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NYT reports Trump plans to fire acting Deputy Secretary. TRANSCRIPT: 4/8/19, The Rachel Maddow Show.

Guests: Lee Gelernt, Dan Rather

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

"THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW" starts right now. 

Good evening, Rachel.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST:  Good evening, Chris.  Thanks, my friend. 

HAYES:  You bet.

MADDOW:  And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. 

Two years ago, in the early weeks of the Trump administration, the spring of 2017, "The New Yorker" magazine published a story about the new president`s business history.  And it was a story that was almost too much to believe. 

And if you know me from this show, if you have seen this show before, you may know that one of things that makes me not awesome at this job is that I`m kind of a prude.  I am -- I`m easily embarrassed.  I blush and stutter and get tongue-tied when I am confronted with things that make me uncomfortable on TV, and a lot of things it turns out make me uncomfortable on TV.  Anyway, you`re probably aware of that about me and my failures as a TV host. 

That said, I also think that gives me a little bit of an insight as to why some things take off and others don`t.  I will tell you ever since that "The New Yorker" piece was published in march of 2017, that unbelievable article in "The New Yorker," I have truly believed as a prude that part of the reason it didn`t take off, part of the reason it didn`t become one of the things that everybody knows about Donald Trump`s business history and his potentially serious trouble in that business history, I think one of the reasons that story has stayed kind of obscure instead of becoming part of a -- you know, Trump legal trouble pantheon that everybody talks about, I think part of the trouble with that one is because this is what that hotel looks like that is the subject of that business story in "The New Yorker" from two years ago. 

And honestly, I mean, it`s just -- I think this is part of it.  I know we`re safe to put this on TV right now because it`s 9:00 p.m. Eastern or whatever, but would you even be allowed to put this picture up on a morning news show or day side.  Why did they build it to look like this?  What did the people of Baku, Azerbaijan, think about this building in their midst?  But this is the Trump tower Baku or it was at least.  It never actually opened. 

Incidentally, I can actually show you what it looks like on fire.  There`s actually a bunch of pictures of it on fire, since there are precisely two things this Trump Tower Baku is known for, one of it catching fire last year as it sat empty and unfinished, the other thing it is known for, to the extent that it`s known at all, is that gobsmacking reporting that "The New Yorker" ran about it in 2017, which everyone promptly filed away, never to talk about in polite company ever again.  How could you? 

That "New Yorker" story was the story of the Trump Organization, the president`s business, developing this would-be orchid shaped Trump luxury tower in a random corner of Baku, Azerbaijan.  They were developing that tower in a business partnership that for all intents and purposes appears to have been funded by the Iranian revolutionary guard. 

In fact, the Trump organization`s top lawyer, Alan Garten, admitted to "The New Yorker" for that piece for March 2017, that the president`s business had known as early as 2015 that the money behind that project, the backing for their business partner in that hotel deal in Baku, Azerbaijan, was likely the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.  They knew about it as early as 2015 but they kept going with the project anyway. 

They only canceled that deal.  They only backed out of trying to build that thing after Trump was elected in December of 2016. 

And that piece was just remarkable reporting from "The New Yorker`s" Adam Davidson with that astonishing line.  That not only was the president doing business the Iranian Revolutionary Guard but that business admits that`s what they were doing, and nevertheless that business deal extended all the way through Trump`s campaign for president, as Davidson writes in "New Yorker", quote, throughout the presidential campaign, Trump was in business with someone that his company knew was likely a partner with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. 

So that story was just astonishing when it came out in March of 2017.  It is all the more astonishing that today -- today, President Trump announced that the U.S. government has officially designated the Iranian Revolutionary Guard a foreign terrorist organization.  In addition to the designation they released a strongly worded statement from the president about how tough this is. 

Quote, today, I`m formally announcing my administration`s plan to designate Iran`s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a foreign terrorist organization.  This designation will be the first time the United States has ever named a part of a government as the foreign terrorist organization.  This action will significantly expand the scope and scale of our maximum pressure on the Iranian regime.  It makes crystal clear the risks of conducting business with or providing support to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. 

And I kid you not, this is the next line in this statement from the president released today.  It`s remarkable.  Quote: If you are doing business with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, you will be bankrolling terrorism. 

So, that`s what this kind of day has been, right?  If you`re doing business with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, you`re bankrolling terrorism.  Throughout the presidential campaign, Trump was in business with the revolutionary guard. 

This is what kind of presidency we`re in.  This is what kind of week we`re going to have.  The president who`s literally doing business with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard until after his election as president, that president today declaring if you`re doing business with them you`re bankrolling terrorism. 

I mean, this is where we`re at now.  President cracks down on self, declares self to be a despicable bankroller of terrorism.  That said, awkward shape of building in question makes it all too embarrassing to talk about so let`s pretend. 

And that`s just the start of it today.  The president fired the homeland security secretary yesterday, and then today he fired the head of the U.S. Secret Service.  There are also now reports he`s about to fire a number of other Department of Homeland Security officials, including the number three official at the agency.  He apparently needs her out next so he can install his preferred replacement for Kirsten Nielsen as acting secretary of the whole department. 

If he goes through that process of firing the number three official to make room for the acting guy he want to put in place, that, of course, will mean that Trump will need another acting official to take over that guy`s current job, which is running the Customs and Border Protection. 

I mean, just in homeland security alone, that means we will have an acting secretary.  We`ll have no deputy secretary.  The number two official in the agency left a year ago and never got replaced.  The next person down the chain of command is the number three official in the department.  That`s the person who is reportedly about to be fired as well. 

There`s also an acting head of FEMA.  There`s now a new acting head of ICE.  There`s an acting inspector general at the department.  We`ll soon to have an acting head of Customs and Border Protection once he becomes the acting secretary.  We`re also about I guess to have a new acting head of the Secret Service. 

I mean, when the new acting secretary of homeland security starts going to cabinet meetings and starts appearing at White House events and starts having to answer for the actions of his agency he`ll be in good company in this administration, right?  There`s also an acting defense secretary and an acting interior secretary and an acting head of the Food and Drug Administration and acting head of the FAA.  Federal Aviation Administration, not like we need a good one of those right now or anything.  There`s also the acting head of the Small Business Administration, the acting head of the Office of Management and Budget. 

There`s even an acting White House chief of staff which doesn`t even make sense but that`s what they call Mick Mulvaney now.  They call him acting White House chief of staff, as if he hasn`t yet been nominated for this Senate confirmed position.  White House chief of staff is not a Senate confirmed position.  They`re just calling him acting to keep him on his toes. 

I think that there`s a couple of different things going on here.  Part of it I think is just turnover.  I mean, this president is barely through half of one term in office.  He has already chewed up and spat out cabinet secretaries from almost every cabinet level agency that serves under him from Health and Human Services.  Remember Tom Price, remember him?  The State Department, the Defense Department, the Department of Justice, the attorney general, the Interior Department, now Homeland Security.  He`s turfed out all those cabinet secretaries.  He`s on his third White House chief of staff already, even if the current one is just acting.  He`s gone through five White House communications directors.  I don`t think he even has a new one acting or not. 

For the first, like, year and a half of the Trump administration, the rate of turnover, the rate of people being fired or quitting or leaving in scandal and disgrace or under threat of indictment was so overwhelming that we used to try to keep track of all the departures in one big graphic here in the studio.  It sort of became too much in the end and we stopped doing it.  There`s not enough pixels in the world to make it worth it after a certain point. 

But what we didn`t see coming, what I didn`t see coming about that incredible pace of turnover, about that rapid pace of people departing from the Trump administration, people being fired or leaving in disgrace or fleeing on their own terms, what I didn`t see at the time about how fast the Trump administration was emptying out so early on was that in so many of these cases where people left under whatever circumstances, they wouldn`t ultimately get replaced.  That`s turned out to be really important.  And over time I think the Trump administration and the president in particular have decided that under whatever circumstances, they wouldn`t ultimately get replaced.  That`s turned out to be really important. 

And over time, I think the Trump administration and the president particularly have decided that that dynamic is not a problem.  That`s not like falling down on the job.  Maybe this is part of the way they`re deliberately trying to run the government under President Bush now -- excuse me, President Trump now. 

Jonathan Blitzer, reporter at "The New Yorker" today said as long as a year ago, last spring, a senior Homeland Security Department official told him that Kirstjen Nielsen couldn`t be fired even back then despite reported conflict between her and the White House.  She couldn`t be fired a year ago because this DHS official insisted there was no number two official at that agency.  There was no deputy secretary in place, so there wouldn`t be anybody to step up and run the department if Kirstjen Nielsen got canned.

That was the argument a year ago why she couldn`t possibly be fired.  That would be disastrous to the agency.  You couldn`t do that to an agency that big.  You realize how big Homeland Security is? 

Fast forward a year later to today, there`s still nobody in that number two job at Homeland Security.  They never even bothered nominating anybody for the number two job at that agency when the last deputy secretary quit last April.  But now, nevertheless, Kirstjen Nielsen is out anyway.  There still isn`t anybody in the number two job.  That was supposedly enough to constrain them from firing her a year ago, but now that`s no co constraint. 

And in addition to her being fired while there`s no number two official at the agency, now everybody is waiting on the number three person at the agency to get fired as well.  And what?  You think they`re going to be replaced? 

I mean, in a normal administration, you`d expect people at that high a level at that big an agency to be replaced and on the double.  I mean, if nothing else, you`d usually think if you tried to declare something a national emergency, that would mean you want to staff up the parts of the federal government that are assigned to do deal with that supposed emergency.  It`s quite the opposite here.  The president is simultaneously declaring a national emergency on the border and he`s firing all officials on all major agencies that deal with that in the federal government without any real effort to nominate replacement for them. 

And it doesn`t seem to be because he just wants to install his own acolytes and devotees who might closely match his policy aims in these jobs.  There are multiple reports tonight that the guy he`s putting in as the acting secretary after Kirstjen Nielsen is somebody the president doesn`t even know.  It`s not somebody who has been, you know, waiting forever to see if he can get this great guy into a high level job. 

This culling people out of top level jobs in the government, this culling of the cabinet and agency heads and top agency officials, it doesn`t appear to be just the product of laziness or not understanding that appointing people to high level jobs is part of the job of running the executive branch.  If it were just that, I don`t think we would see it a accelerating over time, as part of the way Trump is doing business in this White House. 

I mean, part of what`s going on here is as he leaves the upper echelons of these agencies vacant, as he fires cabinet secretaries and refuses to nominate anybody to replace them, he leaves instead these comparatively weak low profile acting officials who of course don`t have to go through the Senate confirmation process.  These are officials who answer only to the president and the president alone in terms of how they got their job and how long they have it.  Because they`re all brought in indefinite terms with no promise of any longevity in the job be on the president`s whim, they also don`t bring in their own senior staff to run the agency they think this agency should be run. 

"The Washington Post" editorialized on this this afternoon.  Quote: Acting chiefs often don`t have the chance to install a team, though no leader of a major department can succeed without one.  It makes recruitment harder, too.  Who wants to work for a boss who may be gone soon?

Quote: Under Mr. Trump, who values personal loyalty over capability or principle, acting appointees have every reason to cater to his whims and forsake the naughtier problems that won`t earn brownie points in the White House.  Quote: by appointing -- excuse me -- by appointing so many acting chiefs, Mr. Trump undercuts the Senate`s job of giving advice and consent on major appointments.  Overall the practice, injects uncertainty and disruptiveness. 

And that sort of sounds perfect, right, for this administration on so many different levels.  Uncertainty, it`s disruptive.  Having active cabinet officials in all your agencies, just emptying out your ranks of senior officials, it does have the direct benefit of dodging the whole Senate confirmation process, which is nice I`m sure, even in a friendly and compliant Senate. 

But you don`t want to bother to have your employees that you think of as employees and your appointees, you don`t want to bother to have them vetted by any outside entity.  Also some people sometimes say things in confirmation hearings that Congress holds them to once they`re in place in that agency.  You wouldn`t want that. 

Keeping these acting officials there and making sure there`s no senior executives around them, it limits the ability of these agencies to get things done in the normal way agencies get things done.  But the benefit of it for a president like this is that it just bluntly changes the profile of power in the American federal government, right? 

If you don`t have any Senate confirmed cabinet secretaries, if you don`t have any strong recognizable leaders effectively running major federal agencies in the executive branch, then you don`t run the risk of there being even a single minor counter weight against the president`s power anywhere inside the executive branch.  The smaller he can make every other supposed major player, the larger he becomes, both in the public`s eye in terms of how the federal government`s perceived but also in terms of how policy is made, how stuff gets done and who says. 

If you feel the whole executive branch of government including the cabinet with essentially temps, well the balance of power in the Trump administration is as stark as it can possibly be.  I mean, you`re either Trump, right, I mean, you`re Jared or Ivanka or you`re President Trump himself or you just work there.  I mean, there`s two categories, right?  Family or the hired help. 

And for the hired help, they`re not only replaceable, they are unmemorable.  They get replaced at a moments notice, on a whim, and everybody`s hurt serving in any job that`s not a family job.  You better behave like you`re infinitely replaceable or some new Kelly girl will be here to take your place in the morning. 

This consolidation of power in the president and only in the president is sort of a new style of federal governance for the United States of America.  There is a word for it in political science.  It starts with "A." 

But I think what we`re seeing right now with specifically this purge of homeland security officials, one which we appear to be in the middle of, we`ve seen the secretary of the agency and also these subsidiary agency heads lose their jobs already.  It`s expected more of them will lose their jobs in days to come.  What`s going on at Homeland Security in particular I think there may be 1 other dynamic at work and it runs alongside nice overall effort to avoid oversight, to avoid anybody wielding any sort of power and any visible way who`s not named President Donald Trump. 

And I think the other dynamic particularly we`re seeing with this homeland security stuff is the question of whether or not the president is constrained if not by Congress and if not by, you know, the balance of power within the legislative and executive branches, there`s the additional question of whether or not the president is constrained by law.  And that`s coming up quite bluntly in this Homeland Security stuff that`s happening right now. 

CNN had a striking story today about the president`s trip to Calexico last week, Calexico, a California town right on the Mexico border.  This is CNN`s reporting. 

Quote: Last Friday, the president visited Calexico, California, where he said, we`re full, our system`s full, our country`s full.  Can`t come in.  Our country is full. 

What can you do?  We can`t handle any more, our country is full.  Can`t come in, I`m sorry it`s very simple. 

Two sources told CNN that behind the scenes the president told border agents at this event to not let migrants in.  He said: Tell them we don`t have the capacity.  If judges give you trouble, say sorry, judge, I can`t do it we don`t have the room. 

According to CNN, after the president left the room or he made those remarks, those border agents he`d been speaking to sought further advice from their leaders in their agency.  Their leaders told the agents they were not giving them that direction and if they did what the president said, they would take on personal liability.  The agents were told you have to follow the law. 

You have to follow the law not what the president told you to do, which would be violating the law.

  And this, of course, isn`t the first time the president appears to be ignorant of the law or interested in flouting it directly.  But he does seem to have a real fervor for flouting the law and being publicly seen to defy the law when it comes to the border and to immigrants.  I mean, this is from "The New York Times" story yesterday with the initial reports that Kirstjen Nielsen was being fired at Homeland Security.

Quote: the president called Ms. Nielsen at home early in the morning to demand that she take action to stop migrants from entering the country, including doing things that were clearly illegal such as blocking all migrants from seeking asylum.  She repeatedly noted the limitation imposed on her department by federal laws, court settlements and international obligations.  Quote: Those responses only infuriated Mr. Trump further. 

After that report from "The Times", NBC News was first to report today that the president has been insisting on reinstating large scale separation of migrant families crossing the border, meaning taking kids away from their parents.  He wants that reinstated on a large scale despite his own executive order halting that policy last year and despite now multiple court orders that forbid him from reinstating it. 

Again, according to multiple sources, NBC is reporting that Kirstjen Nielsen told President Trump he was not legally allowed to reinstate the policy.  He legally can`t do it.  Federal court orders prohibit her agency from reinstating that policy.  The president has nevertheless been depending that she do it. 

After that report from NBC News, that was matched today by "The Wall Street Journal" and other sources.  Here`s again how CNN reported it today.  Quote: Senior administration officials tell CNN that in the last four months or so, the president has been pushing Nielsen to enforce a stricter and more widespread zero-tolerance immigration policy.  According to multiple sources, the president wanted families separated even if they came in at a legal port of entry and were legal asylum seekers. 

Quote: The president wanted families separated even if they were apprehended within the United States.  Sources told CNN that Nielsen tried to explain they couldn`t bring the policy back because of court challenges.  White House staffers tried to explain to the president it would be an unmitigated PR disaster. 

But the president wants it anyway.  A senior administration official now telling CNN, quote, he just wants to separate families.  He just wants to do it.  He likes it.  He likes the way this looks.  He thinks it`s an excellent idea for what he should do with his powers as president and anybody telling him no has to go. 

And so, the Department of Homeland Security must be sheared of all its top leadership.  That said, there`s nothing to indicate that these leaders of the Department of Homeland Security who are all getting fired now, nothing to indicate they themselves were against taking little kids away from their families.  Nothing to suggest that they as individual leaders were standing in the way of the president taking kids away from their families or breaking any of these other laws the president insists that they break. 

Now, the reason the president has been getting told no by these homeland security officials is because these policies he wants to pursue aren`t within the legal abilities of the agency.  He wants to do stuff that courts say is illegal.  He`s therefore constrained from doing any of this stuff. 

I mean, if all these folks from homeland security are losing their jobs because the president wants more babies taken away from their parents, it`s not because anybody in this administration is knowing to go down in moral history for standing up to him on that issue.  It`s because he`s legally constrained from even trying to do that, at least he`s supposed to be.  And that is an active fight right now and we`re going to check in on the status of that next. 

Stay with us. 


MADDOW:  One of the most emotionally searing episodes in modern American politics, the U.S. government take little kids away from their parents at the southern border.  All the outrage and protest generated by that Trump policy last year, it ended in court with a judge`s order.  It was a stark thing, stark language.  Quote: Defendants and their officers, agents, servants, employees, attorneys and all those who are in active concert or participation with them are preliminarily enjoined from detaining class members in DHS custody without and apart from their minor children.  You may no longer detain these people without and apart from their kids. 

Since that federal court order in June stopped the policy of taking little kids away from their moms and dads, the ACLU which led that case has been trying to get the Trump administration to find all of the kids they took away from their moms and dads.  The administration said on Friday that, yes, trying to get that all done with all the kids they took away could take up to two years before they find all the kids. 

And now we have this news.  After the president fired Homeland Security Secretary Nielsen yesterday reportedly by tweet NBC News was the first to report part of the dissatisfaction with Nielsen was the president wanting to go back to separating families.  Wanting to go back to more than ever, more kids taken away.  A bigger policy that would apply to even more moms and dads and little kids. 

He was reportedly annoyed with Nielsen and other officials saying he was banned from doing that by federal court order, and now, Nielsen has been fired.  So, I have questions. 

Is the White House conducting this extraordinary purge, mass firing of senior officials of various agencies at DHS because the president wants to crank up the family separation policy again, because he wants to start taking kids away from their parents again?  Is he trying to find -- is he trying to install a whole coterie of officials who will say never mind the courts, we`ll do what you say, Mr. President, we will separate families regardless?  If that is what the president is now trying to do, does he have reason to think he can get away with it? 

Joining us now is Lee Gelernt.  He`s the deputy director of the ACLU`s Immigrants Rights Project.  He`s the lead attorney in the lawsuit against this Trump administration policy. 

Mr. Gelernt, thank you for being here.


MADDOW:  So a lot of reporting today about the president wanting to restart this policy you`ve been relitigating against.  Does he have the legal option to do that? 

GELERNT:  No, that`s absolutely clear.  The judge as you read made clear family separation is unconstitutional and issued an injunction.  That`s the end of it.  There cannot be family separation again. 

But beyond that, I think what you said is absolutely right.  There would be an enormous public outcry hopefully as big as what we saw this past summer.  We said family separation so often I think sometimes people forget, there`s little kids.  I mean, these 2 and 3-year-old kids begging please don`t take me away, please don`t take me away and they`re just dragged away. 

The fact that we would go back to that is just remarkable. 

MADDOW:  The president appears to want to, at least that`s -- 


MADDOW:  So NBC was the first, and a number of news organizations reported it out as well.  It seems that the president in part sees the public outcry against it as a plus, that he thinks -- I`m reading into it here, but I feel he thinks it makes him look extra tough. 

GELERNT:  Well, you know, what was interesting is that it didn`t split along conservative/liberal lines, Democrat, Republican.  You had Laura Bush coming out.  You had the pope coming out.  You had conservative reverends.  I don`t think this will divide as it did -- it didn`t in the past and it won`t again. 

I think when people think of little kids and see, look, there has to be a line in this country and we`re just not going to cross it.  We know at the ACLU and not everyone agrees on our immigration, macro immigration policy, but I think virtually everyone agrees taking a little child away is something we cannot do in this country. 

MADDOW:  Seeing all these senior DHS officials get fired including the homeland security secretary with reporting how this is driven in the White House and whose interest is driven behind, it makes me wonder if there`s a faction within Trump politics, maybe within the Department of Homeland Security now believes there is some way around that judge`s injunction, there is some way you would recharacterize the policy in a way that would allow the president to restart it just by tweaking elements of it. 

GELERT:  Right.  We don`t think there is and we would be back in court immediately.  But until we see the family separations restart, our focus will be on the past separations.  And as you mentioned, they did not report potentially thousands of separation. 

We were told and the court was told, there were 2,800.  That`s an enormous number, but then the HHS and investigative report broke there may be thousands more.  The government said it`s going to take too much to find them.  The court said, no, no, we`re a civilized society, we`re not leaving these children out to dry. 

Now the government comes back and essentially thumbs their nose at the court and says, well, we can get it done in two years.  We can take 10 paralegals at the ACLU and go through all the files and do it in two weeks. 

MADDOW:  In terms of the court prospects here, it seems to me that you have been, having a good run in the courts in terms of judging blocking these policies.  There`s a recent ruling tonight -- 


GELERT:  -- about return to Mexico. 


GELERNT:  They were placing people and families in the most dangerous conditions in Mexico and saying, wait here in your asylum hearing in two months.  The court struck that down just this afternoon. 

And I want to say something about the federal courts.  I mean, there`s a lot of bashing and it seems that`s very trendy to bash the courts.  And the federal courts are acting in the best traditions of our system, sticking up for vulnerable people who get picked on.  That`s always been in the best traditions of our courts.

We really need to look carefully when we start bashing the federal courts because you never know who`s going to be vulnerable.  This weekend, you saw a lot of laughter when the president was bashing asylum seekers.  I think people need to look at history or World War II, because it was not Central Americans back then, it was other groups that were being sent back.  And I think everyone needs to examine that history before they`re so cavalier about saying, we`re going to take families away or we`re going to do away with asylum. 

MADDOW:  Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the ACLU Immigrants` Rights Project, keep us surprised.  I feel you obviously have been at the tip of the spear from the very beginning, but I have a feeling this is about to even more intensified. 

GELERNT:  Thanks, Rachel.

MADDOW:  Thanks, Lee.  Good to see you.

GELERNT:  You too.

MADDOW:  Much more to get to tonight.  Stay with us.


MADDOW:  All of this is so exasperating.  Today was the day federal prosecutors told a judge how much cooperation they received from a man named Sam Patten.  Sam Patten is a political consultant, a one time business associate of Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort.  They both worked for the same pro-Russian political party in Ukraine. 

Sam Patten pled guilty last summer for failing to register as a foreign lobbyist in the United States.  He also admitted in charging documents to illegally funneling a $50,000 foreign donation into Trump`s inaugural.  He used an American as a fake stand-in for a Ukrainian guy who was actually given the 50 grand. 

Sam Patten also admitted to lying to the Senate Intelligence Committee about all of that.  Well, today was for prosecutors to tell the judge in his case what kind of sentence Sam Patten should get, given his crimes and how helpful he was as a cooperating witness after he pled guilty.

So, the sentencing of Sam Patten, even though it`s been a low profile case, it`s been an interesting prospect that we would learn exactly how helpful he had been to prosecutors and with what kind of information.  It`s been particularly interesting because of his connection to illegal activity around the Trump inaugural.  I mean, since Sam Patten pled last summer, we have since learned the Trump inaugural has come under investigation by federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York, also federal prosecutors in the Eastern District of New York, also prosecutors in Southern California, also the attorney general in New Jersey, also the attorney general in D.C., and, and -- that`s not even counting the congressional investigations.  They`re all investigating the inaugural, for what? 

Well, now that Sam Patten is due to be sentenced this week in part because of him admitting n facilitating illegal foreign donations into the inaugural, it has been an interesting prospect that we`ve finally learned a little bit more bout how his case fits into the overall investigative interest in the president`s inauguration, what exactly what he providing testimony about. 

No idea it turns out.  Prosecutors told the judge today that Sam Patten committed serious crimes but also that he`s been very good ever since.  They said he should get significant credit for his substantial assistance to prosecutors.  That`s them asking the judge to go easy on him. 

The closest prosecutors got to explaining what Sam Patten helped them with since he`s been a cooperating witness were these two lines.  First, they said Sam Patten serve as a valuable resource for the government in a number of other criminal investigations providing helpful information about additional individuals and entities.  Oh, individuals and entities, both kinds, right?  Not helpful in terms of description. 

But then they also said this.  Quote, in total, Patten has met with government investigators in person or by phone a total of nine separate times to answer numerous questions and explain various documents.  In all of these sessions, Patten has been honest and straightforward with government investigators.  The government will also file an addendum to this memorandum in aid of sentencing, where the government more fully describes the nature of Patten`s cooperation and assistance to the government.  Oh, tell me more. 

Luckily, there`s a footnote.  Here`s the footnote.  Quote, because the addendum includes sensitive information about other investigations and persons who have not been and may not be charged with a crime, the government is seeking permission from the court to file the addendum under seal. 

So, yes, this guy has definitely helped us.  Yes, prosecutors want a downward departure in sentencing from the judge.  He`s been great.  He`s helped with them with tons of other criminal cases.  It`s all very sensitive.  What are those sensitive and ongoing criminal matters?  That`s sealed. 

And, you know, this keeps happening.  We`re more than two weeks out now from the Mueller investigation ostensibly being over, but prosecutors in cases spawned by that investigation continue to refer to other investigations, to ongoing investigations.  The grand jury, quote, continuing robustly including some of the prosecutors who took over Mueller`s work. 

But in thinking about what other investigations could still be at play here, it is worth noting how many parts of the special counsel`s investigation just this guy Sam Patten touched.  I mean, he is linked to the investigations of Trump`s inaugural, through the foreign money he funneled into that event illegally.  In addition to the inaugural connection, though, Sam Patten also previously worked at Cambridge Analytica, the Trump campaign data firm which has since gone out of business in a huge cloud of scandal in the U.K.

  Believe it or not, Sam Patten was also in business with Konstantin Kilimnik, who`s the Manafort associate prosecutors say have active ties to Russian intelligence.  Kilimnik was also indicted by Robert Mueller.

So, he`s tied to all of this stuff.  Sam Patten will be sentenced on Friday.  The prosecutors say they want something nice and light.  But when it comes to why exactly they want something nice and light because of all the good stuff they got from him, that`s all still under seal.  Maybe we`ll see the fruits of his cooperation turn up in these other active cases somewhere down the road.  Or maybe we`ll see the fruits of that cooperation in the Mueller report. 

Hold that thought.


MADDOW:  After the revelation in 1973 that there was a White House taping system -- there`s what?  The Senate committee investigating Watergate at the time and the Watergate special prosecutor moved to subpoena any of those tapes that might pertain to the Watergate investigations. 

President Nixon in response said no.  He refused to hand them over, cited separation of powers.  He said he was very confident the courts would uphold his position and they would okay him saying no to those subpoenas. 

That said, Nixon hedge d a little bit.  He did say he would abide by, quote, a definitive decision of the highest court.  The only problem is no one knew what that meant.  What counts as a definitive decision from the Supreme Court?  It`s not like you can appeal a Supreme Court decision. 

Is there some other kind of decision you can get from the court?  Was Nixon saying he`d only abide a unanimous decision or a really lopsided ruling, but he if got more than a couple of votes on his side, he might not consider that definitive, he might refuse to comply?  What did he mean? 

President Nixon at the time was pressed on that point by a reporter you might have heard of, a man named Dan Rather who at the time was work as a White House correspondent for CBS News. 


DAN RATHER:  Now, for most, if not every other American, any Supreme Court decision is final, whether the person, in terms of the decision, finds it definitive or not.  Would you explain to us why you feel you`re in a different category, why, as it applies to you, that you will abide by what you call a definitive decision and you won`t even define definitive? 

RICHARD NIXON, FORMER PRESIDENT:  The president of the United States under our Constitution has a responsibility to this office to maintain the separation of power and also maintain the ability of not only this president but future presidents to conduct the office in the interest of the people. 

Now, in order to do that, it`s essential that the confidentiality of discussions that the president has with his advisers, with members of Congress, with visitors from abroad, with others who come in, that those discussions be uninhibited, they be candid, free wheeling.  I will simply say as far as I`m concerned, we`re going to fight the tape issue. 


MADDOW:  But when the president is consulting not just with his advisers but with his fellow criminal conspirators, do you still have the same protection? 

The case did end up going to the Supreme Court.  Nixon gave a very definitive decision.  The court ruled unanimously that Nixon needed to turn over the tapes.  Two weeks later, Nixon resigned from the presidency.  At this moment in our own history, we are now waiting to see how much of Robert Mueller`s report we will get access to as the public, how much Congress will get as well, and how much Attorney General William Barr will be able to blackout and for how long he`ll be able to retain those redactions. 

In Barr`s letter to Congress on March 28th, he said, quote, I anticipate we will be in a position to release the report by mid April if not sooner.  Today, for the record, is April 8th. 

Joining us now is veteran journalist Dan Rather.  He`s president and CEO of News & Guts.  He`s the host of "The Big Interview" on AXS TV.

Dan, it`s great to have you here.  Thank you so much for being here. 

RATHER:  Always an honor to be here. 

MADDOW:  I wanted to talk to you tonight on this point specifically about the redactions from the report and what Barr is doing.  But also, I just want today see into your mind a little bit in terms of how you`re thinking about where we are in this moment in history and this confrontation over the scandal around the president. 

RATHER:  As you know, Rachel, I`ve been reluctant to make too many comparisons with Watergate, different time, different president (ph). 

But we`re in a situation now where President Trump is very clearly following the Nixon plan of lie and deny, delay and spin.  This was the Nixon strategy for as long as he could do it and it worked for a very long time.  Remember, it took an awful long time to discover that the tapes existed, and then took another long time for the courts to come to and say --

MADDOW:  But the investigations were well along before the revelations of tapes. 

RATHER:  So, look, by any reasonable analysis, what you`re seeing from President Trump and some of those closest around him, now his own personal attorneys are a lie and deny, delay and spin strategy. 

Now, it`s gut check time.  It`s gut check time for Attorney General Barr.  Let`s see what he does.  Let`s don`t prejudge what he`s going to do or might not do. 

It`s gut check time for the Congress because will the Congress insist on getting if not the full report, most of the report to make public or at least for them to see it?  Or do they sort of -- do they unite behind that and have an effort to get it or do they use the old hackneyed expression, fold like a cheap suit in the rain, and just kind of fade away.

And the third place which to gut check is for the public at large.  Because for the people who care about this, it`s time to show that you care and stand up.  Because what eventually exposed the reality of the Nixon administration was a combination of the courts doing their job, Congress doing its job and the public keeping the pressure on. 

I`m not actually convinced that the public will keep the pressure on.  If they do, we`re likely to see, if not all, a great deal of the Mueller report. 

MADDOW:  Is -- I wonder on that point in terms of public attention, public interest and potential public pressure by Barr treating Mueller`s report the way he has, by keeping it under wraps now for more than two weeks, by apparently surprising everybody involved by announcing his own exculpatory conclusions from the report, while not quoting Mueller at all.


MADDOW:  Did he create -- did he take all the air out of the balloon?  Did he create an impression that the whole thing is over, that the Mueller report has been released, that we know what was said in a way that will -- I don`t know, I guess, how will that map onto the public reaction when ultimately the report does come out? 

RATHER:  I do think that`s what he was trying to do.  We have yet to know whether successful or not. 

Remember, we`ve only seen 42 words out of 300 to 400 pages of the transcript.  All of that by what Barr did was grab the narrative.  He had the power to grab the narrative. 

And the powerful narrative is he`s free.  He`s scot-free, and that has taken hold.  And so, my concern whether the public will keep the pressure on this is built on Barr and those around him and the president.  Betting on public fatigue about all this is saying, already you`re going to hear it on Fox and any number of radio programs, listen, it`s over, put this behind us. 

And if the public at large falls for that, then you`re unlikely to see what is it is that President Trump is hiding, because they`re hiding something.  There`s something in the report they don`t want out, otherwise they`d say put the whole thing out. 

MADDOW:  Yes, if it`s a pure exoneration as the president said, you`d think they`d be putting it out on bill boards. 

RATHER:  Well, exactly.  And originally, he said, I don`t care to put the whole thing of.  But now, he`s come back at it. 

But, you know, this is a very important time in our history, because during the Watergate period, the fundamentals of law were under attack, and the law prevailed.  Our belief in a rule of law, no one is above the law.  Now, once again, those -- there`s a fundamental attack on the law because this business of the president telling his people, I don`t care what the courts say, I want you to do this on the border and separate families.  I mean, what -- so it`s a fundamental attack on the rule of law and we`re being put to the test, let`s see whether we pass it or not. 

MADDOW:  Dan Rather is now the president and CEO of News & Guts.  He`s the host of the big interview on AXS TV.  They`re lucky to have you, sir.

RATHER:  Thank you very much.  Appreciate it.

MADDOW:  All right.  Lots to come.  Stay with us.


MADDOW:  Hey, come on in, the water`s fine, plenty of room, it`s nice in here.  The telegenic, young congressman from California has been hinting around for a while now.  As of tonight, he is no longer just hinting. 


REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D-CA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I`m running for president of the United States. 



SWALWELL:  Thank you.  It`s official. 

COLBERT:  Now, it`s official. 

SWALWELL:  Boy, did it feel good to say that. 


MADDOW:  Congressman Eric Swalwell of northern California dropped his hat into a crowded ring tonight when he became the latest Democratic elected official to join the Democratic primary for president.  He made the announcement on "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert". 

Congressman Swalwell is known, of course, for his work on the Intelligence Committee, in particular, his work on the Russia investigation.  Also, his prioritization of gun reform.  He says he is heading to south Florida tomorrow for a town hall on gun violence, but then I got to tell you the day after that on Wednesday, he`s going to be here live with us in studio for his first interview since making this announcement. 

Congressman Eric Swalwell, newly declared candidate for president, he will be here taking questions 9:00 p.m. Eastern on Wednesday. 

It`s going to be a busy week. 

Stay with us. 


MADDOW:  Breakfast with the attorney general or midmorning coffee?  Take your pick.  Maybe combine them. 

Tomorrow at 9:30 a.m. Eastern, Attorney General William Barr will testify in Congress open session.  He`ll be testifying before the Democratic- controlled Appropriations Committee.  In theory, it`s a hearing about the Department of Justice`s budget.  I`m sure they will talk about dollars. 

But presumably, lawmakers will also ask the attorney general about when exactly he`s planning on handing over Robert Mueller`s report and how much he intends to let anybody see.  Again, that hearing open session 9:30 a.m. Eastern Time tomorrow. 

That does it for us tonight.  See you again tomorrow. 


Good evening, Lawrence. 

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