Interview with Michael Bennett. TRANSCRIPT: 5/2/19, The Rachel Maddow Show.

Guests: Michael Bennet

CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST:  Michael Lewis is one of the greatest nonfiction writers of our time.  You might know him from some real underground works like "Moneyball" or "The Big Short" or "The Blindside".

For his latest book, he turned his sights on what happened when Trump took office.  You`re going to hear him talk all about it when you listen to With Pod this week. 

That is ALL IN for this evening. 

"THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW" starts right now.

Good evening, Rachel. 

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST:  You and Michael Lewis, that I would eavesdrop on that. 

HAYES:  It was very fun.  I really like that.  I really like him.  It was a great conversation. 

MADDOW:  He`s a great writer.  He`s one of the few really good nonfiction writers who`s really good at talking about the subject matter that he`s been writing about without just regurgitating his writing. 

HAYES:  Incredibly, incredibly charismatic speaker, storyteller. 

MADDOW:  Exactly, well done.  And you too.  So, it`s a good combo. 

HAYES:  Well, thank you. 

MADDOW:  Anyway, all right.  Thanks, Chris. 

And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.  Very, very happy to have you with us.

Colorado Senator Michael Bennet has just announced today that he is joining the Democratic presidential field.  We will be speaking live with Senator Bennet later on this hour.  This will be his first interview since making his presidential announcement today.  Very excited to have him here on set.  He`ll be joining us in just a moment. 

I also want to let you know that we have just confirmed, just before I got on the air, we just got confirmed, that Senator Kamala Harris, one of the leading contenders for the nomination, has just confirmed with our office tonight that she will be our guest on this show here tomorrow. 

So, I know tomorrow`s Friday.  If you were planning on taking Friday off, the answer is no.  I`m not either.  I`m going to be here with Kamala Harris, so you should be here too. 

Today, though, some of the big news that happened today is that today we got word, I guess, that Robert Mueller, hence forth, shall speak for himself.  At least we sort of got that word.  Now, this is only a single source report thus far and you should consider that. 

But NBC News is reporting according to one source familiar with the matter that the Judiciary Committee in the House led by New York City Congressman Jerry Nadler, according to NBC News, that committee has begun discussions directly with Robert Mueller`s team about Mueller himself coming to testify to Congress. 

According to NBC`s reporting previously, the committee had been trying to arrange Mueller`s testimony and they had been discussing that matter with the Justice Department, assuming that the Justice Department could speak for Robert Mueller and would facilitate his testimony.  There have been multiple reports and some scathing allegations from Democratic members of Congress recently that the Justice Department has been blocking that, that they`ve been refusing to set a date for Mueller`s testimony, they`ve been slow walking the requests for Mueller`s testimony from multiple congressional committees. 

There`s been allegations from Democratic members that the Justice Department basically hasn`t been acting in good faith, despite Attorney General Barr`s public assertions that he has no objections to Mueller coming before Congress.  Well, again, this new NBC reporting tonight as yet just a single source, not yet confirmed by other news organization, but this reporting from NBC tonight is that Mueller`s team is now communicating directly with the House Judiciary Committee about Mueller coming up to testify. 

Now, we got word of that tonight right after we got word of this from Senator Amy Klobuchar.  And I`ll tell you what this is.  I will give you -- here`s the spoiler. 

This starts off kind of normal.  It`s really interesting.  I think it`s really important. 

It starts off kind of normal.  It gets very funny right at the end which is why you should hear it.  OK.  Here it is.  Here`s the date. 

You see there, May 2nd, 2019.  That`s today.  It`s addressed to Robert S. Mueller III, Office of Special Counsel, U.S. Department of Justice. 

Dear Special Counsel Mueller -- now, right off the bat, right, this is interesting.  This is not something you see every day.  This is on the letter head of a U.S. Senator, my Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, who I should mention is also running for president. 

But here she is writing one on one as a senator to the special counsel directly.  Hey, Bob.  Hey, Bob, I`ve got a thing I need from you. 

Dear Special Counsel Mueller: I write to request information related to the report on the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election which was recently completed by your office.  On May 1st, Attorney General Barr appeared before the Senate Committee on the Judiciary to testify about the evidence collected during your investigation and the findings described in your report.  Unfortunately, on numerous occasions, Attorney General Barr was unable to speak to certain sections of the report or to the underlying evidence evaluated by your office. 

The shade there is that a lot of people notice that Attorney General Barr didn`t seem to know how to answer basic factual answers about the report which gave rise to suspicions that maybe he never bothered to read it. 

Anyway, back to Klobuchar`s letter.  Quote: I asked Attorney General Barr whether your office requested and reviewed any of President Trump`s personal tax documents or the Trump Organization`s financial documents.  Attorney General Barr stated he did not know and suggested I ask you directly. 

Now, unfortunately, Chairman Lindsey Graham, chairman of the Judiciary Committee on the Senate, has made clear he does not intend to call you, Special Counsel Mueller.  He does not intend to call you to testify before the committee.  Accordingly I respectfully request you provide answers to the follow. 

Number one, did your office review President Trump`s tax returns?  If not, did you attempt to obtain the documents?  If so, what years of return did you obtain and whether documents or were any redactions made? 

Number two, did your office obtain and review financial statements from the Trump Organization?  If not, did you attempt to obtain them?  If you did obtain them, what years of statements did you obtain and were the documents complete or were any redactions made to the documents?

This is how it ends.  In addition, I respectfully request that you provide the committee with any of President Trump`s tax returns and Trump Organization`s financial statements that were obtained by your office to aide our evaluation of the report and its conclusions. 

Sincerely, Amy Klobuchar, United States senator. 

So, that`s obviously the funny part at the end.  Oh, and by the way, in addition if by any chance you did get Trump`s tax returns and financial statements, I would like those.  Thank you.  Sincerely, Senator Klobuchar.  I enclosed a self addressed stamped C-130 cargo plane.  Please just send those my way. 

Now, where this comes from is a little notice but a sharp and potentially important little exchange that happened at yesterday`s hearing between Senator Klobuchar and Attorney General Bill Barr.  It was at the very, very end of his testimony, been there for hours.  Klobuchar had had a long first round of questions with him. 

They`ve gone through the roster of senators on the committee and just came back for one quick final round where people just had a couple minutes to ask final answers.  And Klobuchar just bing bing bing bing, peppered him with a bunch of quick questions.  And I`m not sure this is how he wishes he would have responded. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Thank you.  Mr. Attorney General, on April 27th, President Trump stated Mueller, I assume, for $35 million, he checked my taxes and he checked my financials.  Is that accurate?  Did the special counsel review the president`s taxes and the Trump Organization`s financial statements? 

WILLIAM BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL:  I don`t know. 

KLOBUCHAR:  Can you find out if I ask later in a written question? 

BARR:  I -- yes, or you could ask Bob Mueller when he comes here. 

KLOBUCHAR:  OK.  I`ll do that too.  But I think I`ll also ask you and then obviously we would want to see them as underlying information.  During my earlier questions, we went through a number of actions by the president that the special counsel looked into. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  So, she just moves on.  She just moves on.  Great.  I`m going to ask you and yeah, at your suggestion, I will ask Robert Mueller directly.  I will absolutely do that. 

If the answer is yes, he got tax returns and financial statements, obviously, we`ll expect to see those as underlying information, right?  Let`s move on.  Next question.  Barr`s just like say what?  Hmm? 

So, I think it was a good use of the second round of questions from Senator Klobuchar.  I get him on the record on stuff.   Get him on the record suggesting that the senator should go directly to Robert Mueller on this question and get him on the record.  I mean, get Mueller on the record.  She should go to Mueller directly on this matter to find out what the underlying evidence was that Mueller looked at, and she should be asked him to obtain it.  OK. 

And to the extent it matters, she gets him on the record.  She gets Barr on the record not objecting when she notifies him that if Mueller did look at Trump`s taxes and financial statements, she and the committee would be furnished with those since that is underlying investigation.  William Barr struggles to keep up and swallows his tongue and says nothing. 

That`s a quick exchange.  That`s kind of what you need to move these things forward sometimes and in this case, that moved it forward, because that gave Senator Klobuchar an opening, in fact an invitation, by the attorney general for her to start communicating directly with Robert Mueller rather than going through him or going through the Justice Department.  And so, Amy Klobuchar has written to Mueller and opened up that line of communication with the office.  We shall see. 

I think now that we know a little bit more about what has been going on in Robert Mueller`s life recently, now that we have seen his letter which was made public yesterday which is him memorializing in print and laying out clearly the battle that he has been in with Attorney General William Barr over Barr misrepresenting Mueller`s findings and trying to submarine Mueller`s whole investigation and misrepresenting to the public.  One of the things that does is puts Mueller himself back at the center of this drama. 

After what we have now seen and heard about the behavior of Attorney General William Barr when it comes to Mueller and Mueller`s report, it should be no surprise that committee chairman and members of the Judiciary Committees are going to open up communication with Mueller directly rather than routing anything through William Barr ever again.  I mean, at this point, based on what we`ve seen just from Mueller himself, it`s clear that Attorney General William Barr is the last person on earth you should be contacting if you were seeking true information about Robert Mueller or his investigation, because now, we`ve got Mueller on the record saying Barr has been mischaracterizing his work and mishandling his work, right? 

So, the whole idea that Barr is the one you go to if you want to know anything about this investigation or about Mueller himself, that`s over now.  Barr himself today elected not to turn up and testify in front of the House Judiciary Committee.  That will take some time to resolve as a conflict.  Barr had volunteered today to testify today.  That`s what he backed out.  He wasn`t subpoenaed to testify.  Now they will likely subpoena him to testify.  If he refuses to testify in response to the subpoena, they`ll have to fight back. 

Ultimately, they may decide to hold him in contempt of Congress.  That, too, will be a somewhat lengthy process.  By the time Barr finally does agree to sit down in front of Jerry Nadler and the House Judiciary Committee and their professional staff, we will presumably by that point be some distance further down the road in this ongoing scandal. 

One side benefit of that delay is that by that point, William Barr will hopefully no longer be seen as the guy you`re supposed to ask questions of about Robert Mueller.  By that point whenever he does sit down with House Judiciary, right, what he does decide that he`s willing to face Democrat question, he will presumably no longer be thought of as the guy who is supposed to explain Robert Mueller. 

At this point, by the time that`s going to happen -- by the time he sits down and does that, the reason they`re going to want to talk to him is no longer going to be that Barr isn`t the one who`s explaining Mueller.  At that point, presumably, the reason they will want to talk to William Barr is because of Barr`s own behavior, is because of what Mueller himself says is Barr`s mishandling of his investigation, his misrepresentation of Mueller`s finding, his creation of public confusion about what Mueller did and Mueller found. 

And to that point, to that point of William Barr`s behavior and what he has done here and how it may be affecting what we know about the investigation and what impact its having on the presidency, to that point after his testimony yesterday, we are still trying to get to the bottom of this. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY (R-IA):  Was it Special Counsel Mueller`s responsibility to make a charging recommendation? 

BARR:  I think the deputy attorney general and I thought it was.  But -- but not just charging, but to determine whether or not conduct was criminal.  The president would be charged -- could not be charged as long as he was in office. 

GRASSLEY:  Do you agree with the reasons that he offered for not making a decision in volume two of his report?  And why or why not? 

BARR:  I`m not really sure of his reasoning.  I think that if he felt that he shouldn`t go down the path of making a traditional prosecution decision then he shouldn`t have investigated.  That was the time to pull up. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  That was the time to pull up.  I`m going to land this plane.  I guess they`re saying pull it up. 

I mean, the Justice Department and Attorney General William Barr have confirmed that Robert Mueller told Barr that he didn`t believe he was allowed to make a declaration as to whether or not President Trump committed crimes because of the Justice Department policy that says you cannot charge a sitting president. 

As Mueller explained in his report, if you can`t charge someone, it`s not fair to accuse them of a crime.  And the whole point of charging someone is that you then give them their day in court so they can defeat the charges, they can beat the charges if they didn`t commit the crime, so they can clear their name so they can be acquitted.  You don`t give an accused criminal that right if they never get their day in court, right, if you only accuse them of crimes without actually charging them and putting them on trial and letting them prove they didn`t do it, right? 

That was Mueller`s reasoning, whether or not you agree with reasoning, that is what Mueller explained in his report about why he felt constrained by Justice Department policy that he couldn`t say one way or the other whether the president committed crimes when it came to obstruction of justice.

Well, William Barr and the Justice Department say that they learned that that was Mueller`s position at a meeting between Barr and Mueller on March 5th -- March 5th of this year.  That`s the first time the two of these guys met after William Barr was sworn in as attorney general, after he was cleared by the Justice Department ethics office to take over oversight of Mueller`s work. 

Well, how did William Barr respond to that news flash from Mueller when Mueller told Barr on March 5th that he believed he couldn`t make a traditional prosecution decision about the president?  How did Barr take that?  How did he respond? 

Well, now we know, in his own words. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARR:  I think that if he felt that he shouldn`t go down the path of making a traditional prosecutive decision, they shouldn`t have investigated.  That was the time to pull up. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  So, that was the time to pull up.  If you`re not making a charging decision and you say you`re not, then the way William Barr thinks about it means you can`t be investigating.  You can`t be using grand juries.  You can`t be using subpoenas.  You can`t be using all the tools that prosecutors use to investigate toward the ultimate aim of assembling a criminal case. 

You can`t do that.  You can`t use any of those tools not if you`re not going to assemble a criminal case.  Not if you`re not going to file charges you can`t be investigating if at the end of the day you are not going to charge, says the brand-new attorney general, newly installed to oversee Robert Mueller`s work. 

And less than three weeks after that first meeting, we get word from the Justice Department that Robert Mueller`s investigation is over and his report is in.  Two and a half weeks after Barr was allowed to take over oversight of the Mueller investigation, the Mueller investigation was ended. 

Did Barr end it basically as soon as he got into the Justice Department?  What he has explained since then in public testimony is his own belief that Mueller had no right to even look at potential obstruction of justice by the president, to investigate the president`s conduct at all, not if Mueller at the end of the day wasn`t going to declare the president could be charged with a crime. 

So, we`re still trying to figure that out.  I will note for the record just as an aside that there are two volumes of the Mueller report, right?  Volume one is about Russia.  Volume two is about obstruction.  The obstruction starts and ends with Robert Mueller justifying and defending the fact that his office had been conducting this investigation about the president`s behavior in the first place, justifying and defending that they were investigating the president for obstruction of justice even though they weren`t considering charging him. 

I mean, the way he described it at the very end, very final section of volume two of the report, that was Mueller`s defense of the fact that his office was working to, quote, ascertain whether the president violated obstruction statutes.  Their defense of the fact they were even trying to ascertain that by the president`s behavior is the end, is the closing argument of the obstruction section.  That`s page 178.  It`s the last thing they argue. 

That same defense, the fact they were investigating the president at all is literally on page one of the obstruction section as well.  Page one of the obstruction says, while the OLC opinion concludes that a sitting president cannot be prosecuted, it recognizes that a criminal investigation during the president`s term is permissible. 

So, why is it that Mueller and the special counsel`s office felt it was necessary to open and close the whole obstruction section of their report with a defense of the fact that they had been investigating the president at all?  Who was asking them to justify that? 

I mean, is that at all related to the fact that the attorney general has now articulated multiple times in public that he believes that Mueller wasn`t going to say at the end of the day whether President Trump committed crimes or not, that Mueller shouldn`t have been investigating Trump at all, at that point the investigation is inappropriate?  I mean, did Barr shut Mueller down when Mueller told him he wasn`t going to say whether or not he was going to be charged?  If so, was the grounds on which he did so, that Barr think that precludes you from even investigating? 

I don`t know.  And neither do you.  But Robert Mueller knows.  And now, according to this new reporting from NBC News tonight, the Judiciary Committee in the House is negotiating with Mueller directly to arrange his testimony, whereupon he can presumably tell us that and everything else he knows. 

Here`s the flip side though which I think is the worrying part here for Attorney General William Barr and for the White House.  Over the last 24 hours or so, you`ve seen headlines like this one, right?  Republicans turn against Mueller.  You have seen the attorney general himself calling Mueller snitty, saying that Mueller`s whole investigation was based on a false accusation and it was illegitimate. 

We saw this letter today from the president`s Russia lawyer, from Emmet Flood, deriding Robert Mueller, saying what Mueller turned in was some sort of law school exam paper, saying that all that Mueller`s investigation produced was a bunch of political statements in that report.  Emmet Flood sneering at Mueller`s report and his findings by calling the report from Mueller a, quote, prosecutorial curiosity. 

We`re watching Republicans in Congress and the White House and the president`s legal defenders all starting to round on Robert Mueller.  Forget all the stuff like, oh, Mueller`s an honorable guy.  Oh, Mueller`s exonerated the president. 

No, now, it`s Mueller is deranged.  Mueller is terrible at his job.  Muller`s a disaster. 

And the problem for them as they make that turn is that Mueller is alive and Mueller is starting to communicate with the outside world in his own terms that we now know includes at least some lines of communication directly from the Judiciary Committees to him.  And that puts William Barr and the Trump White House in a bit of a corner here because in order to cast dispersions on what was wrong with Mueller`s investigation and what`s deficient about Mueller himself, in order possibly to have justified shutting down Mueller`s investigation in the first place once Barr took over as attorney general, they`ve had to make this aggressive argument about what it is that Mueller did wrong, right?  What was so wrong about Mueller saying that he felt constrained by Justice Department policy, such that he did not believe he was allowed to say whether or not the president committed crimes.  They have hung their hat on that being the disaster of what Mueller did, right? 

I mean, here`s how Barr himself put it in his opening statement for the Senate yesterday.  Quote: The role of the federal prosecutor and purpose of a criminal investigation are well-defined.  Prosecutors work with grand juries to collect evidence to determine whether a crime has been committed.  Once the prosecutor has exhausted his investigation into the facts of the case, here, she faces a binary choice, to either commence or decline prosecution. 

The appointment of a special counsel and the investigation of the conduct of the president do not change these rules.  At the end of the day, the federal prosecutor must decide yes or no. 

The federal prosecutor must decide yes or no. 

Ryan Goodman singled out this part of Barr`s opening statement yesterday at Just Security, noting that this might make for great rhetoric for Barr deriding Mueller, claiming that Mueller didn`t do his job, but it also creates a really big problem for what happens next as long as Mueller is alive and can speak for himself on his own terms. 

Quote: In his report, Mueller took the view that he didn`t have authority under the Justice Department`s legal opinions to make a federal criminal accusation against a sitting president.  Barr`s statement to the Senate now resets that framework.  Indeed, Barr`s clarification of the rules appears to state that Mueller has a duty to make exactly that call about the president.  Whether or not Barr articulated this legal framework to justify his decision in the Mueller investigation, what it means is that special counsel Robert Mueller may now be able or in fact required to say on the record whether he believes President Donald Trump committed the crime of obstruction.  Mueller should have the opportunity to do so in congressional testimony soon. 

In other words, all these guys, Barr and the rest of them, they`re all roundly denouncing Mueller for having botched this investigation, when he refused to state that President Trump committed crimes.  I mean, it may, in fact, be possible that Barr told Mueller the investigation must end if he was going to continue to refuse to say if President Trump committed crimes.

Well, Robert Mueller is about to come to Congress to testify as far as we can tell.  And if this whole attack on Mueller`s findings and what might be the effort to shut down Mueller was all based on it being a huge problem that Mueller wouldn`t say whether or not Trump should be charged.  If Barr is demanding now that what the Justice Department rules say is that Robert Mueller must declare if Donald Trump committed crimes, well, it no longer matters whether the report says that, right? 

We`re in the new phase of the report, maybe the past on that point.  And in the future, what this will mean is that Robert Mueller will be sworn in before a congressional committee and he will be asked by Jerry Nadler or by Amy Klobuchar or by Kamala Harris or any of these folks, and Robert Mueller will not just be able to explain under oath whether or not he believes the president committed crimes, he may be obligated, under the Justice Department rules, as newly explained by Attorney General William Barr.  He may be obligated to say, to declare if the president is a criminal and if that is what his investigation found.  That is the box that Attorney General William Barr has created for himself and for the White House the way he has attacked Robert Mueller. 

And now, it is Robert Mueller`s time to speak. 

More ahead.  Stay with us. 

(COMMERCILA BREAK)

MADDOW:  A lot of the still photos that we use on the show come to us by a photo bank run by "The Associated Press".  If you search for Colorado senator in that photo bank, you get a ton of photos of the Ottawa Senators, an NHL team, playing the Colorado Avalanche. 

But you also get this oddly titled album, "Colorado`s mystery senator."  You see how that`s the title there?  Colorado`s mystery senator.

In that album, you get this photo of the mystery senator getting out of a car, then this one of him wearing protective eyewear, touring a lab wearing a nice suit.  There`s also one of him wearing slightly larger protective eyewear.  This time, he`s got a hard hat. 

All those photos ran with this "A.P." story titled "Colorado is still sizing up its new senator".  This was in 2009, because Michael Bennet was still relatively unknown not just in Washington as a new senator but even to people in his own state. 

2009 is the year that Michael Bennet was appoint today the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Ken Salazar when Ken Salazar was brought to Washington.  When Salazar got that nod, every well-known Democrat, every ambitious Democrat holding office in the state of Colorado wanted to be in the running for that appointment to the U.S. Senate. 

The surprise pick though was this guy who had no statewide profile at all.  He was the superintendent of the Denver public school system.  School superintendent to U.S. senator are -- not necessarily dots that you would think would ever connect.  They don`t usually connect to each other without anything else in between. 

But that is what happened to Michael Bennet.  Bennett was a Yale-educated lawyer.  He`d been at the Justice Department under President Clinton.  After practicing law, he entered the private sector, became managing director at an investment firm run by a really conservative politically active billionaire.  Bennet was not conservative, and not a Republican, but he thrived there, made a bunch of money.  He did end up becoming managing director. 

But the public service bug really bit him.  And when his friend became the mayor of Denver, a man by the name of John Hickenlooper, you might heard of him, Bennett said yes when the new Denver mayor asked him to become his chief of staff at city hall. 

From there, Bennet went on to run Denver`s public schools despite having no previous background in public education.  If you need a barometer as to how he did in that job, consider that within just a few years of taking that gig, he was the runner up to be education secretary for the whole country under President Obama.

So, yes, Michael Bennet may have been a mystery senator when he was appointed in 2009, but he was an impressive mystery, right?  What was challenging in terms of the politics is that Bennet was only appointed in 2009 with zero name recognition and having never run a campaign in his life.  But after getting appointed in 2009, he actually had to get reelected and to get sort of reelected to hold the seat the very next year in 2010. 

And remember 2010 was a huge backlash year against the Democratic Party, a huge red wave that year. 

In that "A.P." article, the one with the mystery senator photos, they talked to Republicans in Colorado who are excited but also a little wary about the prospect of picking him off.  Quote: Republicans saying Michael Bennet is an untested newbie they can pick off next year.  But privately, they say Bennet has shown he has some serious political chops. 

They probably further thought they had him on the ropes after he came out in favor of Obamacare and put it this way. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I want to try one question on you, as a new senator who`s on the ballot next year, in a tough state, if you get to the final point and you are a critical vote for health care reform and every piece of evidence tells you if you support that bill, you will lose the job, would you cast the vote and lose your job? 

SEN. MICHAEL BENNET (D), COLORADO:  Yes. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  All right.  That tape will be held, I hate to tell you that.  But that tape will be held. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:   That tape was held.  Bennet did vote for Obamacare in the United States Senate.  But he got reelected in Colorado in 2010 in that red, red Tea Party year, this brand-new senator who nobody had heard of a year before -- I mean, in the primary he had to beat a Democratic challenger that had the backing of Bill Clinton.  After having a tougher than you would expect primary, he then had to go on to the general.  He eked out a win against a strong but slightly insane Republican in a year when a lot of slightly insane Republicans actually did great.  Democrats lost six Senate seats that year, but not Michael Bennet`s. 

In a purple state, Michael Bennet held on in the worst possible environment.  By the time he was up for re-election again in 2016, he was definitely no longer a mystery.  He won by over 150,000 votes.  During Bennet`s time in the Senate, he`s gotten the reputation as, God forbid, a man who reads.  I know. 

He is known to be a senator who is pragmatic.  He`s still pretty low profile and soft spoken except when he`s not.  Like this signal moment where he blew his stack at Texas Senator Ted Cruz on what was then day 34 of the government shutdown. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX):  So, the only thing that is necessary to pass a clean bill paying the salaries of every man and woman in the coast guard is for the Democratic senators to withdraw their objection, is that correct? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  That`s correct. 

CRUZ:  Thank you. 

BENNET:  Madam President. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Senator from Colorado. 

BENNET:  Madam President, I seldom as you know rise on this floor to contradict somebody on the other side.  I worked very hard over the years to work in a bipartisan way the presiding officer with my Republican colleagues.  But these crocodile tears that senator from Texas is crying for first responders are too hard for me to take. 

They`re too hard for me to take because when you -- when the senator from Texas shut this government down in 2013, my state was flooded.  It was underwater!  People were killed!  Peoples` houses were destroyed!  Their small businesses were ruined forever. 

This government is shut down over a promise the president of the United States couldn`t keep!  And then America is not interested in having him keep. 

This idea that he was going to build a medieval wall across the southern border of Texas, take it from the farmers and ranchers that were there, and have the Mexicans pay for it isn`t true! 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Senator Michael Bennet is no longer a mystery, but he is occasionally still surprising.  He is also, as of today, the latest entrant in a field of Democratic candidates for president that has 21 people running as of today and counting.  Senator Michael Bennet joins us here next. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Joining us now for the interview is Michael Bennet.  He`s the senior senator from the great state of Colorado.  As of today, he`s the newest entrant in the Democratic presidential field. 

Senator, congratulations.  Thanks for being here. 

BENNET:  Thank you.  Thanks for having me.

MADDOW:  How has day one been? 

BENNET:  It`s been good.  I told my mom I was going to be 22nd or somebody had to be 22.  I`m 21st. 

MADDOW:  You`re 21.

BENNET:  I am, so I`m actually -- 

MADDOW:  You`re moving up in the polls. 

BENNET:  I thought I was.  It`s been a good day. 

MADDOW:  I will say I`ve been looking forward in particular to you declaring so that I could say, this year`s candidates include Beto, Bernie, Buttigieg, Booker, Biden, Bullock and Bennet. 

BENNET:  That`s good.

MADDOW:  So, Bullock is not -- he hasn`t declared, but there`s an article yesterday that said he`s going to run.

BENNET:  Right.

MADDOW:  I mean, the point there is there`s a lot of B`s, but also that there`s so many Democrats running but even alphabetical sorting doesn`t help at this point. 

BENNET:  Yes.

MADDOW:  So, how does -- how does the size of the field, the fact that there were 20 people ahead of you in the pool affect your decision about getting in? 

BENNET:  Well, I think in some ways, it made it possible to be honest with you because if there were two people in the field and if people said who`s this guy who`s the superintendent from Denver, it might make it hard for me to run and compete.  I think that the field is as big as it is has coalesced as little as it has creates real opportunity for all of us that are in the race and there are some great people in the race. 

Overall, I`m really happy that we`ve got a large diverse field in part because I think the American people don`t know what the National Democratic Party stands for and we`re going to use this process, I hope, to figure out what it does stand for so we can beat Donald Trump. 

MADDOW:  Because President Trump is a different kind of president and because people, I think, particularly in the Democratic side of the ledger believe that he may be a uniquely bad president or uniquely threatening president in term of American traditions, I think even more so than usual, a lot of the discussion is electability -- 

BENNET:  Right.

MADDOW:  -- who can win, and more broadly, how can this giant primary be conducted in such a way that it`s going to be putting a nominee forward who is as strong as possible, who has the best chance of winning. 

Do you have concrete ideas about that or do you feel like it will work itself out? 

BENNET:  Well, I think it will work itself out. 

MADDOW:  Yes.

BENNET:  I know a lot of these people.  I think they`re good people. 

There`s nothing wrong with having a competition of ideas.  We should have a competition of ideas.  We should see what Democratic voters want and want to support. 

I agree with you that the essential question is going to be who can beat Donald Trump.  That should be our number one question.  But we also go into the point of the fate or the state of our republic.  We have got -- it`s shambles.  And we have got to figure out how to govern this country again. 

I mean, one of the reasons I got in was I came to believe if you look at the last ten years of our political system which was mostly a case of tyranny by the Freedom Caucus, we got almost nothing done.  And if we have another ten years like that, my generation`s going to be the first generation of Americans to leave less opportunities, not more, for people coming after us. 

In other words, I don`t accept that we can continue to accept the degraded political conversation we`re having in this country and a degradation of our institutions and expect our exercise of self-government is going to actually work.  And that is not just a Trump problem.  He is a huge manifestation of that problem, but that existed long before he was there.  It existed because of the Tea Party.  It existed because of Mitch McConnell`s strategic cravenness or craven strategicness. 

And I think Democrats need to own up to the fact that we haven`t won every one of those battles and what are we going to do different to stop losing on judges and on climate and to be able to actually create universal health care in this country rather than just have a debate where they ignore us and ignore us and ignore us, and we don`t really make progress, I don`t think, with the American people.  That is a big task for us. 

MADDOW:  Do you think that -- I mean, one of the things, you wrote this manifesto today, and one of the things you described there was that the solution to that can`t be that Democrats have to win everywhere, that you have to have Democrats have uni-party (ph) rule because as long as the Republicans are there nothing will happen and once you`re in power all you have to do is roll back everything the other party did. 

You`re talking about an idea where there has to be, again, a sense that both parties have a role in pluralistic governing.  And I -- if I had a magic wand, I would that to be true too.  I feel like better ideas come from competition among potentially pliable and viable ideas from both sides. 

But because of what you`re describing there, whether it`s Mitch McConnell or the Freedom Caucus or anything else from the Republican Party, I don`t think there`s any hope at all for Republicans and Democrats to work anything out. 

BENNET:  First of all, let me profoundly thank you for actually reading -- 

(CROSSTALK)

MADDOW:  Oh, I read the whole thing.  I even have a quote from a part that I`m bothered by. 

BENNET:  Well, good.  I hope you`ll raise the part you`re bothered by. 

MADDOW:  I will.

BENNET:  And I hope will go read it because I`ve spent some time on it, and I think that it`s -- you know, I hope that it`s provocative.  I was trying to be provocative, because there are a lot of people who feel like you do. 

And let me be clear about this.  I do not believe the Freedom Caucus can be negotiated with.  I do not believe they can be compromised with.  I do not believe Mitch McConnell will ever do that unless -- I mean, when I think about Mitch McConnell, I think of a guy who`s completely immune to give and take unless he`s taking everything which he often does and he often has over the ten years that I`ve been in the Senate. 

But I represent a state that`s a third Republican, a third Democratic, and a third independent.  And I don`t think those Republicans and independents are represented by the Freedom Caucus in Washington.  I think the Freedom Caucus in Washington is supported by a few billionaires in this country and by Fox News.  And so is Donald Trump, by the way. 

And at a certain point, we`ve got to find a way to beat them.  We have to find a way to close over them.  And I think the way to do that is by isolating them and then by pursuing a set of policies that are popular to the broad swath of the American people. 

So, we`re not just talking to the coast.  We`re not just talking to people who already agree with us or are convinced by us.  But we`re actually making an effort to reach out because I do any we need to build a constituency for change in this country. 

It`s really easy to have a constituency to keep stuff the same that we`ve seen that for ten years.  What have we accomplished?  I mean, we were able to pass the Affordable Care Act, some of it through reconciliation, and that`s a good thing.  They were able to pass their tax bill.  That`s a bad thing.  And I suppose we could say Dodd-Frank. 

Other than that, we`ve really done nothing.  And so, we have to find, I think, a way in this country to reconstruct that pluralist politics and the argument -- one of the arguments I make in my piece is that everywhere in America that goes on every single day except in Congress. 

And the whole system is based on the idea not that we will agree with each other but we will disagree with each other.  Rachel Maddow will have her views.  Michael Bennet will have his views.  Kamala Harris, who`s coming on tomorrow, will have hers.  And Mayor Pete will have his.  And then you got the Republicans.

And what we have to do is figure out how to go back to a place where we don`t expect unanimity.  We don`t have a tyrant or a king to tell us what to think.  We expect to have division and disagreements. 

How do we fashion those disagreements into imaginative and durable solutions is the work of a democracy.  And we have completely lost it in our time. 

MADDOW:  Michael Bennet is the senior senator from Colorado.  You`ll stay there, I promise I`ll tell you about what bugged me in your piece. 

BENNET:  I want you to too. 

MADDOW:  Good.  I also have a question for you -- I`m going to break my rule about never talking to people about their families. 

BENNET:  OK.

MADDOW:  I have a good reason to break that rule with you.

BENNET:  All right. 

MADDOW:  We`ll be right back with Senator Michael Bennet after this. 

BENNET:  Thank you very much.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Back with us now is Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado.  He announced today that he is running to be the Democratic nominee for president. 

Senator, thank you for sticking around.

BENNET:  Thank you for letting me sit around.

MADDOW:  All right.  I want to ask you about your dad. 

BENNET:  This is just like being at home without a TV between the two of us.  I appreciate it.

MADDOW:  Well, sort of.  You can`t turn me off quite as easily. 

BENNET:  That`s true.  You can`t walk away.

MADDOW:  The mute button doesn`t work in person. 

I`m asking you about your dad which is an awkward thing. 

BENNET:  Yes.

MADDOW:  I would not do this for most candidates, but you are a special case.  You were born in India, I learned today, because your dad was working for the U.S. embassy there at the time you were born. 

Your father was an assistant to Vice President Hubert Humphrey.  He was staffer to Senator Thomas Eagleton.  He was staff director of the Senate Budget Committee. 

He was the head of USAID under President Carter.  He was an assistant secretary of state under President Clinton.  He was the president of NPR and he was the president of Wesleyan University where you ultimately got your undergrad. 

And I think that my dad is awesome, obviously, but that`s like the combined resume of 10 men. 

BENNET:  Yes.

MADDOW:  How has that affected you?  That`s slightly insane. 

BENNET:  Somebody today has said to me that they found a resume that put our two resumes together it was somebody I worked with before at the Justice Department. 

MADDOW:  It`s like an encyclopedia of jobs. 

BENNET:  I mean, look, my family, when I was in the second grade -- my brother remembers this -- when I was in the second grade, we were asking in my classroom to line up byes who family, the most recent whose family was here the longest.  And I was the answer to both questions. 

My mom and her parents were Polish Jews who survived the Holocaust.  They went to Stockholm two years, in Warsaw after that, went to Stockholm, went to Mexico City, came back.  Came to New York, the only country in the world they thought they could rebuild their shattered lives and they had a business in New York and they paid for my education and my kids` education.  Because of them, I had every benefit that anybody in America could be conferred. 

My dad because he had all this public interest jobs couldn`t actually support us the same way that my immigrant grandparents did -- 

MADDOW:  Your immigrant mom did, yes.

BENNET:  -- but -- and his family actually went all the way back to the Mayflower.  People we don`t remember were leaving religious persecution. 

So, it`s an odd thing that I -- a family that I was raised in but the commitment to our country and to opportunity and the idea that we are a pluralist society, and if you come here, you are an American no matter where you came from, somebody who contribute to society, and the idea we all have a responsibility to make it better, not take it for granted, understand how meaningful the symbol is to people in the rest of the world who don`t have benefit of free press, benefit of the rule of law, benefit of an independent judiciary.  Those where is all things that my grandparents, you know, intuitively understood. 

And my dad`s believe was that public service was noble and I was raised believing it was noble.  I still believe it`s noble.  I -- you know, when I see what`s going on in the Justice Department today, a place where you said I worked and I did work, by and large the people in that agency are unbelievable patriots, committed to the rule of law, committed to this country. 

We have got to restore that.  We`ve got to restore decency in the federal government.  We`ve got to restore integrity in the federal government. 

The Tea Party has done an unbelievable job of separating the American government, the federal government from the people in America.  And I worry a lot about that.  That`s the stuff that when they`re saying, you know, when they shut the government down, when they do all that stuff and then they go -- Ted Cruz is my favorite on this -- they go back and say, see how terrible those guys are?  They deserve their 9 percent approval rating. 

But the reality is, that is the way we make decisions in America.  It`s not how they`re making in China.  It`s not how they`re made in Iran or in Russia.  That is how they`re made here. 

And the federal government in many ways is corrupt.  It`s bankrupt.  It`s controlled by big donors.  It -- we have all kinds of problems that we`ve got to solve. 

But we can`t turn away from it.  We have to fix it.  We have to solve it.  And that`s how my dad would have felt about it, and that`s how my grandparents would have felt about it and that`s how I feel about it. 

MADDOW:  Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado, I have a million things to ask you about, and it just means you have to come back. 

BENNET:  I`ll come back because I want to hear the critique of what I wrote. 

MADDOW:  Oh, just wait.  Thank you, sir.

BENNET:  Thanks for having me.

MADDOW:  I really appreciate you being here. 

BENNET:  I really appreciate it.

MADDOW:  Today was day one of Senator Michael Bennet`s run for the presidency.  It`s -- I love -- it`s an honor to have all these conversations with these candidates, particularly early on as they`re starting to run.  This has become the most fun thing about my job. 

We`ll be right back. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  One final story for you tonight before we go.  I want to close out the show with a little bit of new reporting tonight.  And it`s about the House Intelligence Committee and the team of staffers and investigators that that committee`s chairman, Adam Schiff, has been building to investigate, among other things, the president`s conduct both before and during his time in office, with a particular eye toward the president`s business dealings and finances. 

Congress man Schiff has explained over a period of months that he believed that Mueller was not looking at the president`s taxes and finances.  And he believed that meant the intelligence committee needed to do so in order to find out if that path led toward any evidence of the president potentially being compromised by a foreign power.  Earlier this week, as reported in "The Daily Beast" that Chairman Schiff has hired the former chief of the financial crimes division at FBI, a guy named Patrick Fallon, who is the newest staffer on House Intelligence Committee. 

We can add a little bit of new reporting on that tonight.  An intelligence committee staffer tells us tonight that former FBI financial crimes chief Fallon, he is one of six full-time staffers on Schiff`s team investigating the president now, one of six. 

In addition to that FBI financial crimes veteran Patrick Fallon, Schiff`s team includes three former assistant U.S. attorneys, and a Russian speaking investigator.  That core team will be supplemented by several other committee staffers who will devote significant portions of their time to the ongoing investigations. 

So, six staffers working full time on presidential investigation, in the House, in the Intelligence Committee into the president`s business and finances and conduct.  While, of course, the president does everything he can to slow them down.  Full speed ahead. 

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

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

Good evening, Lawrence. 

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