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Atty. for Greg Craig expects indictment. TRANSCRIPT: 4/10/19, The Rachel Maddow Show.

Guests: Chris Van Hollen, Eric Swalwell

CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST:  Thanks for joining us. 

That is ALL IN for this evening. 

"THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW" starts right now. 

Good evening, Rachel. 

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

HAYES:  You bet.

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

A big show tonight.  There is a lot going on.  This is one of those nights when the news has -- it`s definitely simmering in a roiling way, can we say that? 

It hasn`t quite reached its full boiling point.  But give it a minute.  You can tell the kettle is about to sing. 

Tonight, for example, we have brand-new news from the fight in Congress to get the president`s tax returns.  This deadline was supposed to be midnight tonight.  That`s when House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal told the IRS that he would please like to see the previous six years of tax returns filed by the president and his business returns as well. 

And that`s no idle request.  Under federal law, the Ways and Means chairman is absolutely allowed to get any tax return he wants.  And there is no exception in the law when it comes to the president.  In fact, the law was written specifically to account for the need to get the president`s taxes in a circumstance like this. 

Nevertheless, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has just said tonight that he is not going to meet that midnight deadline.  Secretary Mnuchin says he will personally oversee a review of the request instead.  Quote: Given the seriousness of these issues, which bear no connection to ordinary tax administration, we have begun consultations with the Department of Justice to ensure that our response is fully consistent with the law and the Constitution. 

So the law says the IRS clearly shall hand over any tax return the chairman asks for.  The IRS did not do that.  They punted to the treasury secretary.  The treasury secretary now says he is consulting.  He is reviewing -- while the law waits for him to follow it, which is what he will ultimately have to do here. 

But while that Rubicon is busy being crossed tonight with regard to the president`s taxes, tonight, we have also just learned that the president`s older sister, a long-time federal appeals court judge named Maryanne Trump Barry, she is now retiring from the federal bench. 

This is an interesting story.  Thanks to aggressive reporting on the Trump family fortune and the Trump business empire, particularly from "The New York Times" while the president simultaneously has refused to release his tax returns, tonight, "The Times" is reporting that Judge Maryanne Trump Barry had come under investigation for possibly violating judicial conduct rules by taking part in fraudulent tax schemes with her siblings going back to the Trump family business in the 1990s, which, of course, is what "The New York Times" has exposed in recent months. 

"The Times" says the court confirmed the investigation into the president`s older sister in February.  "The Times" says tonight that President Trump`s sister, the judge, filed her retirement papers ten days later.  Ten days after the court confirmed that she was under investigation for potentially violating judicial rules of conduct for her role in these alleged Trump family tax avoidance schemes. 

So, she apparently retired ten days after this court reported that the court confirmed that she was under investigation in February.  We are just learning of her retirement tonight.  Importantly, her retirement, her status change at the court will end the investigation into her for her potential role in those tax schemes. 

Again, it was not a criminal investigation into her.  It was an investigation into whether or not she was violating judicial rules of conduct.  By her retiring, so she is no longer a judge, that investigation and any potential consequences of that investigation for her, those all disappear.  Poof. 

And because the jets are wide open tonight, we have also just learned that the "National Enquirer" supermarket tabloid is apparently expected to be sold imminently.  This is another amazing story.  "Washington Post" reports tonight that the hedge fund that owns a controlling stake in the "Enquirer" has grown, quote, disgusted with the tabloid`s reporting tactics. 

And hey, disgusting a hedge fund that owns the "National Enquirer" is an impressive feat.  I mean, what did they think they were buying?  Reportedly, talk about selling the "National Enquirer" started in August.  That was just when American media was finalizing a non-prosecution agreement with federal prosecutors for their role in covering up unfavorable stories about the president. 

And, you know, I don`t know if this is related, but CNN is also reporting tonight that the richest man in the world, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is now reportedly meeting with federal prosecutors in New York, meeting with them as soon as this week over his claims that the "National Enquirer" attempted to extort him with pictures from his extramarital affair.  Now, are these two stories related?  The "National Enquirer" being suddenly put up for sale and Bezos meeting with federal prosecutors about his claims regarding "The Enquirer"?  I don`t know if those two-stories are related, but that issue with Bezos and the "National Enquirer`s" alleged behavior toward him, that did raise questions early on about whether that kind of behavior by the tabloid might have violated the non-prosecution agreement they entered into with federal prosecutors that they were supposed to be abiding by in an ongoing way. 

I mean, if the "National Enquirer" and its parent company violate the terms of that non-prosecution agreement, the agreement is ripped up, and then that company and its executives could be prosecuted for everything that prosecutors have on them, and we know from the prosecution of Michael Cohen that prosecutors at least have on them that they participated in campaign finance felonies designed to aid the president`s election.  So, if their agreement is moot, if their agreement is gone, if they have screwed that up because of the Bezos thing, Bezos talking to prosecutors and the enquirer suddenly being up for sale, suddenly being disgusting to its owners, it`s not hard to imagine that those two things might not be coincidentally breaking at the same time. 

But wait, there is more, because it`s never enough.  Also tonight, lawyers for Obama White House counsel, the first Obama White House counsel, Greg Craig, say they expect that he will be indicted as soon as tomorrow morning by U.S. attorneys in D.C. 

Now, this is not about work that Greg Craig did in the Obama White House when he was Obama`s White House counsel.  This is somewhat amazingly in connection to work that Greg Craig did in private practice after his stint at the Obama White House.  It was work that he did in connection with Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort. 

Gregory Craig allegedly had a role in a key incident that was part of Manafort`s illegal lobbying for the pro-Russian government of Ukraine.  Manafort has just started a federal prison sentence for a number of crimes, including that illegal lobbying for that government.  Greg Craig allegedly participated in a key part of that.  We`re going to have more on that coming up later on in the show.  But bottom line, Greg Craig`s lawyers say that he is expecting to be indicted in federal court as early as tomorrow. 

So, there is a lot going on.  Stay by your TV.  We`re going to start tonight, though, with the attorney general of the United States today making an unusual decision.  Today, the attorney general decided to throw a big can of gasoline on to the always smoldering fires of Trump world conspiracy theories about the Russia investigation and Robert Mueller. 


SEN. JEANNE SHAHEEN (D-NH):  News just broke today that you have a special team looking into why the FBI opened an investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 elections.  Can you share with us why you feel a need to do that? 

WILLIAM BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL:  I think spying on a political campaign is a big deal.  It`s a big deal.  The generation I grew up in, which is the Vietnam War period, people were all concerned about spying on anti-war people and so forth by the government.  And there were a lot of rules put in place to make sure that there is an adequate basis before our law enforcement agencies get involved in political surveillance. 

I`m not suggesting that those rules were violated, but I think it`s important to look at that.  And I`m not just -- I`m not talking about the FBI necessarily, but intelligence agencies more broadly. 

SHAHEEN:  So, you`re not -- you`re not suggesting, though, that spying occurred? 

BARR:  I don`t -- well, I guess you could -- I think there spying did occur, yes.  I think spying did occur. 


MADDOW:  Are you sure you want to say that?  Do you know exactly what you mean to say here?  Do you want to think about it? 

It may be that Attorney General William Barr is just, you know, he is curious.  He is a curious guy.  He wants to ask questions. 

He is recently appointed.  He has only been there seven weeks.  You take a new job.  You want to be thorough, right? 

I`m not suggesting any rules were violated, but spying on a political campaign, that would be a huge deal.  Did spying happen?  Ah, well, I mean -- you know, did anything ever come of that whole year plus long effort by the president to say that maybe the FBI investigation into Russian interference in the elections was just one big hoax?  It was just made up?  Whatever happened to that claim? 

Are we still trying to say that with Obama tapping his wires and all that?  Are we still saying that?  Is that still the line we`re working?  Just curious.  Should we chase that down? 

I mean, when the attorney general of the United States goes before Congress and says there was spying on the Trump campaign, that`s not a dog whistle to the president and his allies about the thoroughly debunked conspiracy theories about Robert Mueller and spying and President Obama having wiretaps.  I mean, that`s not a dog whistle.  That`s an air horn. 

And whatever reason Attorney General William Barr decided to blow that air horn today, it`s interesting.  It comes on the same day that we got fresh evidence of how and why the investigation into Russia and the Trump campaign really did begin in 2016.  And specifically, how alarmed the country`s top national security officials were at the intelligence they were seeing and the evidence they were seeing and how seriously they took their obligation to look into it. 

Because all this happened today with the attorney general on the same day that we got a new transcript of another day of testimony that the FBI`s general counsel gave to Congress behind closed doors last October.  This is testimony that`s never before seen the light of day.  It was -- not unsealed.  It was released today by Republican members of the committee. 

James Baker was the FBI`s general counsel in the summer of 2016 when the counterintelligence investigation began into any potential links between the Trump campaign and Russia interfering in the election.  Here`s how James Baker describes the beginning of the investigation.  Again, this transcript just released to the public for the first time today. 

Quote: We were concerned that the Russians were engaged in an effort to try to impact our elections, that particular election.  And we were trying to figure out exactly what they were doing and how they were doing it.  Question: Well, was the case a priority for the FBI?  James Baker: Yes. 

Question: Did you think that was the right decision?  Baker: Yes.  Question: Why?  Baker: because if the Russians were trying to influence something as fundamental as a presidential election, I thought that would be a particular threat to the country, because so much of our system depends on the integrity of our elections.  So much of our constitution system depends on the integrity of the elections. 

Question: Would that threat to the national security increase if the president was elect and therefore obtained classified briefings and was exposed to the nation`s most secretive secrets if there was someone within -- if he or someone within his campaign had been in fact working with the Russians?  Answer, from Jim Baker: Let me answer that generally.  I guess I would say we would -- I think we would -- I think we were concerned about anyone who might enter government and be in a position to have access to classified or sensitive information who might provide that to a foreign power. 

Question: How serious would that concern be?  James Baker: Extremely serious. 

You know, with remarkable consistency every time we get one of these transcripts from a senior FBI official, senior Justice Department official, senior national security official who is at all involved in this investigation, they describe their work in 2016 in these very simple terms.  They saw signs of the Russian government interfering to try to influence our election, and they saw all these unexplained contacts between Russians and the Trump campaign, and they were concerned about the implications of that.  They were concerned that the country and therefore the Trump campaign itself, they were concerned that the campaign should be protected from whatever was going on. 

I mean, weirdly, it is the Republicans in Congress who have been unilaterally releasing these transcripts over the past few weeks.  I don`t know what smoking gun they expect us to find here.  I mean, nobody in these interviews has even hinted at the possibility that there was any politically motivated spying on the Trump campaign. 

But you know what?  Maybe it wasn`t the FBI.  One of the odd things about the attorney general`s testimony today is that even as he said he believed spying on the Trump campaign did occur, he kept going out of his way to say he was not necessarily talking about the FBI doing that spying.  He was talking about the intelligence community more broadly. 

OK.  What could he mean?  If he is talking about the FBI and the Justice Department, honestly, the FBI and the Justice Department are on the record over and over again saying no, they didn`t do any spying on the Trump campaign, and nobody has yet found any evidence to call that into question.  If Barr is talking about as attorney general he is going to investigate the intelligence community instead, that`s a little weird.  It`s a little off, but OK.  Maybe that`s what he is doing. 

That said, Mark Warner who is the ranking member on the Senate Intelligence Committee, the committee that oversees the intelligence community, and he has been that for a long time, Mark Warner today in response to these comments from the attorney general says nope, he would know as the top Democrat on the intelligence committee.  And it wasn`t the intelligence community spying on the Trump campaign either.  It didn`t happen. 


SEN. MARK WARNER (D-VA):  I`m flabbergasted by the attorney general`s comments.  I don`t get it.  Is the attorney general questioning whether Russia intervened?  Is he questioning whether Russia intervened in the campaign on behalf of Trump and against Clinton, things that the intelligence community has unanimously agreed upon? 

Is he somehow saying that the FBI and the Department of Justice shouldn`t have started a counterintelligence investigation?  Remember back in the summer and fall of 2016, the intelligence community brought this information to the full Gang of Eight in an effort to try to warn the American public about what Russia was doing this.  He is saying the intelligence community should have sat on that information? 

I think the attorney general`s comments today do a great disservice to the men and women at the FBI and the Department of Justice who I think back in 2016 were just doing their job, but what I feel is this man with this much experience who is using these partisan talking points from some of the far right that had been, frankly, investigated and litigated a half dozen times already, I don`t get it. 

REPORTER:  Have you ever seen -- you`ve delved into this subject particularly. 

WARNER:  We have reviewed this extensively.  The whole basis, the first part of our bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee investigation was looking at what the intelligence community did in terms of making their findings that Russia intervened, and they did it on behalf of one candidate, Donald Trump against another one, Hillary Clinton.  Nobody has questioned that. 


MADDOW:  We have reviewed this extensively.  The intelligence community was not spying on the Trump campaign.  They were investigating Russian interference.  The FBI and DOJ were not spying on the Trump campaign. 

So, what is Bill Barr talking about when he says, yes, I think there was spying on the Trump campaign?  I mean, I`m assuming that he didn`t just, you know, make that up.  Like I heard somebody talking than on "Fox & Friends," didn`t I?  Yes, didn`t that happen? 

I`m assuming this is based on something.  To give them the benefit of the doubt, conceivably maybe he is talking about foreign intelligence services doing the spying?  I mean, we do know it has been reported that there was intelligence that our foreign allies shared with their U.S. counterparts once they encountered contacts between the Trump campaign and Russians.  There has been pretty robust reporting that foreign intelligence agencies picked up on a number of occasions Trump associates on their intelligence intercepts in 2015 and 2016. 

The problem with that, as far as this spying on the Trump campaign theory goes is that those foreign intelligence agencies weren`t like running a long-time surveillance operation on Michael Cohen or on X or Y Trump associate.  As far as we can tell, the reason that all those Trump associates turned up on foreign intelligence intercepts is because those foreign intelligence agencies were watching the Russians, like they do.  That`s what Western intelligence agencies do. 

And while they`re watching the Russians, all these Trump associates and people close to the Trump campaign kept walking through the frame.  Really, another one? 

I mean, that`s sort of -- that`s kind of the scary part.  That`s how we got the counterintelligence investigations in the first place.  Information about Russians and about Russian behavior that weirdly intersected with all these people associated with one of the two presidential campaigns. 

So, the attorney general says they`re spying on the Trump campaign.  He tried to sort of walk it back a number of times in his testimony today.  I`m not sure anybody knows what he means, but I`m sure it`s playing well in the White House, and maybe that`s the only thing he cares about. 

I want to say, though, there is one other part of the -- actually the James Baker testimony, the FBI general counsel testimony that we got today that I also think is worth paying attention to.  And again, this is questioning of James Baker by congressional investigators.  James Baker, they`re questioning him as his time of the FBI`s top lawyer. 

Quote, question: You had said that the president`s firing of FBI Director Comey you considered to be a threat to national security.  And my question was, in what way was it a threat to national security?  James Baker: So the investigation at a high level was about Russia, period, full stop.  And it was trying to assess in this particular instance what the Russians were doing or had done with respect to the 2016 presidential election.  We were trying to investigate what the Russians did and what any -- whether there were any Americans or others who had done things in support of those efforts, either knowingly or unknowingly, so that we could understand the full nature and scope of what the Russians had attempted to do. 

And so, to the extent that this action of firing Director Comey may have been caused by or was a result of a decision to shut down that investigation which I thought was a legitimate investigation, then that would frustrate our ability to some degree to ascertain what the Russians as well as any other Americans or others had done in furtherance of the objectives of the Russian Federation.  So not only -- I guess the point is not only would it be an issue about obstructing an investigation, but the obstruction itself would hurt our ability to figure out what the Russians had done, and that`s what would be the threat to national security. 

Our inability -- the inability or the delays, the difficulties we might have had with respect to trying to figure out what the Russians were doing because our main objective was to thwart them, was to thwart the Russians. 

We are, of course, still waiting to see the Mueller report.  It`s nearly three weeks now.  William Barr, the attorney general says he will hand it over -- yesterday he said it would be within a week.  Today he said it would be some time next week.  Definitely some time really soon. 

Somebody should ask him tomorrow and see when he is planning on releasing it tomorrow because presumably it will be a different answer.  There remains this weird thing hanging out there about that report which is that Bill Barr quotes Robert Mueller, saying that Trump was not exonerated on the question of obstruction of justice.  We`ve nevertheless got William Barr saying himself that he was deciding that the president was exonerated on obstruction of justice. 

And now, we`ve got simultaneously and sort of coincidentally now, we`ve got two days of revelations from the FBI`s former top lawyer talking about how serious the obstruction worries really were, and how freaked out the top national security officials in the country were specifically about the obstruction problem.  I mean, we`ve got no explanation from William Barr about how he looked at all that, scanned the 400 pages of Mueller`s report and immediately concluded oh, definitely nothing here, and I don`t want to talk about it.  Nothing.  Just believe me, I`m the bottom line, it`s fine. 

I don`t want to talk about it.  I don`t want to tell you what Mueller found.  I know Mueller says he is not exonerated, but I say he is.  He is, I say.  And I won`t tell you how I arrived at this conclusion.  That`s just me talking. 

I mean, that is still where we are today.  And the attorney general is still not answering questions about it still.  But somebody did try to pin him to the mat on it today, and I think burst a few veins in frustration in the process.  Did you actually see what happened when Attorney General William Barr finally got pressed repeatedly on that today by somebody who would not take no for an answer? 

We`ve got that for you next, and the senator who did it as well.  Stay with us.


MADDOW:  Today, Attorney General William Barr gave us a few new scraps of information about what he`s doing with the Mueller report since he got it almost three weeks ago.  For instance, he said today that the Mueller report will be released next week.  He said hopefully.  Yesterday, he said it would be released within a week.  Now, it`s next week, hopefully. 

Attorney General William Barr also said that he personally has not overruled Robert Mueller when it comes to any redactions in the report, but he also seemed to suggest that he`s not personally participating in that process.  He repeatedly described the redactions team, and at one point said that he had had the redaction team`s logistical arrangements described to him, implying that he doesn`t actually know what`s going on with the redaction team.  He also suggested that in addition to special counsel`s office working on those various redactions, there is a bunch of personnel and lawyers from the Justice Department who are working on those redactions on that redaction team, but we don`t know who those Justice Department lawyers or officials are, nor do we know the grounds on which they are proceeding alongside Mueller`s investigators. 

What William Barr would not pointedly discuss today was his own behavior in terms of what he`s already done with Mueller`s investigation.  Specifically, he would not discuss his own personal proclamation that even though Mueller`s investigation didn`t exonerate the president for criminal obstruction of justice, he, William Barr, did.  He decided that the president was exonerated. 

It was on this point that Maryland Senator Chris Van Hollen sort of hammered him at today`s hearing. 


BARR:  I`m going to give my reaction and comments, you know, about the report after the report. 

SEN. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D-MD):  Well, it would have been -- but you put your view of the report out there on this issue obstruction of justice, right?  Nobody asked you to do that. 

BARR:  I didn`t put my view of the report. 

VAN HOLLEN:  Well, you put your assessment on -- you made a conclusion on the question of obstruction of justice that was not contained in the Mueller report. 

BARR:  I`m not going to discuss my decision.  I will lay it out after the report is out. 

VAN HOLLEN:  Mr. Attorney General, the thing is, you put this out there.  I mean, the president went out and tweeted the next day that he was exonerated.  That wasn`t based on anything in the Mueller report with respect to obstruction of justice.  That was based on your assessment.  That was on March 24th.  And now you won`t elaborate at all as to how you reached that conclusion. 

BARR:  I will discuss that decision after the report is out. 

VAN HOLLEN:  Did Bob Mueller support your conclusion? 

BARR:  I don`t know whether Bob Mueller supported my conclusion. 


MADDOW:  I don`t know whether Bob Mueller supported my conclusion.  Why would I even ask him?  It was like his investigation and his evidence, I know, but I threw it out there any way. 

It was -- you could tell that there was some frustration in the room with the attorney general avoiding these questions.  He did get asked them, though, and he did eke out, sort of seep out information with each additional follow-up question and every senator who pressed him. 

Joining us now is Senator Chris Van Hollen, Democratic of Maryland, who was particularly effective today in his questioning. 

Senator, thank you for being with us tonight.  I know this is a big day. 

VAN HOLLEN:  It`s great to be with you, Rachel.  Thanks. 

MADDOW:  So, I am giving the attorney general a hard time tonight both in terms of his affects in answering your questions, but also because I have been surprised overall over these past three weeks to feel like he is not necessarily following the special counsel regulations to the letter of the law.  He seems to be portraying a sort of constantly evolving quasi legal framework in which he describes his actions and explains what he`s doing. 

I feel like every time he talks about the Mueller investigation or the report or releases anything new about it, we`re learning new stuff about how it`s being handled.  Do you think that`s a fair criticism? 

VAN HOLLEN:  Oh, I think that`s very fair.  Look, no one designated Barr, Attorney General Barr to essentially substitute his decision and his judgment on this question of obstruction of justice for that of Mueller and his team who looked at this for many, many months.  But somehow Barr designated himself -- it`s not in the law, it`s not in the regulations.  And, of course, that`s exactly what Trump was wanting him to do, because Trump immediately went out and tweeted that he was exonerated. 

Well, we know he`s not exonerated.  In fact, Mueller very clearly said he did not make an ultimate decision about whether or not President Trump was criminally liable for obstruction of justice.  And so, today I was pressing Barr not on the contents of the Mueller report.  I wanted to know how he, Barr, reached that decision in 48 hours when Mueller said that there were, quote, difficult issues of fact and law about the president`s activity and intent on obstruction of justice. 

I wanted to know, you know, Attorney General Barr, did you agree?  Were there difficult issues?  Did you struggle with these issues?  And he refused to answer. 

MADDOW:  He refused to answer and refused to answer and refused to answer.  In the end, I felt like what he was implying to you was that there is some sort of explanation for his decision to declare that the president is exonerated that we will find in the report or that he will be willing to describe out loud to members of Congress once the report itself has been filed.  Again, it was an evolving explanation that he gave over the course of the day.  But was that the impression that you were left with, that ultimately he would explain? 

VAN HOLLEN:  Well, clearly, his explanation is not going to be in the Mueller report itself.  This is Mueller`s report.  And that`s what I kept saying.  I`m not asking you to tell us today everything that Mueller reported.  I wish you would. 

But I`m just asking you, Attorney General Barr, how you reached this conclusion to exonerate the president.  And he just, as you say, stonewalled.  Now, we have to go back to the memo he wrote.  I call it the audition memo when he was trying to get the president to look at him as candidate for attorney general where he wrote that a president could not be found guilty of obstruction of justice if the president was not found guilty on the underlying crime -- in this case, criminal collusion with the Russians. 

But as you know, most legal experts think that`s a ridiculous theory.  There are many other ways the president could obstruct justice.  And you need sometimes to know the president`s intent.  So I asked the attorney general did you -- did you have to determine the president`s intents to make your conclusion, your exoneration conclusion?  And he wouldn`t say. 

So -- but we`re not going get that in the Mueller report.  The only way we`re going to get that, Rachel, is by bring Attorney General Barr back before the Congress after we get the report. 

MADDOW:  And briefly, Senator, when we do get the report, he said hopefully some time next week now is his new estimation.  I imagine it will be full of multicolored redactions with more or less generic explanations as to what justifies those redactions.  If the report is substantially redacted and it really affects your ability as a senator to understand the implications of what Mueller found, do you feel confident that the Democrats in the Senate, that the Senate more broadly, that Congress even more broadly than that has the tools it needs to get the full unredacted report pried out of Barr`s hands despite his efforts to hold on to it? 

VAN HOLLEN:  I do think so, Rachel.  I mean, there`s -- we can go through legal process and ultimately subpoena it.  We can call Bob Mueller.  And as Barr suggested in his testimony before the house the other day, it`s possible Mueller could provide the report. 

So, look, there are lots of potential avenues here.  I tried to get some assurance today from Barr that at least as they went through the redaction process, he was going to kind of recuse himself from that process.  He did say that the Mueller team together with the Department of Justice lawyers were the ones who were sort of making these redactions, but when I asked him if he could guarantee us that he would not overrule them on any of their decisions, he did not make that commitment. 

So, I think automatic of us still worry that he is continuing to do the bidding of the president.  Of course, that was reinforced by the fact that in the middle of this hearing on -- when we`re going get the Mueller report, he let loose with this conspiracy theory on, you know, the spying allegation.  And then he said, look, I`m not sure there is an adequate predicate for this.  I`m not -- I`m not suggesting I have something, but, hey, here is an idea I`m going throw out that would -- while admitting that he had no evidence to provide the committee for that allegation. 

So, I think whatever shred of credibility Attorney Barr may have still had left about being an independent administrator of justice, he lost it today by both his responses on the Mueller report and then letting fly with the latest conspiracy theory. 

MADDOW:  Senator Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, thank you for your time tonight, sir.  And I know that hearings like this are a bear, but it was a pleasure to watch you get after him today, sir.  Thank you very much. 

VAN HOLLEN:  Thank you.  Good to be with you. 

MADDOW:  All right.  Much more to get to tonight. 

I have to tell you, we have Congressman Eric Swalwell here for his first prime time interview since he has announced he is running for president.  This will be a different kind of interview than you have ever seen with him.  Stay with us. 


MADDOW:  It has been less than one month since a single shooter stormed into two mosques in the New Zealand city of Christchurch and shot dead dozens of people who were attending Friday prayers.  Today, today, the New Zealand parliament voted to ban military-style assault weapons, of the kind that was used in that attack. 

Incidentally, the kind of weapon that was used in the Christchurch attacks is the same kind of weapon that was used in the massacre of first graders at Sandy Hook in Newtown, Connecticut.  It was the same kind of weapon at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida; the same kind of weapon that was used at the Las Vegas massacre in 2017.  It`s he same weapon that was used at the Parkland, Florida massacre at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School, and, and, and, and. 

The mosque attack in New Zealand was March 15th, less than one month ago.  The vote in the New Zealand parliament was today, and it was not close.  It was 119-1. 

And now, this will be done.  The governor general is going to sign off on this tomorrow, and the day after that, assault weapons, semiautomatic assault-style rifles will be banned in New Zealand as of Friday by the end of this week, by the day after tomorrow.  It`s done. 


JACINDA ARDERN, NEW ZEALAND PRIME MINISTER:  I have to reflect, Mr. Speaker, that when I visited the hospital and the victims, that none of them had just one gunshot wound.  I struggled to recall any single gunshot wounds.  In every case, they spoke of multiple injuries, multiple debilitating injuries that deemed it impossible for them to recover in days, let alone weeks, Mr. Speaker.  They will carry disabilities for a lifetime, and that`s before you consider the psychological impact. 

We are here because of them, and I believe that they are here with us, supporting what we are doing here today as well.  Because these weapons were designed to kill, and they were designed to maim and that is what they did on the 15th of March. 


MADDOW:  From the 15th of March to today`s vote to ban assault rifles in that country, that`s 26 days.  And did I mention that the vote on that bill was 119-1? 

Meanwhile, here in America, here`s what it`s like to be a member of Congress sponsoring legislation to ban military-style assault rifles here. 


SUBTITLE:  I recently received this voicemail message.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Eric Swalwell, here`s a little ditty for you.  Pop pop popbop pop pop.  Thirty-round clip, you`re all going to drop.  And I don`t give a (EXPLETIVE DELETED) anymore.  You mother (EXPLETIVE DELETED) think you got some new young mother (EXPLETIVE DELETED) going to take a over and (EXPLETIVE DELETED) the Constitution.  (EXPLETIVE DELETED). 

You want to go to war mother (EXPLETIVE DELETED)?  We`re going to war.  And you`re going to be the first mother (EXPLETIVE DELETED) casualty.  (EXPLETIVE DELETED) you.

SUBTITLE:  We recently passed background check bills in the House.  We must ban and buyback assault weapons next.

I`m not afraid.  Not of this caller.  Not of the NRA.

No more silence.  No more fear.  @RepSwalwell.


MADDOW:  That`s the dial tone plays out there at the end, you can see the words on the screen.  We recently passed background check bills in the House.  We must ban and buyback assault weapons next. 

I`m not afraid.  Not of this caller.  Not of the NRA.  No more silence.  No more fear. 

That kind of attitude, that kind of work also put that congressman on the cover of the NRA magazine.  Mazel tov, what an honor. 

Congressman Eric Swalwell responded to that honor with this.  He said, quote: Living in the NRA`s head, on the cover of their magazine, but they mischaracterized my position.  My plan is to ban assault -- my plan to ban assault weapons is not hollow.  It`s very real, and the public is with me.  And sorry, the first freedom is not unregulated gun ownership.  It`s life. 

Congressman Eric Swalwell is now joining the Democratic race for president.  And yes, before you say it, yes, he knows he`s a long shot.  But you know what?  Statistically speaking, isn`t everybody a long shot when there are five million people running? 

He`s been a long shot before, though.  He got his seat in Congress by turfing out a 40-year Democratic incumbent, 40 years. 

He`s the first in his family to go to college.  He is the son of a police officer.  Two of his three brothers are police officers.  He comes from a Republican family. 

Just today, he said if he`s elected, he will nominate a blended cabinet of Democrats and multiple Republicans.  That said, it`s not like he`s running as a moderate.  For one, he is totally unafraid on the guns issue. 

And for another thing, Swalwell is well-known to folks who watch cable news, such as yourself.  Not just for him appearing here, but also CNN and Fox, too.  As a member of the Intelligence Committee and the Judiciary Committee, he has done tons of public interviews, including being particularly visible and particularly aggressive on the Russia investigation, which draws all sorts of fire, I can tell you. 

But let me just say one last thing about him.  In the interest of full disclosure, I feel I need to tell you that Eric Swalwell is the member of Congress where my parents live, and I feel like I have to disclose to you that my parents love him. 

That`s not weird.  The whole district loves him.  Frankly, it`s because they`ve watched him grow up.  Less than ten years ago, this was his local campaign video to try to get elected to the city council.  This was not that long ago. 

He won that race to the city council.  Then a couple of years later, he was elected to Congress for the first time.  In 2012, he won that race by four points.  By 2018, by last year, he was reelected by 46 points. 

That`s not me saying he won with 46 percent of the vote.  He won by 46 points. 

Eric Swalwell`s district in California loves him.  My dad would follow him to the ends of the earth.  And that`s a good thing.  My dad has good taste. 

But it does raise the question why would you give that up?  Why now?  Why run for president? 

Joining us now for the interview is Congressman Eric Swalwell, Democratic congressman from California. 

I asked you to come here and do this when you made your decision.  You kept your word.  Thank you for being here. 

REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D-CA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Of course.  Thanks for bringing me back. 

MADDOW:  So, you announced on Monday night, you said it felt great to make it official.  How`s these last couple of days been since you did? 

SWALWELL:  They`ve been thrilling.  I took my wife and our two kids to Parkland to start the campaign yesterday.  We had a town hall and we had about half the families there and about 500 people, including not just, you know, mass shooting survivors, but people`s names we never have heard of.  Their parents came who were killed in Miami and Tallahassee.

And just to make this issue one that is a top issue in the campaign is a goal of mine, because until it`s a top issue, I don`t think we`re going to end gun violence in America. 

MADDOW:  In terms of what`s possible, obviously you have tried to sort of widen the frame in terms of how even people in your own party think about what could happen on gun violence.  What would a President Swalwell do day one on gun violence? 

SWALWELL:  Ban and buyback assault weapons.  There is 15 million of them out there right now.  And if Democrats agree and a lot of Republicans too that we should ban future manufacturing sales, I think you already got to the point why you recognize they`re so dangerous.  With a pistol grip, the ability for a shooter to indiscriminately spray a crowd, it leaves people with no chance. 

I think of Gary Jackson.  I prosecuted his murderer.  He tied in Oakland.  Someone fired at him from a fourth floor of a balcony apartment about 40 times, hit him just once. 

And his mom asked me before we went to trial, my son was hit in the back of the leg.  Wouldn`t you want to be hit like in the leg or in the arm?  And the pathologist and the ballistics expert said when it comes to an assault weapon, because of how fast the round flies and the energy of the round, it doesn`t really leave you with any chance. 

So these weapons are different than a pistol or a shotgun or a hunting rifle.  So keep those.  I think we want to get these back. 

MADDOW:  You have powerful committee assignments on House Intelligence, House Judiciary.  That`s part of the reason everybody books you on TV all the time, because those committees are always in the thick of it.  Why do you think on the issues that you care about, gun violence and the other issues you care about, why do you think you can do more good for the country this year and next year campaigning for the White House instead of just being all in with the Democratic majority in Congress and these plum seats that you`ve got? 

SWALWELL:  So it`s a country I know well.  I was born in Iowa, educated in the South.  Married a Hoosier from Indiana and elected in one of the most diverse places in the country. 

So, I`ve seen this country.  I know why people work hard.  But I see the frustration on all of the issues we`re just stuck in quicksand.  On health care, costs are going up.  On education, I`m part of the 40 million who have $1.3 trillion collectively in student debt.  And on gun violence, just shooting after shooting and no action. 

So, I`m offering the action of going big on the issues, health care, education, gun violence, being bold with the solutions.  Buy back, coverage for all plans and seeking cures in our lifetime and having zero percent interest on student loans and doing good, again, in the way we govern. 

Seeking to get rid of the dirty money and the dirty mops that pollute our government, but also pledging that I`d put together a blended cabinet.  Not because it would be easy to lead, but because we`re in such a deep, dark hole right now that we`re going to need Republicans to work with us to credibly move forward. 

I may have to go on a search parent to find Republicans who will put the country over party, but I do think that we are so traumatized right now by what this president has done that you`re going to need people who will put our country first on day one. 

MADDOW:  I have more to ask you.  Congressman Eric Swalwell is our guest.  We`ll be right back. 


MADDOW:  Back with us again is Eric Swalwell, Democratic congressman and candidate for president. 

Congressman, thanks for being here. 

SWALWELL:  Of course. 

MADDOW:  You are one of two men in their 30s who are vying for this nomination.  Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, is almost the same age as you.  You`re a little older.  Two much, much, much, much older white guys, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders seem to be locking up the top of every poll in every state. 

But your home state of California is going to be hugely important in the primary calendar this year.  If I had to pick another candidate who is in the race who could potentially win California despite the fact those two guys are at the top of every poll, I would bet on Kamala Harris, because she has won statewide.  She`s locked up tons of endorsements in the state, including from the state`s very popular governor. 

Do you have designs on your home state of California?  Are you banking entirely on Iowa?  I mean, what`s your path? 

SWALWELL:  Absolutely on California.  And then, you know, Kamala Harris and I both come from the same district`s office.  So, if you`re looking for the next 2040 candidate who`s going to be running then, go to that office now and find a young prosecutor.  It`s produced, you know, a lot of incredible people, including Earl Warren, chief justice of the Supreme Court. 

But we plan to add states in the general election.  I think it`s because, you know, I`m the son of two Republicans.  I can talk to voters who I think will come across to us. 

I know why people work hard.  I think I can be a candidate who says, I see you, I hear you, because I saw my parents work so hard so I could be the first in the family to go to college, because I`m the father of two under two and I understand the health care challenges families go through and I`m paying off my student loan debt, I could put forth policies that are for you. 

So, a candidate sees you, hears you, is for you.  Also bringing optimism and inventiveness to Washington that`s just gridlocked, goes to crisis to crisis.  And finally, bringing experience on day one that will help, being in Congress for seven years, knowing our threats from abroad, on the Intelligence Committee, meeting with foreign leaders, taking classified briefings, traveling to war zones. 

And we`re going to have to have a global affirmation tour on day one.  Take the oath, go over to NATO and reassure our allies over there that we`re still with them.  Promise to host in the United States the next climate accord that we will lead and be part of. 

Right now, I`m worried about our foreign policy alienating allies and costing us more at home.  And what I mean, Rachel, and pardon me for using metaphors a parent would use.  But two kids is all I think about these days.  If you`re looking at our foreign policy landscape, as a parent would look at playground, you will have seen your child over the last three years go from hanging out with the honor roll kids like the Brits and the French and the Germans to now we roll with the detention crew, the Russians, the Saudis, the Turks. 

But it`s going to cost us more.  If we don`t have alliances we can count on, the president said this in the State of the Union, we`re going to have to spend more on bombs and missiles here at home.  And that takes money away from tablets kids need in classrooms and affordable medicine that seniors need when they go to the CVS check out counter. 

MADDOW:  Eric Swalwell, congressman from California, my parents` member of Congress -- again, in full disclosure.  So, I get lots of behind-the-scenes updates on what`s going on in the district. 


MADDOW:  Sir, good luck.

SWALWELL:  Thank you so much, Rachel.  Thank you.

MADDOW:  Thanks.

All right.  We`ll be right back.  Stay with us.


MADDOW:  Point of personal privilege, today is my 20th anniversary with my beloved.  That`s it.  I`ll be home soon, honey.  Sorry I had to work. 

Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL".  I`m going home.

Good evening, Lawrence. 

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