CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: I mean, having gone through the skirmishes now, individually, with allies, there`s every reason for them not to be particularly supportive of what we`re doing here.
AUSTAN GOOLSBEE, FORMER CHAIR OF THE COUNCIL OF ECONOMIC ADVISERS: Of course. Of course. They`re not supportive. They`re irritated. They`re angry. We`re about to slap tariffs on Canada and on Europe, and Europe is about to have retaliatory tariffs against the U.S.
HAYES: All right. Austan Goolsbee, thank you for joining us.
GOOLSBEE: Thank you for having me.
HAYES: That is ALL IN for this evening.
"THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW" starts right now. Good evening, Rachel.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Thanks, my friend. Much appreciated.
HAYES: You bet.
MADDOW: And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. Very happy to have you with us.
If the great Oprah Winfrey were running the scandals of the Trump administration, as a daytime talk show, today`s episode of that talk show would be the one where the audience was invited by Oprah to all check under their seats because, yes, it`s true, everybody here, you get a subpoena, you get a subpoena, and everybody gets a subpoena. Everybody`s got one under their seats right now.
Since the special counsel`s investigation was ended, under circumstances we still don`t totally explain -- still don`t totally understand -- and since the special counsel Robert Mueller submitted his report about that investigation, we`ve been living in this very specific era, right? This very specific world of confrontation.
I mean, the president and the Trump administration had an initial burst of claiming vindication and exoneration by that report and the attorney general characterizing the report in ways that couldn`t be checked by anybody, but that whole era lasted, like, five seconds. Since then, they have bolted themselves down into an increasingly hardened effort to try to block access to Mueller, himself, to block access to Mueller`s findings, to block access to witnesses who testified to Mueller, to block the production of documents that were used in Mueller`s investigation or that pertained to his findings or to subject of his investigation, and to block Congress from obtaining any information, any documents or access to any witnesses, that could help Congress follow up on what Mueller did.
And, importantly, that could help Congress follow up on what we now know Mueller did not investigate. I mean, before the Trump administration, it was pretty much a settled matter as to whether or not a White House and a president had to comply with court orders and subpoenas. I mean, yes, executive branches and congresses always fight about all sorts of things, right? And all presidents try to keep some stuff secret.
But there was a unanimous Supreme Court decision that sort of teed up the whole cataclysmic end of the Watergate scandal, right? There was U.S. v. Nixon, unanimous decision by the Supreme Court which said, yeah, presidents do have to respond to subpoenas and court orders. Before now, that has not been considered one of the more controversial decisions in American jurisprudence. Everybody sort of thinks of that as a settled matter, right?
But now, we are in this era where we have got this incredible clash happening, right? Since the Mueller report was submitted such as it is, since the Mueller investigation ended, since the countries had to decide what to do with the end of that investigation and the consequences of what Mueller has been allowed to say, thus far, we are in this moment where according to this White House, all voluntary requests for information and testimony are to be denied. That is why it`s raining subpoenas now and now we`ve got the president and the White House trying to mount a legal war effort to try to stop everybody from complying with all subpoenas, too. At least for as long as they can get away with it.
Well, one of these subpoena fights was potentially resolved today in a sort of unusual way. It`s about the president`s eldest son and namesake, Donald Trump Jr., he testified to Senate Intel among other things about the Trump Tower Moscow project in 2017. There are indications that the contours of his testimony very much matched what Michael Cohen also testified to Congress about when it came to the Trump Tower Moscow project.
Now, Cohen later admitted in court that his testimony was false. That`s part of why he`s serving time in federal prison right now as we speak. Did Donald Trump Jr. tell the same lies to the Intelligence Committee about Trump Tower Moscow? If so, why was Michael Cohen prosecuted for that and Donald Trump Jr. has not been, right? It`s not an unreasonable question in these circumstances where Michael Cohen is literally locked up right now in a federal prison cell for that and Donald Trump Jr. is still out in the wild with these questions still outstanding about the veracity of his testimony on that same topic.
But the Intelligence Committee, the Senate Intelligence Committee, they did at least try to arrange for Donald Trump Jr. to come back in and clarify his testimony. There were reportedly protracted negotiations about him coming back in on a voluntary basis. He reportedly stood the committee up and refused to come back in on a voluntary basis. That`s what led to this recent subpoena ordering him to testify, whether he wanted to or not.
Now, the White House and Donald Trump Jr. have been signaling that they would resist that subpoena among all the other subpoenas they want resisted as well, but now tonight, they do appear to have come to some sort of negotiated accommodation. Donald Trump Jr. will reportedly appear behind closed doors before the Senate Intelligence Committee next month under a new agreement in which the number of topics he`s asked about the amount of time he has to testify will both be limited by agreement in advance. That`s the kind of agreement, right, limiting the total amount of time, limiting the topics you can be asked about. That`s the type of agreement you would usually think would be negotiated in the context of a voluntary request for someone to appear, right?
You wouldn`t expect the committee with subpoena power to make that kind of agreement, right? To agree to those kinds of limitations and accommodations. Frankly, with subpoena power, they have the ability to compel you to comply. They have the ability to compel you to show up and testify without any terms and accommodations. Why would they negotiate?
But, hey, this is a Trump family member and so special treatment, I suppose, is a given here. And incidentally, that means the Trump White House and Trump family have thus been given their first reward for this blanket stance they`ve taken since the Mueller report was submitted in which they say all subpoenas should be defied. Apparently, that stance already earned them relief from some of the things that Donald Trump Jr. would otherwise have been compelled to testify about, apparently that stance has also earned them a time limitation on the things -- on the amount of time that he`ll have to spend testifying.
So, we got the news today about Donald Jr., the resolution of that subpoena fight, at least it appears that way. And on the heels of that news that we got late today about Donald Trump Jr. and Senate Intelligence, we also got remarkable new news from the other intelligence committee, from the one in the House. News that lawyers working for president Trump and the Trump Organization and for the president`s adult children, their lawyers, themselves, may be on the hook or may at least compelled to spill when it comes to one of the alleged obstruction of justice efforts that`s described in some detail in Mueller`s redacted report.
This is from volume 2, page 134, of Mueller`s report. Quote: After the media began questioning Trump`s connections to Russia, Michael Cohen promoted a party line that publicly distanced Trump from Russia and asserted he had no business there. Cohen continued to adhere to that party line in 2017 when Congress asked him to provide documents and testimony in its Russia investigation. In an attempt to minimize the president`s connections to Russia, Cohen submitted a letter to Congress falsely stating he only briefed Trump on the Trump Tower Moscow project three times, that he did not consider asking Trump to travel to Russia, that Cohen had not received a response to an outreach he made to the Russian government, and, he testified, the project ended in January 2016, before the first Republican caucus or primary.
None of those things were true.
While working on that false congressional statement, Cohen had extensive discussions with the president`s personal counsel, who according to Cohen, said Cohen should not contradict the president. Cohen eventually entered into a joint defense agreement with the president and other individuals who were part of the Russia investigation. Cohen`s false statement to Congress was circulated in advance -- in advance to -- sorry, Cohen`s false statement to Congress was circulated in advance to and edited by members of that joint defense agreement.
Before statement was finalized, early drafts contained a sentence stating the building project led me to make limited contacts with Russian government officials. But in the final version of the statement, that line was deleted. Cohen thought he was told it was a decision of the joint defense agreement to delete the sentence about his contacts with Russian government officials. Cohen did not push back on the deletion.
Cohen said the release of his opening remarks was intended to shape the narrative and let other people who might be witnesses know what Cohen was saying so they could follow the same message. Cohen recalled that on September 20th, after Cohen`s opening remarks had been printed by the media, the president`s personal counsel told him that the president was pleased with his Trump Tower Moscow statement.
President was pleased with it. Cohen stated that the president`s personal counsel responded it was not necessary to elaborate or include these details about -- sorry, the president stated -- sorry, go back to that for a second. Cohen stated the president`s personal counsel advised him ahead of his testimony that it was not necessary to elaborate or include some of the details that he had planned to give about his contacts with the Russian government and President Trump`s notice about the Trump Tower Moscow project.
So, this is all what`s described in the Mueller report about Michael Cohen and his testimony about the Trump Tower Moscow project. The president was very pleased with his statement to Congress, right? The president was happy with that statement, with what he told Congress about Trump Tower Moscow. What the president was so pleased for we later find out, of course, was a false statement to Congress about Trump Tower Moscow for which Michael Cohen is now in prison.
But what Cohen is alleging here, what Cohen told Mueller is the president`s personal counsel, Jay Sekulow, and other lawyers involved in the joint defense agreement, they specifically shaped his statement, including taking out the stuff about his contacts with the Russian government. Well, Michael Cohen is already paying for that. He is in prison paying for that false statement.
But what about the other people who were allegedly involved in crafting that false statement for him in that act of obstruction, right? Well, that`s why all of those lawyers working for the president and the Trump Organization and the president`s adult children, that`s why all of those lawyers may soon get subpoenas under their seats, too.
(BEGN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): If there were others that were participating in that act of obstruction of justice, if there were others that were knowing of that false statement, participated in the drafting of that false statement, we need to know about it, we need to expose it and we need to deter other people from coming before our committee and lying.
Mr. Cohen`s testimony was important but also the documentary record is important, and it raises profound questions about whether Michael Cohen, alone, without assistance, without encouragement, would take it upon himself to mislead our committee about Donald Trump`s pursuit of money in Russia during the campaign.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That was Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff today speaking to reporters after the news broke that his committee demanded documents and testimony from Jay Sekulow, the president`s personal counsel, as described in many the Mueller report. Also, Alan Futerfas, and Alan Garten and Abbe Lowell who represent the president`s business and his adult children and how are part of this joint defense agreement which Michael Cohen says was used for a criminal and corrupt purpose to get him to lie to Congress about the Trump Tower Moscow deal.
Now, those lawyers are being told to hand over documents and also to testify, themselves. What we learned today is that back in March, those lawyers were told by the Intelligence Committee that they needed to hand over documents related to that alleged obstruction of justice. Documents related to the drafting of Michael Cohen`s false statement to Congress, documents about the joint defense agreement, documents and communications about whether pardons were offered or discussed for Cohen or other witnesses. Statements about the Trump Tower Moscow project. Tons of stuff.
I mean, the document request, itself, is sort of stunning. I mean, even just the pardon part of it is amazing. I mean, these lawyers are being told, I`ll just read you the pardon part of it, they`re being told to hand over documents or communications about, quote, a presidential pre-pardon, global pardon, pardon or other pardon-related concept, for or related to Michael Cohen, Jared Kushner, Donald Trump Jr., Ivanka Trump, the Trump Organization, Paul Manafort, Michael Flynn, Roger Stone, Keith Schiller, Rhona Graff, Felix Sater, or any witness who testified before the committee or asked to testify before the committee.
Discussions of a global pardon, a pre-pardon, a potential pardon for the president`s secretary and bodyguard?
I mean, what we learned today is that this document request, and the request for testimony by those lawyers, who, again, here, basically accused by Michael Cohen of engaging in criminal behavior, themselves, I mean, this demand from the committee, it started in March, it was rejected by these lawyers. It`s been reiterated by the committee now and now it looks like we`re on the brink of these lawyers being subpoenaed.
As "The New York Times" puts it tonight, quote, "The lawyers have so far balked at the committee`s request, but Congressman Schiff is prepared to issue subpoenas to compel cooperation if necessary.
You know, I think it has long been assumed that the president might have a kind of tripwire when it comes to investigations, or legal liability, getting too close to his adult children. I mean, in this case, according to reporting from "Vanity Fair" and "The New York Times," one of the allegations at issue here for which there`s apparently some sort of documentary trail, is the allegation that lawyer Abbe Lowell specifically told Cohen that he should tell Congress Ivanka Trump had essentially no knowledge of Trump Tower Moscow.
According to Michael Cohen, that wasn`t true. According to Cohen, Ivanka Trump was regularly briefed on Trump Tower Moscow. Well, if as Cohen alleges, Abbe Lowell was involved in telling Michael Cohen to lie to Congress, specifically about the involvement of Ivanka Trump in that scheme.
I mean, that feels like the sort of thing that could trip 50 tripwires all at once, right? That`s sensitive on a lot of different levels. But that is apparently now what the House Intelligence Committee is chasing down and we are being told to expect that that may be in the form of subpoenas soon.
We are also told by the intelligence committee tonight that as of this evening, they are in negotiations with the justice department over yet another subpoena that they issued last week for the redacted material that`s been cut out of the Mueller report, and for the counterintelligence information and findings and evidence that were turned up by Mueller`s investigation but not included in the version of Mueller`s report that we`ve all seen.
Now, the deadline for the Justice Department to comply with that subpoena for the unredacted report and the underlying evidence and all the intelligence information turned up by the investigation, that deadline on that subpoena is tomorrow. We don`t know exactly what it means that the committee`s in negotiations with the Justice Department tonight over the terms of that subpoena and that tomorrow deadline.
The last time we were in this circumstance, though, it was a subpoena from the judiciary committee which was being ignored by the attorney general and in that case, the response was that the attorney general was swiftly subject to a contempt vote. So, we`ll see how this develops, this may very well go that same direction. It`s worth watching this overnight into tomorrow morning, though, because a subpoena deadline is a real deadline and that deadline is tomorrow.
And the conflict over this one -- I mean, this particular subpoena that the attorney general seems poised to defy, this one because it`s from the Intelligence Committee and because it`s for that specific information they`re asking for, this one may finally shed some light on what`s emerging since Mueller`s investigation was ended as kind of the biggest open question that remains about what happened with that investigation, right? The Intelligence Committee has issued a subpoena to obtain the counterintelligence information and the foreign intelligence information that Mueller turned up.
They shouldn`t have to issue a subpoena to get that. Under black-letter law, under federal statute, the Intelligence Committees are supposed to be able to get that whenever they want it. They`re supposed to get briefed whenever they want to on matters at the Justice Department or in any other investigating agency that pertain to counterintelligence or foreign intelligence.
That`s their purview. They have oversight over all of that. So they get access to anything that touches that area. Nothing is classified from them.
Well, the Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff has been saying that his committee hasn`t been receiving those briefings. They haven`t received any information on any foreign intelligence or counterintelligence related to Mueller`s investigation since James Comey was fired back in 2017. They`ve got nothing.
Well, that revelation from Adam Schiff and the fact that we can now see the redacted Mueller report, and the redacted Mueller report has no information at all on the counterintelligence consequences of any factual information they turned up, those two things together have led to this sort of slowly dawning revelation that Mueller might have not done a counterintelligence investigation at all.
That if there was a counterintelligence investigation into the Russia attack and potential links to President Trump or the Trump campaign, it looks like maybe Mueller isn`t the one who did it. I mean, we know that a counterintelligence investigation was started. We know one was authorized and open at the FBI. We know a counterintelligence investigation was publicly announced by James Comey to Congress when he was still FBI director.
In terms of what that investigation might look at, off the top of your head, you right now could list 10 important questions a counterintelligence investigation on this matter might possibly be looking into. Start with Trump Tower, alone, Trump Tower Moscow alone. But it really doesn`t appear that Robert Mueller and his investigators did that.
I mean, as we discussed with former FBI general counsel James Baker on this show on Friday night, Mueller really appears to have only looked at criminal matters specifically, which means that this whole question of whether Russia was compromising people, whether Russia was trying to get leverage on people, whether there was a foreign influence operation under way that was targeting people who were then or would be involved in the U.S. government, for the purposes of advancing the Russian government over our government, all of those questions, to the extent that counterintelligence investigation was done, it appears that that was handled at the FBI, outside the confines of the special counsel`s office, which means it was not under Robert Mueller`s purview.
It means it was under the purview of the FBI director, Chris Wray. Chris Wray is the one who appears to have been supervising the counterintelligence investigation, not Mueller. Mueller just did criminal. And as that revelation I think is slowly creeping across Washington and the news media and all of us, all of a sudden we now find ourselves in day three of the president publicly attacking FBI Director Chris Wray, including saying now that under Chris Wray, quote, the FBI has no leadership. The director is protecting the same gang.
So, we`ll have more on that in a second, in terms of what happened to the intelligence part of this inquiry and what it means to have the president and now the attorney general appearing to turn the investigators into targets. To go after the people who have been investigating this matter, particularly if the counterintelligence investigation is still live, as we are increasingly seeing the president turn against the FBI director who we believe has been overseeing the counterintelligence part of this.
We even saw right-wing group connected to the president go after a specific named prosecutor on Mueller`s team tonight. We`ll have more on that coming up.
But there was one other landmark thing that happened in this big confrontation today, which is worth noting as it came up, which is that for the first time today, a court got involved. For the first time today, the judicial branch of government, the third branch of government, got involved in trying to police this question of whether or not the president and this White House can defy all subpoenas, right? Defy court orders. Defy subpoenas. Defy any incursion on what they want to do in terms of the law.
Today, for the first time, a judge got into the middle of that and it did not go well for the president and his lawyers. It really, really did not go well for them, but we`ve got that story next.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: Today for the first time, a federal judge held a hearing about one of the subpoenas that the president is fighting. The House Oversight Committee issued a subpoena to the president`s accounting firm, Mazars, to get them to hand over information about President Trump`s financial history. The president has sued to block that subpoena.
Well, today, a federal judge hearing that case took oral arguments from both sides. I think the "Washington Post" may have summed up how that went the best, when justice reporter Spencer Hsu described the judge in today`s hearing as, quote, astonished by President Trump`s argument in trying to block that subpoena. A federal judge in Washington today expressed astonishment at arguments raised by President Trump`s lawyers seeking to block his accounting firm from turning over years of financial records to the House Oversight Committee.
We`re in this weird moment in this presidency where we`ve got the president and the White House trying to stop all testimony, to stop all document requests, to defy all subpoenas in all investigations. And, you know, that seems nuts, as a matter of politics and history and how we know the three branches of government are supposed to work.
But that argument from the Trump White House today for the first time got tested in court, and it got very, very blunt very fast. I mean, at one point in today`s hearing right at the beginning of the hearing, the president`s lawyers literally refused to concede to the judge that the Watergate investigation should have been allowed. That Congress should have been allowed to investigate Watergate. I mean, that`s what this fight has arrived at already.
We thought we were living in a world where U.S. v. Nixon was settled law, presidents have to comply with subpoenas and court orders because -- you know, America. President Trump`s lawyers today, in fighting one of these subpoenas for the president`s financial information, they basically told the judge, yes, that whole Watergate thing maybe shouldn`t ever been allowed to happen. Congress maybe shouldn`t have been seen as having the power to investigate the Watergate crimes.
I was -- this is from the transcript today in court. Quote, the judge: I`m just asking, could, for example, Congress say, we believe that the president of the United States is receiving payments from foreign governments, foreign interests, and we want to investigate that? We want to determine if that`s so. And we`re going to get financial records from him, from his entities, to make that determination. Congress does not have that power in your view?
The president`s lawyer: Not in the way you framed it, Your Honor, no, they don`t.
The judge: Why not?
President`s lawyer: Because it is determining whether he`s in compliance with the law.
The judge: I don`t understand how that jives with what I thought was your confession, that if the president was engaging in corrupt behavior in office that might violate a criminal law, that would be a proper subject of investigation. The president`s lawyer, I`m sorry if I created any confusion, Your Honor. I don`t think that is the proper subject of investigation as to the president.
The judge says: OK. So in your view, Congress` investigations in Whitewater, for example, and Watergate, were beyond the scope of Congress` constitutional authority?
President`s lawyer: I have to look at what the basis they were providing and, again, we have -- at which point the judge interrupts. They weren`t inquiring about criminal law. It`s pretty straightforward.
That was a federal judge in D.C. district court today. The first judge to consider one of the many subpoenas that this president and White House is defying, trying to get the president`s lawyers to concede that Congress would have been allowed to investigate something like Watergate, right? Congress does investigate potential crimes by presidents, right? You concede that Congress -- president -- presidents can be investigated for crimes and stuff?
President`s lawyers stammering but not willing to concede that.
I mean, hard to tell from oral argument arguments, right? From today`s hearing, it doesn`t sound like the president`s lawyers are going to get away with this argument for long if the courts have anything to say about it. But as always, watch this space. Stay with us.
MADDOW: They`re calling it a review. Bill Barr, the attorney general, has asked for a review of the handling of the counterintelligence investigation into the president`s campaign and its contacts with Russia. He has tasked the U.S. attorney for the great state of Connecticut, John Durham, to lead that review, but in addition to John Durham working on it, CNN was first to report today that they`ve also roped in the leaders of the intelligence community as well.
Quote: Attorney General William Barr is working closely with the CIA to review the origins of the Russia investigation and surveillance issues surrounding Donald Trump`s presidential campaign. Barr is working in close collaboration with CIA Director Gina Haspel, the director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, and the FBI director, Christopher Wray.
The FBI director, the CIA director, and the director of national intelligence, they`re all personally tasked now with working with a handpicked federal prosecutor to investigate the counterintelligence investigation into Russia and what they did during the campaign. Number one, are we sure that investigation`s over? And number two, what does it mean that the people who conducted and led that investigation are now, themselves, being subject to this new hybrid sort of nonofficial review involving the heads of all those agencies and reportedly the attorney general, personally, as well?
Joining us now is Jeremy Bash, former chief of staff at the CIA and at the Department of Defense under President Obama.
Mr. Bash, thanks very much for joining us. Good to have you here.
JEREMY BASH, FORMER CHIEF OF STAFF AT CIA & DEPT. OF DEFENSE: Hey, Rachel.
MADDOW: So tell me what you make about this reported review. The CIA director, the director of national intelligence, the attorney general personally and a handpicked U.S. attorney all being roped in to do some sort of review of this intelligence investigation.
BASH: Well, first, Rachel, the attorney general has done a number of concerning things including mischaracterizing the Mueller report, misleading Congress about it, and then describing lawful surveillance as spying. He also has not spoken out forcefully against the president saying he wanted to use the Justice Department to investigate a potential Democratic rival, Joe Biden. Those are all things we would expect the attorney general to do.
But there is a silver lining here is this move today by the attorney general to allow John Durham to look at this matter, the U.S. attorney in Connecticut, and to involve the leaders of the intelligence community, looks to me, Rachel, like kind of what others in the Trump administration tend to do, which is tell the boss, yes, yes, we`re working on it, but then do something short of what the boss expects.
And I think involving Gina Haspel, involving Chris Wray, involving Dan Coats, means that he`s going to get the professional opinion of the intelligence leadership about really a silly question which is whether or not the original investigation of Russia`s efforts to attack our democracy were predicated, whether they were warranted. We know they were predicated, we know they were warranted.
MADDOW: Does it affect your thinking about this or should it affect all of our thinking about this that it appears that the counterintelligence investigation into what happened between the Trump campaign and Russia, this key question as to whether or not Russia tried to exert or did exert leverage over the man who`s now president of the United States, or people around him and in his administration? That appears nowhere in Robert Mueller`s redacted report. Any counterintelligence findings about leverage, any discussion about the implications of stuff like the Trump Tower Moscow project or any other contacts between Russia and the campaign, it doesn`t appear in what we`ve been allowed to see of Robert Mueller`s work product.
I mean, to me, that suggests that maybe that counterintelligence investigation was handled elsewhere in the FBI. It would have been under Wray`s purview, not under Mueller`s purview. That raises questions to me, him being involved in a review of an investigation that he may still be supervising.
BASH: That`s correct, Rachel, and in fact, the intelligence committees in Congress have the statutory jurisdiction to obtain any information about that counterintelligence review, including anything that`s currently ongoing and being reviewed by the FBI because, of course, the Russian federation has not suspended its attacks on the United States and, in fact, may only be accelerating them.
I think also important, Rachel, is the appointment of John Durham, the U.S. attorney from Connecticut. You know, the Sebastian Gorkas of the world celebrated this and said this is Trump`s secret weapon to take on the deep state. I don`t think so. I worked a little bit with John Durham in 2008 and 2009 when he initially began to review CIA`s destruction of the interrogation videotapes and then the abuse of detainees.
And what John Durham did in that investigation, he was very thorough. I would say even slow. He was very methodical. At the end of the day, though, he did not bring any criminal charges against intelligence officers because in his conclusion, they were following the legal opinions by the Justice Department.
So I think if anybody thinks that John Durham is going to be a political pawn here, or he`s going to find that, say, the FBI did something politically that, you know, they swerved out of their lane, don`t count on it, especially when we have people like Jim Baker on your program this week explaining the lawful predication for the original counterintelligence investigation.
MADDOW: Jeremy Bash, former chief of staff at the CIA and the Pentagon -- Jeremy, really appreciate your time tonight. Thank you for being here.
BASH: Thanks, Rachel.
MADDOW: All right. Much more ahead tonight. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Ahead of his meeting with President Vladimir Putin in Russia today, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was supposed to have made a pit stop in Moscow yesterday, but that itinerary was scrapped so Pompeo could instead crash a meeting of European foreign ministers in Belgium. He literally dropped right in, no invite, zero warning, hey, guys, I`m here.
That kind of ping-ponging and unexpected schedule changes has become the norm for Pompeo lately. Last week, he skipped out on a long-planned meeting with the German chancellor in order to make, instead, an unscheduled visit to Iraq. Last Thursday, he was supposed to go to Greenland, but instead, the State Department issued a statement saying that that part of his trip had to be postponed due to a need for the secretary to be in Washington, D.C.
Under normal circumstances, you might not think much of a top U.S. official blowing up his travel plans and showing up in unexpected places and canceling long-planned trips but that day he canceled on Greenland, last Thursday, when it was so important he suddenly be back in D.C., that happened to be the same day that the acting defense secretary, Patrick Shanahan, reportedly presented a plan to Trump`s top national security staff, a plan to send 120,000 U.S. troops into the Middle East, to try to intimidate Iran or maybe to invade Iran?
"Newsweek" reporting today that those military options presented to the president`s top national security staff included air strikes and setting up for a possible ground invasion, a ground invasion of Iran.
So, no wonder Mike Pompeo would rather be back in D.C. participating in that discussion instead of heading off to Greenland to talk about other things.
Today, unnamed U.S. officials downplayed that report saying those troop levels represented a worst-case scenario contingency plan. Not definitely, we`re not going to do it, we`re just thinking about how bad it could be.
I mean, what this seems like is an administration that is testing the waters, right? Floating on idea so that they can ultimately claim they had no intention of going through with that plan that everybody has reacted to with such horror. But even floating an idea like this one is alarming when you look at what they`ve been doing over the past few weeks. I mean, the Trump administration over the past few weeks already designated an arm of the Iranian military to be a terrorist group. Iran responded by designating all U.S. troops in the Middle East as terrorists.
Iran also declared its intent to restart some of the nuclear activities that were prohibited under the Iran deal which the Trump administration threw under the bus. Last week, the White House announced an aircraft carrier and bombers would be sent to the region specifically to try to rattle Iran. Now against this backdrop, there have been apparent attacks on Saudi oil tankers and one of that country`s pipelines which are being blamed by unnamed U.S. officials on Iran or Iranian-related forces.
I mean, they`re presenting these things as a type of provocation that could set off the entire region, right? It certainly appears like this administration is beating the drums for war with Iran, but it`s moving beyond their typical rhetoric in that regard. It seems like they`re trying to line up some sort of planning and some sort of potential named provocation that they might use to justify it.
Joining us now is Colin Kahl. He`s co-director for the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University. He`s also former national security adviser to Vice President Biden.
Colin, thank you very much for joining us tonight. I really appreciate you being here.
COLIN KAHL, FORMER DEPUTY ASSISTANT TO PRESIDENT OBAMA: Great to be with you.
MADDOW: So you are one of the people who has been describing these recent events within the Trump administration and between the Trump administration and Iran as potentially bumbling into war or drifting into war. I feel like they`ve been so aggressive and so bellicose in terms of the way they`ve talked about Iran ever since the campaign, it`s sort of hard for me to see the distinction between their typical bluster and what might be a real threat.
Why are you worried about a potential real threat here?
KAHL: Well, I think the worry comes in two directions.
One is there`s definitely a war camp inside the Trump administration. I mean, John Bolton for decades has had his sights set on attacking Iran militarily, overthrowing its regime. Secretary Pompeo, prior to becoming secretary of state, is also quite hawkish on Iran.
You don`t have reasonable voices around the president anymore like H.R. McMaster or Secretary Mattis who weren`t doves but did caution restraint as it related to Iran. So, I think one danger is there`s a war camp within the administration.
The other danger is you can stumble into an accident. I mean, I recall in January of 2016 when about a dozen U.S. sailors inadvertently sailed into Iranian waters and were scooped up by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy, and we were able to return them in the Obama administration in about 24 hours because John Kerry could get on the phone with Javad Zarif, the Iran foreign minister, and work out a peaceful settlement.
I don`t think anyone today thinks that would end peacefully. I think that while Donald Trump may not want a big war in the Middle East, if the Iranians draw blood or there`s an incident involving U.S. and Iranian forces who operate in Iraq, Syria and crowded waters of the Gulf in close proximity, then I think things could spin out of control in a kind of "Guns of August" scenario.
MADDOW: NBC News reported last week that top intelligence and military advisers to President Trump held what was described in the piece as a highly unusual meeting at CIA headquarters to discuss Iran. That reporting points out that Vice President Dick Cheney frequented CIA headquarters in the lead-up to the Iran war, in part so he could grill analysts directly about the faulty intelligence in that lead-up to that war.
Does that -- that scenario, this idea that Bolton and other top Trump officials are going to the CIA to do some of this planning that they`re doing, does that -- does that unnerve you at all?
KAHL: It does. I think it does have these dark echoes of kind of the machinations that Dick Cheney was involved in to manipulate intelligence prior to the 2003 Iraq war. It`s conceivable that Bolton and others went to CIA with the goal of trying to gin up intelligence to justify Bolton`s threat about a week ago to unleash unrelenting force against Iran if they attacked U.S. interests in the region.
It`s also possible, however, that the conversation was about covert action to undermine Iran. I think you can see the CIA meeting potentially in the same vain as the Pentagon meeting that you talked about just a few minutes ago, of the administration exploring options, both covert and overt, to take on the Iranian regime if it engages in provocations or attacks against U.S. forces or if it, you know, follows through with backing away on its commitments and starts to restart its nuclear program.
So I think we`re at a very dangerous moment.
MADDOW: I know that, Colin, you oversaw Iran policy and planning at the Pentagon for a couple of years. So, I mean, you have a very specific type on expertise on this. When they`re talking about those options that you`re describing, and when we`ve got this reporting that they`re talking about 120,000 U.S. troops being involved in some sort of action directed at Iran, what does that number say to you? Does that tell you anything about what they might be considering in terms of a potential invasion or some other type of attack or action?
KAHL: Yes, it`s a very bizarre number. I obviously can`t go into the war plans that I oversaw at the Pentagon at the beginning of the Obama administration, but I`ll just say this. If the contingency is to, you know, degrade Iran`s ability to carry out attacks in the region or to go after its nuclear program, that`s mostly something you would do with air power, with missiles, with your navy. It would not involve 120,000 forces.
So, the 120,000 force number is weird. It`s simultaneously way too big to actually accomplish the missions that the administration has talked about but also too small to actually invade Iran unless you simply wanted to topple the government and leave, which I guess is one possibility.
The "Newsweek" story that you referenced a few minutes ago offered some clarity where off the record, you know, Pentagon officials seemed to be suggesting that the 120,000 forces would be kind of a Desert Shield like scenario where you would put forces in the region as a build-up towards a massive invasion, which is terrifying because, of course, there is no legal authority for that and no informed consent of the American public.
But my read on this is two-fold. One, it could either be a leak that is intended to just try to scare the Iranians into behaving or more likely it was the Pentagon presenting some very large options to the Trump administration in the hopes of convincing Trump that this is something he doesn`t want to do and therefore to rein in Bolton and others.
MADDOW: Yes. And that dynamic, again, it`s very hard to see without any normal policy processes that we can witness, like we`ve seen in other administrations, even no normal functions of the National Security Council, no normal functioning of the type of process you`d usually see on big national security decisions like this, even though that has been flawed in the past. Without that kind of process, it`s very hard to see the president`s decision-making here, whether or not this might be people like Bolton and others in the administration essentially acting on their own in a vacuum where they can take up space because the normal policy making process isn`t functioning.
KAHL: Yes, I mean, to quote young Frankenstein, it`s not normal, it`s abby normal.
You both have non-normal process or nonexistent one where essentially Bolton is kind of running an ad hoc process that only goes through him and you have a president, of course, who is notoriously erratic.
Look, I don`t think in his heart of hearts Trump wants a big war in the Middle East. It`s certainly not what his base signed up for, but I do worry that he is prone to heated rhetoric. He`s already put some quasi red lines down against Iran and Bolton and others may be trying to box the president in rhetorically so that if an incident happens, he feels like he has no choice but to respond in the most bellicose manner possible.
MADDOW: Colin Kahl, former national security adviser to Vice President Biden -- thank you so much for being here, Colin. It`s great to have you here. Thank you.
KAHL: Great to be with you, Rachel.
MADDOW: We`ll be right back. Stay with us.
MADDOW: We have breaking news tonight out of the great state of Alabama. The Alabama state senate just moments ago passed a bill to ban, to criminalize any and all abortion procedures in the state of Alabama, with no exceptions. No exceptions, even for women who became pregnant through rape or incest. Rape victims and incest victims, even juveniles as of this bill just passed by the Alabama legislature tonight, they will be forced to give birth against their will, along with any other woman in the state who ends up pregnant by any other means.
This bill was heading to the -- sorry, as this bill was heading to the Alabama Senate tonight, the national ACLU, it`s interesting, sent out an image today of a check, a big check. As you can see, it is from the state of Alabama. It`s made out to the ACLU of Alabama for the amount of $1.7 million. You can see at the bottom right. It`s signed by the state comptroller.
The ACLU tweeted out that check quite explicitly as a warning to Republican legislators in Alabama who were about to pass a law to criminalize all abortions in that state. The ACLU said, quote: The last time Alabama threatened abortion rights, they lost and paid the ACLU of Alabama and Planned Parenthood $1.7 million. We really don`t want Alabama`s money. Just keep abortion legal and we`re good.
The Alabama ACLU also points out that the state of Alabama has never won a lawsuit on abortion. Well, with this vote tonight, they just bought themselves a new big one, this bill to recriminalize abortion in Alabama, again, with no exceptions for rape or incest victims, it passed the House last month.
Just minutes ago, it passed the Senate. Alabama`s Republican governor is expected to sign it into law. Soon, we`ll be able to cut to the part when they end up sending ACLU and Planned Parenthood another giant check, but right now, this is the first outright abortion ban test that they are hoping will make it to the United States Supreme Court.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: That does it for us tonight. We will see you again tomorrow when Montana Democratic Governor Steve Bullock is going to be here as my guest.
Governor Bullock announced today he`s joining the Democratic race for president. He has a unique case to make for why he ought to be the Democratic nominee. He`s going to be here live in studio tomorrow to talk with us about it.
Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL".
Good evening, Lawrence.
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