IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Julian Assange indicted under espionage act. TRANSCRIPT: 5/23/19, The Rachel Maddow Show.

Guests: Jerry Nadler

CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST:  That is "ALL IN" for this evening. 

"THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW" starts right now. 

Good evening, Rachel. 

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST:  That was a really, really, really important and really good segment on that topic. 

HAYES:  Thank you.

MADDOW:  And having both of those guys here are exactly the right people to hear from and that was super -- I`m about to talk about this same story but that was super edifying. 

HAYES:  I`m glad you are.  Yes, it`s a big one.  It`s a big one. 

MADDOW:  And I think -- I share your four-alarm sense about this.  I think -- it`s interesting to me that this hasn`t taken over the news cycle all day today.  I think it may. 

HAYES:  I think partly because of the weirdness of the first set of indictments that was superseding.  If it led with this, it would have been a bigger story out of the gate.  It`s a weird thing they did there.

MADDOW:  It is a weird thing.  I think it`s going to have some weird consequences in the short order.  But I`ll get to that now.

Thank you, my friend.  Well done. 

HAYES:  I`ll go watch.  Thanks.

MADDOW:  Thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.  I`m happy to have you with us.

And as I mentioned to Chris, I am sort of surprised that this story is not more wall-to-wall everywhere right now.  I do think in coming days as people really absorb what this new indictment means, it may end up being as big a story as it deserves to be. 

As you by now may have heard, the WikiLeaks guy, Julian Assange, has been newly indicted.  Last month, he was taken out of that embassy in London where he had been hiding for the past few years trying to avoid criminal prosecution in multiple countries.  It looks like Sweden is pursuing rape charges against him now, the U.K. has prosecuted him and now jailed him for jumping bail. 

But when he was pulled out of that embassy last month, he was charged in the United States with a computer hacking charge.  He was specifically charged for helping a U.S. soldier, whose name is Chelsea Manning, helping her try to break a password basically to cover up unauthorized access to classified materials, which Manning was illegally downloading from a Defense Department computer for the purpose of sending them to WikiLeaks to publish. 

Now, the U.S. laid that charge against Julian Assange.  They said they wanted to bring Assange to trial on that charge here in the United States.  But he is not here in the United States, he`s in the U.K.  And the U.K. has to decide whether or not they are going to extradite, whether or not they are going to ship him over here to face that criminal charge.  That was the situation heading into today. 

Now today, apparently, the United States government has decided maybe they don`t want the U.K. to extradite Julian Assange here to ever face trial.  Or at least that would appear to be the intriguing, fascinating and very worrying bottom line of this remarkable thing that the Justice Department did today when they unsealed a new superseding indictment, so an additional indictment against Assange.  Only this time it is not the same kind of criminal allegation they made against him in the initial indictment.  It`s not some hacking computer crime like they originally charged him with. 

Now as of today they are charging him with 17 counts under the Espionage Act.  And these charges are not about stealing classified information or outsmarting security systems in order to illegally obtain classified information.  It`s not about that.  These new charges are trying to prosecute Assange for publishing that stolen secret material, which was obtained by somebody else. 

And that is a whole different kettle of fish than what he was initially charged with.  There has never in this country been a successful prosecution under the Espionage Act of some third party for publishing something that somebody else stole or something that otherwise made its way out of the government while the government was trying to keep it secret.  We`ve never in this country successfully charged somebody for publishing secret material. 

But by charging Assange for publishing that stuff that was taken by Manning, by issuing these 17 charges today, the Justice Department has done something you might have otherwise thought was impossible.  The Justice Department today, the Trump administration today, just put every journalistic institution in this country on Julian Assange`s side of the ledger, on his side of the fight, which I know is unimaginable.  But that is because the government is now trying to assert this brand new right to criminally prosecute people for publishing secret stuff.  And newspapers and magazines and investigative journalists and different entities publish stuff all the time.  That is the bread and butter of what we do, right?

There is a reason, it`s called the First Amendment, that the U.S. government has never successfully made that a crime before.  But here with Assange, they are trying to do it.  And as a matter of law, this is not at all about Julian Assange and WikiLeaks doing what they did in the 2016 election.  This is not related to them working with Russian intelligence material in 2016 to try to help Trump win the election and to try to hurt Hillary Clinton.  This is not about WikiLeaks and Julian Assange personally strategizing with Trump campaign staffers about how to beat Hillary Clinton as they were releasing all of that information stolen by the Russians. 

These new charges have nothing to do with that.  These new charges also frankly have nothing to do with the nature of the material that WikiLeaks published from the Chelsea Manning documents in 2010.  What this is, is now a novel legal effort to punch a huge hole in the First Amendment by labeling it spying, labeling it criminal espionage to publish secret stuff, in a country where we have a long, proud journalistic history of journalistic entities publishing secret stuff. 

And, of course, this comes conveniently at a time when this administration, this president personally, is calling the press the enemy of the people.  The president this week gleefully saying that his new attorney general is looking at bringing criminal charges, bringing criminal investigations against the president`s personal enemies.  The president expressing glee about that this week at a political rally that he likes his new attorney general for doing that. 

And I am sure this president would love to establish a new legal doctrine, a whole new legal lane for the U.S. government that`s never existed before, where anyone who publishes stuff the government doesn`t want published gets prosecuted by the Justice Department under the most serious statutes imaginable, facing long prison terms for doing it.  I`m sure this president would want that.  I`m sure he is absolutely stupefied that he doesn`t already have that power. 

But he doesn`t have that power.  He`s never had it before.  No president has.  And this is the president who`s saying that the FBI is committing treason.  And the press is the enemy of the people. 

I`m sure he`d be happy to say that the press is committing treason too and espionage and all the rest of it. 

But what`s going to happen next year is going to be fascinating, because in order to pursue this prosecution, the United States will have to persuade Great Britain, our great ally, that they should extradite Julian Assange here to face these new charges.  And from the U.K.`s perspective, I mean, obviously the U.K. and the U.S. have an incredibly important and close relationship that extends absolutely to having close and cooperative relationships on all sorts of law enforcement and intelligence matters. 

But I think there may be reason to not expect automatic British deference on something like this.  I mean, for one thing, however special the relationship is between the U.S. and the U.K., it may have become considerably less special once we inaugurated a new president that heads a new White House where they literally can`t even spell the name Theresa May, who was prime minister of the U.K.  It`s not like it was a tough name.  They really can`t manage it, ever. 

Theresa May right now, frankly, has bigger fish to fry.  Her role as prime minister is uncertain.  The future of her government is very uncertain.  British politics has not teetered like this in a very long time but it teeters right now more precipitously than ever thanks to the Brexit disaster.  That incidentally our own president has loudly supported and tried to link to his own presidential campaign. 

And honestly even if the U.S./U.K. relationship were as strong as ever, the Brits really do have an unequivocally independent judiciary and legal system that was always going to consider this critically because it was always going to be controversial.  It was controversial even when it was just the one computer hacking crime, right?  Now that it`s espionage?  I mean, it will not help the American case to extradite Julian Assange that the U.S. is trying something totally novel on him, right?  The U.S. has never successfully brought these kinds of charges ever before. 

I mean -- I`m going to tell you the bottom line here is stay tuned on this, but I think these 17 espionage charges against the WikiLeaks guy are a huge deal and very dark development.  Chris Hayes this evening called it a four- alarm development.  I absolutely share that. 

And you know, I know you.  Given everything else that we know about the WikiLeaks guy, I can feel through the television right now your mixed feelings about what I am saying, right? 

I can feel what may be perhaps a certain lack of concern about Julian Assange`s ultimate fate, right, given his own gleeful and extensive personal role in trying to help a hostile foreign government interfere in our election in order to install their chosen president with WikiLeaks` help, right?  I know.  I feel you.  I got it. 

But it is a recurring theme in history.  Heck, it is a recurring theme in the Bible that they always pick the least sympathetic figures to try this stuff on first.  Despite anybody`s feelings about this spectacularly unsympathetic character at the center of this now international drama, you are going to see every journalistic institution in this country, every First Amendment supporter in this country, left, right and center swallow their feelings about this particular human and denounce what the Trump administration is trying to do here, because it would fundamentally change the United States of America.  It would fundamentally change the balance of power between the people and our government. 

But as I said, in the first instance, it will be interesting to see what happens in Britain, because they`re going to have first crack at this.  My guess is that these radical new charges, this novel new effort by the Justice Department to turn pushing secret material into violation of the Espionage Act for the first time ever, I think there`s a good chance that will be viewed as controversial enough by U.K. authorities that it may preclude them from ever sending him over here to stand trial.  I mean, they have rules of their own that preclude them from sending somebody to, for example, face a political prosecution.  I don`t know if that`s how they will define this sort of thing, but they should recognize that what Assange is being charged with, regardless of how you feel about Assange, it is a fundamentally novel and radical thick that the Trump administration is trying to do. 

And that will matter to them when they make their extradition decision, what wasn`t a sure thing anyway.  And while that is happening, literally today, Britain is boiling its own totally different kettle of fish that will have profound implications for Theresa May, for the British government, and for that country`s relationship with us and every other country on earth.  Today was the first day of voting in the U.K. and in the Netherlands, in the European elections that are happening over the next four days. 

U.K. and the Netherlands vote today.  Tomorrow, it`s Ireland and the Czech Republic.  On Saturday, it`s Latvia, Malta and Slovakia.  And on Sunday, it`s the other 21 European -- other 21 countries in the European Union. 

Now, these elections happen once every five years.  These are elections to fill seats in the European parliament, which has 751 seats.  There`s going to be hundreds of millions of people voting over these four days.  It looks like what we are likely to see as results from this voting is a whole bunch of far right anti-immigrant and fundamentally anti-European parties doing very well in these elections, which ironically will fill the European parliament.  Their idea is that they will hopefully destroy it from within. 

You may remember back in 2016 how the Brexit referendum in the U.K. happened just a few months before our presidential election that year, that shocking result of that referendum where British voters defied the polls and narrowly voted to pull up all the drawbridges and saw Britain off from Europe, even though they had absolutely no idea what that would mean and how they would do it.  That Brexit vote in the summer of 2016 was a global shock. 

At the time for us as Americans, it was shocking.  In retrospect, I think we now look back at that vote from the summer of 2016 and recognize that when just a few months later in that same year, November of that same year when our own polls proved wrong, when Donald Trump was all of a sudden elected president, of all people, I think now looking back with the advantage of both hindsight and a wide-angle lens, it seems at least plausible that that Brexit vote in the summer of 2016 was a little bit of a harbinger for what was coming our way just a few months later in the fall of 2016. 

Well, now here we are again with these European elections starting today.  And we are seeing that dynamic that we saw at work in the Brexit election in 2016 and the Trump election that fall, we are seeing that dynamic not only not reversed, we`re seeing it accelerated in some ways, even as it is still being ham-handedly supported by some of the same external forces whose nefarious aims are quite clear and easy to see. 

I mean, in the U.K. specifically, they literally just formed a party called the Brexit Party.  And in these European parliament elections where Brits voted today, the Brexit Party is considered likely to win the most votes.  And again, these votes are for the European parliament, not for the British parliament.  But ultimately after today, if it`s the Brexit Party representing the U.K. in Europe, the already teetering Theresa May government back in London that already can`t hands the Brexit process, either to stop it or go through with it or find some half measure middle way through it, that Brexit party election to the European parliament is going to give Theresa May`s government in London a really hard shove. 

It`s worth watching what`s about to happen in Britain.  It`s also worth watching overall over these next few days, particularly because we Americans are still living through our own ongoing drama from 2016.  I mean, just look at what we`re going through this week.  Look at what we`re going through these last couple of months. 

We have had 63 straight days in Washington of what amounts to total breakdown, total stonewall, total all-out brawling in Washington since Mueller`s investigation was ended 63 days ago, since Mueller`s report on what happened in our 2016 election and what happened with that Russian interference effort was submitted to the Trump administration and then submarined and we`ve never heard from Robert Mueller since.

I mean, we are still right now day-to-day living through our own drama of our own bizarre 2016 election right now.  And what happened with those external factors to influence it.  Well, this European election that`s happening right now as we speak is a variation on the theme of what we went through.  This is the same patterns, the same dynamic at work. 

Sometimes I think it`s even easier to see that pattern when it happens to another country instead of your own.  And it`s sometimes easier to see when it`s freaking dramatic.  You got a sense of how dramatic this was going to be when we saw how this week of this big vote kicked off this week in Europe. 

I know this is a little bit weird, but can we just talk about Austria for a second?  Whether or not you think you care with Austria, just trust me.  This is -- it`s worth learning what just happened in Austria because once you learn it, you are going to want to tell somebody else this story, like in a bar this weekend or at the water cooler at work or over a campfire on a long elevator ride.  Like you`re going to want to tell this story, but it really happened, and it`s just happened in the past few days. 

All right.  So Austria is in the European Union.  They`re one of the countries that are voting on Sundays I think is their vote.  Their chancellor is this guy who, yes, looks like it`s take your baby chancellor to work day. 

He is 32 years old.  He won in 2017 the top job in the Austrian government when his center right government got the most votes in the election that year.  But although his party got the most votes, they didn`t get enough votes to form a government on their own and so the young chancellor had to decide what other entity in the Austrian government he would go into coalition with in order to form a majority that would then run that country. 

And the young chancellor from the center right party decided that he would look around and pick who he would form a coalition with.  He decided to pick the party that was founded by the ex-Nazis. 

Now, I do not mean that as an insult.  That is not like some ad hominem hyperbolic attack.  I mean, we`re talking about Austria here.  This is a party that was -- this is a party that was actually founded by actual ex- Nazis, real Nazis, just speaking factually. 

The party founded by the ex-Nazis.  It`s called the Freedom Party.  And it`s interesting, the government of Russia, Vladimir Putin and his political party in Russia have taken a keen interest in supporting the Freedom Party in Austria.  The year before the Freedom Party, this group founded by ex-Nazis, the year before they were invited to join Austria`s coalition government and help form the government in that nation, the top official of Austria`s Freedom Party was invited to Moscow to sign a cooperation agreement with Putin`s party, with United Russia, which is Putin`s party. 

Then the following year was when that Freedom Party official got into the Austrian government, he became the vice chancellor of Austria, the number two guy in the whole government.  That raised questions as to what the impact would be of that party taking power in Austria while having a formal cooperation agreement with Vladimir Putin`s party in Moscow. 

I mean, as part of the coalition deal, that center right young chancellor joined with the Freedom Party in order to form a majority together.  The Freedom Party got half the cabinet agencies, including the foreign minister and the defense minister.  They got control of the nation`s intelligence services. 

Western intelligence agencies were so freaked out by that, they stopped sharing intelligence with the Austrian intelligence agencies because they just assumed once the Freedom Party guys got ahold of anything sensitive that might be of interest to Moscow, these Austrian guys would ship it straight to Putin.  They stopped sharing intel with the Austrian government. 

Now, all along, the young chancellor in Austria who decided to partner with these guys, he has had to defend the fact that he went into coalition with these guys, you know, he`s had to defend them every time they come out with some new racist statement, some new anti-Semitic trope.  He`s had to defend them shutting down all the law enforcement agencies against the neo-Nazis in Austria, which is what happens when you put the ex-Nazis in front of -- in charge of the agencies that were supposed to be doing these things. 

I mean, the young chancellor has gone out of his way, particularly when talking to the international press, to say that he doesn`t worry at all about the links between the Freedom Party and Russia.  He`s gone out of his way to say the links between the freedom party, his governing partners in Russia, that`s all overblown. 

Well, on Friday, this past week, two news organizations published this video.  There we go.  Which shows the vice chancellor of Austria, the number two guy in that government, the head guy of the freedom party.  That`s him on the right side of your screen with the wide neck shirt and the creepy wristband thing. 

The other guy on the left side of the screen standing up is another Freedom Party official.  In this video he functions as the translator here because he speaks sort of elementary school level Russian.  And the blonde lady whose face is pixilated, she is posing in this interaction as the niece of a Russian oligarch who would like to support the Freedom Party.  That`s who these Freedom Party guys think she is.

She`s visiting from Russia with a whole bunch of money to spend to help them out.  And in this video which stretches for seven hours, the vice chancellor of Austria, the guy in front of the screen here, head of the Freedom Party, this guy from this group founded by ex-Nazis who they elevated to the number two person of that government, he chats with this young woman about what he wants from her uncle.  What he wants from a Kremlin-connected Russian oligarch to support his party and to support his political aspirations. 

He tells this woman that this Russian oligarch should use Russian money to take control of the biggest tabloid newspaper in Austria, turn it into a mouthpiece for the Freedom Party, help them get elected.  Once they get control of the government, the Russian oligarch should then form a construction company and this guy, who will then be running the government will make sure that all the road building contracts, all the big infrastructure contracts in Austria would then go to the new construction company secretly set up for that purpose and run by the Russian oligarch who spent all that money to get the ex-Nazi party in charge. 

So, you pay for us to get in power.  We will pay you.  You infiltrate our country and our press on behalf of Russia.  You install a Kremlin-friendly far right political party in Austria.  And once we`re in there, we`ll pay you back with cash, with public contracts.  Win, win, win.  It`s all spelled out. 

The video was published on Friday.  The vice chancellor of Austria, the guy with the wide neck t-shirt and creepy wristband, he resigned the next day, on Saturday.  Number two official in the government. 

Two days later on Monday, the interior minister who`s also a Freedom Party guy, he was fired by the chancellor after he expressed not that much interest in pursuing this as a potentially criminal matter.  In responses, all of the other Freedom Party ministers said they would quit too, and yesterday they all did.  That`s half the ministers in the government, including the defense minister and the labor minister and the foreign minister who invited Putin to her wedding. 

And so the Austrian government just collapsed.  They have to call snap elections.  Nobody knows what`s going to happen.  But it`s happened literally on the eve of the European elections, and now we`re about to find out how well that Freedom Party, that exact same party, is going to do in the European parliamentary elections when Austrians get their turn to vote on those elections on Sunday.  They have been favored to do very well.  How will they do now that all their ministers have left the government and the government has been exposed for trying to sell out their government to Russian oligarchs?

I mean, sometimes exposing Russian influence over a political campaign leads to the collapse of the whole government.  It`s amazing, right?  It can happen. 

But this -- this dynamic is at large now, right?  It`s not just one country.  In addition to that cooperation agreement that Putin`s political party signed with the Freedom Party in Austria, Putin`s political party did the same agreement with the right-wing ascendant political party in Italy which is called The League.  The League is poised to win tons of seats in the European elections this weekend. 

The Russian government has also been propping up Marine Le Pen in the far right, racist National Front Party in France, which is also poised to win tons of seats this weekend.  There are open questions under investigation in Britain as to possible Russian support for the funders of Brexit and for the ongoing Brexit uprising in the U.K. 

I mean all of these far right, anti-immigrant, anti-Europe groups are poised to do very well in these elections that started today and that are going to go over the next four days.  In Italy, in France, in Austria, in Germany and Hungary and the U.K.  And all of them are supported by Russia in one way or another. 

For all or most of them, the feeling is also mutual.  They also support Russia.  Here`s a picture of the head of the League party in Italy sitting in the European parliament wearing a Vladimir Putin t-shirt. 

The creepy American factor in all of this is that all of these far right anti-immigrant, anti-Europe parties that are poised to destroy the European Union from within, they are not only supported by Russia and supportive of Russia, they are also being buoyed and to a greater or lesser extent all being advised by Steve Bannon, who moved his operation to Europe after what he did here for us in 2016. 

So, sometimes, I think it helps us as Americans understand our own situation to take a broader lens on this stuff, right?  I mean, we are still muddling our way through our own situation every day.  I`m going to talk with the chairman of the Judiciary Committee in just a minute about the latest fights to try to pry loose information and documents of witnesses from this administration.  We are still muddling through it. 

But Europe is hitting this like wall this weekend, and this is a global thing that we are in.  It`s not just us.  And in some places, yes, these dynamics lead to whole governments collapsing suddenly and in shame and disgrace.  And in other cases, that doesn`t happen.  In other cases, it results in previously unimaginably shameful fringe figures not only making it into power but clinging to it. 

We`ve got a lot to get to tonight and there`s a lot going on, but man, this is no time to check out.  Your country needs you.  Stay with us. 


MADDOW:  A little bit of breaking news tonight from the White House.  Honestly I`m not sure I understand totally.  It`s just -- it`s just sort of happening now. 

It`s a brand new White House statement that says, quote: Today, at the request and recommendation of the attorney general of the United States, President Donald J. Trump directed the intelligence community to quickly and fully cooperate with the attorney general`s investigation into surveillance activities during the 2016 presidential election.  The attorney general has also been delegated full and complete authority to declassify information pertaining to this investigation, in accordance with the long-established standards for handling classified information.  Today`s action will help ensure that all Americans learn the truth about the events that occurred and the actions that were taken during the last presidential election and will restore confidence in our public institutions. 

Again, that statement tonight from the White House.  The White House then released this memorandum which is titled Memorandum on Agency Cooperation with the attorney general`s review of intelligence activities related to the 2016 presidential campaigns.  Campaigns, plural. 

Quote, the memo outlines the attorney general`s authority to declassify information and intelligence, was sent to the Departments of State, Treasury, Defense, Energy, and Homeland Security, along with the director of the national intelligence and head of the CIA. 

We are still running down the implications of this.  We know that the attorney general, William Barr, had said that he wanted to pursue some kind of investigation into the origins of the Russia investigation.  We had had reporting that that involved the U.S. attorney in the state of Connecticut and maybe also the director of national intelligence and maybe also the CIA director, Gina Haspel. 

Attorney General Barr was said to be personally involved in whatever this inquiry was.  This is on top of the inspector general also pursuing an inquiry along these same lines. 

This memo tonight, we don`t exactly know what it means, but it makes like they are somehow trying to clear a path for whatever it is that Barr is doing.  It`s not totally clear what this means yet. 

But I want to tell you, we did get one really interesting response to this news just a moment ago from someone who was there for the early stages of the Russia investigation and also for the Clinton email probe.  When this memo was released tonight, we contacted David Laufman, who was chief of counterintelligence at the Justice Department under President Obama, who served at the beginning of the Trump administration as well.  He was there as the chief of counterintelligence at the justice department when the Russia investigation was opened. 

David Laufman tells us tonight that this new decision by the president is, quote, a grotesque abuse of the intelligence community to further his goal of political retribution, made worse by the spectacle of the Justice Department as his handmaiden. 

So, again, I think that`s the first response we`ve had from a senior Justice Department official, former Justice Department official who was involved in the origins of this inquiry tonight. 

But again, David Laufman calling this a grotesque abuse of the intelligence community. 

Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Chairman Jerry Nadler joins us next.  Stay with us. 


MADDOW:  Joining us now here on set is Congressman Jerry Nadler.  He is the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, which makes him one of the busiest human beings in Washington today and the man with a lot on his plate. 

Sir, thank you for making time for us.  It`s nice to see you.

REP. JERRY NADLER (D-NY):  Pleasure to be here. 

MADDOW:  For coming in.

I want to get your -- first, your top line reaction to this news that we just got.  The president is directing the intelligence community to cooperate with Attorney General Barr`s investigation into surveillance activities during the 2016 presidential election.  He`s also delegating to the attorney general full and complete authority to declassify information pertaining to this investigation. 

Do you have any idea what this is about? 

NADLER:  Yes.  It`s part of the Trump and Republican plot to dirty up the intelligence community, to pretend that there`s something wrong with the beginning of the Mueller investigation and to persecute and bring into line the intelligence agencies.  This is the third investigation. 

Remember, the inspector general of the Department of Justice launched an investigation of Strzok and Page and all these people, and concluded their political opinions did not interfere with their decisions in the probe and there was nothing wrong with being in the probe.  The attorney general, the prior attorney general asked the U.S. attorney in Utah, Herd (ph) I think his name is, something like that. 

MADDOW:  Huber. 

NADLER:  Huber, to do a second investigation.  We`re waiting for the result of that.  We don`t need a third investigation of the same material just designed to further the propaganda against the Mueller investigation and against an apolitical and properly functioning FBI and intelligence community. 

MADDOW:  To that point, I feel like we knew that -- we knew that Attorney General Barr was pursuing something along these lines because he talked about it in testimony before the Senate. 

What`s new tonight is this directive, this formal-looking directive in which he says that the intelligence community is essentially ordered to cooperate fully.  That`s the part I don`t really understand. 

NADLER:  I don`t know what that means. 


NADLER:  It may just be public relations, I don`t know. 

MADDOW:  Yes, that`s what I was wondering. 

NADLER:  I don`t know. 

The fact of the matter is this is all nonsense.  There is no basis whatsoever to believe that anybody in the intelligence community did anything wrong in terms of starting the investigation or the Hillary email investigation.  What they`re really trying to do is to divert attention from the Mueller report and from the president`s actions against the rule of law to an imaginary scandal. 

MADDOW:  It`s been just over 60 days since Mueller`s investigation was ended and since he submitted his report.  We have seen hide nor hair of Robert Mueller in that time.  I don`t know where he is, I hope he`s well. 

You have talked repeatedly about hoping to get him in to testify about his own findings.  Today, in fact, was one of the days that you had put on the calendar as a hopeful date that he might come in. 

What`s going on?  What`s wrong with -- what`s wrong with our expectations?  We had thought that it would be a big deal to get him in there. 

NADLER:  Well, we think it would be.  We want him to come in and testify.  We want others to come in and testify. 

There are a lot of people who should come in and testify, who the administration is saying they will not permit to testify.  They`re blanket stonewalling of Congress and the American people.  The president was silly enough -- was foolish enough to admit that he was engaged in blanket stonewalling, and that includes McGahn and that includes a lot of other people. 

Mueller, he -- I think I can say at this point, that he wants to testify in private. 

MADDOW:  Why? 

NADLER:  I don`t know why.  It`s -- he wants -- he`s willing to make an opening statement but he wants to testify in private.  We`re saying he ought to -- we think it`s important for the American people to hear from him and to hear his answers to questions about the report. 

MADDOW:  Does he want to testify in private and have it be a closed session where we, the people, would not even get to see a transcript of it? 

NADLER:  No, no, no.  We`d see a transcript.  But I -- we`d see a transcript. 

MADDOW:  Do you have any sense of -- I mean, why would witnesses usually say something like that or do you have any indication why he might want that? 

NADLER:  He envisions himself correctly as a man of great rectitude and apolitical and he doesn`t want to participate in anything that he might regard as a political spectacle, especially if Republicans on the committee start asking him questions about the beginning of the -- about this stuff, the beginning of the investigation.  I`m speculating really.


NADLER:  But he doesn`t want to be public in what some people will regard as a political spectacle, I think. 

MADDOW:  It`s hard for me -- I can see if he was advocating for a closed session in which the public would never know.  I mean we can read it, we can act it out.  We still have access to what`s said. 

NADLER:  You do very well acting out transcripts. 


NADLER:  But there`s a difference, obviously. 


Let me ask about whether there`s any discussion about whether his team, his prosecutors and investigators involved, should also be testifying.  And the reason I asked is not just because I`m interested to hear what they have to say, but it`s because, among others, the attorney general and the president and Republicans in Congress have singled out individual people on Mueller`s team as being particularly bad actors or being the people who might explain Mueller`s complaints to Barr about how Barr handled the investigation. 

They`ve already been targeted.  They had words put in their mouth.  Should we not hear from them as well? 

NADLER:  I think we probably will.  I think we`ll probably hear from them and a lot of other people. 

You know, our intention in the Judiciary Committee is to open all of this up to the American people, to have everybody relevant testify so that people understand what was in the Mueller report, what wasn`t in the Mueller report, to understand what was going on.  We can ask questions about other things, about the president`s derelictions of duty or about his defenses of his dereliction of duty, about all of these things.  People have to understand it. 

Now, the administration decided to use quite indefensible legal doctrines to stonewall Congress, stonewall the American people and say nobody can testify and nobody can bring documents.  We`re going to beat them in court because that`s ridiculous from a legal point of view, but they are going try to waste a lot of time. 

But we will have witnesses, those who will come in voluntarily, those who will be subpoenaed, and we will enforce the subpoenas.  And we will have, I`m sure, other witnesses too like some of those 900 federal prosecutors who said that based on the evidence in the Mueller report they would have indicted if it weren`t for the opinion that a president can never be indicted no matter what the evidence. 

We will have hearings on other derelictions of duty.  For instance, the president`s intimidation of witnesses, his dangling of pardons, his intimidating witnesses, his failure -- it`s the duty of the Justice Department, the duty of the Justice Department to defend the constitutionality in court of any law passed by Congress, unless they can rationally say it`s so off the wall that there`s no legal argument that can be made. 

So, why did the Justice Department switch from supporting the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, to opposing it and asking the court to declare Obamacare unconstitutional and deprive 20 million people of pre-existing condition coverage and of other things?  These are questions that I think -- what about the decisions that led to tearing kids away from their parents at the border?  All of these are abuses of power that we`re going to investigate. 

MADDOW:  And these sorts of hearings, this type of aggressive hearings schedule that you`re describing, when does it start? 

NADLER:  Well, it starts as soon as we can get witnesses.  I mean, we have -- 

MADDOW:  They`re never going to let you get witnesses -- 

NADLER:  No, no -- 

MADDOW:  -- if they have anything to say about it. 

NADLER:  That`s right, but we`re going to win -- I mean, you saw in court this week, two key cases, and I anticipate we`ll win the other cases, because the arguments of presidential privilege and absolute immunity are pure nonsense.  There`s no precedent for it. 

So, we will win those cases and we`ll get them.  Some of it will take time because they`ll try to appeal it.  But meanwhile we have -- and meanwhile, we`re doing a whole legislative program separate from the investigations.  We just passed this week, Dreamer legislation to protect the Dreamers.  That will go to the House floor June 4th. 

We passed out of our committee legislation from an antitrust perspective that should cut the cost of prescription drugs about $40 billion over 10 years.  We`ve passed legislation on the Equality Act, major act to say that the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Fair Housing Act, and few others includes LGBT people. 

We passed major gun control legislation, universal background checks.  These aren`t getting the publicity they deserve because everything is subsumed under the president`s scandals.  But we`re showing that Congress can walk and chew gum at the same time and that we can carry a full legislative agenda to do what we promised the American people during the campaign, at the same time that we`re holding the president accountable to vindicate the rule of law and to make sure that we keep a democratic government, with a small D. 

MADDOW:  Chairman Jerry Nadler of the Judiciary Committee, I have one more matter that I want to ask you about tonight before I let you go --

NADLER:  Sure. 

MADDOW:  -- if you can stick with us.

We`ll be right back with the chairman right after this. 


MADDOW:  Back with us again is Congressman Jerry Nadler, he is the chairman of the Judiciary Committee in the House. 

Sir, thank you very much for sticking with us.  Much appreciated. 

"The Washington Post" reported this week that you helped make the case, and you made your own case to Speaker Pelosi, that maybe this is the time to open an impeachment inquiry into President Trump for the behavior described in the Mueller report and other things. 

Was that reporting accurate?  And does that mean that you have evolved in your thinking on this? 

NADLER:  Well, I`m constantly evolving on my thinking on this and frankly going back and forth too because it`s a very tight question. 

Yes, I urged the speaker to speed things up and to consider an impeachment inquiry.  Part of the rationale for that, which was that if you`re in court seeking to enforce subpoenas, you have a better odds in court if you can say this is part of your impeachment inquiry rather than just part of your general oversight.  That rationale is much weaker now than it was on Monday since those two court decisions came down in our favor.

MADDOW:  Uh-huh, meaning the courts are going your way anyway?

NADLER:  Right. 


NADLER:  Or they seem to be.  So, that`s weaker. 

But the fact of the matter is we have to pursue -- what`s really important t is that we pursue the investigations, we pursue the contempt citations, we pursue the subpoenas.  We lay it all out to the American people.  We lay the case out to the American people whether we call it an impeachment -- and we see where we go from there. 

MADDOW:  Uh-huh.

NADLER:  Whether we call it an impeachment inquiry or not is I think of secondary significance compared to actually doing what we have to do. 

MADDOW:  Is it clear to you that there really isn`t much legal advantage to calling something an impeachment inquiry as opposed to not having that open?  I mean, I`ve heard both arguments on both sides.

NADLER:  That`s speculative. 


NADLER:  I mean, you`re arguing to a court that the court must intervene between two coordinated branches of government which it`s reluctant to do and order one branch to do what we want them to do.  And you`re arguing that we have no alternative, you`ve got to do that because there`s no other alternative.  And certainly, if we`re doing it in pursuit of our impeachment constitutional right, it`s a somewhat stronger argument at least theoretically than if you`re doing it just for normal oversight. 

But how much of a difference that makes?  We don`t really know.  And --

MADDOW:  Well, the cost of opening an inquiry, though, I mean, that`s also somewhat speculative.  Everybody thinks there will be a political benefit to the president of you opening an impeachment inquiry.  That to me seems also like speculation.

NADLER:  Again, I don`t know.  And the fact of the matter is, and I think Lawrence O`Donnell pointed this out about six or seven weeks ago, if we were to call -- to hold an impeachment inquiry in the -- and hearings in the Judiciary Committee, how would they differ from what we`re going to be doing if we don`t call it an impeachment inquiry?  And the answer is they wouldn`t. 

MADDOW:  Except they`d be under the headline "impeachment inquiry" in the House -- 

NADLER:  Right, right, right.

MADDOW:  -- which tends to land with a punch. 


MADDOW:  Sir, Congressman Jerry Nadler, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.  Keep us apprised.  I know you were in the middle of a lot of pushmi-pullyus (ph) right now.  I appreciate you taking the time to be here. 

NADLER:  Thank you.

MADDOW:  It`s good to see you. 

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


MADDOW:  There`s a lot of moving pieces tonight. 

Joining us to help sort out some of what we learned just over the course of this hour is the great Barbara McQuade, former U.S. attorney from the great state of Michigan. 

Barb, thank you so much for being here.  I really appreciate it. 

BARBARA MCQUADE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY:  Thanks, Rachel.  Glad to be here. 

MADDOW:  So, we just got news from Chairman Jerry Nadler of the Judiciary Committee.  He just told us and I think this is the first time this has been bluntly articulated anywhere that in terms of negotiations with Robert Mueller to testify in Congress about his investigation and his report and his findings, that Robert Mueller wants to testify in private, not in a closed session where we would never ultimately see the transcript of it, but in a closed-door session that was transcribed and ultimately the transcription would be released to us even though we couldn`t see it on TV. 

What do you make of that? 

MCQUADE:  Well, you know, for curiosity seekers like me, it`s disappointing because I would rather see him testify live.  I think it`s probably more compelling for the public to see live testimony.  But, you know, just based on pure speculation, I guess I might think Robert Mueller is one to sort of shun the spotlight. 

And we`ve all seen those hearings turn into sort of political theatrics.  He may want to avoid that sort of posturing by members of Congress as they ask the questions and stick to the facts.  So, it is sort of keeping with his M.O. of just the facts. 

MADDOW:  In terms of how the Judiciary Committee is going to proceed here, it`s a very interesting prospect in terms of Mueller.  As Chairman Nadler described it, he said that, you know, Mueller wants to avoid essentially being politicized being on TV versus being on a transcript.  It`s hard to - - I don`t know.  I mean, we`ll see how this works out. 

There`s also the broader structural question as to whether or not the judiciary committee can get further down the road of compelling witnesses or compelling documents if they open up an impeachment inquiry.  The chairman suggested to him as a legal matter, it`s an absolutely open clear.  Do you feel like that is an unclear part of the law that we don`t know whether that would help them? 

MCQUADE:  I don`t know that it does.  I think they can get almost everything they want and I think we saw that demonstrated this week with the court orders.  You know, this Judge Mehta who order that if Congress has the power to legislate, they have the power -- or the power for oversight, they have the power to investigate. 

So I think Chairman Nadler is correct whether they call it an impeachment hearing or not, if they just want to continue to investigate, I think they can do so and the subpoenas will have teeth. 

MADDOW:  The president tonight made a statement from the White House or a statement was issued by the White House press office, and they released a memorandum in which the intelligence community is directed to quickly and fully cooperate with the attorney general`s investigation into surveillance activities during the 2016 presidential election.  The attorney general also delegated full and complete authority to declassify information pertaining to this investigation. 

We assume this is whatever William Barr was talking about when he testified before the Senate recently, and said that he`s looking into the origins of Mueller`s inquiry.  I don`t know what this new directive from the White House is meant to signal tonight or if this is a substantive thing.  How do you see this? 

MCQUADE:  I think it`s actually very significant.  You know, the idea they should cooperate with each other, I have no problem with.  But the idea of giving William Barr the power to declassify all of the material within the intelligence community is unprecedented.  Ordinarily, each intelligence agency controls its own information because they are best able to assess whether it would compromise a source or method to disclose particular information with the director of national intelligence over all of it. 

Instead, President Trump has given all of that power to William Barr.  You know, when I was practicing and handling cases, there were times when I wanted to bring a case but I was prevented from doing so because someone in the intelligence community made a decision that it would irreparably harm some source or method and that equity was worth more than my little case.  So, you know, I accepted that they were acting in good faith when they made that decision. 

If William Barr who I think now has given at least the appearance that he is acting in the best interests of President Trump as opposed to the best interests of our national security has that power, I worry that it gives him the power to create a whole lot of mischief within the intelligence community and with the outcome of his investigation. 

MADDOW:  It may also suggesting that in this young investigation that he has started, that he`s personally involved in, the intelligence community has already been telling him no.  He went to the White House to get authority in order to overrule those nos.  I don`t -- I agree with you, this is worrying but it`s not like anything we`ve seen before.  So, I`m not sure what we know, that, we know what it means yet. 

Barb, thank you for helping us understand all the breaking news tonight as it happens.  I really appreciate you being here.

MCQUADE:  You`re welcome, Rachel.  Thanks very much for having me. 

MADDOW:  All right.  That does it for us tonight.  We will see you again tomorrow. 

Now, it is the time for "THE LAST WORD" with the aforementioned Lawrence O`Donnell who was quoted by the chairman of the Judiciary Committee right here just moments ago. 

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