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Trump opposed White House aides testifying. TRANSCRIPT: 4/26/19, The Rachel Maddow Show.

Guests: Ezra Levin

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST:  Thank you, Ali.  Have a great one. 

And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.  Good to have you here on a Friday night. 

Super interesting news day today.  There are surprising developments afoot among the 2020 Democratic presidential contenders, including one that is at least on its face, quite constructive, actually, probably quite good news for the Democrats as a group.  We`re going to have that story ahead tonight. 

Also, as the NRA met for its annual convention today, and the president of the United States gave a fairly blood curdling speech to that organization, including calling for the scalps of his political enemies.  We`ve got a snapshot from the courtroom today from where Russian agent Maria Butina was sentenced for operating within the NRA and within Republican Party circles on behalf of the Russian government.  This case took a turn at the end into really interesting counterintelligence territory, which I think speaks to what we just learned about the Trump administration in the Mueller report. 

So as the NRA convenes, the NRA infiltrating Russian agent was sentenced today.  We will have that report ahead as well, along with some expert help to sort that out.  What prosecutors were trying to tell us in the resolution of that case today, that`s coming up. 

We are, of course, one week out now since the redacted report was released from Robert Mueller`s investigation.  The president, of course, had initially said that Mueller`s report was the best news for him ever, now every day, he is denouncing the report and everything in it, to the point where he is now publicly accusing his own White House counsel, Don McGahn, of having lied to the special counsel`s office. 

McGahn told the special counsel and the FBI that President Trump had directed him to fire special counsel Robert Mueller and then told McGahn to create a false document to cover that up.  And you can see why the president wouldn`t want to own up to that kind of behavior once you see it in black and white there in Mueller`s report. 

But the way the president is pursuing this now is maybe causing some new trouble of its own for him because don McGahn, of course, subpoenaed by Congress to testify about those same things he described to the special counsel.  President Trump and the White House have said they`ll try to stop don McGahn from testifying to Congress.  But what do you think about how this is going to end here? 

I mean, do you think the White House could really count on Don McGahn putting himself in potentially dire legal jeopardy by defying a subpoena because the White House says he should because Trump says he should?  I mean, do you think Don McGahn could be counted on to be in a generous or even self-sacrificing mood here? 

Because at the same time the White House is telling Don McGahn that he needs to defy that subpoena and potentially put himself in legal jeopardy by doing so, there`s this awkward and counter-strategic thing that the president is now doing, which is that he is now publicly accusing McGahn of being a liar.  He`s accusing McGahn of lying to investigators which is a federal crime. 

Now, Don McGahn, however much he loves President Trump and liked his White House service and all the rest of it, he might reasonably want to defend himself from that kind of allegation.  But the White House is demanding that Don McGahn shouldn`t be able to defend himself from the charge, he should not be allowed to testify about what he knows and what he saw.  He should not be allowed to back up and explain the evidence that he provided to the special counsel. 

It has been eight days since we learned from the redacted special counsel`s report how much President Trump really has to worry about in terms of Don McGahn.  Both "The New York Times" and the "Washington Post" have reported this week that the president is convinced and the president has been telling people that McGahn testifying in Congress would be a huge threat to him in terms of the prospects of him being impeached, that`s apparently front of mind for the president. 

Well, if the president is worried about don McGahn posing that kind of a threat to him, this new he`s a liar, he`s a liar strategy is probably not helping, in terms of the magnitude or the present nature of that threat. 

"The Washington Post," for example, is now reporting directly, some Trump advisers are saying privately they fear Trump`s ire towards McGahn could eventually prompt McGahn to speak to protect his reputation.  Yes, duh.  Other legal observers including one former presidential lawyer now warning that the president`s attacks on McGahn and the president`s campaign firing McGahn`s law firm after the Mueller report came out, that could all be construed as criminal witness retaliation by the president. 

The president retaliating against McGahn for the witness testimony that McGahn gave in this federal investigation.  That`s a crime for which the penalty is 10 years in prison and for which the five year statute of limitations starts anew every time the president takes an action that could be considered criminal under the witness retaliation statute. 

So, I mean, this is getting dicier and dicier by the day.  While the president is cultivating and aggravating his very own 21st century John Dean problem and the White House is trying to figure out how they can block that probably inevitable testimony from Don McGahn. 

Meanwhile, the Democrats in Congress are over the course of this week, they have been assessing their options for how to deal with the White House and the administration now that the president has decreed that all subpoenas will be defied, that no information will be handed over to congressional investigations but they will not allow the handing over of any documents, they will not allow any testimony, even with legally actionable subpoenas. 

Well, how are they going to enforce that?  What are their options? 

"Bloomberg" was first to report this week at the Judiciary Committee, the chairman there, Jerry Nadler, considering fines, financial penalties for any person who does not comply with the subpoena from Congress.  Now, there has also reportedly suggested that federal officials who refuse to obey subpoenas could even be jailed. 

And I know that sounds jarring, but that prospect has now been echoed by Congressman Gerry Connolly who`s on the Oversight Committee.  He tells CNN, quote, we will go to the max to enforce the constitutional role of the legislative branch of government, including explicitly saying that may involve incarcerating some people who defy subpoenas. 

The same sentiment echoed by Congresswoman Robin Kelly who was also on the Oversight Committee.  She now tells MSNBC, we`ll be talking about fines, we`ll talk about actually putting people in jail that are not cooperating if we have to go to that extreme.  I don`t think anyone wants to do that but the congresswoman says, quote, if they don`t cooperate, I`m for putting people in jail.  Again, she`s on the Oversight Committee. 

Same sentiment was echoed by Congressman David Cuccinelli from the Judiciary Committee.  He is now citing a precedent from the 1930s in which assistant secretary of commerce really was jailed for contempt of Congress, jailed for defying a subpoena, to show up and testify and produce documents. 

I should say, in that case from the 1930s when that assistant commerce secretary was jailed, they jailed him at least for a while at the Willard Hotel in D.C. because they didn`t feel they had a suitable jail.  The Willard Hotel was then and is now quite nice.  So that might have softened the whole constitutional confrontation part of that standoff. 

I mean, jailing government officials and regular American citizens who defy legally actionable subpoenas from congressional committees, that is literally what was threatened by Watergate Committee Chairman Sam Ervin in 1973 when the Nixon White House tried to stop federal employees from testifying to that committee, including specifically, Nixon White House counsel John Dean.  After Nixon and the Nixon White House tried to block Nixon aides, including John Dean from testifying to that committee, Sam Ervin literally called the press conference and said he would issue arrest warrants for any officials who didn`t turn up to testify. 

And of course, we know they did ultimately turn up to testify.  But I mean, even looking at the whole historical record on that and the number of times that`s been hinted at or threatened, we`re there.  We have already jumped right to the point where subpoenas are being defied and jail is being threatened.  I mean, right away, we are up to that point again within 8 days of the redacted Mueller report being made public.  And it still is only the redacted version. 

And don`t worry, you are not the only one who may be feeling a little shaky about where the country is headed next here given how fast we seem to be careening down this cul-de-sac.  Ultimately, the issues of accountability for what we have just been through are very much still in process.  That doesn`t even necessarily feel like a process but at least feels like they`re still in motion.  And at least feels like we`re still in that tumble dry cycle. 

Recall, for example, just one of the incidents of alleged criminal obstruction of justice by the president that was detailed in volume two of the Mueller report.  This is the one we`ve talked about before on the show since the report came out.  This is the one where the president tried to draft his former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski to help him shut down the special counsel`s investigation.  That was June 2017. 

"The Washington Post" just reported Mueller`s investigation wouldn`t only encompass stuff from the campaign and what Russia did and whether anybody in the Trump campaign helped and what Russia did to the campaign.  "The Post" reported in June that the investigation would also include actions that Trump took as president and specifically, the question of whether he had obstructed justice by trying to obstruct that investigation as president. 

Now, what the Mueller report explains is that after that report came out in the "Washington Post," the president freaked.  And he told his White House counsel Don McGahn he needed to call the Justice Department and get Mueller fired and Don McGahn said, no. 

The president then took a meeting with Corey Lewandowski of all people.  Corey Lewandowski, a private citizen at that point, no government or White House role whatsoever, the president sat Corey Lewandowski down in the Oval Office, he told him to take dictation.  Corey, write this down, told him to write down a message that was essentially a draft statement that he wanted Attorney General Jeff Sessions to deliver. 

That draft statement he wanted Jeff Sessions to deliver would have Jeff Sessions announcing that he was unrecusing himself from the Russia investigation, he was taking over control of the special counsel`s investigation, and he was directing Mueller that he could no longer look at anything that happened in the 2016 election.  Instead, Mueller henceforth must only look at future crimes.  He must only look at crimes that Russia might commit against future American elections that hadn`t happened yet.  But all of 2016, that`s no longer what Mueller is looking at. 

Now, as the Mueller report describes, Lewandowski got this direction from the president, wrote it all down and then actually did take action to try to reach Jeff Sessions to deliver that message.  They ultimately never got together and Corey Lewandowski never delivered him the message.  But Lewandowski then decided to hand the task off to a White House official, to Rick Dearborn, who was then deputy White House chief of staff.

According to Mueller`s report, Dearborn said, OK, sure, I`ll do it.  I`ll take care of it.  I`ll pass on that message to Jeff Sessions, I`ll get Jeff Sessions to do this crazy thing.  But then Rick Dearborn did not actually pass the message on, did not actually do it. 

Now, we`ve talked about this specific incident on the show since the Mueller report came out because it`s freaking ridiculous, right?  Because it`s comical.  Corey, write this down.  But also because Mueller lays this out very clearly, not just in terms of the facts in his report. 

He lays out very clearly, very plainly, like a choose-your-own-adventure novel but one that had only one available ending.  Make your choice carefully but there`s one choice.  I mean, Mueller laid out forward as straight as possible that ridiculous incident with the president telling a private citizen to go get the attorney general to give this speech unrecusing himself, limiting Mueller`s investigation to future crimes.  He then told Corey Lewandowski he should feel free to fire the attorney general if the attorney general wouldn`t agree to do that, right? 

Mueller lays that out, in terms of the facts, as potential criminal obstruction of justice and then he explains why that looks like criminal obstruction of justice.  You need three elements under the law to bring obstruction charges and try to prove them in court. 

You need obstructive act, in this case, the president directing the curtailing of Mueller`s remit.  So, it would no longer apply to anything having to do with Donald Trump.  You need a nexus to an ongoing investigation.  The Mueller investigation was the ongoing investigation. 

And you need evidence of corrupt intent on the part of the person carrying out the obstructive act.  And on that, Mueller was very blunt in volume two of his report.  Substantial evidence of Trump`s corrupt intent to enact this act of obstruction which is related to an ongoing investigation and the intent was to try to save himself by curtailing this investigation that posed a threat to him. 

So, obstructive act, check.  Nexus to an ongoing investigation, check, check.  Evidence to obstruct, check, check, check, right?  It`s all there.

And Mueller lays it out in black and white.  It`s not even in legalese.  It`s easier to read.  It`s a comical situation but he lays out how it`s a crime. 

Upon receiving the report, Attorney General William Barr announced that didn`t look like a crime to him.  That didn`t look like obstruction of justice to him.  I wouldn`t charge that. 

Now, of course, we got that assertion from Attorney General William Barr before Mueller`s report, even in the redacted form was ever released to anybody else other than him.  He just said, I`ve got the report, you don`t, I`ve looked at it all and decided that none of these things are crimes. 

Like, we never got any explanation from William Barr as to how he arrived at that conclusion.  Let alone, how he could have instantly arrived at that conclusion, not just on that alleged crime but on all of the other alleged criminal behavior along those lines described in excruciating detail over hundreds of pages in this report. 

He was able to just somehow, like, absorb the whole thing that he just held the whole thing to his chest like, breathe in, nope, no crimes there.  I`m the attorney general.  You know, I can just sniff.  There`s an odor that I can, nope, it`s fine. 

He`s never explained how he processed all of that so quickly and all uniformly, no crimes here.  Now, what we`re now realizing eight days in to Mueller`s report being at least in redacted form being public, we`re now realizing that it`s possible that William Barr is a little embarrassed about how he has handled this.  Now that we have all seen what`s in this report, which he took a deep whiff of and decided he smelled no crimes, we can tell now he may be a little uneasy with the public having an understanding of the distant between his proclamation there was no crime here and what we can see about Mueller laying out evidence of a crime and why it should be charged. 

The reason we can tell he`s maybe a little embarrassed about that, maybe feeling a little heat about that is because "The Washington Post" now published a long piece based on anonymous Justice Department sources who are, quote, people familiar with the thinking that led to Barr`s conclusions.  Hmm. 

Now, why would people familiar with the thinking that led to William Barr`s conclusions be speaking to "The Washington Post" about the content of his conclusions?  I mean, I don`t know and neither do you.  That`s the beauty of anonymous sources, even those who speak on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter. 

But the argument that is now being spelled out to "The Washington Post" to try to make Barr look good, to try to justify what Barr did here, his conclusion that he doesn`t see any crime here, it`s honestly not a great argument. 

I mean, what Barr is telling "The Washington Post" here, I mean, I`m sorry.  What people familiar with the thinking that led to Barr`s conclusions are telling "The Post" here is that that particular instance of alleged criminal obstruction I just described involving Corey Lewandowski and the president telling Corey to take a memo and bring a draft speech to Jeff Sessions and tell Jeff Sessions he`s going to have to unrecuse so he can kibosh Mueller`s investigation of what happened in 2016, if he doesn`t do it, Corey Lewandowski is supposed to fire the attorney general. 

I mean, that particular instance of obstruction, according to Barr`s thinking as described in the "Washington Post" now by these anonymous sources, Barr`s thinking is that that shouldn`t have been charges of obstruction of justice because it was a scheme to obstruct justice that did not work.  It didn`t actually succeed after the president tried to set that obstruction in motion. 

Quote: Bringing a prosecution on these facts would have been complicated because the obstruction relies on multiple people in a chain all doing something.  And since all the people in the chain didn`t all do what they were directed to do, that meant the obstruction didn`t work and therefore, it`s not obstruction.  That`s the argument that`s being spelled out to "The Washington Post" so we can all have a better understanding about how Barr arrived at his conclusion. 

Now, I am no lawyer, but let`s just do a thought experiment.  Let`s say you are sitting on your front step and a dude runs past you.  Runs past you.  A loud alarm starts sounding at the bank at your corner.  All of the employees, all the customers run out of the bank on your corner and say, that guy, that guy who just ran past you, he just robbed a bank. 

As you`re observing this information, then a cop comes running down your street, coming from the direction of the bank and he is going after the guy who just ran past you.  Everybody`s pointing at that guy, that`s the bank robber, the cop is yelling, stop, thief, stop, I`m police, stop. 

At this point, you, sitting on your front porch, stick your foot out and trip the cop.  Under this purported reasoning from Attorney General William Barr as spelled out in the "Washington Post," that`s fine.  You`re good.  As long as ultimately, that bank robber still got caught at some point, you`re good.  Your obstruction effort, you tried but it didn`t work, which means you`re fine. 

Now, do not try this at home.  This is not how the law actually works, but this is the way that William Barr or rather, people familiar with the thinking that led to the conclusions of William Barr, that`s how they are explaining how he arrived at this idea that president Trump didn`t commit the crime of obstruction of justice based on Robert Mueller plainly explaining exactly that the president committed the crime of obstruction of justice. 

So, why is this in the "Washington Post" now?  Why has this purported justification of William Barr`s conclusions that the president didn`t commit a crime here, why just appeared in "The Post"?  Regardless of what you think about the quality of the reasoning being explained here and the quality of the lawyering that Barr is trying to have ascribed to him, why is his thinking process, why is his reasoning being described by anonymous sources to the "Washington Post" today? 

Is it possible that William Barr is feeling a little bit of heat now about his decisions, look, given what we can see and even the redacted version of Mueller`s report?  And I mean, this, Corey Lewandowski mishegoss, this is only one of the alleged incidents of obstruction of justice by the president that is spelled out in totally plain language in Mueller`s report.  There`s a whole bunch of incriminating incidents with as much damning evidentiary and legal support and as much clarity from Mueller on how the president`s acts meet every legal action of obstruction of justice.  It`s not just this Corey Lewandowski one, there`s a whole bunch of them.  Don`t take it from me, but this is a actually a pretty good summary. 


ANDREW NAPOLITANO, FOX NEWS ANALYST:  What do we do if the president commits a crime?  Let him get away with it?  The crime is not a difficult one to understand.  Obstruction of justice, the statute making obstruction criminal prohibits interfering or attempting to interfere with a criminal prosecution or an investigation of the government`s conducting. 

So when Bob Mueller said the president of the United States did about a dozen things to slow down, impede, negate or interfere with the investigation of his campaign or of his former national security adviser General Michael Flynn, that`s a serious allegation of criminal activity.  So when the president asked his former adviser and my former colleague at Fox, K.T. McFarland to write an untruthful letter to the file, knowing government would subpoena it, that`s obstruction of justice. 

When the president asked Corey Lewandowski, his former campaign manager, to get fired, that`s obstruction of justice.  When the president asked his then White House counsel to get Mueller fired and then lie about it, that`s obstruction of justice.  When asked Don McGahn to go back to the special counsel and change his testimony, that`s obstruction of justice.  When he dangled the pardon in front of Michael Cohen in order to keep him from testifying against him, that`s obstruction of justice. 


MADDOW:  Yes, I told you there were more examples.  That`s a good list.  That`s Andrew Napolitano, who`s a former state court judge in New Jersey.  He`s now the chief legal analyst on the Fox News Channel and his take on the implications of the Mueller report in terms of the president and how Attorney General William Barr handled this, it is not unlike what you may have been hearing in legal circles for the past week since the redacted report was released but definitely unlike what this president and this administration have gotten used to hearing about themselves on Fox News. 


NAPOLITANO:  Why not charge him?  Because the attorney general of the United States would have blocked such a charge.  Because the attorney general of the United States is of the view that obstruction of justice can only occur if you`re interfering with a criminal investigation of yourself.  But that`s not what the obstruction statute says and that`s not what law enforcement believes and that`s not what prosecutors do. 

Prosecutors prosecute people who interfere with government functions and that`s what the president did by obstruction.  Where`s this going to end?  We don`t know. 

If he had ordered his aides to violate federal law, to save a human life or to preserve human freedom, he would at least have a moral defense to his behavior.  But ordering them to break federal law to save him from the consequences of his own behavior?  That is immoral, that is criminal, that is defenseless and that is condemnable. 


MADDOW:  And that is the Fox News Channel, which might explain why Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein gave a super defensive speech last night in New York City declaring that everything that went wrong here happened before he got there and none of it can be blamed on him.  It may explain why the president himself is trying this incredibly risky gambit of trying to block all testimony by people who served as witnesses for Mueller including his own White House counsel. 

It may also be part of the heat that Attorney General William Barr appears to be feeling.  At least as evidenced by the anonymous sources popping up in the news, bearing blind quotes about how totally unreasonable William Barr`s decisions have been despite visible evidence to the contrary.  William Barr will be testifying in the open session in the Senate on Wednesday and then open session in the House on Thursday.  Which means over the weekend, I bet you dollars to donuts that we will get more blind quotes from anonymous officials talking about really, if you think about it, how reasonable William Barr really has been in this whole process despite what you might have heard and actually, really, if you think about it, he`s kind of a hero of the story, isn`t he?

Honestly though, given Barr`s performance, when it comes to handling Mueller`s findings thus far in this week since we`ve been able to see him, why is Congress bothering to hear from him at all?  Haven`t we sort of heard from William Barr and got a sense from where he`s come from and how he fits into this process?  I`d be happy to just stick with anonymous officials describing William Barr`s take on things. 

Why don`t they just bring in Mueller instead?  Why are they bringing in Barr next week and what`s the wait to getting Mueller to testify? 

Tick-tock.  Lots to come tonight.  Stay with us. 


MADDOW:  They convene at 10:00 a.m. 

Quote, the judge: Good morning, everyone.  Good morning, Ms. Butina.  We`re here for the sentencing of Ms. Butina who has pleaded guilty to conspiracy to act as an agent of a foreign government. 

I know that there`s some materials here that have been filed under seal and there may be representations that you want to make to me under seal.  If you do, we`re going to try and approach the bench.  I really don`t want to have to clear the courtroom. 

That`s how the judge opens up and they don`t end up clearing the courtroom during this sentencing. 

The sealed stuff at this point in the case of Maria Butina who was sentenced today for her role in a Russian government directed effort to influence conservative politics and the Republican Party, in large part through the NRA, the sealed part of the proceedings involving her at this point seemed to be most about her cooperation.  She pled guilty.  She helped prosecutors, prosecutors say she helped them a lot with we don`t know.  It`s all sealed. 

But her case, her case today got its ending.  For the prosecution, it was assistant U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, Eric Kenerson. 

Quote: While it is certainly true that the defendant was an American University student, and is a devoted daughter and sister, she was simultaneously in her own words as quoted in the government sentencing memorandum, executing a plan to establish unofficial contact based on common views and a system of conservative values with key politically minded organizations in the United States, including the executive level of Political Party 1. 

Political Party 1, of course, is the Republican Party, which is funny, currently led by a person who is referred to in court as Individual 1.  From Political Party, see, it rhymes. 

Prosecutor, Mr. Kenerson, continues, quote: Defense is not contesting that Ms. Butina was here trying to establish a back channel of communication with Russia.  The defense does not contest that before she was a student, she was able to get meetings with the Russian ambassador and that at that meeting, she promised to send him contact information for a prominent American and the name of an adviser to a presidential candidate who would come to Moscow or that she was drafting notes that talked about how to exert influence over U.S. foreign policy or noting how downplaying the Kremlin hand will help the Russians exert the speediest and most effective influence in the decision making apparatus of the U.S. establishment.  The defense is not contesting that she sought the Russian governmental feedback on someone she thought would be a secretary of state candidate believing that the Russian opinion would be taken into account in the United States. 

So this is the U.S. attorney`s office in D.C., prosecutors here, laying out the case for why the judge should sentence Maria Butina to 18 months in prison for working as an unregistered Russian agent in the United States.  They lay out that case from the prosecution`s side. 

The defense then lays out their case to the judge, saying Maria Butina shouldn`t serve more time in prison.  She`s already done plenty of time while she`s been awaiting trial.  They say she wasn`t a spy.  She was just a curious graduate student.  She was keen on learning as much as she could about the NRA and top leaders of the Republican Party. 

Ms. Butina herself has spent about five minutes addressing the judge, expressing her remorse saying it had never been her intent to harm the American people.  She said this was all a big misunderstanding.  It was simply a failure to officially register as a foreign agent of Russia but basically that was a paperwork problem. 

That`s how it started off today.  Prosecution made their sort of blistering case.  Defense said, really, she did nothing wrong.  Butina said, I meant to do nothing wrong.

And then it was the judge`s turn to have her hand down the sentence and that was the hot, hot fire part of the day and that`s next. 


MADDOW:  Here`s how the judge started.  The judge, quote: With regard to the nature of the offense as the former assistant director of the FBI`s counterintelligence division noted in his sentencing declaration, the United States is Russia`s primary target for malign and intrusive intelligence operations. 

The judge says, quote, in targeting the United States, Russia works to obtain not only classified material or trade secrets but also to collect any information that could by itself or in conjunction with other efforts assist the Russian government in increasing its geopolitical power or undermining and harming that of the United States. 

Quote: contrary to defense counsel assertions in its sentencing memorandum, this was no mere failure to provide the U.S. government with required information.  This defendant was not simply seeking to learn about the U.S. political system.  She was seeking to collect information about individuals and organizations that could be helpful to the Russian government, and she was doing this under the direction of a Russian official for the benefit of the Russian government at a time when the Russian government was acting to interfere and affect the United States` political and electoral process. 

Her activities, organizing gun rights organization, meaning NRA visits to Russia, U.S./Russia friendship dinners, these were all used to establish back channel lines of communication to advance Russian interests.  The conduct was sophisticated and penetrated deep into political organizations. 

One of the things that Ms. Butina should have learned in the studies of the country is that she was able to participate in our political system and make connections because this is a country where our Constitution protects individual`s freedoms to associate, gather and exchange ideas free from governmental interference.  But this is also a country where the rule of law means something, and our laws require her to declare her true business in this country which was to gather information and to develop relationships that could be used to Russia`s advantage. 

Quote: This was no simple misunderstanding by overeager foreign student, the judge said.  Quote: There can be no doubt that the offense that Ms. Butina has pled to is serious and jeopardized this country`s national security. 

The judge then accepted prosecutor`s recommendation in sentencing Maria Butina to 18 months in federal prison.  The defense counsel had asked for time served because she`s already spent 9 months behind bars.  Part of the reason Maria Butina has been in jail for nine months this entire time since she was charged last year is because prosecutors had argued the minute she got let out of jail on bail, she would immediately go to the Russian embassy or have some Russian diplomatic vehicle picked up her on the street and she`d be gone out of this country faster than you can say nyet. 

So, she was kept in jail this whole time but she didn`t get time served.  She will do nine more months in prison on top of the nine months she`s already done.  Court affirmed today after handing down her sentence that she will be deported immediately to Russia upon the conclusion of her sentence. 

And so this does sort of bring this case to a wrap, but number one, still don`t know what she cooperated in.  Prosecutors actually argue that she should get a lighter sentence because of the help she gave with other cases.  We don`t know what those other cases are. 

And then there`s also the fact that this case wrapped sort of this week in a way that feels quite resonant.  What the judge said there at today`s sentencing reflected the way Justice Department prosecutors set up this sentencing, right?  Saying that even though Maria Butina cooperated, even though she pled guilty, what she did was super damaging to the national security of the United States. 

This wasn`t some technical violation.  This was something that harmed America.  Well, what she did do, right, what she admits to doing on behalf of the Russian government was making contacts with influential people in political circles in the United States for the purpose of serving Russian intelligence needs. 

And according to the Justice Department, that is hugely harmful to the United States.  It also rings a bell, right?  Because it has been a week now that we have had the redacted Mueller report which seemingly details those exact same kinds of contacts for that exact same type of purpose.  And those targets not only landed, right, they succeeded in cultivating multiple people who are currently serving in the federal government and who were part of the Trump campaign. 

I mean, what Maria Butina did, we know lots of other Russians did when it came to the Trump campaign, transition, and the Trump administration.  We learned that from the Mueller report volume 1 this week. 

Regardless of the individual fate of Maria Butina, should we see today`s sentencing of her, should we see the way that the Justice Department spelled out the national security harm of those types of intelligence operations by Russia, should we see this as sort of meaningful communication from the Justice Department about the kind of harm that can be caused by these type of operations? 

I mean, Robert Mueller we now know did not do a counterintelligence report.  Robert Mueller apparently did not even do a counterintelligence investigation of the president, his campaign or his administration.  Even though we thought he was going to, the report makes clear that he didn`t.  Is this case, the one sort of trailing end of that concern that we are allowed to see? 

Joining us now is Frank Figliuzzi.  He`s a former assistant director for counterintelligence at the FBI.

Mr. Figliuzzi, thank you for coming on the show.  I really appreciate you being here. 


MADDOW:  So let me ask you.  Hearing from the prosecutor there, hearing from the judge there, knowing what was in the declaration from your former counterpart at the FBI, what do you make about the way the Justice Department and the judge in this case are spelling out the kind of harm that was caused by the type of operation Maria Butina was engaged in and whether that does have any wider resonance? 

FIGLIUZZI:  It`s noteworthy, Rachel, that the federal judge in the Butina case chose to publicly link fact set in that case with the time period that it was happening in and pointing directly to the Russians` efforts to mess with our campaign and with the election.  That`s not something that`s haphazard, that`s not something a federal judge just pulls out of thin air.  She knows the fact of this case and she knows the level of cooperation that Maria Butina offered to the U.S. government and she`s choosing to say publicly she did this during a time where Russia was trying to influence our elections. 

There`s a linkage there.  I`m not going to go far to say it`s a signal to us that there`s a major connection but, look, the special counsel spent at least a hundred pages of his report detailing contact after contact, attempt after attempt by the Russians to get next to, successful attempts, by the way, to get next to campaign officials, those in President Trump`s circle. 

So, we see in Butina`s case a microcosm of what we see in the Mueller report.  This is just one individual being sentenced today but realized that the Mueller report details dozens and dozens of attempts in a hundred pages, at least, in his report of Russia trying to do this over and over again.  So I view this as a signal to us that, look, Russia is engaged in a new kind of spying with a new kind of spy.  They tried to do it in the Maria Butina case and they`ve done it to us already in spades in the 2016 campaign. 

MADDOW:  And, I mean, the way you`re putting that is clarifying for me.  I feel like what we got from Mueller`s report, the redacted version of the report we`ve got is, as you say, a description of dozens and dozens of these efforts from the Russian side to get close, as you say, to people who were involved in the Trump campaign, in Trump`s circles and Trump`s business orbit, n the orbit of the transition and the administration. 

What we don`t hear from Robert Mueller is any sort of explanation as to whether or not those things might have negative national security consequences for the United States.  What the counterintelligence, what the intelligence or counterintelligence cost might be of those dozens of successful overtures to people in the president`s orbit. 

Am I missing it?  Is that there or should we expect to hear that from somewhere else or the closest we get the declaration we got in Maria`s sentencing? 

FIGLIUZZI:  You`re right that we have a gap here.  Let`s remember that the whole special counsel inquiry started as a Russian C.I. case, a Russian counterintelligence case.  And let`s remember that Andy McCabe, then acting director of the FBI, chose to add the president`s name based on predicated evidence to the Russian C.I. case.  Where is it? 

Has -- we don`t know today, Rachel, whether the president`s name has been removed from the title of that counterintelligence case.  And we aren`t certain at all that the House or Senate Intelligence Committees have yet received a briefing from the FBI on the status of that Russian counterintelligence case.  And there`s D`s associated with counterintelligence and what your objectives are.  It`s detect, deter and defeat the adversary, OK? 

So, when it`s the president of the United States that you`ve opened a case on, put a title, put his name in the title of, how do you defeat that and detect and defeat that when he`s trying to obstruct the investigation itself and where is that going?  We may never know.  We`ve got -- in American history, certain mysteries that remain under seal, whether it`s tapes involving Martin Luther King, whether it`s something in the National Archives about the assassination of John F. Kennedy. 

Is this going to be another one of those American mysteries where we simply don`t know the answer? 

MADDOW:  It better not be.  Not while we`re living through it, it seems inconceivable. 

Frank Figliuzzi, former assistant director for counterintelligence at the FBI -- Frank, thank you for being here.  We really appreciate it. 

FIGLIUZZI:  My pleasure.

MADDOW:  All right.  We got much more to come tonight.  Stay with us. 


MADDOW:  As the 2020 Democratic field hits numerological nirvana with now 20 candidates declared in the race, the progressive group Indivisible signed up six of the 20 candidates in two days to what they`re calling the Indivisible Pledge for a Constructive Campaign. 

Joining us now is Ezra Levin.  He`s co-executive director of Indivisible.

Ezra, thank you for joining us tonight.  I really appreciate you being here. 


MADDOW:  So, the pledge is both for candidates and for people who are supporting a Democratic nominee in 2020.  Is the pledge the same for both groups? 

LEVIN:  The key points are exactly the same because as you mentioned, we`ve reached this point of having 20 candidates in this primary.  And news flash, 19 of them are not going to become president of the United States.  We know that right now.  That`s a fact. 

And so, our contention is that number one, primaries are great.  Primaries are an opportunity to debate the future of the progressive movement.  There are differences between these candidates. 

There are differences around what we should do about concentrated wealth and corporate power and the status of our democratic institutions and what to do about climate change.  These are things we absolutely should be using the primary to debate.  And also, at the end of the day, once we have a nominee, it is our responsibility to rally around whoever wins and not just endorse but do the work to beat Donald Trump because, you know, I don`t care whether it`s your number one pick who wins or your bottom number 20th pick who wins this nomination, they are Abraham Lincoln compared to Donald J. Trump. 

And we need to do the work to put them in office. 

MADDOW:  So, you`ve asked candidates and people supporting the eventual Democratic nominee to pledge to, number one, make the primary constructive, number two, pledge to rally behind the winner, and number three, pledge to do the work to beat Donald Trump. 

Bernie Sanders was the first candidate to sign on.  In a space of like two days, you got Sanders, then Cory Booker, then Jay Inslee, then Julian Castro, then Pete Buttigieg.  And now, this evening, Elizabeth Warren has signed on.

Usually, candidates are allergic to pledges at this point.  Do you feel like, did you have to lobby to these candidates to do it, or did you -- were you pushing on an open door here? 

LEVIN:   I think we`re going to get all the candidates here.  I think we`ve got almost a third on board.  We`ll get the rest.  It`s where the grassroots this. 

Look, this is not the Ezra Levin movement.  This is the Indivisible Movement.  There are thousands of leaders all over the country who are going to be asking these candidates on the stump to do the exact thing. 

So, you know, we have about a third of them.  We want to get the rest. 

And as you said, this is isn`t just about the candidates.  We as citizens have a responsibility to do the exact same thing.  We`ve got about 16 weeks in between the Democratic National Convention in July of 2020 and the November 2020 election. 

We`ve got to be knocking on doors.  We`ve got to be making texts.  We`ve got to be making calls in order to actually win. 

And actually, we`ve already started preregistering unity events for the weekend after the convention.  We have Indivisible events in Ohio, in Colorado, in Arizona and some of the key states being led by people who say, look, I may have a preference in this primary.  But I know at the end of the day, my role is to rally voters all around my community in order to replace Donald Trump. 

MADDOW:  Ezra Levin, co-executive director of Indivisible, again, these things seem to be catching fire.  Six of the 20 candidates already signed. 

Ezra, keep us apprised.  Thank you. 

LEVIN:  Thanks so much, Rachel.

MADDOW:  We`ll be right back.


MADDOW:  Joe Biden`s campaign announced he raised $6.3 million in the first day of his campaign.  That`s the largest total figure we`ve seen from any contender thus far this year.  At least for now, that top fund raising number matches his status at the top of the polls, as well. 

But here`s another metric: Joe Biden put Charlottesville and President Trump`s comments about fine people on both sides at the heart of his campaign announcement.  That had the instant and very unusual effect of putting President Trump back on his heels and on defense. 

Today, President Trump awkwardly trying to explain his both sides fine people thing with praise for Robert E. Lee.  Trump being asked about that based on Biden`s announcement video asking him people asking him to defend his comments on Charlottesville.  The president not having a good defense for being able to do that, reminding us that defense isn`t his strong suit. 

Biden hasn`t even been in the race for 48 hours and already got Trump to do that.  That`s something.  That`s a metric.  Ready, set, go.


MADDOW:  Thank you for being with us on this fine Friday night.  I`m going to spend the weekends chasing shad and failing to catch them.  But I will see you on Monday and if I had any fish stories, I will bring them back for you. 


Good evening, Lawrence. 

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