to be this epic effort by the administration to submarine the report of the investigation while the investigators fight for it to become public.
I mean, what we are learning here is that Mueller`s team didn`t just write a 400-page narrative report plus tables and appendices. They also specifically wrote short summaries for each section of their report, which they, according to "The Post", specifically prepared for public consumption so you and I could read it. They wrote those summaries that way because they believed those summaries would be publicly consumed. They thought they would be released, that`s why they wrote them and that`s why they wrote them the way they did.
Well, now, we assume based on the attorney general`s statements and based on every other big presidential investigation that is anything remotely like this that we`ve ever seen before, we assume that there must be some things that were important in Mueller`s investigation and maybe even described as part of his report on his findings, some things that at least on the surface the public can`t see in an unfiltered form, right, that`s not a controversial assertion. Maybe there is classified information. Maybe there is stuff that if it was exposed, it would screw up a pending investigation or an investigation that`s still important and still open and hasn`t yet led to indictments or some other counterintelligence conclusion, right? There is reason to expect that there may be stuff in there that`s not supposed to be presented to the public in an unfiltered form.
There is also a longstanding sacred rule in American jurisprudence that information obtained by a grand jury only has one legitimate public outlet, which is that it gets used in an indictment if an indictment is warranted. And then it gets used to prove a case against a defendant. I mean, other than that, any stuff that`s up in a grand jury is supposed to stay within the grand jury proceedings, supposed to be keep secret. Unless -- the one exception to that, unless there is an order from a judge, a court order from a federal judge that specifically allows grand jury information to be made public or provided to Congress or provided to some other entity for some good reason that persuades the judge within the law, right?
Grand jury information is secret and can`t be conveyed outside the grand jury unless a judge says so. Well, if there is grand jury information in Mueller`s report, Barr says there is, how is that being handled? If that information is key to understanding what the president did and its importance and what the country should do about it, how do you deal with that grand jury information?
Well, there`s two ways it can be handled. One, you can ask a judge to issue a court order that would allow that grand jury information to be made public or be conveyed to Congress or whatever he thinks should be done with it. We`ll come back to that option in just a moment.
In the absence of a court order that clears that information to be released, well, according to Attorney General William Barr, the entity that is going through Mueller`s report, combing through it, determining what counts as grand jury information in Mueller`s report and therefore has to be redacted in the absence of a court order saying it can be released, Attorney General William Barr says there is an entity going through Mueller`s report cutting out all the grand jury information, and he says that entity is Mueller. Barr says it`s the special counsel`s office that is identifying grand jury material in its own report, so that material can be handled with the necessary sensitivities and legal restrictions.
According to Barr, Mueller is the one that`s doing that. The special counsel`s office is the entity that is charged with finding any grand jury information that exists in their report, so in the absence of a court order, it can be redacted from anything that is handed over. Well, if that`s what`s going on, tell me how it makes sense that Mueller`s own summaries, which he and his team wrote specifically for public consumption, that those summaries now are not being released for public consumption, supposedly because they contain grand jury material? That makes no sense at all.
I mean, if Mueller`s the one polices what counts as grand jury material and Mueller`s the one who wrote the summaries specifically so they could go to the public, then how could those being withheld on that basis? I mean, that would be like me putting my dog in charge of what we`re having for dinner. And then the dog gets really mad at me because it turns out he`s decided we should have, like, lettuce and kale for dinner and my dog hates all leafy greens, right? It makes no sense.
If you`re deciding what happens here, why would you decide against yourself? And then be mad about it? I mean, nothing against lettuce, my dog doesn`t like it. My dog wouldn`t pick that for dinner, right?
Why would Mueller write summaries for the public and then rule himself that those summaries definitely can`t go to the public? I mean, that makes absolutely no sense. And that reporting as of last night about the existence of these summaries and how the Department of Justice was trying to purvey this sort of nonsense anonymously sourced explanations for what happened to those summaries and why nobody`s seen them, that nonsense is what led to this second, third, oh, fourth notification from the attorney general`s office today, which I almost can`t believe, but it`s my job so I have to try to do it.
Rather than release any of the Mueller report in the nearly two weeks that they`ve had it, this latest fourth statement from the Justice Department about the Mueller -- about Mueller`s report gives us this new characterization of what`s in it. Quote: Every page of the confidential report provided to Attorney General Barr on March 22nd was marked "may contain material protected under the federal rules of criminal procedure, Rule 6, Section E, a law that protects confidential grand jury information. Oh.
Every page says it may contain grand jury information, like as a disclaimer. As of today, that`s the Justice Department`s latest explanation for why they can`t release the Mueller report. Nobody`s seen any of it. Turns out every page has a legal disclaimer on it, like a header or something, and so that`s why every page of Mueller`s report must be held back and not released, even the parts that Mueller wrote specifically to release to the public without redactions. And even though Mueller is deciding what exactly counts as grand jury information that has to be protected in his report.
I mean, this latest assertion from the Justice Department literally states they can`t release anything from the report because every page has the same legal disclaimer on it. This has led to a new letter from the judiciary chairman, Jerry Nadler, back to the Justice Department, telling them basically, you guys, this is getting ridiculous.
Quote: Dear Attorney General Barr, I write to you regarding troubling press resource related to your handle of special counsel Mueller`s report and to urge you to immediately release to the public any summaries obtained in the report by the special counsel. "The New York Times" and "Washington Post" both report that some in the special counsel`s office have raised concerns or about your March 24th letter summarizing the results of the special counsel`s investigation. These reports suggest that the special counsel prepared his own summaries intended for public consumption, which you chose to withhold in favor of your own.
In your March 29th letter to the chairman of the Senate and House Judiciary Committees, you stated that the special counsel is assisting you in the process of make appropriate redactions before the report is released publicly. If these recent reports are accurate and the special counsel`s office prepared summaries in a way that minimum redactions, if any, would have been necessary, then those summaries should be publicly released as soon as possible.
This is the best part. This next part here. Quote: It is notable that the department`s press statement this morning does not deny the existence of these summaries. The department merely indicated that every page of the confidential report was marked "may contain material protected under Rule 6-E."
If these summaries were in fact produced for public consumption by experienced prosecutors, then a precautionary marking should not be an impediment to public consumption in a very short period of time. Finally in our phone conversation, you indicated you`d inform me when the special counsel`s office has completed its review of the report for materials covered by Rule 6E of the federal rules of criminal procedure, meaning the grand jury information.
I ask that you inform the committee whether that has occurred and if not to report when that review is complete.
In other words, here`s Nadler reminding Barr about what he told him on the phone and now telling all of us what Barr told him on the phone, which is that Mueller is the one who`s supposedly scrubbing his own report for grand jury material. Now, Barr is trying to cite grand jury material is the reason why he can`t be allowed to release any of the report, even the parts that Mueller specifically wrote to be made public, that were written specifically for that purpose.
Barr`s handling of this started off weird. It is now absurd. And he`s obviously freelancing. He`s obviously making this up as he goes along. I don`t know where this is going.
I mean, now that people involved in Mueller`s investigation are speaking to the press for the first time in 22 months or at least speaking to other people who are being allowed to speak to the press about what they said, now that this is happening, I imagine it`s going to be much harder to make stuff up about Mueller`s investigation or its findings or to continue to try to disappear Mueller`s work while pretending that Mueller`s okay with it.
But as Jerry Nadler said today at that protest, when he was in history professor mode, in some ways as unprecedented all this seems right now -- in some ways even though this feels like something we would have never been through and never imagined, in some ways we have been here before as a country. Presidents have tried to get away with stuff like this in the past, and they`ve lost. And that`s turning out to be the best help we`ve got from anywhere in terms of understanding what happens next year.
Stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PHILIP LACOVARA: We are taking the position that the grand jury`s determination is conclusive on the court on two issues. A, that a conspiracy existed, and B, that President Nixon was a member of the conspiracy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Watergate special prosecutors office argued before the Supreme Court in 1974 that Nixon had no good excuse not to hand over the Oval Office tapes from the White House recording systems. Those tapes had to be released. They won big. They got a unanimous verdict at the Supreme Court in their favor, and the tapes were released.
That case, the oral arguments in that case were argued by the special prosecutor himself, by Leon Jaworski, along with a young lawyer on his team, a Republican who described himself as a Nixon loyalist, in fact. A man named Philip Lacovara.
Presidents try to keep evidence against them under wraps. Presidents try to keep stuff secret. When people and investigators find out stuff about presidents that presidents don`t want people to know, they do whatever they can to try and make that stuff go away, to make sure it doesn`t see the light of day to make sure it can`t be used against them.
Part of the lesson of Watergate and Nixon administration is presidents who try this stuff, it shouldn`t surprise us that they`re trying it, but we should also expect them to lose these fights.
I should mention, though, that that young lawyer who argued U.S. v. Nixon before the Supreme Court alongside Leon Jaworski, that lawyer who got those White House tapes released which was such an important moment in Watergate, that lawyer, Philip Lacovara, he`s actually right in the center of the exact historical precedent that we`ve got for this moment that we`re in right now when it comes to president Trump.
Besides the White House case, besides the White House tapes case, besides U.S. v. Nixon, this thing that the Justice Department is trying to pull right now about how there`s a notation on every page of the Mueller report which says as generic disclaimer it might contain grand jury material and that disclaimer in the header of every page of the Mueller report has meant that they`ve not been able to release any page of the report, this thing that we`re going through right now, Attorney General Barr`s office has made a mess about their public statements and their statements to Congress about how they`re handling grand jury information in Mueller`s report.
I mean, despite Barr`s earlier statements to the contrary, it is not at all clear whether the special counsel`s office itself is in fact in charge of identifying grand jury material in their report or whether maybe Barr is doing that himself and somehow culling all the stuff Mueller himself cleared for release. We don`t know what`s going on there as to how they`re handling grand jury material or alleged grand jury material in that report. And grand jury material is apparently the bulk of what we`re talking about in terms of what the Trump administration is trying to cut out of the report before they allow to be handed to Congress or to the public.
There is a very clear way to resolve this, though, regardless of whatever has been going on in Barr`s office or the Justice Department. I mean, as a matter of course, grand jury material doesn`t get released outside the confines of the grand jury. But a federal judge can rule grand jury information should be released. That`s what`s happened in every similar presidential investigation that has handled this kind of material, including Watergate.
Watergate wasn`t just a fight over whether the White House tapes would be release. There was also a fight, a big court fight over whether Congress would get to see the grand jury information that implicated Nixon in potential crimes, specifically obstruction of justice. And it`s interesting, it was that same lawyer in the Supreme Court case over the tapes, that same lawyer, Philip Lacovara, who was in court arguing for the special prosecutor`s office that a court should give the go ahead and hand the grand jury material over to Congress.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The United States court of appeals in Washington is still hearing arguments on a secret grand jury report that Judge Sirica ordered turned over to the House Judiciary Committee. The committee wants the secret report which focuses on President Nixon.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A historic argument before six judges unexpectedly shed new light on what is inside the secret grand jury report. Philip Lacovara who did the arguing for special prosecutor Jaworski said the report contains an index of incidents involving the president that might be important to an impeachment inquiry.
Chief Judge David Bazelon asked if the special prosecutors were aware of the risks of indictments against many of the Watergate defendants might have to be dismissed if prejudicial matters were made public by the House. Lacovara replied the grand jury which has much interest as anyone in this country and the survival of the indictments has considered the priorities and decided the report should go to the House.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Philip Lacovara arguing for the Watergate special prosecutor in 1974 that any grand jury material relevant to President Nixon`s potential criminal acts should be handed over to congress, the court should order that stuff should be handed over to Congress. Arguing that the risks to prejudicing future trials could be mitigated, that the tradition of grand jury secrecy had exceptions to it for good reason, and that this was one of those exceptions, it was of the utmost importance that Congress be allowed to see the information that had turned up in that investigation about the president`s potentially illegal behavior.
Philip Lacovara, 1974, won that case. And Congress got all the grand jury information on Nixon, and that led to the impeachment articles against Nixon and that, and the tapes being released and another case won by Philip Lacovara led to Nixon`s resignation.
Philip Lacovara is how the interest of transparency won in court, and how Nixon`s attempted cover-up of the evidence was defeated 45 years ago in 1974. And that part of the fight is exactly what is about to happen in this scandal with this administration with this president.
And Philip Lacovara is our guest next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The decision to pardon Richard Nixon has helped to produce another departure from government, Philip Lacovara, the third ranking member of the special Watergate prosecution force, announced his resignation today, saying recent developments have made it appropriate for him to leave sooner than he had planned.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Recent developments had made it appropriate for him to leave. That was Philip Lacovara`s polite official reason for quitting the government. The reason he resigned is because Ford pardoned Nixon for all his crimes.
Lacovara told the D.C. bar years later, quote, when President Ford pardoned Nixon, I resigned in protest.
Philip Lacovara had argued before the United States Supreme Court in U.S. v. Nixon that the Oval Office tapes had to be handed over. It couldn`t be shielded by executive privilege in part because it isn`t a privileged conversation, Mr. President, if what you`re conversing about is the criminal conspiracy that you`re part of.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
LACOVARA: This president is not in a position to claim this public privilege for the reason that a prima facie showing can be made that these conversations were not in pursuance of legitimate governmental processes, or the lawful deliberation of the public`s business. These conversations as we showed in our 49-page appendix and as the grand jury alleged were in furtherance of a criminal conspiracy to defraud the United States and obstruct justice.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MADDOW: Basically four months or so before those Supreme Court arguments over the Oval Office tapes, that same lawyer, Philip Lacovara, had argued in D.C. appeals court that Congress should see what the grand jury had found about the president`s participation in that criminal conduct. The grand jury itself had asked the judge to release the material they had collected to Congress. Philip Lacovara argued that side of the case on behalf of the Watergate special prosecutors. The court agreed with Lacovara, Congress was given that grand jury material by court order and of course ultimately not long thereafter, Nixon ended up giving up the presidency.
That courtroom work formed every pivot point in that crucial time in American history. Looking back at it, looking back at those decisions by those courts and that evidence, it feels inevitable in the distance. In the moment, it was not at all sure how it was going to work out. The way that it worked out in those courtrooms is the way our history was determined as a country.
And that experience, what Philip Lacovara was involved in, that looks a lot like the fight that I think we`re about to have in this scandal next.
Joining us now is Philip Lacovara. He was counsel to the Watergate special prosecutor. He`s also former president of the D.C. bar.
Mr. Lacovara, I`m sorry I`ve said your name so many times on TV. I imagine this is an uncomfortable making experience.
LACOVARA: Well, all of the clips you showed brought back a lot of memories, so I`m happy to discuss those events and how they relate to the Trump administration, the Mueller report and Bill Barr`s handling of it.
MADDOW: Well, let me ask you about how you perceive things thus far. Writ large, it`s been -- it`ll be two weeks tomorrow since Robert Mueller has submitted his report. Barr has released none of it. Barr in my estimation appears to be freelancing a little bit, feeling his way in terms of how he`s handling the material in the report.
Overall, what`s your take on how this is being handled thus far?
LACOVARA: I`d say the primary characterization is that it`s being handled in a very clumsy way. I think the attorney general`s office has not distinguished itself in the way they`ve immediately served up what seems to be a highly contentious version or summary of a 400-page report. And now I think they`re simply complicating matters by the way they`re trying to back and fill in describing the reasons why they`ve reached conclusions as they did and why they`re not yet in a position to release any of the details of the report.
And I think one of the most significant pieces of information that`s come to light in the last day or so is that Mueller`s staff, not surprisingly had done their own summaries of the major chapters of the report and that these summaries were done with an eye toward release to the public without delay. So, it`s just puzzling to me why the attorney general could not have released those much more promptly than he`s apparently prepared to release any portion of the report itself.
MADDOW: According to the Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, he said when he spoke to Attorney General William Barr about the handling of the report, Barr suggested to him that the redactions Barr was planning on making to the report that pertain to grand jury information, those redactions would be substantial. He was planning on taking a lot out of the report on the grounds that it was grand jury information.
When you were fighting in the D.C. district court and the D.C. circuit court in 1974 to get the grand jury information from the Watergate grand jury released to the judiciary committee, it`s sort of hard to tell looking back on it now, but was that sort of pushing on an open door? Was the court very receptive to that, or was that a fight to get the information released by court order that was harder than it looks now from this distance?
LACOVARA: Well, Judge Sirica was certainly open to allowing us to cooperate with the House Impeachment Committee, the equivalent of the committee that Jerrold Nadler now has, the Judiciary Committee of the House. The Court of Appeals was a bit more skeptical because as you have said a number of times during the show, there is a policy of keeping grand jury material secret.
The argument that we made on behalf of the grand jury was that the grand jury itself recognized that the overriding public interest was in having the House of Representatives given full access to the information we have developed, much of it, through the grand jury process in order to determine whether the House should exercise its primary constitutional responsibility to decide whether a president should be charged with high crimes and misdemeanors that might warrant his removal from office. We ultimately convinced even the Court of Appeals that this is the dominant constitutional interest and that it overrode interests, the normal interests of grand jury secrecy.
But I do want to make one more point that`s suggested by your comment about Barr`s assertion that he`s going to reduce a lot of -- redact a lot of material. Exactly how much should be excluded or redacted as grand jury material is up to the discretion of the person who`s wielding the scalpel, because the rule only prohibits disclosure of matters occurring before the grand jury. That could be viewed properly as limited just to quotations of testimony, for example. It doesn`t necessarily require redacting characterizations of evidence that happen to be derived from the information that was developed during grand jury proceedings.
So I think it`s a troublesome development that Attorney General Barr says that he`s planning to use the most comprehensive view of grand jury material in deciding what he`s going to excise.
MADDOW: Mr. Lacovara, one last question for you, which is probably obvious to lawyers but has always been a puzzle to me. In that fight that you were a part of about releasing the grand jury information to Congress so that they could review it when it came to President Nixon, the request to the judge when I go back and look at it, looks like it came from the grand jury themself, that the foreman of the grand jury is the person who signed to request to the judge, so they were the origin of that request. It wasn`t you making the request on behalf of the special prosecutor, although you joined and made arguments on their behalf.
I know the Congress, the committee wrote a letter to the judge expressing their support with the idea they should get the information, but it was the grand jury themself.
Could the grand jury that`s been hearing Mueller`s evidence thus far now act on their own to do something similar?
LACOVARA: Yes, theoretically they could. Although it`s fair to say we the United States through the special prosecutor was representing the grand jury. We worked with the grand jury and drafted the report after consultations with the grand jurors who decided that rather than indict President Nixon at that time, and they`re very explicit in the report, that they were deferring indictment of President Nixon, and preferred to submit the evidence that had been developed before the grand jury to the House, and they authorized the special prosecutor`s office to present their application and their report, which we helped them draft to Judge Sirica with the request it be submitted to the House Judiciary Committee.
MADDOW: Philip Lacovara --
LACOVARA: And that could be done today.
MADDOW: Philip Lacovara, who served as counsel to Watergate special prosecutors, the former president of the D.C. bar -- Mr. Lacovara, I have been reading about you and thinking about you for a very long time. It is honestly a real honor to have you here to get a chance to talk with you face to face. Thank you so much.
LACOVARA: Thank you.
MADDOW: All right. Much more to get to tonight. Stay with us.
MADDOW: For 22 months, we got crickets from special counsel Robert Mueller`s team. No updates, no documents, no leaks, no comment, never, nothing.
That phase has apparently ended. A few hours after "The New York Times" reported last night on Mueller`s investigators being frustrated with Attorney General Barr`s summary of their findings, saying their report is actually more damaging that the attorney general has made it sound. On the heels of that news, "The Washington Post" had a significant advance in the story.
Among their revelations, quote: members of Mueller`s team have complained to close associates that the evidence they gathered on obstruction was alarming and significant. Quote: It was much more acute that Barr suggested.
Joining us now is Carol Leonnig, Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter at "The Post", part of the reporting team behind that scoop.
Carol, it`s great to have you here. Thank you so much for making time.
CAROL LEONNIG, NATIONAL REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Of course. It`s great to be here on your graduate seminar on how to handle special prosecutions and what to do with evidence that is gathered about a president.
MADDOW: Do you believe we got Philip Lacovara to come on TV and talk about it? This is like very extreme.
LEONNIG: Nerd alert, I was right there with you watching with rapt attention.
MADDOW: Thank you for saying so. I`m glad that you`re with me.
Carol, let me just ask you kind of a big picture question here. I have been asserting that it`s unusual that we`re now having reporting that is attributing comments and feelings to members of Mueller`s team, which it`s been so long that we`ve all been reporting on what Mueller`s doing and what Mueller is investigating and who Mueller`s talking to, and what we think he`s up to. There -- it seems to me this is something new, to actually have reporting that ascribes feelings and statements to people who were actually involved in that investigation.
Does it feel that way to you, too?
LEONNIG: Absolutely. It is not a shock to me at the moment, but it is absolutely a major development. I want to be clear that very soon after Attorney General Barr`s summary was released, we began to hear that there were concerns among allies that weren`t necessarily speaking for the team, but there were significant concerns about Barr`s summary, specifically the element that had to do with concluding there was not sufficient evidence to accuse the president of obstruction.
And there were people, even Comey came out publicly, former FBI Director Jim Comey came out and said he had some serious questions. Then we heard more rumblings and then "The Times," and then we broke stories about those concerns.
I would also add one little nerd element, which is several of these team members have been leaving the team. And once you leave a team, you`re not going to release grand jury material. You`re never going to violate that oath.
But I think there`s a little bit more of two things going on. One, how in the world could the summary that Barr gave be so different from what we believe happened in our investigation and second, we`re done here now. And we`re no longer under a gag order, so to speak. And we don`t want this shaped in a way that we think is misleading.
MADDOW: Carol, NBC News followed your reporting, as well and cited one source saying that some on Mueller`s team in addition to the concerns about how the obstruction evidence was described, also had concerns about how the Russia part of the results were described. According to NBC, Mueller`s team say their findings painted a picture of a campaign whose members were manipulated by a sophisticated Russian intelligence operation. NBC reporting there was some frustration among Mueller`s team that wasn`t reflected in anything Barr said about the report.
I wonder if your reporting touched on that part of Mueller`s report and anything from his team in terms of how they feel that was represented?
LEONNIG: Well, I won`t be surprised. I can`t independently confirm that tonight for you. I won`t be shocked if that`s the case.
However, the part that I know the most about is the concern about the obstruction and how Barr couched that. I will also add that one of the biggest concerns I`ve heard is that this conclusion that Barr reached so quickly, Barr is now feeling a little heat about whether or not he really offered a summary. But one of the biggest concerns is, did he reject evidence that they view, that the team views as very sufficient because of Barr`s expansive view of a president`s powers, and the near certainty that he could not be accused of obstruction.
MADDOW: Carol Leonnig, investigative reporter with "The Washington Post" - - it`s great to have you here. Congratulations on this scoop. Keep as apprised, Carol. Thank you.
LEONNIG: Will do.
MADDOW: All right. We`ll be right back. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Here`s something to put on your Perry Matheson (ph) corkboard. This one appears to be getting bigger and sprawlier. You need more tasks and more yarn.
In December, "The Wall Street Journal" was first to report that federal prosecutors in the southern district of New York were investigating President Trump`s inaugural committee. That SDNY investigation into the inaugural was, quote, in its early stages. That was reported in mid- December.
By early February, SDNY had served the Trump inaugural committee with subpoenas.
Then in short order, in addition to that news that the inaugural was being investigated by SDNY, we learned the Trump inaugural was also under investigation by the New Jersey attorney general`s office, and also the D.C. attorney general`s office. And then also the U.S. attorney`s office in Brooklyn, not SDNY but EDNY.
Also the U.S. attorney`s office in Los Angeles? Really? Oh, and then Congress, the judiciary committee requesting documents from the inaugural committee and its top leaders.
And now we have a new one. "Wall Street Journal" reporting the Intelligence Committee is seeking interviews with and documents from a former adviser to the first lady who served as a producer and vendor for the inauguration. By our count, that makes seven open separate investigations into the inaugural committee all of whom seem to think there is something to see in the Trump inauguration.
Seven investigations all of one thing?
Watch this space. We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: That`s basically it for us tonight. I do want to mention one thing to look for in tomorrow`s news early in the day. I just mentioned a moment ago that we think there are seven different open law enforcement investigations right now into the Trump inaugural, seven different ones. We don`t know what all of are about. We don`t know what any of them are about.
But there`s a man named Sam Patton who pled guilty to something having to do with the Trump inauguration, using straw man purchasers as a way of donating illegal foreign money to the Trump inaugural. He pled guilty and he has been cooperating with prosecutors ever since.
Well, one thing to watch for tomorrow`s news is that tomorrow, prosecutors are due to tell a federal court how good a cooperator he`s been and what he has been helping them with all of these months that he has been trying to reduce his sentence and get favor from the court in favor of him being a good guy to the prosecutors who are working on other open investigations. So, we may get some sun light into those investigations tomorrow with that Sam Patton filing. We shall see.
Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL".
Good evening, Lawrence.
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