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Kushner fields questions, Security clearance. TRANSCRIPT: 4/23/19, The Rachel Maddow Show.

Guests: Robert Costa, Aimee Allison

JOY REID, MSNBC HOST:  Yes, but he seems be doing so.  Jason Johnson, Marisa Maleck, thank you so much for joining us.

That`s it for this evening. 

"THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW" starts right now. 

Good evening, Rachel.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST:  He seems to be trying to do so.  He seems to be trying to do so, he has managed to slow things down but I do not believe he can stop them. 

REID:  I hope you`re right.  I hope you are correct because you are almost always right so I`ll go with that. 

MADDOW:  I love the sound of that, but I don`t feel like I`m persuading you.  Stick around, watch the A block and then tell me in the commercial if you think I`m right.  OK, thank you, Joy.

Thank you to you at home for joining us this hour. 

The correct title of the song in case you need to look it up is "Whoomp, there it is`.  The first word is whoomp, W-H-O-O-M-P, whoomp.  It`s from 1993.  It`s from a band from Miami called Tag Team. 

And whether or not that sounds familiar to you, you know exactly what song I`m talking about. 


MADDOW:  It is not a implicated refrain, right?  You know that song.  You know that refrain.

OK, raise your hand if you definitely knew that the first word of that song title was whoomp, W-H-O-O-M-P?  Did you definitely know it was whoomp?  How many people within the sound of my voice tonight thought maybe the title was "whoop" or maybe "oops".  Oops, there it is?

It`s unclear the way they say it.  Have you really thought hard about it?  There is literally a board game based on the misconception that the lyric actually starts with poop, there it is.  It is a board game, I kid you not, that involves a spring loaded toilet that shoots a plastic poop up into the air and the competitors in the game trying to grab it, and the tag line is, poop there it is. 

OK, if you were alive and sentient in America in 1993, that song, whether you thought it was like whoomp, oops, whoop, or poop, that is the song that very easily stuck in your brain.  And now that is about to be the theme song for the Trump White House for their response to the Mueller report and for specifically how the Democratic-led Congress will be able to approach the potential impeachment of President Trump for conduct described in that report, because "Whoomp, There It Is," we now know the exact moment the Trump White House completely, oops, screwed it up when it came to former White House counsel Don McGahn. 

He served in the Trump administration, who`s only just recently left.  There`s the important moment when it comes to him, the moment when the White House whoomp, really screwed it up when it comes to Don McGahn, arrived in the fall of 2017, although we did not find out about that "Whoomp, There It Is" moment until months later.  It was first reported last year in "The New York Times." 

Special counsel Robert Mueller had been appointed earlier in 2017, in May 2017.  Then in the fall of 2017, according to "The New York Times," quote, Mueller`s office asked to interview Trump`s White House counsel, Don McGahn.  Quote: To the surprise of the White House counsel`s office, to the surprise of Don McGahn`s office, President Trump and his lawyers signaled that they had no objection to Mueller interviewing Don McGahn. 

Quote: Mr. McGahn was stunned as was his own lawyer, Bill Burck, who McGahn had recently hired out of concern that he needed help to stay out of legal jeopardy.  Mr. Burck has explained to others that he told White House advisers that they did not appreciate the president`s legal exposure and that it was, quote, insane that Mr. Trump did not fight a McGahn interview in court. 

Quote: Mr. McGahn and his lawyer, Mr. Burck, could not understand why Trump was so willing to law Don McGahn to speak freely to the special counsel.  But he did raise no objections.  McGahn was free to go speak to the special counsel. 

And he did.  I mean, Don McGahn, much to his own surprise, perhaps to his own chagrin, he was allowed by the White House to go speak with the special counsel, to go tell the special counsel everything that he knew.  McGahn does that for dozens of hours.  He then ends up in the redacted Mueller report being cited more than 150 times as Mueller methodically goes through all these instances in which the president appears to have obstructed justice. 

And that ends up being hugely important for two reasons.  Number one, we get McGahn`s testimony.  We get all these narrative facts about all these times the president allegedly obstructed justice while in office.  We`ll have more on that in just a second.  In fact, we`ll have more on that over the course of the next year, more than you think. 

But that moment with them clearing Don McGahn to go talk to Mueller, it also ends up being critically important for the way the scandal is ultimately going to resolve overall, because, oops, when the White House cleared Don McGahn to go to the special counsel, to go to Mueller`s office and talk about everything he saw and participated in and heard while he was in the White House, when the White House, oops, cleared him to go do that, to convey that information without restrictions to Robert Mueller and his investigators in the special counsel`s office, there it is, that was really important. 

By clearing him to do that, the Trump White House waived any claim they might otherwise have asserted that what Don McGahn saw and heard and witnessed in the Trump White House might be covered by executive privilege and, therefore, couldn`t be discussed with anyone outside the White House, right?  Executive privilege exists.  If the White House chooses to assert that, that means that something that happened in the White House, something that happened in relation to the president can`t be conveyed outside the original context in which his existed in the White House with the president.  It can`t go any further. 

If they had chosen to assert executive privilege to block Don McGahn from testifying about his time as White House counsel, they could have blocked him from testifying potentially to Robert Mueller about anything.  But they didn`t.  They had the chance to do it, but whoomp, they blew it.  They let him go. 

You can`t say that material wasn`t privileged when he testified about it to Robert Mueller and then later try to say that same material is covered by executive privilege if McGahn is asked to testify about it to some other body, to some other proceeding, to some other investigators.  Material is either privileged or it`s not.  And once you let material out of the White House, you waived your right to assert that it is privileged.  Oops. 

And you`ve seen this dynamic work in this investigation already.  Just since the Democrats took over the House in January of this year, right?  Democrats immediately started sending out request for documents and information from people who have already been questioned in Mueller`s investigation or people who have already been questioned by other congressional committees. 

You might remember when the judiciary committee under Jerry Nadler, remember they sent out 81 requests for documents to everybody from Steve Bannon to Hope Hicks to Cambridge Analytica to Reince Priebus?  Yes, that was a massive document request to dozens of peoples and entities associated with the Trump campaign and the Trump White House. 

But as the judiciary committee explained at the time, those requests were actually pretty simple and uncomplicated from a legal perspective because all those requests, at least in that initial round of requests, everything they were asking for was material, that those people and those entities had already handed over.  They had already submitted it either to other congressional committees or to other law enforcement entities or to the special counsel, and the White House, therefore, had not asserted executive privilege to block the conveying of that material, right? 

That made all those requests to all those 81 people and entities fairly simple under the law.  Once the White House has allowed somebody to hand over materials to some entities outside the White House, whether it is a congressional committee or a legal investigation or whatever, the White House has thereby given up its ability to claim those materials have to be kept secret and they have to be kept within the White House because they`re covered by executive privilege. 

Again, stuff is either privileged or it is not.  You can`t say it`s privileged for some audiences and not for other audiences.  It`s either privileged or it`s not. 

When it comes to White House counsel Don McGahn, they didn`t assert executive privilege to block him from speaking to the special counsel which they then did extensively.  From the special counsel`s redacted report, we now have pretty good evidence that President Trump never really understood the importance of that decision or the importance of his overall dynamic with his White House counsel. 

This is from Volume I of the redacted Mueller report, page 113.  Quote: On January 25th, 2018, "The New York Times" reported that the previous June 2017, the president had ordered White House counsel Don McGahn to have the Justice Department fire special counsel Robert Mueller.  According to "The Times" article, amid the first wave you news media reports that Mueller was examining obstruction case, the president began to argue that Mueller had conflicts of interest that disqualified him from overseeing the investigation. 

The article further reported that after receiving the president`s order to fire Mueller, the White House counsel Don McGahn refused saying he would quit instead.  The article stated the president ultimately backed down after the White House counsel threatened to resign rather than carry out the directive.  After the article was published, the president dismissed the story when asked about it by reporters saying, "Fake news, folks, fake news, a typical `New York Times` fake story."

But then the next day, on January 26th, 2018, the day after "The Times" posted that story, the president`s personal lawyer called Don McGahn`s attorney and said that the president wanted Don McGahn to put out a statement denying that he had been asked by the president to fire Mueller and denying that he had threatened to quit in protest.  McGahn`s attorney informed the president`s personal counsel that "The New York Times", excuse me, McGahn`s attorney relayed that McGahn would not make any such statement.  McGahn`s attorney informed the president`s personal counsel that "The New York Times" story was accurate in reporting, that the president had wanted Mueller removed. 

Then the following week, the president was apparently still steaming about that "New York Times" story, still worried about the implications for himself about that "New York Times" story that he had ordered the firing of Robert Mueller, that he had told Don McGahn to do it, that McGahn threatened to resign as a way of making the president back off that demand.  On February 5th, 2018, according to Mueller`s report, quote, the president directed White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter to tell Don McGahn to create a record to make clear that the president never directed that McGahn should fire Mueller.  The president said he wanted McGahn to write a letter to the file for our records and wanted something beyond a press statement to demonstrate that "The New York Times" reporting was inaccurate. 

The president referred to McGahn as a, quote, lying bastard, and said that he wanted a record from him.  Rob Porter recalled the president saying something to the effect of, if McGahn does not write a letter, then maybe I will have to get rid of him.  Later that day, Rob Porter spoke to Don McGahn to deliver the president`s message.  Porter told McGahn that he had to write a letter to dispute that he was ever ordered to terminate the special counsel.  McGahn shrugged off the request. 

Porter told McGahn that the president suggested that McGahn would be fired if he did not write the letter.  McGahn dismissed the threat.  McGahn said he would not write the letter the president requested. 

The following day, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly scheduled time for Don McGahn to meet with him, John Kelly, and the president in the Oval Office, again, to discuss "The New York Times" article.  The morning of the meeting, the president`s personal lawyer called Don McGahn`s attorney and said the president was going to be speaking with McGahn, and McGahn could not resign no matter what happened in the meeting.  That makes you look forward to the meeting. 

Quote: The president began the Oval Office meeting by telling McGahn "The New York Times" story did not look good and McGahn needed to correct it.  McGahn recalled the president saying: I never said to fire Mueller, I never said fire.  This story does not look good.  You need to correct this.  You are the White House counsel. 

The president seems to understand that the word counsel means lawyer in this context, but the president doesn`t understand that the White House counsel is not his personal lawyer who needs to do as he directs.  The White House counsel works for the presidency.  The White House counsel`s job is not to clear things up in the press to make the president look good on the president`s orders.  The president appears to be somewhat flummoxed by this slowly dawning revelation. 

But then this is the next page, page 117.  Quote: The president asked McGahn in the meeting why he had told the special counsel`s office that the president had told him to have Mueller removed.  McGahn responded that he had to tell the special counsel`s office that and that his conversations with the president were not protected by attorney/client privilege. 

At which point dawn starts to break for the president, right?  Wait, wait, now.  You have been telling the special counsel true things?  You have been -- you have been telling the special counsel about stuff that has actually happened here, and you feel constrained to tell the truth not to just say stuff that I tell you to say? 

You have been taking notes on things that actually happened and then conveying the stuff that you took notes on to the special counsel`s office and I can`t stop you from doing it?  I can`t make you lie to them?  I can`t make you create false documents, denying what you`ve told them.  I mean, this is -- this part of the Mueller report is a remarkable narrative, right, about how things are being run in your White House under this president, including the president`s apparent confusion as to what he can order people to do and not. 

But this is also strong, detailed evidence of the president in this instance in this circumstance committing a crime, committing felony obstruction of justice.  I mean, this is just one of the alleged instances of obstruction of justice that Mueller appears to be saying he would have charged the president with this thing were this not the president, were he anyone else on earth.  The implications of this whole part of Mueller`s report is that Trump is not only being charged with felony obstruction of justice for incidents like this because of the justice department policy that says you shouldn`t indict or prosecute a sitting president. 

We can tell that`s what Mueller is doing here because Mueller doesn`t just describe what the president did in some purely narrative novelistic way, although this is narrative and novelistic.  What Mueller does here is that he describes what the president did.  He provides evidentiary basis for all those of assertions about what the president did, but connects all the elements of the president`s described behavior, specifically to the necessary legal elements of obstruction of justice that you have to prove if you as a prosecutor are going to justify bringing criminal charges against somebody under the obstruction of justice statutes, right?

There are three legal elements that you need to prove, that you need to have firm evidence of if you`re going to bring charges against somebody for obstruction of justice.  Obstructive act, nexus, and intent.  And in every instance in this whole section of the report, Mueller describes the president`s behavior and then immediately after he describes what about that behavior constitutes an obstructive act under the law, what describes a nexus to an official proceeding under the law, and what about this provides evidence of the president`s criminal and corrupt intent under the law. 

For this one instance involving Don McGahn, under intent, it`s quite clear.  Quote, substantial evidence indicates that in repeatedly urging Don McGahn to dispute that he was ordered to have the special counsel terminated, the president acted for the purpose of influencing McGahn`s account in order to deflect or prevent further scrutiny of the president`s conduct toward the investigation. 

Tonight, reporter Charlie Savage at "The New York Times" has just posted what is in effect an index from Mueller`s findings, going through all the alleged incidents of the president`s obstruction of justice as described in Mueller`s report.  In at least four of those instances, when you look at not just the described conduct of the president and how egregious it seems, but legally whether or not Mueller was able to establish evidence of an obstructive act committed by the president, an obstructive act having a nexus of an ongoing investigation and an obstructive act being motivated by corrupt intent.

When you look clinically and legally whether Mueller establishes all three of those elements in order to find sufficient basis for bringing criminal charges against somebody who did these things, in at least four distinct cases, as "The Times" puts it, quote, bottom line is that the report suggests there is sufficient evidence to ask a grand jury to consider charging this act as illegal obstruction.  That is true for Trump trying to fire Mueller, it`s true for Trump trying to encourage Paul Manafort not to cooperate with the investigation, it`s true for Trump trying to get Jeff Sessions to unrecuse himself from the Russia investigation in order to intervene in Mueller`s inquiry, and it`s true for Trump pushing Don McGahn to create some sort of record denying that Trump tried to get him to fire Robert Mueller. 

In all those instances, according to what is plainly laid out in Mueller`s report, all of those instances contain the elements you would need in order to present this information, this fact pattern, and this evidence to a grand jury in order to produce an indictment, were the alleged perpetrator not serving as president of the United States. 

Now, the problem for the White House, given that, is, number one, they can`t stop any federal prosecutor from actually bringing these charges once Trump is out of office, provided his term doesn`t outlast the statute of limitations on these crimes, but two, they can`t stop Congress, even now while President Trump is still in office, they can`t stop Congress from pulling all of these threads and following all of this evidence and investigating these matters themselves, and specifically, when it comes to all the stuff that Don McGahn testified to to Robert Mueller.  Again, he has cited more than 150 times just in the obstruction section of Mueller`s report. 

When it comes to Don McGahn, the Trump White House cannot stop Don McGahn from publicly testifying in Congress about all of the same stuff he talked to Robert Mueller about because the White House, whoops, allowed him to testify about this stuff to Robert Mueller.  And so, that toothpaste is out of the tube.  Stuff is either privileged or it`s not.  They did not assert privilege to prevent McGahn from talking about it to Mueller. 

And because of that, they will not be able to assert executive privilege over that material to keep McGahn from talking about it to Congress.  They will not be able to keep McGahn from responding to a congressional subpoena to testify about all of that same stuff he already talked to Mueller about.  That said, why not try anyway?  Maybe we will get at least some sort of delay. 

Tonight, "The Washington Post" was first to report that the White House will try to fight the congressional subpoena that was issued to Don McGahn yesterday by the Judiciary Committee.  In addition to trying to block testimony by McGahn, which I don`t think anybody thinks they will be able to do. 

"The Post" also reports tonight that the White House strategy from here on out will not be just to block testimony by McGahn, it will be to block testimony from any current White House official or any former White House official in conjunction with any incidents or testimony that were revealed in Mueller`s report.

And -- I mean, God bless them, right?  I mean, they will give it a go.  They will give it a try.  They will certainly earn themselves some delays by doing so.  But they are not on strong legal ground in any of these efforts to stop these investigations now. 

I mean, they might have been with Don McGahn had they gotten it right in the first instance, but they didn`t.  And so, Don McGahn will be stuck in the middle while the White House tries to put up a legal fight against his subpoena.  But they`re not a party to the subpoena, and this, frankly, as a matter of executive privilege was all settled in the fall of 2017.  Whoomp, there it is, when they let him testify about this stuff to Mueller.  Really?  OK.  Are you sure you want me to?  OK, here I go. 

I mean, that was the end of their claims that executive privilege would protect that material from disclosure to investigators.  I mean, they`ll try to block everything.  The White House is also trying to block another third party, in this case, the president`s accounting firm, Mazars, from handing over Trump-related financial documents to the House Oversight Committee. 

And again, it will be the same dynamic.  Mazars will be stuck in the middle for a little while, while the White House tries to mount a legal effort that quashes the subpoena from Congress to this accounting firm.  They`ll get a delay. 

Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings tonight says he will delay the enforcement of that subpoena from Mazars until a court has weighed in on the new Trump lawsuit that is trying to stop that accounting firm from responding to the congressional subpoena.  But that accounting firm is going to have to respond to that congressional subpoena. 

I mean, the case law in this and the precedent here is absolutely clear.  The White House and the president will have no leg to stand on when it comes to trying to block that subpoena.  I mean, tonight, the White House and the Treasury Department are also trying to block the Ways and Means Committee chairman from obtaining the president`s tax returns despite black letter law that clearly says the IRS shall hand such returns over at the request of that committee chairman. 

And again, they will succeed in getting a bit of a delay here.  Steven Mnuchin, the secretary of the treasury, says he plans to get back to the committee on this matter, on May 6th.  OK, so says you, but it`s not really your position to say.  The Ways and Means Committee chairman has already said if today`s deadly were not met for handing over the president`s tax returns, he would consider that to be a denial of his request. 

Tonight, that committee chairman, Chairman Richie Neil of Massachusetts says he`s consulting with counsel about his next steps will be.  But spoiler alert, there will be a subpoena here down the road.  He`s not saying that, but it`s clear that`s where this is heading. 

And again, the black letter law is against the White House on this, so they can fight it and put out these weird letters and legal memos like they did under Steve Mnuchin`s name today that did not cover him in glory.  They will try to delay these things and they will create the illusion of a big legal fight here, but they`re not on strong ground. 

And listen, with all these things, the White House saying, no, no, no, you can`t have the testimony, no, you can`t have the documents, no, nobody should cooperate with these investigations.  I mean, it`s impressive for its uniformity.  It`s impressive for almost the reflexive nature with which they`re saying no to every request. 

Oversight Committee chairman has been pointing out that this entire year, the White House has refused to hand over even a single document or to make available a single witness.  They`re saying no to everything.  And that earns them delay.  But they`re not ultimately in a strong position on any of it. 

Tonight, the Oversight Committee took the first steps toward contempt of Congress vote for the Trump appointed official who was reportedly involved in overturning security clearance rejects for more than two dozen White House staff, including senior White House adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner.  Well, that one`s not going to go away, right?  I mean, you can try to delay this guy from stopping, from speaking to Congress.  You can try to keep the security clearance official away from the committee that has oversight over these matters. 

But this one is going to get worse, not better, right?  Given the findings of the redacted Mueller report, it`s clearer than ever why the White House would want to block testimony about why so many senior Trump officials were rejected by career security staff when they applied for security clearances, and why the White House nevertheless weighed in and intervene to grant those security clearances anyway. 

I mean, Jared Kushner today did a very rare public event, at an event for "Time" magazine where he was supposed to be taking public questions.  He doesn`t do this very often.  I don`t know what he thought he was going to be asked to talk about five days after the Mueller report came out, but did you control your name in that report, sir? 

I mean, the questions right off the bat for him today were can we talk about you going to the Trump Tower meeting with the Russians to get dirt on Hillary Clinton?  And you meeting with the sanctioned Russian banker during a transition, and you meeting with a Russian ambassador and not reporting it during the transition.  And you trying to establish some sort of secret back channel to the Russian government?  And then you receiving some previously secret draft sanctions on Russian plan from your friend who`s working with the Russian guy who said the plan was personally approved by Putin and they you gave the personally approved by Putin plan directly to the secretary of state and to senior White House adviser Steve Bannon?  Can we talk about that stuff? 

Jared Kushner`s first response to all those questions today at that "Time" magazine event was, quote: So, first of all, thank you for having me here today.  To which he gets follow-up questions, why didn`t the Trump campaign say, hey, Russia we don`t need your help, we don`t want your help, please stop? 

Question: Are you concerned that Russian intelligence services were trying to find ways to influence you and other people close to Trump?  Question: Mr. Kushner, can we talk about what the FBI was concerned about when they were looking into your background for permanent security clearance at the White House?  Yes, of course, the White House wants to block the guy who massaged all these security clearances, including the one for Jared Kushner given what we now know for sure about Jared Kushner. 

Of course, they want the security clearance overturning guy to not testify to Congress.  But the White House, as understandable as their reticence may be on these the things, they`re not on strong legal ground from blocking these investigations from going forward and from blocking administration personnel from having to respond to subpoenas.

The Mueller report as yet is still full of redactions.  It is already even in its redacted form, sparking more areas of investigation and more areas of concern and public questions that senior White House officials don`t have answers for.  The White House right now is trying to block absolutely every aspect they can of these ongoing and now newly intensifying investigations.  You would see why they would want to try. 

The president tonight called one specific "Washington Post" reporter to explain his thinking on how he`s trying to stop all these investigations and why he thinks he`ll be able to.  His reasoning was something other than persuasive, but you want to hear what he said. 

That reporter joins us next. 


MADDOW:  Tonight, just ahead of the show, a slightly nutty thing happened.  We got this report from "The Washington Post" about 5:00 p.m. Eastern Time tonight, quote, White House plans to fight the House subpoena of former White House counsel Don McGahn for testimony on the Mueller report.  White House lawyers saying they`re going to try to exert executive privilege so Don McGahn can`t tell Congress about the incidents he described as special counsel, that could be construed as the president criminally obstructing justice. 

Fascinating story, fascinating effort by the White House, right, because McGahn has already testified about those things to the special counsel, so it`s a little late for the White House to be saying those things are privileged and can`t be discussed outside the White House. 

Because of that scoop from "The Washington Post" tonight, we made plans to talk to one of the reporters who got that scoop.  We made plans to talk to reporter Robert Costa.  But then as we were racing towards show time, Robert surprisingly let us know that, hello, he had just received a call from the president, from the president himself. 

Quote, President Trump says he is opposed to current and former White House aides providing testimony to congressional panels in the wake of the special counsel report, intensifying a power struggle between his administration and House Democrats.  In an interview with "The Washington Post," Trump said that complying with congressional requests was unnecessary after the White House cooperated with special counsel Robert Mueller`s probe of Russian interference and the president`s own conduct in office. 

The president said in this interview tonight, quote: There is no reason to go any further, especially in Congress where it`s very partisan -- obviously very partisan. 

Joining us is one of the reporters who got that scoop tonight, "Washington Post" national political reporter Robert Costa. 

Bob, thank you very much for being here.  I really appreciate this on short notice. 


MADDOW:  So the president not only is telling you that he intends to try to block everybody who`s worked in the Trump White House from testifying to Congress, he`s telling you that he believes he`s on strong legal ground to do that? 

COSTA:  And he`s also making a political argument.  And that was what came through in the conversation with president Trump tonight.  He believes he is won a political victory with the Mueller report, and now he wants to kick the battle to the federal courts if Congress tries to pursue their subpoena requests with people like Don McGahn as you`ve outlined.  And he believes that he can say he`s cooperated with Mueller and the American people will follow along.  But Congress and House Democrats will continue to fight and demand for these officials to testify. 

MADDOW:  Does the president seem to have any understanding of the executive privilege trouble he might now have with not only Don McGahn but with anybody from the Trump White House who was allowed by the Trump White House to give testimony to the special counsel`s office?  Legal experts that we`ve talked to tell us that this is a somewhat uncomplicated thing, that matters are either privileged or they`re not, and once anybody has been allowed to testify about them or indeed provide documents that document things happening in the White House or even directly with the president, you`ve essentially forfeited your ability to say they`re covered by executive privilege and can`t be conveyed to Congress. 

COSTA:  And that is a widespread view in the legal community, but the view inside of the White House talking to the president and top White House officials is that they believe they will now put lawyers and witnesses for people related to this probe in a tough position where in effect they`ll be forced to choose between the White House`s position and Congress` position.  This will then be a protracted fight in federal court. 

And that`s at the end of the day what many people inside this White House, including the president, want.  If someone is going to be compelled to testify, even if legal experts say that privileges effectively waived because of the way this has been handled, the White House would like to see it fought over the coming months ahead of 2020 in the courts. 

MADDOW:  So, effectively, their plan here is not necessarily to win in the end, but to lay long enough that they can sort of live to fight another day? 

COSTA:  People close to McGahn say they know that his commentary in the Mueller report is unlikely to be seen as privileged because it`s in a federal report released to the public.  However, now that the president is leaning toward asserting executive privilege in the coming months or weeks even, you`re going to have McGahn in a position where his lawyer, Bill Burck, and him will have to say, well, if the White House is going to raise this concern, who`s going to be the person who adjudicates this dispute. 

MADDOW:  Uh-huh.

Robert, I`ll also just have to ask you, you`re reporting on this story tonight, you have the scoop about the White House making this approach.  It has to be a little jarring to directly get a call from the president, to be on the phone with the president himself explaining his own thoughts for you on this matter.  It`s my understanding that this didn`t come out of some formal request by you for a presidential interview, that he just got on the phone. 

COSTA:  I was working on another story and he called about that, and asked him some questions about the news of the today.  Actually, Rachel, it wasn`t jarring at all. 

It was a reminder that this president and this administration, everything, the tone, the strategy, political and legal, is set from the top.  He sets the pace inside this White House.  Some White House officials texted me after the president called, and said they were waiting for him to articulate his views publicly and privately about exactly where he`s leaning on executive privilege, and he showed it tonight in the interview with "The Washington Post."  President Trump alone often thinking through the strategy, not so much a group think inside the White House. 

MADDOW:  Wow.  "Washington Post" national political reporter Bob Costa, Robert, thank you for your time.  I really appreciate you being here.

COSTA:  Thank you.

MADDOW:  I should also tell you that Robert is going to share more in his conversation with the president tonight on "THE 11TH HOUR" with Brian Williams.  Brian Williams is a much better interviewer than me for the first instance.  So, you should watch that.  But Brian is going to have more on that story altogether. 

Lots more to get to tonight, even still this hour.  Stay with us. 


MADDOW:  The question is, were you born by 1996?  Were you on this earth by then?  Because if you were, you either got in on this thing or you hid behind the couch and shielded your eyes. 

If you were in the latter camp, it probably still makes you cringe to see it. 

Hello, 1996.  This was the final day of the 1996 Democratic National Convention.  Democrats were on their way to renominating Bill Clinton, who would go on to beat Bob Dole and Ross Perot, and win his second term in the White House.

And so, why not?  Hey, Macarena?  What`s the worry?  What`s the rush?  What cannot be cured by taking a minute to just dance it out live on C-Span 2? 

I bring this up now because we just got the agenda for what is possibly the biggest Democratic Party event of this electoral season so far.  It`s called the "She the People Presidential Forum.  It starts tomorrow in Texas, and I`m here to report that the forum in its official schedule comes with an officially scheduled intermission dance party break, which will happen for seven minutes. 

It happens tomorrow afternoon between a talk by Senator Kamala Harris, which ends at 2:32 p.m., and a talk by Senator Amy Klobuchar which begins at 2:40.  At precisely 2:33 p.m., commence dancing for seven minutes. 

I do not mean to imply a dance-off between Senator Harris and Senator Klobuchar, although I`d pay good money.  I mean, that said, stranger things have happened even specifically in Democratic Party electoral and presidential politics. 


MADDOW:  Right now, there are 19 declared Democratic candidates running for president.  That number is supposed to tick up on Thursday this week when former Vice President Joe Biden is expected to become the 20th candidate to enter the race.  And that at least 20-candidate field is not just the largest major party presidential field in U.S. history, it`s also historically diverse, more women and more men and women of color are running in the Democratic primary than any point in the history of the country.  And that is no small thing. 

It also sits a little awkwardly alongside the fact that the Democratic candidates who are polling highest in the early primary states right now are all three of them white men.  Given that status of the top of the polls in the early states right now, and given the diversity of the Democrat slate this year, it makes what`s about to happen tomorrow all the more interesting.  Tomorrow, Texas Southern University is hosting a presidential forum called She the People, and it focuses specifically on women of color without whom the Democratic Party would not have a prayer in any election ever again. 

The idea is for the Democratic presidential candidates to not just count on women of color for their votes, but to speak directly to and with women of color at tomorrow`s forum on issues directly affecting their communities.  There are eight speaking slots, all declared candidates were invited to speak on a "first come, first serve" basis.  Most of the top tiered declared candidates are going to be there. 

I should also tell you that there will be what is being described as an official dance party break that will last seven minutes at intermission between the first four candidates and the next four candidates, which means you should wear appropriate shoes. 

But this is a big deal, this is a big opportunity for Democratic candidates who are trying to make their case to the specific subset of voters who will by play a huge role, maybe the biggest role in selecting the next nominee for president. 

I should also tell you that this event tomorrow may also be why Vice President Joe Biden decided to delay the start of his presidential campaign by a day.  You might remember the reporting of the last few days that Vice President Biden was going to announce his presidential campaign tomorrow, on Wednesday, now his launch is reportedly slid to Thursday, which will be the day after the She the People event, so he will not be competing with that. 

And that absolutely may be a coincidence.  Maybe that launch video needed another round of edits.  But if you are Joe Biden, if you are, you know, white man number one of the three white men at the top of the Democratic field right now in the polls, it is a complex thing to announce your presidency potentially on the same day that the Democratic field is focused on women of color at the She the People forum.

Joining us is Aimee Allison.  She`s founder and president of She the People.  She`s going to be asking some of the questions at tomorrow`s forum. 

Ms. Allison, congratulations on this event and its influence already.  Thanks very much for being here. 


MADDOW:  Let me ask about the way that I sort of thumb nailed this event and its importance and its potential influence tomorrow.  Tell me about your goals for why you set this up and what you`re hoping for tomorrow`s event. 

ALLISON:  She the People is telling a brand new story about women of color to the nation and that is we are the most progressive voters.  As you rightly said, we are the very critical core of the Democratic vote.  We`re, in fact, one of four voters in many of the swing states that Trump won. 

And so, elevating women color in this moment to speak directly to the presidential campaigns is crucial because we believe women of color can lead and build a multiracial inclusive coalition to win not only the primary, but the White House itself in 2020. 

MADDOW:  In terms of the types of politics at work here, the thing that I find exciting and admirable about the strategy that you`ve taken tomorrow is this idea that to identify women of color is crucial to the Democratic Party prospects is one way on a two-way street.  The other direction on that two-way street is that the Democratic Party has no reason to take those votes for granted, has no reason to take that activism and organizing and intellectual energy for granted, but the party should tap out of its comfort zone, step out of its way and not do things the way it always has, just taking those votes for granted, instead, should prove to those communities that have been so valuable to the party why it is they deserve that support.  That should be part of the grounds on which the candidates compete with each other. 

To that end, I have to ask you about the decision to do eight slots.  How you ended up with these eight candidates out of the 5 million who are declared at this point in this race?

ALLISON:  Well, listen, I know there`s a lot of candidates, and I think it`s good for democracy, to be totally honest.  We have half the candidates tomorrow women, half are people are color, and an opportunity for women of color really for the first time -- it`s historic -- to ask these campaigns to make their case based on racial, economic, social and gender justice.  This is a group of progressive voters, and the fact that we have a diverse field is good. 

But, honestly, this is not a DNC event.  We organized this as an independent effort because a portion of women of color, particularly in swing states in the South and Southwest, those are the battleground states for the next 18 months.  A lot of people are declined to states are independents.  We wanted to create a space that was separate from the party. 

So, it`s a three-hour show.  That`s why we have a dance break.  It`s a three-hour show.  We couldn`t have a 17-hour show. 

MADDOW:  No.  Understandable.  And, you now, honestly, planning it as an official dance break, rather than hoping for it to spontaneously break out I think is a little political realism that I`m very impressed by. 

ALLISON:  I just want to say, look, if you`re going to come to Houston and be with 1,000 women of color from 28 states and it`s Beyonce`s hometown, listen, you`re going to get a dance break.  You`re going to get a dance break. 

MADDOW:  Excellent. 

Aimee Allison, founder and president of She the People -- again, you`re already making a big impact with the attention that is being paid to this event tomorrow.  I do think you are shifting things around on the political calendar simply by the existence of this event tomorrow.  I know it`s not going to be a one off and we`ll continue to hear from you.  Please keep us apprised over the course of the campaign. 

ALLISON:  Thank you so much. 

MADDOW:  Thanks a lot. 

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


MADDOW:  We have one last stories coming up for you tonight.  If you have been wondering why this is what some proceedings look like in Washington now, if you have been wondering about these new silent green overlords who have been turning up among us.  Today, that story broke sort of wide open in the Oval Office.  And that`s our final story tonight.  That`s next. 


MADDOW:  This is David Bernhardt.  He`s a former oil and gas lobbyist who President Trump just installed to run the Interior Department. 

At his confirmation hearing last month, it took less than 40 seconds from the moment the hearing started from when he started his opening statement until, wait for it, wait for it -- now. 

Do we have it? 

A swamp creature turned up behind him in the hearing.  By the end, there were two swamp creatures at the hearing watching him carefully.  There were three, actually, if you count this one who had a slightly different look. 

The green creatures were all there to make a silent point about the fact that a freaking oil and gas lobbyist was now going to be in charge of regulating the oil and gas industries.  Talk about draining the swamp. 

After being on the job less than one full day, we got the news that newly installed Secretary David Bernhardt was already the subject of an ethics investigation at the Interior Department.  The department`s inspector general revealed in a letter that she`s opened the investigation after receiving seven different complaints from a wide assortment of complainants alleging conflicts of interest and other violations by the new secretary.  That was day one of David Bernhardt serving as secretary of the Interior Department. 

Well, this afternoon, David Bernhardt had his ceremonial swearing in at the White House.  The event was closed to the press, so we don`t have a picture to show you, but on the occasion of his ceremonial swearing in, we did get this, which seems like a perfectly appropriate gift for this occasion. 

We got the news that six of David Bernhardt`s senior colleagues at the interior department are also being under -- are also being investigated by the inspector general of that department for potential ethics violations relating to work for their former employers or former clients.  All of the six are appointees of President Trump.  Nothing says welcome aboard like an ongoing ethics investigation for you and six senior members of your department on day one.  That`s how the swamp works, though. 

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


Good evening, Lawrence. 

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