REP. RAJA KRISHNAMOORTHI (D), ILLINOIS: And whether or not the executive branch is going to be accountable to anyone, I think the answer has to be yes.
ALI VELSHI, MSNBC HOST: Congressman, thank you for joining us.
KRISHNAMOORTHI: Thank you, Ali.
VELSHI: Thank you for joining us.
That`s ALL IN for this evening.
"THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW" starts right now.
Good evening, Rachel.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Ali. Thanks, my friend. Much appreciated.
VELSHI: All right.
MADDOW: Thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.
In 15 days -- so two weeks from tomorrow -- the Democratic presidential candidates are finally going to square off, or octagon off. Actually, I guess they`re going to double decagon off in the first 2020 presidential debate. A decagon is a ten-sided figure. So, a double decagon is I think what we`ve got here.
I mean, we know the basics of what these two ten-sided debates are going to look like on the Democratic side starting two weeks from tomorrow. Now, NBC, MSNBC, and Telemundo are the hosts of the first Democratic debate. That double header. It will be 10 candidates the first night, ten different candidates the second night.
Just today, they announced the moderators for those first debates, and the basic logistics. So, where is it going to be? The debate is going to be in Miami. When is it going to be? It`s Wednesday and Thursday, the 26th and 27th of June. So, 15 days from now.
Both nights of the debate will be two hours. From 9:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. Eastern. Now, who is going to be participating? Well, there`s two sides of that and it`s complicated.
In terms of the moderators of the debate, Lester Holt from "NBC Nightly News" is there for both hours both nights, from 9:00 to 11:00 p.m. Lester will be sort of the fulcrum host for the whole thing. But for the first hour of the debate, from 9:00 to 10:00, Lester will be joined by Savannah Guthrie for NBC News and by Jose Diaz-Balart from Telemundo.
And then for the second hour of the debate, from 10:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m., Savannah and Jose will swap out and Chuck Todd from "Meet the Press" and I will swap as moderators for the second hour.
So, that pattern is going to hold both on the first night of the debate and on the second night of the debate. Again, Lester there throughout. Savannah and Jose moderating for the first hour. Chuck and me moderating for the second hour.
So, that`s who in terms of hosting and moderating. Now, who is going to be on the stage? Much harder question. Thankfully, that is for the DNC, the Democratic Party to figure out.
You may have noticed there are a couple dozen declared candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination this year. But there`s only going to be 20 slots for the first debate, 10 slots the first night, 10 slots the second night.
Now, over the next few days, the DNC is going to announce which 20 of the Democratic candidates are going to make the stage for that first two-night debate. The DNC`s criteria for people making the debate was announced a few months ago, back in February.
They announced back then to make the debate candidates could follow one of two paths. The first path is polling. So, you can qualify for the debate if you get 1 percent or more in three polls. The polls have to either be national polls or polls from one of the four early states. So, from Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, or Nevada. But that`s only one track.
If you can`t make that polling threshold, again, 1 percent in three polls, there is a second path set by the DNC which is a fundraising path. You can also qualify for the debate even if you don`t qualify on polling. You can qualify if you`re able to get donations from 65,000 different donors and all of those donations can`t all come from the same part of the country. You need at least 200 unique donors per state in at least 20 states.
So, you can see how the Democrats are trying to set these thresholds to basically measure strength. One way is to show your strength is to turn up in the polls. Another way to show strength is to show your appeal to a very broad swath of Democratic donors. So, they set those two paths.
Now, again, it is the DNC that set that criteria, and it is the DNC`s responsibility to check whether candidates meet either or both of those criteria. And, of course, it will be the DNC`s responsibility to figure out what to do if they have more than 20 candidates who meet those criteria.
They`ve already stricter standards to get into some of the later debates. For this first contest, they set the threshold requirements back in February. And it is totally possible that more than 20 of the Democratic candidates are going to meet either or both thresholds to qualify to get into the debate. But the DNC is being firm that there will only be 20 slots.
So if that happens, if they`ve got more technically qualified candidates than they do slots on stage, the DNC says they are not going to add more podiums, more podia to the stage. The DNC will instead winnow out the lowest polling and lowest fundraising performers among the candidates until they winnow it down to around 20, at which point some small version of hell will break out presumably in the Democratic contest.
But now that they`ve made the announcement about the basic logistics and the moderators, here`s a couple things I can let you know. First of all, the announcement of who`s in and who`s out, the announcement of which 20 Democratic candidates are going to make that first two-night debate, that is going to happen on Thursday night. So, the DNC is going to make their announcement about who the 20 candidates are in the debate the day after tomorrow. Thursday night.
And then we expect that shortly thereafter, we will get the announcement of which of those candidates are going to be on the first night of the debate and which of them are going to be on the second night of the debate. That`s particularly interesting if there`s a particular matchup that you were hoping to see, right? Well, which ten candidates will be on stage together? We don`t know yet.
That announcement will happen sometime after they pick the 20 candidates who are in the debate on Thursday night. That announcement about who`s on which night of the debate could be -- that announcement could come as early as Friday. We don`t know. But we shall see.
And one last thing to keep in mind about this debate as we`re closing in on it, I mentioned the first debate starts 15 days from now. Well, in the original criteria set by the DNC for how Democratic candidates can qualify to get into the first two-night debate, what the DNC said was that candidates could qualify based on polling. Specifically in polls publicly released between January 1st of this year and 14 days prior to the date of the debate.
So that`s the window of time in which you can qualify on the basis of your polling, from the start of this year until 14 days before the debate. Well, tomorrow is 14 days prior to the date of the debate. Which means tomorrow is the drop dead date for any candidate who`s on the bubble right now in terms of qualifying by polling. Tomorrow is the last chance for any poll to be published for any candidate who is trying to hit his or her numbers in a national poll or any poll from any one of the early states. Tomorrow polling-wise, it`s the last chance.
And we know there`s at least one new poll coming out tomorrow from one of those early states, which we think will be a qualifying poll. It`s a poll out of Nevada. It`s conducted by Monmouth. That poll is due to be published tomorrow.
That means there will be a potential last-chance lifeline for any candidate who has not yet hit 1 percent in three different polls. That Monmouth Nevada poll coming out tomorrow might be the last chance.
So good luck, everybody. Let the gnashing of teeth begin. Let the twin decagon battles take shape.
There is a new national head to head general election poll that`s out today from Quinnipiac. When I say head-to-head general poll, this is polling that pits President Trump against six of the different Democratic hopefuls in hypothetical one-on-one general election matchups.
This is super interesting. It has to be driving the White House crazy. In this new Quinnipiac poll which again is a nationwide survey, they put Trump up against six different Democrats.
In the nationwide poll, Trump loses to Senator Booker by five points. Trump loses to Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg by five points. Trump loses to Senator Elizabeth Warren by seven points.
Trump loses to Senator Kamala Harris by eight points. Trump loses to Senator Bernie Sanders by nine points. And he loses to former Vice President Joe Biden by a whopping 13 points nationwide.
And those head-to-head national matchup polling numbers are, as this headline in "The Washington Post" suggests, brutal for President Trump. And those head to head polling numbers arrive at the same time that "The New York Times" has just written an article -- just published an article in which they obliquely reference what they describe as a, quote, devastating 17 -state poll conducted by Trump`s campaign pollster.
Now, we don`t have access to that polling. It`s internal polling created just for use by his campaign, but if Trump`s own pollster just did a 17- state poll that produced devastating results in terms of Trump`s campaign prospects -- well, well, you can see why the president and the White House might be feeling a little bit wobbly about how the re-election prospects look right now and how the Democrats are looking to try to run against him.
The president today told reporters at the White House that it`s the phony witch hunt in his words. That`s the only thing that`s hurting him in the polls. Maybe that`s true. Not that it`s a phony witch hunt, but maybe it`s true the ongoing scandal surrounding the White House and the president`s campaign and his business, maybe it`s possible that`s what`s hurting his prospects for reelection.
We`ve got news, for example, coming up just tonight about the president`s eldest son having to come in is testify again tomorrow before Congress after members of Congress loudly expressed concern that he may have lied to them under oath the last time he was there.
So the existential scandals surrounding this presidency are still circling. In some ways, they are still accelerating. We`ll get that Don Jr. ahead tonight.
But honestly, two and a half years into this, right, this far into the Trump era in Republican politics, if we have learned anything, we should have learned that this president`s ability to shock and to generate scandal is really limitless. It`s not like there`s just that one thing trailing around behind him and everything else is fine. I mean, just right now, for example, he appears to be cooking up a whole new cabinet scandal that might be worse than any of his other previous cabinet scandals and by now, he`s pretty good at cabinet scandals because he`s had so many in a short time.
This latest one, though, it has a hook at the end that could prove to be a problem for the president and his administration but also for Republicans in the United States` Senate which is a constituency the president really can`t afford to get in too much trouble right now. I mean, when it comes to the president`s appointees and his cabinet officials, this has been the long, slow simmering ongoing scandal of his time in office. I mean, his top appointees, his cabinet officials, these are the most powerful people in the federal government. These are people appointed by the president to run huge agencies with billions of dollars and millions of personnel under their control, and under their command.
But two and a half years into this presidency, I mean, this administration right now doesn`t even have full-time, fully fledged, confirmed people running any of this stuff. There`s an acting commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, an acting administrator of the FAA, acting head of the Small Business Administration, acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration, an acting head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the acting ambassador to the United Nations, an acting FEMA director, the acting secretary of the Air Force, acting homeland security secretary. There`s an acting defense secretary for months now.
We know that part of the reason the upper echelons of the Trump administration have been so filled with holes in what is now a persistent way, we know part of the reason is because senior people get flung off from this administration into the ether so quickly and so regularly, I think people don`t bother to change their address or forward their mail when they get Trump administration jobs in Washington. I mean, it`s obvious. Even if you only look at the top tier of the roster in terms of who Trump has tried to put in place to run the federal government, it`s obvious that there`s something wrong when it comes to Trump`s cabinet and senior appointees.
I mean, them failing and falling out and resigning in disgrace and leaving in scandal and in some cases them getting arrested, it started less than a month in when the first Trump national security adviser had to go, Mike Flynn. And then the White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, and then the White House chief of staff, Reince Priebus, and then the White House communications director, Anthony Scaramucci, and then the senior White House adviser, Steve Bannon, who had been the last manager of his campaign.
And then the health secretary Tom Price had to resign in a huge corruption scandal, and then the White House staff secretary when we all learned the dark reasons why he couldn`t get a security clearance. He had to go. And then the chief economic adviser Gary Cohn and the Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and another White House communications director Hope Hicks, and then national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, and then the homeland security adviser, Tom Bossert, and then the V.A. secretary.
And then the ridiculous nominee who was supposed to replace the V.A. secretary. And then the head of the EPA has to resign in another gigantic corruption scandal. And then the attorney general has to go, and then the interior secretary has to go in yet another gigantic corruption scandal. And then another White House communications director, the guy from Fox News has to go, and then the Defense Secretary James Mattis resigns in protest and then the homeland security gets fired as well.
I mean, check your watch. Who knows? There might be more just tonight. And I know I might have missed about 30 ones of those riffing those off the top of my head.
So, we have seen this incredible roller coaster of scandal and disgrace and criminal trouble for all of these high-ranking federal appointees and nominees from President Trump. But now as his reelection effort sort of needs to kick into gear and as Democrats get ready to start their campaigns against him, now, there`s a problem in a specific corner of Trump`s cabinet that may be bigger than the others both in terms of substance and in terms of the implications for the president`s most important allies on Capitol Hill, because President Trump`s Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao is married to the Republican leader of the Senate, Mitch McConnell.
And there is now a snowballing series of corruption allegations around Elaine Chao and how she`s been running the Transportation Department under Trump. It started a couple of weeks ago when "The Wall Street Journal" reported that Elaine Chao had been directed by ethics officials she needed to divest from a company that was directly related to her work at the Transportation Department. Ethics officials told her, listen, if you`re going to be secretary of transportation, you need to divest from this particular company in which you hold a whole bunch of stock.
She was directed to do that. She said she would, but she did not divest from the company. She was told to do it officially. She signed off an ethics agreement saying she would do it. She said she would do it and she didn`t. Instead she sat on hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of stock in that company.
That company happens to be in the words of "The Wall Street Journal," the country`s largest supplier of crushed stone sand and gravel used in road paving and road building. I mean, she`s literally the federal official in charge of road paving and road building for the country. She`s the secretary of transportation and she`s decided to secretly keep her stock, her tons of stock in the country`s biggest asphalt company that makes roads? I mean, really?
Like, that`s the one thing we can all admit you should -- I mean, you know how it`s become a joke that the Trump White House keeps proclaiming infrastructure week and never doing anything about it?
American Public Media was first to report that every time the Trump administration does that, every time they tout their infrastructure plans, which they never do, but every time they talk them up, one thing that happens is the stock price of that asphalt company jumps up, the one that Elaine Chao holds stock in. She gets richer every time she talks about it because she didn`t divest in the company even though she was told to, she agreed to, and said she did, she didn`t. I mean, that alone is about the size and shape of the corruption scandal that led to the resignation of Trump`s health secretary, Tom Price.
But that`s just one of them for Elaine Chao. Last week, "The New York Times" reported that when Elaine Chao planned her first visit to China as Trump`s labor secretary, her office called ahead to the U.S. embassy in Beijing because she wanted to arrange meetings for her family members with members of the Chinese government while she was visiting. Her family runs a big shipping company that does a lot of business in China. She wanted to arrange meetings for her relatives with Chinese government officials and she wanted the U.S. government to do that for her.
The official who had just departed as deputy chief of mission at the U.S. embassy at Beijing when Elaine Chao sent over those requests to the embassy, he called that request from Chao, quote, alarmingly inappropriate. In fact, people were alarmed. That request by Elaine`s office was flagged by the embassy back to State Department headquarters in Washington. It was flagged to ethics officials in both the State Department and the Transportation Department after ethics officials in both of those departments were flagged to what Chao was trying to do with her family members, eventually Elaine Chao called off that trip.
Elaine Chao`s father and sister have served on the board of China state shipbuilding which is what you think it is. It`s China state shipbuilding, while she as U.S. transportation secretary has tried to cut grants and funding for U.S. shipbuilding here at home. I mean, her family`s company has taken hundreds of millions of dollars in financing from banks controlled by the Chinese government while Elaine Chao has brought her father who runs that company to in his words, talk business with President Trump.
Elaine Chao herself as transportation secretary has attended at least one celebration of a deal made between her family`s company and another firm that has lots of mass transit contracts in the United States. And think about that for a second. That would be a really terrible look if she was the kind of high ranking federal government official who had anything to say about mass transit funding in the United States. She`s the transportation secretary.
So in that case, we`ve got a firm with huge mass transit contracts, right? That means we`ve got a firm in a position to benefit from mass transit decisions by her, and that firm chooses to do a hugely remunerative deal with her family`s company, and she as a federal official shows up in person to celebrate and bless and applaud that deal. I mean, that would be something, right?
That would be Elaine Chao, President Trump`s transportation secretary. And that was all leading up to the story we covered last night from politico.com where we learned Elaine Chao has also designated a special liaison inside the Transportation Department specifically to help her husband. Her husband is the top Republican in the Senate, Mitch McConnell. "Politico" reports that nobody involved denies that Elaine Chao as secretary of transportation has set up a unique process just for him inside the Labor Department to make sure that a special intermediary is always on hand to facilitate federally funded Transportation Department projects that her husband wants steered to his home state, while he runs for reelection bragging about all the federal dollars he`s been able to steer to his home state.
According to "Politico", so far, this little special arrangement inside the Transportation Department has paid off for McConnell to the tune of at least $78 million in federally funded projects so far. It`s funny. No other senator has a special liaison in the Transportation Department to make sure their projects, their chosen projects that might help their reelection efforts get special attention. Nobody else has that.
And so, here come the Democratic presidential debates, right? I mean, in any other year in modern American history, this much scandal around one serving cabinet official would be the theme song and the propulsive force behind an entire presidential campaign to oust an incumbent president who had overseen something this rank. I mean, as all of these stories have snowballed about Elaine Chao just over the past two weeks, her department is denying there`s any impropriety whatsoever, but literally, this is the transportation secretary of the United States secretly profiting off her job by investing in the country`s biggest road-building company while she`s transportation secretary, also using taxpayer resources to try to hook up her family`s company in China, and maintaining a whole parallel project approval system specifically to benefit her husband who runs the U.S. Senate and who oversaw her confirmation there, and who has been given millions of dollars himself by her family.
Why do they have millions of dollars? Because they run that company that she has used her office to promote.
I mean, this is B movie stuff. But I mean, this is -- that amalgamation, just those two weeks of stories about Elaine Chao is worse on the surface than what Tom Price resigned for, than what Ryan Zinke resigned for, than what Scott Pruitt resigned for. I mean, this is B movie stuff, but it is - - it is our B movie. This is our swamp now. And if nothing else, it does signify this would be a great time for there to be the start of a national election.
Joining us now is Chris Lu, who knows how presidential cabinets work from his time up close as the secretary of the Obama cabinet. He also served as deputy labor secretary in the Obama administration.
Mr. Liu, it`s nice to have you with us tonight. Thanks for being here.
CHRIS LU, FORMER OBAMA WHITE HOUSE CABINET SECRETARY: Always.
MADDOW: So, I tried to sort of put this in context against the fact that we know there have been a lot of scandals in the Trump cabinet. There have been a lot of resignations. There have been a lot of turnovers. Right now, there`s a lot of acting secretaries because they don`t want to try to put people through the confirmation process.
Still, though, even against that backdrop, I feel like the last two weeks of reporting about Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, it`s something -- it`s sort of a magnitude that is greater.
LU: Yes. So, let`s remember the tone ultimately gets set from the top. We`ve got a president who himself has mixed his own personal business and government business. We`ve got a president who has said it`s OK to reward your political supporters and punish your opponents. I mean, he goes to and threatens to take money away from California and Puerto Rico, and yet he says Alabama gets A-plus treatment when they have a disaster.
So, this idea that their cabinet should be putting their thumb on the scale to help either favored projects or districts or states is not unusual. It`s part of the ethos of how they do their business.
But more broadly on the cabinet scandals, let`s take a look at the central premise of what this president said. He said I could run government better as a businessman. I would hire the best people. And this is a smooth- running machine.
And everything we`ve not only seen over the last couple weeks but really the last couple years disproves all of the central tenets about how he runs his government.
MADDOW: In terms of accountability here, obviously talking about the tone being set from the top and the general standards and expectations that exist for these high-ranking officials in this presidency and this administration specifically, the Congress doesn`t have to go along with that if they don`t want to. Presumably, these cabinet officials could be impeached on their own terms whether or not the administration was ever going to feel enough shame to force them out or whether or not the Justice Department was ever going to investigate any of these things if there was potential criminal behavior.
LU: Yes. I mean, look, it is hard to keep track in this swirl of daily scandals what matters and doesn`t matter. You know, you`ve got the House Oversight Committee that might hold Wilbur Ross in contempt for not turning over documents, but let`s not forget that he lied to Congress. He was asked specifically about the origin of the citizenship question in the census. He said it came from the Department of Justice. We know it did not come from the Department of Justice.
That would be a major scandal in any administration that a cabinet member lied to Congress and that`s sort of like tier two in terms of scandal right now. But yes, ultimately, Congress should be holding these folks accountable. Congress ought to be and House Democrats ought to be holding oversight hearings.
But as importantly, they should be using the power of the purse to try to punish these cabinet members. You can do a lot of things in terms of curtailing cabinet member travel or front office spending or cutting their staff. Now, obviously, you have to get these things through the Senate. That`s another powerful tool at the disposal of House Democrats.
MADDOW: I`m glad you brought up the issue of the contempt proceedings in the House. As you mentioned, Wilbur Ross and William Barr, the attorney general, are both going to face contempt vote in the Oversight Committee because of elements of scandal around the question of adding a citizenship question to the census. But we`ve already seen with other committees and with other scandals and with regard to the Mueller report, we`ve seen committees push the issue of potential contempt of Congress against William Barr in ways that seems to have been productive both the Intelligence Committee and the Judiciary Committee were able to essentially get concessions to get access to materials that the Justice Department was otherwise denying them by pushing of contempt vote against Barr, right up until the point where they were ready to do it and Barr kind of cried uncle at the last moment and handed stuff over.
I wonder if the contempt proceedings have traditionally been used this way or if you see it as an appropriate way to sort of get these cabinet officials into compliance and to get them to do things they need to do so Congress can oversee them.
LU: Look, traditionally being held in contempt of Congress is not something that any cabinet member or public citizen wants certainly wants to be doing. And so, hopefully, with the recent concessions out of the justice department, there`s been cooler heads that indicated even if we don`t want to comply or the president tells us this is not his posture, this is not a good thing for the Justice Department or Bill Barr.
And let`s not forget. I mean, even when Republicans controlled the House of Representatives, a sufficient amount of pressure was put so that Tom Price and Scott Pruitt and Ryan Zinke eventually resigned in part because of the really dogged reporting that reporters did. Just -- I mean, the crazy things we learned about Scott Pruitt and the mattress and the $50 room we`ve all forgotten about.
So, look, the press pressure, the public pressure, and ultimately congressional oversight can hold some of these folks accountable. But it really is like a game of whack-a-mole these days. So many things pop up and given the swirl of news about Trump, it`s hard to keep track of all this.
MADDOW: Agreed. Agreed on every point.
Chris Lu, former cabinet secretary in the Obama administration, sir, thanks for being here. I really appreciate it.
LU: Thank you.
MADDOW: All right. Much more to get to tonight. Stay with us.
MADDOW: The Democratic-control House passed Resolution 430 today, along party lines. Resolution 430 streamlines the process for enforcing subpoenas by Congress and for taking people to court when they defy those subpoenas. That means Congress will, at least theoretically, have more leverage now against former White House counsel Don McGahn and William Barr, who are both defying subpoenas related to the Mueller investigation, as well as other current and former White House officials who choose to tell Congress no when they get that legally binding subpoena in the mail.
Importantly, today`s resolution against -- which passed the House, it also allows the Judiciary Committee and their chairman, Jerry Nadler, to go straight to court and ask a federal judge to approve the release to Congress of grand jury material which has been redacted from the Mueller report. A lot of what is redacted from the Mueller report is grand jury material, a federal judge must issue an order for that stuff to be used outside the grand jury process and shown to anyone.
The committee has been asking Attorney General William Barr to go along with them on making a request for that material to a federal judge. William Barr has refused. After this vote today, they will no longer have to wait on Barr and the Justice Department to try to make that sort of request together. Instead, they`ll be able to go ahead with that request to a federal judge themselves.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JERRY NADLER (D-NY): We will move as quickly as possible to go to court against Don McGahn, the president`s former counsel, and any subsequent witnesses who disobey a committee subpoena. We are going to move quickly to court for access to grand jury material in the Mueller report. We have other subpoenas outstanding including for Hope Hicks and Annie Donaldson. If they don`t show up when they supposed to, they`ll be the targets of court enforcement.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler saying tonight that, as you heard him say, they`re going to move as quickly as possible to enforce their subpoenas in court, including -- in addition, they will be going to move to court quickly to ask for the grand jury material to be released to them from the Mueller report. Again, that resolution passed today on a party line vote. It clears the way for all of that.
In terms of what`s going to happen in short order. Tomorrow, all eyes will be on the White House Intelligence Committee. Tomorrow morning, they`re going to hold their first open hearing on Mueller`s findings. It`s a hearing titled "Lessons from the Mueller report: Counterintelligence implications of volume one." Volume one of the Mueller report, of course, is about Russia`s attack on our election and Russian contacts between the Kremlin and Trump`s campaign in Trump`s orbit.
So, that should be an interesting hearing tomorrow. That`s the second open hearing the Democrats have held on Mueller`s findings thus far. One earlier this week in the judiciary committee and one tomorrow in Intel.
We also got word today about something else that`s going to happen tomorrow on the other side of Capitol Hill. This time will be in the Senate Intelligence Committee. This one has the potential to set off some fireworks because it involves the president`s family. And we know from experience that when the president`s adult children are involved, it tends to be a super sensitive subject for everyone involved, especially for dad, the president. But not just for him.
That story is coming up. Stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. STEPHEN LYNCH (D-MA): Who were the family members that you briefed on the Trump Tower Moscow project?
MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER TRUMP ATTORNEY: Donald Trump Jr. and Ivanka Trump.
LYNCH: OK. Now, were these in the regular course of business or did the president or family request the briefing?
COHEN: This is the regular course of business.
LYNCH: Do you recall there`s a question on the number of briefings. Do you recall how many there might have been?
COHEN: I`m sorry, sir?
LYNCH: Do you recall how many of these briefings there might have been?
COHEN: Approximately ten.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Approximately ten briefings on that issue.
Right before Michael Cohen, the president`s long-time personal lawyer, went to prison for along other things lying to Congress, he went back to Congress for a final round of testimony before the House Oversight Committee. He said that although he had lied to Congress previously he needed to correct the record. He wanted to answer the committee`s questions truthfully. He wanted to lay all his cards on the table.
And in that final sworn testimony, Michael Cohen basically alleged, among other things, that the president`s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., had not been truthful in his own previous sworn testimony to Congress.
Now, this wasn`t a total shock when Michael Cohen made that allegation. After Don Jr. had testified behind closed doors in the House, congressional Democrats had openly charged that they believed Don Jr. lied to them in that sworn testimony.
Don Jr. also testified to the Senate behind closed doors. He testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee, in that one for a bizarre series of reasons, that committee ended up releasing the transcript of his closed door testimony. So because we have that transcript, we can see verbatim what Don Jr. told them when he was giving that sworn testimony.
Well, remember, what Michael Cohen told Congress right before he went to prison is that he briefed Don Jr. and Ivanka on the Trump Tower real estate project in Moscow approximately ten times. Well, Don Jr. was asked about that same matter when he was giving sworn testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee in September 2017.
Here`s how that went. Quoting from the transcript. Question, did you have any involvement in this potential deal in Moscow? Don Jr., answer, quote: Like I said, I was peripherally aware of it, but most of my knowledge has been gained since as it relates to hearing about it over the last few weeks.
I was only peripherally aware of it. That does not necessarily jive with being briefed ten times on the matter.
Well, tomorrow the Senate Intelligence Committee is going to get Donald Trump Jr. back for more testimony. That`s a Republican-controlled committee. They subpoenaed Don Jr. back in May after he failed to show up for two voluntary interviews with the committee. But now it looks like he has agreed to return to Capitol Hill for yet another closed-door interview with members of the committee. That will happen tomorrow.
This time, of course, it`s happening with the president`s long-time personal lawyer in jail in part for lying to Congress on these specific matters. Are there real stakes here for the president`s son? Is there serious liability for the president`s son? If so, how does that reverberate not just for him but for his pops?
Hold that thought.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LYNCH: Who were the family members you briefed on the Trump Tower Moscow project?
COHEN: Donald Trump Jr. and Ivanka Trump.
LYNCH: OK. Now, were these in the regular course of business or did the president or family request the briefings?
COHEN: This is the regular course of business.
LYNCH: Do you recall, there`s a question on the number of briefings. Do you recall how many there might have been?
COHEN: I`m sorry, sir?
LYNCH: Do you recall how many of these briefings there might have been?
COHEN: Approximately ten.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Maybe Michael Cohen was still not telling the truth to Congress when he testified that way earlier this year. But if he was telling the truth there and he briefed Donald Trump Jr. ten times on the Trump Tower Moscow project, well, then Donald Trump Jr. may not have been telling the truth when he testified to Congress that he was only peripherally aware of that secret Russian real estate deal.
Well, tomorrow, the Senate Intelligence Committee will interview Donald Trump Jr. again amid lots of claims by Democratic members of Congress that Mr. Trump Jr. appears to have not been truthful in his earlier testimony.
How high are the stakes for him and what could the implications be?
Joining us now is Carol Leonnig, Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter at "The Washington Post" who`s on this story for "The Post" now.
Carol, thanks very much for being here. It`s really good to have you here.
CAROL LEONNIG, NATIONAL REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: I`m glad to be here, Rachel. Thanks.
MADDOW: I almost called you Leonnig. That was odd.
LEONNIG: I`ll call you Maddow.
MADDOW: OK. It will sound like we`re on a team.
Let me ask about sort of -- that last question that I posed, the potential stakes here for Donald Trump Jr. We know that he rejected a couple of requests and attempts by the Intelligence Committee to get him in to testify voluntarily. They did ultimately issue him a subpoena. Then there was negotiations that set up tomorrow`s testimony.
What are the stakes here for him? Is this a potentially risky situation?
LEONNIG: I think anytime you`re standing before a congressional committee under oath, every single witness as advised by their lawyers is on pins and needles to make sure that they don`t make a misstep and catch themselves in a false statement. Whether you raise your right hand or you don`t, you`re essentially giving testimony to Congress, and it`s a serious risk if you misstate or intentionally lie.
In this case, Don Jr., Donald Trump Jr., forgive me, is trying to head off a long, extensive interview, a deja vu, if you will, that was like his last interview before the Senate. Nine hours of testimony. He didn`t want that. He resisted that. He kept trying to negotiate with his attorneys to have less time.
Why should they have to answer all these questions again? It just increases that jeopardy. And now, he`s actually succeeded in whittling down the topics to a much smaller number and is hoping to be done, I`m hearing, you know, in the early part of the day.
MADDOW: Now that the Mueller report has -- or the redacted version of the Mueller report has been made public, are there substantial areas of incongruence between what Mueller found, what Mueller described in his report and what we know Trump testified to at least before a different committee? His previous testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee, the transcript of that was made available. So, we do know the kinds of things he testified to that other committee.
Are there areas of incongruence in terms of factual assertions between Mueller and what Trump has testified to before?
LEONNIG: Well, yes, there are. Depending on how you guild the lily, depending on how you interpret.
For example, you`ve highlighted one of them which is this idea of having a peripheral awareness. That`s not technically wrong even if he did get briefings from time to time and wasn`t really checked in and wasn`t really listening. To our readers` ears, we`re like peripheral awareness, ten briefings? That doesn`t compute.
The other element that creates a discrepancy for Donald Trump Jr. is something Michael Cohen also said, which is he alleged that he was in Trump Tower, in Donald Trump`s office when he was candidate, and in came Donald Trump Jr. to tell his dad in sort of a sotto voce whisper, you know, that meeting is tomorrow. I`ll let you know what happens. And it was, you know, a day or two before the Trump Tower meeting that the president has insisted he knew nothing about and Don Jr. has insisted he didn`t tell and alert his father to.
I guess I`m going to foreshadow your next question, Rachel, and just say that, you know, the risk here is ultimately even if both of those are in conflict, is a minimal risk in the view I believe of Donald Trump Jr. Michael Cohen has pled guilty to lying multiple ways, so is he the best witness to allege that he knows what he told Don Jr. and it`s different what Don Jr. told to Congress?
MADDOW: Right, if there`s a he said-he said conflict here, probably nobody`s in trouble. If there`s a he said versus the approvable truth there, then he may -- then this may go additional steps.
Carol Leonnig, investigative reporter with "The Washington Post" -- thank you very much for joining us tonight. You can call me anything you want, anytime you want.
LEONNIG: I`m glad to be here. Thanks for having me.
MADDOW: Thanks, Carol.
We`ll be right back. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Ray Pfeifer was a firefighter in New York City on 9/11. He responded that day. He survived. He spent eight months working the pile searching for the remains of the civilians who died in the attack and for the remains of his fellow firefighters.
By 2009, eight years after the disaster, Pfeifer had developed what started to be called the 9/11 cough. He was diagnosed with cancer, stage four kidney cancer. And despite his worsening health, the following year, he helped fight for the passage of the 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, which is a bill to get health care benefits for survivors of the attacks and compensation for them as well so that they and their families will have resources they need to fight the cancers and other chronic illnesses that have plagued the heroes who responded on 9/11.
It took a lot of foot dragging, but ultimately Congress passed that bill, but they only passed it into law for five years. So, five years down the line in 2015, Ray Pfeifer and his fellow 9/11 first responders had to be back on Capitol Hill, even though that bill was popular, Congress still refused for months to take it up for a vote. Instead of meeting with Pfeifer and his colleagues, members of Congress, according to Ray, kept giving him their business cards. He memorably said he took those business cards and threw them in the garbage because in his pocket were the prayer cards from all the funerals he had gone to, funerals from his friends and members of his battalion that died on 9/11.
Ultimately, the health care portion of that 9/11 bill was fully funded through 2090, but the compensation part of it wasn`t, and it`s now literally running out of money ahead of its expiration date in 2020. This time, Ray Pfeifer isn`t there to continue his advocacy. He died in 2017 at the age of 59.
And so, now, it`s up to the other 9/11 advocates to go to Capitol Hill now again to try to fight for that second part of the funding so that first responders who are battling 9/11 cancers and chronic illnesses can focus on that instead of also having to grapple with the associating crushing financial distress.
(BEGIN VIDE OCLIP)
JON STEWART, FORMER "DAILY SHOW" HOST: The great Ray Pfeifer would come down here, his body riddled with cancer and pain where he couldn`t walk, and the disrespect shown to him and to the other lobbyists on this bill is utterly unacceptable.
You know, I used to get -- I would be so angry at the latest injustice that`s done to these men and women, and, you know, another business card thrown our way. As a way of shooing us away like children trick or treating, rather than the heroes they are and always will be. Ray would say, calm down, Johnny, calm down. I got all the cards I need. And he would tap his pocket -- where he kept the prayer cards of 343 firefighters.
The official FDNY response time to 9/11 was five seconds. Five seconds. Your indifference cost these men and women their most valuable commodity, time. It`s the one thing they`re running out of.
This should be flipped. This hearing should be flipped. These men and women should be up on that stage and Congress should be down here answering their questions as to why this is so damn hard and takes so damn long and why, no matter what they get, something`s always pulled back and they got to come back.
Thank God for people like Ray Pfeifer. Thank god for all of these people who will not let it happen. They responded in five seconds. They did their jobs, with courage, grace, tenacity, humility. Eighteen years later, do yours!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Former "The Daily Show" host Jon Stewart today testifying alongside 9/11 first responders and their widows and surviving family members. They all pleaded with Congress to restore funding for the victims` compensation fund and this time to make it permanent, to make sure there`s enough money to help victims for as long as they need it so they don`t have to keep coming back and doing this.
We are told that they absolutely have the votes in the House to pass this and without delay. The Judiciary Committee is expected to vote on it tomorrow. The bill is also fairly popular in the Senate. And so, Mitch McConnell could pass it right away if he wants to.
This issue has also been a no-brainer. There`s never been substantial opposition to it. There`s just been not caring enough to get it done with any alacrity, every time, it`s like pulling teeth. Just astonishing.
That does it for us tonight. We will see you again tomorrow.
Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL".
Good evening, Lawrence.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END