CAROLINE FREDRICKSON, PRESIDENT, AMERICAN CONSTITUTION SOCIETY: People say that Chief Justice Roberts is very worried about the status of the court and proceeds incrementally. But I don`t think the others are there, and I`m not really sure that he`s there.
I mean, we`ve already seen that they have indicated they are ready to undue a decision they issued a couple years ago, which found law and constitutional for putting some real constraints on women`s access to abortion and I think it could happen any time.
CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: And you only need four votes to take the case and the wrangling begins.
Laura Bassett and Caroline Fredrickson, thank you both for joining me.
LAURA BASSETT, SENIOR CULTURE AND POLITICS REPORTER, HUFFPOST: Thank you.
FREDERICKSON: Thank you.
HAYES: That is ALL IN for this evening.
"THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW" starts now.
Good evening, Rachel.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Thanks, my friend. Much appreciated.
HAYES: You bet.
MADDOW: And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.
Today, I learned that President Trump`s campaign chairman is a lawyer, or at least he was a lawyer until today. You are forgiven if you never really thought of Paul Manafort as a real legal eagle, but today, I learned he was a lawyer when he was formally disbarred in the District of Columbia because of his multiple felony convictions for crimes, quote, involving moral turpitude.
Paul Manafort turns out had been admitted to the D.C. bar in 1979. He was sentenced earlier this year to 7-1/2 years in federal prison for multiple felonies. Today, CNN reports that after his initial imprisonment in Virginia, he was then moved to a prison in eastern Pennsylvania where he was initially processed to start his federal sentence.
CNN reports and we have confirmed that Manafort has now settled in to sort of his forever home at FCI Loretto, which is the federal correctional institute at Loretto, Pennsylvania, which is about halfway between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh.
Fun fact about FCI Loretto, used to be a Catholic seminary. Now, it is home to Donald J. Trump presidential campaign chairman inmate number 35207- 016.
Now, there is the possibility that Mr. Manafort will be moved out of FCI Loretto so he can be closer to his next round of trial proceedings. You`ll recall that Mr. Manafort was also indicted on New York state charges right after he got his federal sentence. But for now, at least, he is at the old seminary in Western PA, and today he was disbarred in the District of Columbia.
Of course, the president`s longtime personal lawyer also reported to federal prison this week. He also got his number. Michael Cohen is now federal inmate number 86067-054.
I don`t know what kind of access Mr. Cohen has while he`s in prison to the news of the world, but it`s interesting to think about him going to prison this particular week, right? I mean, we don`t know if Michael Cohen right now is aware of the news that Donald Trump Jr. was just subpoenaed to testify to the Senate Intelligence Committee. He is reportedly planning to defy that subpoena and face legal consequences for doing so.
I mean, does Michael Cohen know that? I mean, Michael Cohen has just gone to prison and, remember, Michael Cohen has just gone to prison in part for arranging to pay hush money to two women right before the presidential election. Donald Trump Jr. is one of the people who actually signed the checks that paid for that whole hush money scheme.
But Donald Trump Jr. is at large. Michael Cohen is in prison. Michael Cohen is also in prison now for lying to the Intelligence Committees about the Trump Tower Moscow real estate deal that he worked to arrange throughout the campaign while the president was publicly maintaining that he had no business deals in Russia.
Well, this week, Donald Trump Jr. is facing that subpoena to come back and testify again to the Senate Intelligence Committee, reportedly specifically about Trump Tower Moscow because of perceived problems with his testimony on that same subject before the same committees. I mean, inmate number 86067-054, the man on your left, is in federal prison right now for felonies that he committed that did not benefit itself, right?
The lies about the Moscow real estate deals with the Kremlin and the scheme to pay off the women before the election, those were crimes that did not benefit Michael Cohen, those were crimes that benefitted Donald Trump and the Trump campaign and the Trump family business. The president`s son literally signed the checks in the hush money scheme and his testimony on Trump Tower Moscow appears to hue very closely to what Michael Cohen said about the Trump Tower Moscow plan, for which Michael Cohen was sent to prison.
So, I mean, it has to be an awkward time right now in the president`s closest circles right now, right? One of the things that Michael Cohen testified to Congress about before he went to prison were these financial statements that he says were used by the Trump Organization and the president himself when seeking loans from banks and as a means of describing the president`s overall financial health while he was trying to get favorable treatment in his various insurance policies. Michael Cohen handed over those documents to Congress and bluntly told Congress in his testimony that these firearm statements were false representations of the president`s financial status. He told Congress bluntly that these financial statements were used to commit bank fraud and insurance fraud.
Well, today, interesting turn of events. Back on March 20th after Michael Cohen`s testimony, including about those financial statements, the Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings followed up on Cohen`s testimony biform ally requested a whole boatload of documents about Trump from the firm that prepared those firearm statements on Trump`s behalf. The firm which is an accounting firm called Mazars, their initial response is very measured and very cautious. When they first got this big document request from Elijah Cummings, they simply said Mazars believe strongly in the ethical and professional rules and regulations that govern our industry, our work and our client interactions.
Soon, Mazars got their legal P`s and Q`s in order and sent this back to Elijah Cummings, a lawyer letter from them telling Congressman Cummings, as I`m sure you can appreciate, Mazars cannot formally turn over the documents sought in the request. Emphasis on voluntarily, because the firm went on to helpfully point out that were there a validly issued and enforceable subpoena tell them to hand over the documents, well, then they wouldn`t have a choice. Then they wouldn`t be voluntarily handing the stuff over. Then there would be no problem.
And so behold, a subpoena was born. And what happened upon the issuance of that friendly subpoena to Mazars was interesting. The president himself hired a whole new boatload of lawyers who are specifically charged with trying to keep his financial history and his taxes secret.
And those newly hired lawyers got right to work. They contacted Mazars, the accounting firm and told Mazars that Mazars should not respond to this subpoena from Congress. Then, within a week, the president`s new lawyers who`ve been hired to keep his finances and his taxes secret, they filed a lawsuit by the president, the president personally suing his accounting firm to try to stop them from complying with this subpoena, this subpoena that orders them to hand over his financial documents, including the financial statements that firm prepared that the president`s lawyers said under oath he saw used to commit bank fraud and insurance fraud.
The president sues the accounting firm to try to stop the firm from handing over information about him and he sues Elijah Cummings, chairman of the Oversight Committee, to try to stop him from demanding those documents.
Now, that lawsuit the president filed here is not a thing of beauty, as all by all legal accounts. But Elijah Cummings did agree once that lawsuit was filed that he would delay the subpoena`s deadline ordering that accounting firm to hand stuff over. He would allow for a delay. They would not have to meet the subpoena`s deadline to submit those documents while this lawsuit was being heard. So that`s what the president`s paying for with all these new private lawyers, right, who he has hired at personal expense to try to keep his taxes and his finances secret.
I mean, that lawsuit that they filed at least buys Trump some time. It at least gets this thing into the courts. It at least slows everything down, right? Maybe he can drag this out forever now, right?
Maybe not. Today, the judge that`s assigned to hear that case said, you know what? I actually want to go fast here. Next week was supposed to be an initial round of stuff on there maybe being a preliminary injunction in the Mazars case and then maybe another round of stuff on maybe there being a permanent injunction on the Mazars case and then after that another round of stuff on the merits of the case. That I eventually get to the merits some day down the road.
That had been the initial plan, but today the judge said, nope, there is no need for that kind of a drawn out schedule. Let`s do all those things all together all on the same day all next week. And then the judge said he`d go ahead and rule right then and there that day.
Quote: The sole question before the court is, is the House Oversight Committee`s issuance of a subpoena to Mazars for financial records of President Trump and various associated entities a valid exercise of legislative power? That sole question before the court is fully briefed and the court can discern no benefit from an additional round of legal arguments nor is there any obvious need to delay ruling on the merits to allow for development of the factual record.
And so bottom line, there is not going to be another round of arguments and weeks of competing motions and mish-mash here. This is the judge in the Mazars case saying, you know what, I`m ready. Let`s do this thing. Let`s do the whole thing. Injunctions, merits, let`s do it all.
And you know what? Let`s do it all on Tuesday, all that day. And then I`ll rule.
Which means if the president`s best hope here was to slow everything down as much as possible for as long as possible by getting it into the courts, well, getting it into the courts doesn`t necessarily guarantee that it`s gummed up forever. Sometimes the courts decide they don`t want to go slow.
I should mention that the president`s new raft of lawyers that are just working to keep his taxes and his finances secret, I should mention that they also filed a basically identical lawsuit trying to block Deutsche Bank and another bank called Capital One from responding to their own subpoenas that they got from the Intelligence Committee and from the Financial Services Committee.
According to "The New York Times," were it not for that lawsuit that the president filed against those banks on Monday of this week, Deutsche Bank was poised to hand over to Congress, to the Intelligence Committee and the Financial Services Committee, a huge trove of financial documents about their dealings with the president, including years` worth of material from his federal tax returns. So, they were poised to hand that stuff over on Monday. They did not hand that stuff over on Monday because that deadline and that subpoena was delayed because of this lawsuit that the president filed, so the president`s private lawsuit, it did delay that at least for a few days.
Honestly, though, now that the twin to that lawsuit, the one at Mazars, now that it just got put on warp speed by a federal judge who appears to not want to play along with the delay of game strategy, I mean, we have to see if that one blows up fast now, too. I mean, we`re in this really interesting moment, and I think it`s easy to get overwhelmed by following every, you know, picayune detail of every different fight and the different rhetoric on both sides, and I think it`s easy to get overwhelmed because of the sheer scope of the conflict, the sheer number of points of confrontation between, honestly, the White House and the Mueller investigation, between the White House and congressional oversight, right?
We entered into this Thunder Dome this week of the president and the White House saying we will block all subpoenas related to Robert Mueller or anything else. We will block all testimony. We will assert executive privilege over everything Robert Mueller did, right?
And each of these is its own interesting drama, but I think because there are so many points of conflict right now, because the assertions by the White House and by the president are so broad, this stone wall on everything, I think it`s become common wisdom that, you know, however unsustainable this posture might be for the White House in the long run, surely they can use this posture to delay everything for a long time, for months, for years, definitely until after the 2020 election.
I understand why it`s tempting to feel that way because the amount of things they`re fighting on feels so overwhelming but that may not be true. I mean, to the extent that stuff is headed to court, judges don`t have to be slow. Some of them are already saying they`re not going to be. I mean, today in the Roger Stone case, the federal judge in D.C. who was hearing that case just walked right up to what otherwise looked like a big legal knot and just cut right through it. Roger Stone in his case had demanded he be allowed to see the full, unredacted Mueller report to help him in preparing his defense. There are certainly elements of the Mueller report that seem to pertain to the charges against him.
Well, the prosecutors in the Roger Stone case said they objected to that. They didn`t want him to get the unredacted report. The judge who is arbitrating in that case, right, the judge who is oversees that case in those disputes said in order to decide this particular dispute, she`d need to see the material that`s being fought over here. She said she would need to see the unredacted Mueller report herself, at least the parts that might be relevant to Roger Stone`s trial.
And the prosecutor said, no, judge, we wouldn`t be able to do that for you. We can`t give you the unredacted report, judge, to which the judge just today said, oh, yes? You can`t give that to me? How about I give you a court order that tells you to do that? To which the prosecutors today said, ah, well, in that case, uh, and so ordered.
Now, the Justice Department has by Monday to give Judge Amy Berman Jackson in D.C. the Mueller report including the bits that are redacted for her to review. Specifically she wants all the redactions revealed from, quote, those portions of the report that relate to defendant Stone and/or the dissemination of hacked materials, including but not limited to pages 41 through 65 of volume I of the Mueller report.
Now we know from what we can see of Mueller` report and the way the redactions are coded, the redactions she`s going to get to see, blacked out to us that will not be blacked out to her, it includes all the different categories of redactions that they made. The one that`s labeled investigative techniques, which I think basically means intelligence sources and methods, also personal privacy redactions, also grand jury redactions, also harm to an ongoing matter, which in this case is probably a bunch of stuff that relates directly to the case against Stone.
I mean, we now know based on today`s court order from Judge Jackson that this judge is about to become one of only a few people in the country who have seen everything that`s in Mueller`s report on all of this stuff. And honestly, I have to tell you, this is likely only the first federal judge who is going to get the unredacted Mueller report, another judge in the same district in D.C. has signaled that he may also get the full report minus all of its redactions as part of the Freedom of Information Act lawsuits being fought out now by different entities that are trying to get the whole thing.
So, I mean, listen, all of these fights are interesting and you can -- I mean, you can follow any of them at any level of detail that you want. They`re all interesting. They all, though, have two sides. And the courts may move faster than you think when it comes to blocking the financial subpoenas from Congress, right, that are likely to produce tons of financial information about the president and also tons of his federal tax information.
The Treasury Department deciding not to hand over the president`s taxes to the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee despite a law that says they have to. That`s about to become its own legal fight. We expect the Ways and Means Chairman Richie Neal to announce tomorrow if he`s taking the administration directly to court for defying that law that says the IRS has to give him the president`s taxes.
We`ve actually got some new news coming up on that in just a minute that you`re going to want to hear. I believe we`ve got this exclusively tonight. Nobody else has reported it.
You should also know that the financial and tax materials that the president is trying so hard to block with the standoff involving the IRS and with these lawsuits in federal court, even all of those fights haven`t stopped at least Deutsche Bank already, and we think also the president`s insurance broker already from handing over subpoenaed financial documents and potentially tax documents already to New York state authorities, even as he`s fighting to try to keep that stuff secret through all the other means he can. Some of it`s already been handed over to authorities in New York state.
New York state legislature is moving ahead with legislation that will allow them to convey all of the president`s state tax returns to congressional committees, including his real estate and business taxes. At least one federal judge is now reviewing what was redacted from Robert Mueller`s report. A second federal judge may soon follow.
I mean, nothing is stuck, right? Everything is moving. And just because a fight has been declared does not mean that a stalemate is inevitable or if there is a short stalemate that it will inevitability become a long one.
But in the midst of all of this, and it is a real push me, pull you at this point. It is not stasis. Stuff is happening. In the middle of this, here is my question, and I think it`s answerable. And the House Intelligence Committee chairman is here in part tonight because I`m hoping that he can answer this.
Regardless of whether or not you think President Trump should be impeached, regardless of whether or not you think the U.S. Senate would ever vote to remove President Trump, were he impeached in the House, regardless of whether or not you think the Democrats would find it politically advantageous and disadvantageous to mount an impeachment effort against the president in the House of Representatives, regardless of what you think about all of that stuff, specifically here`s my question: Would it help congressional Democrats get some stuff that they otherwise couldn`t get if they opened up formal impeachment proceedings in the House? Would opening an impeachment inquiry open legal doors for them to get stuff they otherwise couldn`t get? Would it give them a legal advantage in trying to obtain some of the information that the White House is fighting them on getting?
The White House is asserting executive privilege in some blanket way over everything that Robert Mueller did, right? That`s one of the remarkable revelations of this week`s news cycle, right? It`s amazing that they are trying to do that.
Now in the long run are they going to get away with it? I don`t know. In the short and medium term, they`re going to use that, it seems, to try to block access to the rest of Mueller`s report that we haven`t seen, to block access to the underlying evidence from Mueller`s report that nobody`s seen. They will use it to try to block not just Don McGahn but all Mueller witnesses from testifying or from handing over documents related to Mueller`s inquiry.
They will use that assertion of privilege to try to block Mueller himself from testifying. OK. Well, procedurally, would it help Congress defeat those efforts by the White House? Would it help them get those witnesses and those materials and that testimony if Democrats in the House took the formal step of opening an impeachment inquiry?
Does having an impeachment inquiry open and ongoing give them more legal leverage to obtain those things? If so, why wouldn`t they just formally open an impeachment inquiry? Regardless of all the things that impeachment down the road might mean, why wouldn`t you just start that proceeding?
I mean, there is supposedly this political worry that the Republicans will get some advantage in 2020 from saying the Democrats want to impeach Trump, so therefore you can`t open up an impeachment inquiry. Hey, surprise, you know what? Republicans are going to say that anyway whether or not the Democrats are technically formally doing it.
The Republicans are already trying to get political advantage. The president is already trying to get political advantage saying the Democrats are coming after him, trying to impeach him. So, that`s -- that`s baked in. There is no way that you can avoid that attack from the Republicans by not formally opening an inquiry.
But when legal observers say that opening an inquiry, opening an impeachment inquiry would give the house more tools to actually get the stuff they`re seeking, that it would disadvantage the White House in their now ramped up ongoing efforts to block all forms of congressional oversight, are those legal observers right? And if so, is that the grounds on which the Democrats might see clear to proceed to that step and open up an impeachment inquiry, not because they`re sure that they`re going to impeach Donald Trump let alone remove him from office, but only because they need to start that inquiry in order to get access to the information, testimony and documents that they would otherwise be getting where the president and the White House not fighting them the way they are.
Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff is now suggesting that may be what is about to happen here and he joins us live next.
MADDOW: It`s barely a year ago that Congressman Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, was writing in "The New York Times" that Democrats should not be considering impeaching President Donald Trump. Well, this week, Congressman Schiff who is now chair of the Intelligence Committee and who is now faced with an across-the-board fight all the subpoenas stonewall effort from the White House, now, Congressman Schiff tells "The Washington Post", quote: These continued acts of willful obstruction add new weight to those who have advocated impeachment.
In a fascinating interview with Greg Sargent at "The Post", Schiff now says the case for impeachment will be weightier still if starting impeachment proceedings could allow Congress to break through White House obstruction in a way they currently cannot, if Congress` legal right to the materials they otherwise can`t obtained will be strengthened if they formally start impeachment proceedings. This is one of the questions congressional Democrats are grappling with right now.
Regardless of how anybody might feel about the ultimate task of trying of impeach the president, literally setting that aside, is an impeachment proceeding basically, procedurally the path they need to go down if the White House is going to fight the way they are to block access to the Mueller investigation and to block access to everything else on which the Congress wants either to investigate or to exert oversight?
Joining us now is Congressman Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.
Mr. Chairman, thank you so much for making time tonight. It`s nice to see you.
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): Good to see you.
MADDOW: Am I right to characterize that shift in your position? Over time, you`d been very articulate in the past about why it was not an appropriate time and it wasn`t appropriate circumstances to move on impeachment. The way I hear you now is that you may think that impeachment proceedings might be sort of be sort of utile, might be helpful simply to obtain information that you can`t otherwise get.
SCHIFF: Well, when I wrote that op-ed, and that was over a year ago, I was urging that we wait and see what the results of the investigation are before we form a judgment, and I did so because I thought we ought to know what the evidence is, but also because if we had to take that extraordinary step, we should communicate this is not something we`re eager to do, it`s something that we`re, in fact, reluctant to do.
Now we have the report and we are being prohibited from getting the evidence behind that report. We`re even being barred, at least at the moment, from hearing from the man who did the investigation, Mr. Mueller, and I think this does give weight to the -- those calling for impeachment because after obstructing the investigation in a potentially criminal way, Donald Trump is now obstructing Congress.
As a legal matter, there are a few discreet areas where it may make a difference. In most of the document demands it shouldn`t make a difference whether it`s an impeachment proceeding or it`s an oversight proceeding. You know, the claims of executive privilege, for example, can be advanced in either proceeding, but there are provisions like the grand jury provision, the exception for grand jury materials that make reference to a judicial proceeding. That was the basis in which those materials were made available to Congress during Watergate.
But there is also language in that provision that says preliminary to a grand jury proceeding, which I think applies here, but it`s possible that a court might find otherwise. To me, though, the Justice Department really shouldn`t be able to maintain a position you can`t indict a sitting president, you can only impeach one, and, by the way, we`re not going to give you the evidence you need until you begin an impeachment without knowing what the full evidence is.
But if that argument were to prevail in court, I think, yes, it would proceed strongly into initiating a proceeding, if that`s the only way we can overcome the White House`s obstructionism.
MADDOW: There is a matter I want to try to disentangle with you because I think it`s being discussed more and more in the media. It`s being discussed more and more in terms of this confrontation with the White House over what`s happening to Mueller`s findings and I think it`s sometimes being conflated. You have now issued a subpoena to the Justice Department for the unredacted Mueller report and for the underlying evidence and intelligence information that pertains to that report.
But as I understand it, you have also made a request to be briefed on the intelligence findings of Mueller`s investigation. Now, should we see those as two different requests and how should we expect those two tracks to proceed if, in fact, these are two different things?
SCHIFF: You know, they really are two different things, although there is a lot of overlap, but roughly you can look at what the Judiciary Committee is doing as centered around the second article of the Mueller report, the second section on obstruction, and we`re focused on the first section and that is all of the contacts with the Russians, all of the potential counterintelligence problems and threats. This investigation, after all, began as a counterintelligence investigation. It then later became both counterintelligence is criminal.
We still don`t know what the counterintelligence findings are. We know from the Mueller report that he had imbedded counterintelligence FBI agents in his team that wrote their own reports back to headquarters. They`re not in the Mueller report and we have a separate basis, legal basis to get that information from the Judiciary Committee.
There are statutes on point that say any intelligence matter must be given to the Intelligence Committee upon request. There are other statutes that say we have to be kept currently informed of any significant intelligence or counterintelligence activity. There is a separate grand jury exception that says you can provide foreign intelligence and counterintelligence investigation to any counterintelligence officials that have responsibility here as we do.
So, we have an independent basis for getting much of the same mission and then some that pertained to the counterintelligence findings.
MADDOW: And yet you haven`t been getting it.
SCHIFF: And yet we haven`t.
MADDOW: And so, is the remedy there to take them to court? Is the remedy there to pass a bill? Is the remedy there to turn these requests into subpoenas?
It`s hard for me to see how the -- how the -- how the path here proceeds in terms of what leverage you have to obtain these things that you`re saying by right and in some cases by statute you already should have gotten.
SCHIFF: You`re absolutely right. In fact we were getting counterintelligence briefings up until when Comey was fired and then it stopped. That really is a violation of the legal requirements.
You know, the remedies that we have are really the same as the Judiciary Committee and the same as the Ways and Means Committee, they`re violating the statute, we can enforce it in court but that takes time. That really doesn`t necessarily change in an impeachment proceeding where they can fight us likewise, but there is another remedy that I think we really need to consider that may be even quicker than an impeachment proceeding or the court proceeding, and that is reviving Congress` inherent power of contempt, something we utilized up until the 1930s, where we in effect do our own judicial proceeding in the Congress, have a little mini trial in the Congress and hold people in contempt and responsible and compel their production without even going to court.
Now, it used to be we imprisoned people, but we could also fine them $25,000 a day until they comply or some other number. That may be an even swifter remedy if we need to embark on it and we may have to.
MADDOW: Congressman Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, you make news every time you`re on this show, sir. Thank you very much for joining us. I appreciate you being here.
SCHIFF: Thanks, Rachel.
MADDOW: All right. Still ahead tonight, Senator Amy Klobuchar is here. I`m very excited about that. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Do not sleep in tomorrow. Set your alarms if you`re me.
Tomorrow`s decision day for Richard Neal, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. Now that the Treasury Department has officially said no to his demand for the president`s tax returns, the chairman told reporters today he will make a decision by tomorrow about what he`s going to do in response. And the drama here isn`t just what`s in the president`s taxes and why is the president turning himself into a gigantic pretzel to try to block people from seeing them -- I mean, the drama here now is also that Chairman Neal`s request is not an optional thing.
The Treasury Department is required by law to give the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee anybody`s tax returns for any legislative purpose, just because he said he wants to see them. That`s why Chairman Neal has now been signaling that he might even skip subpoenas, he might skip threats of contempt, he might just fast forward straight to the courts to get this settled and to get the president`s taxes, as he is legally authorized to do.
Well, while we wait for that potential court fight to start over the president`s tax returns which, again, we`re going to hear about as soon as tomorrow, there is one little piece of this that I think is worth sticking a pin in. This is Michael Desmond. He is the head lawyer at the IRS, chief counsel. Chief counsel is the number two job at the IRS.
In this case, he was hand-picked by the president for that job. Specifically, he was hand-picked and then he was also hand pushed through his confirmation by President Trump. "The New York Times" reported ahead of this confirmation that the president personally intervened to push along Desmond`s confirmation. The president personally asked the Republican leadership in the Senate to prioritize this guy`s confirmation vote, even ahead of the confirmation for William Barr to be attorney general. Wow.
The IRS chief counsel not only handpicked by the president, but he is seen by the president as more important, a bigger priority than even the attorney general? Hmm.
Turns out, surprise, Michael Desmond previously advised President Trump`s businesses on tax issues. Oh, so maybe that`s why Trump wants him to be the top lawyer at the IRS. Well, now, at the time Michael Desmond said that nobody should worry about any potential conflict or loyalty issues there. A spokesman for Mr. Desmond said during the confirmation process that if Desmond was confirmed and, quote, something involving Trump came up, Mr. Desmond would seek advice from ethics officials, right?
That makes sense. He worked on tax issues for Trump`s businesses. If Trump`s taxes come up while he`s the lead lawyer at the IRS and the number two official at the agency, that would seem like a conflict, he should getting ethics advice.
Well, now, Mr. Desmond is the IRS chief counsel. He is in that job. He got confirmed. Something involving the president`s taxes most definitely has come up, right?
The Treasury Department and the IRS have said, no, no, no, we`re not going to hand over the president`s tax returns despite that law that says we have to. The question is, did the IRS chief counsel Michael Desmond ever consult ethics officials like he promised? Is he recused from matters having to do with the president`s taxes given that he advised the president`s business on tax issues before his confirmation?
Has he been recuse from dealing with those things at the IRS? If not, how has he been involved in this decision-making process? What kind of advice has he been giving? We don`t know.
So, we tried to ask the IRS on Tuesday. For three days, we didn`t get so much as a tumbleweed blowing our way from the IRS in response to our calls. We tried calling. We tried emailing. We were about to try sending smoke signals this afternoon when we finally heard back.
And this is what the IRS is finally willing to tell us about whether or not their chief counsel who advised Trump`s businesses on tax issues, whether he is recused from making decisions at the IRS about releasing the president`s taxes. They told us this, quote: Federal privacy laws prohibit us from commenting on specific taxpayer cases or situations.
Which is not an answer to any of the questions we asked about the IRS and their chief counsel and whether he`s working on this thing where he would appear to have a very big conflict. We tried following up to get an actual answer to our question. We never heard back.
So, I mean, we`ve been asking for three days now. Just stick a pin in this. The IRS and the Treasury Department are gearing up for what looks like an unprecedented court fight over the sitting president`s taxes and the Treasury Department and the IRS defying black letter law that says the president`s taxes have to be handed over. The IRS and the Treasury Department saying, no, we`re not doing it.
And the top lawyer at the IRS, we`re not allowed to know? The IRS will not give us a straight answer about whether or not their top lawyer is recused from participating in that fight because he used to advise the president on his taxes.
We`ve been asking him for three days. We`ll keep going. We`ll ask do more. Watch this space.
MADDOW: Joining us here now on person, in person, on set, on person, in set is Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota. She`s in the running to be the Democratic nominee for president of the United States. She also serves on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which I fell in love with this week because of its list of questions --
SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Oh, yes.
MADDOW: -- they published last night about things that should be asked about Robert Mueller`s report.
Senator, it`s great to see you.
KLOBUCHAR: Thank you, Rachel. Great to be here.
MADDOW: How are you enjoying running for president?
KLOBUCHAR: I love it. You get to talk to people. You get to talk about your ideas and it is really a moment in time as you know like we`ve never seen before in this country.
I was in Milwaukee last night talking to voters there and did a town hall. I did one in New Hampshire earlier, and I can tell you that people are concerned about the rule of law in this country, but they still are asking about those bread and butter issues as the president gloats about the economy, people are worried about losing their health care. I just put out a proposal on mental health and addiction and lots of interest in that because there`s just -- a lot of people feel like they don`t know where to go for help. And then you got people that just simply are having trouble getting by.
And this president seems to act like he should be celebrating every day when in fact, there are so many people that still are having trouble in this economy.
MADDOW: I saw the announcement today from your campaign. You`re headed to Puerto Rico soon, as well.
I wondered if -- what happened to Puerto Rico with Hurricane Maria is such an epic tragedy in it own terms and the size of that tragedy compared to the attention that it got as a matter of government accountability, that ratio is unbelievable and is a moral stain on our country. I wonder if the presidential campaign might actually be a way to at least get some accountability, at least have some oversight, at least have some attention to what went so wrong with the government`s handling of Puerto Rico.
KLOBUCHAR: Well, exactly. And a lot of it is to do with this president who continually wants to look at Puerto Rico in a different way when in fact there are citizens there, there are people -- this is a U.S. territory and he is someone that just wants to look at them and let them go I guess, when in fact you have people that need so much help, that lost everything, that lost their homes, that lost their hospitals, that lost her schools.
And one of the things I`m doing there is to go to see some of the efforts that are underway to make things better, but the help that they still need. And, of course, that`s why the House of Representatives combined this with all of the other tragedies we`ve seen. With the fires from California, with the floods in Iowa and Missouri, and the help they need and, of course, in Florida. Not too far from Puerto Rico.
And so, you have this combination which is what we do when a disaster strikes our country people, and strikes our people. We respond. We don`t just let them out there.
We did it when New Jersey needed help, we helped them. When North Dakota needed help, with Grand Forks in that flood, we helped them. We come together as a nation.
And this is just one more example and I believe in the end, we will come together. I know Senator Shelby, Senator Leahy, Republican and Democrat, are working valiantly on this from the appropriations side in the Senate, and Senator Shelby is often getting in arguments with his own Republican Party White House because we want to do it the right way.
And this president just looks for divides, right? He wants to blame people in Puerto Rico. He wants to blame immigrants. He wants to blame people of color. Every day where there is a divide, he looks for it.
MADDOW: Literally -- I`m sorry, I exclaimed for a moment. I got upset.
The president literally pulled out a piece of paper at his rally last night to try to gin up anger in the crowd he was speaking to in Florida about Puerto Rico getting too much aid. He had this totally false graph that was not true information showing Puerto Rico is receiving a disproportionate amount of funds, trying to egg the crowd into being mad at that and booing that, and talking about a zero sum game where Florida is being denied. You people here at this Trump rally are being denied because those Puerto Ricans are getting everything.
KLOBUCHAR: When, in fact, we want to help both places, right?
KLOBUCHAR: And when, in fact, there are so many Puerto Ricans that call Florida home.
KLOBUCHAR: And the Florida representatives traditionally have tried to help both Puerto Rico and Florida as have other people in this country. You just don`t treat your fellow citizens like this. You just don`t do it.
MADDOW: Yes, and try to leverage anger about it in order to sow that resentment in a way that is --
KLOBUCHAR: That`s what he does.
MADDOW: I want to talk to you about a whole bunch of different things --
MADDOW: -- including some of the stuff that`s happening on the Judiciary Committee right now.
Can you stay with us?
MADDOW: Senator Amy Klobuchar is here.
We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: Back with us now, Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota. She serves on the Senate Judiciary Committee. She`s also running for president in the Democratic primary this year.
Senator, thank you for sticking around.
KLOBUCHAR: Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: You wrote a letter to Robert Mueller after the hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee where you questioned Attorney General Barr pretty sharply, including about this very discreet issue about whether or not Mueller looked at President Trump`s financial history and his taxes as part of his investigation. And he responded and said, I don`t know. And you asked if you could follow up with a written question.
KLOBUCHAR: It was worse than that. He said, well, I don`t know.
MADDOW: That`s a better impression.
KLOBUCHAR: And I said, well, you don`t know? I was surprised. I thought he might know that they looked at the president`s financial documents. He`s the attorney general, highest law enforcement officer in the country.
MADDOW: He oversees that investigation.
KLOBUCHAR: Yes. And he`s not -- and then he says, well, you`ll have to ask Bob Mueller when he comes, and I go, oh, OK. Well, that`s what I`ll do then.
And so, now, we have Senator Graham telling us that he`s not going to be calling Mueller except for some very narrow things.
KLOBUCHAR: So, we`re not going to be able to hear. So, that`s why I wrote the letter to Bob Mueller himself, asking for those tax returns and the financial documents. I haven`t heard back yet.
KLOBUCHAR: But we are waiting and as you know, proceedings are going on in the House as well after -- you just pointed out in your last segment, the Mnuchin and the Treasury Department and everyone else decided not to release these tax returns. That is something that when you really look at, it should be released.
And I think when you step away from all this, though, as you so well pointed out, this is really about the rule of law. It is Thomas Paine and common sense who once said in America, the king is not the law, the law is king.
KLOBUCHAR: And so, this is about the law and our country and holding the president accountable. But it is also about making sure that our election is not invaded by a foreign power again. And they didn`t use tanks, they didn`t use missiles but they invaded our election all the same, and we have an opportunity to protect it.
And I will tell you one thing, when you talk to people out there, while this is not the first issue on their mind when you`re in New Hampshire or Nevada or South Carolina, it`s not the number one thing that they say. But when you start talking about the rule of law and having a president in the White House that obeys the law and believes in the truth, that`s what they want to hear, and that`s what they care about.
And they understand that we can do two things at once. We can pursue an economic agenda that`s positive, and we can get to the bottom of what happened here.
MADDOW: How do you think it`s going to resolve -- I mean, let`s take the microcosmic issue of that letter you wrote to Robert Mueller and you haven`t gotten a response yet. It`s a direct question. William Barr said he didn`t know. I don`t know if he`s ever going to answer the question.
So, a really interesting and important point, did Mueller ever look at the president`s financials? It`s a huge background issue --
MADDOW: -- in terms of this fight over tax returns and all the rest of it.
MADDOW: How will you get that answer? How will that be pursued? How will that resolve? They`re trying to block access to everything Mueller did.
KLOBUCHAR: Well, we know, first of all, some things are going on right here in New York, where they`re trying to get it in other ways. I think that`s important.
We also know that the House now has a case that can go to court to try to get those taxes because they were denied access. And the House also has a lot of power.
The Democrats will run the House. They don`t as you know run the Senate. So, they have the ability to get that. And I think that`s all important.
But I think our job right now in the Senate is to push on this issue of foreign interference in our election and make sure people understand what happened. This isn`t meddling. This was an invasion by a foreign power, and we now know as we look at all of this evidence that`s come out, and that`s why we did all those questions, we know that we can`t ask Mueller right now, and so, we have to do everything to get him before Congress, for the American people.
And at some point, he won`t be special counsel anymore.
KLOBUCHAR: And then, we`ll have another way to get him to testify. But we have to move forward.
MADDOW: Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Democratic candidate for president -- Senator, it`s always good to have you here.
KLOBUCHAR: Thank you.
MADDOW: Thank you so much.
We`ll be right back. Stay with us.
MADDOW: So this is an important announcement about this show and something that`s going to happen here tomorrow. You just heard Senator Amy Klobuchar describe what Russia did to our democracy in 2016 as an invasion. That was the word she used.
When it came to the investigation of that invasion and its implications, the FBI general counsel at the time, James Baker, had a seat right inside that from the very, very beginning. James Baker was there from moment zero as the top legal official in the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Now, Baker has been pilloried by Republicans and by conservative media for taking on the responsibility of uncovering what Russia did to us in 2016. Thus far, he`s been all but unable to publicly talk about that experience and to explain what he did.
But now, he can`t talk about it. With the redacted Mueller report out and with House Republicans having released his closed door testimony, former FBI General Counsel James Baker is going to be here tomorrow night as a guest on this show. He will be talking about a number of these issues for the first time in any media environment. This is a very big deal for me. James Baker is going to be here tomorrow night.
That does it for us tonight. We`ll see you again tomorrow.
Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD" with the great Lawrence O`Donnell.
Good evening, Lawrence.
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