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Federal savings bank CEO indicted. TRANSCRIPT: 6/18/19, The Rachel Maddow Show.

Guests: Aaron Davis, Chris Murphy, Mike Lafferty

HAYES:  All right.  Zerlina Maxwell, Michael Steele, David Wasserman, thank you for your time. 

That is ALL IN for this evening. 


Good evening, Rachel.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST:  Good evening, Chris.  Thanks, my friend.  Appreciate it.

HAYES:  Thank you.

MADDOW:  Thanks to you for joining us this hour.  Happy Tuesday. 

Once upon a time, the president`s campaign chairman came up with a genius plan to finagle himself a few million dollars.  It was the middle of the presidential campaign.  He was in charge of the campaign for the Republican presidential nominee, kind of in the cat bird seat, and from that position he found a little bank in Chicago, a small bank that was oriented specifically toward lending money to veterans.  And it turns out that little bank was run by a guy who was a Trump supporter. 

Now, the president`s campaign chairman was not himself a veteran, which you`d think might be awkward in terms of his interactions with that bank, given the particular focus of that bank on lending to veterans.  But if you think something like that was going to trip up this plan, you underestimate the genius of the scheme here. 

The president`s campaign chairman, what he did is he applied to this little bank in Chicago for millions of dollars in loans and he was not applying, shall we say, purely on his financial merits.  Prosecutors later spelled out how he falsified records and materials in his loan applications.  And he didn`t even do a great job of fudging that stuff that he fudged.  He kept getting caught out, kept apologizing, kept resubmitting different numbers, different materials. 

Bank employees at that little bank, we now know, they did not want to approve these loan applications for the president`s campaign chairman.  They didn`t want to give him these loans.  They didn`t think he qualified. 

These were not the kind of loans the bank usually did.  They were huge loans relative to the bank`s size.  These loans would make him the single biggest borrower for the whole bank. 

But those employees were overruled.  The bank`s CEO repeatedly intervened in the loan applications for that one potential lender.  The bank`s CEO intervened personally to make sure that Paul Manafort, the president`s campaign chairman, would get those millions of dollars worth of loans anyway.  That he would be approved. 

Prosecutors say that bank exec intervened the way he did because of what they describe as a neat quid pro quo arrangement with the president`s campaign chair.  The campaign chair, Paul Manafort, would get those millions of dollars in loans, biggest loans the bank had ever given, loans on which the bank would ultimately lose millions of dollars, and in exchange the CEO of the bank would get a position on the Trump campaign. 

And according to prosecutors the quid and the quo were both delivered.  Paul Manafort did get the millions of dollars in loans and the bank executive who personally intervened to make sure those loans got approved, he was in fact appointed to an economic advisory group on Trump`s campaign. 

And then beyond that, prosecutors say the biggest payoff in this planned exchange was that the president`s campaign chairman would then put up that bank exec to become the next secretary of the United States army, to become the army`s top civilian leader, to be appointed to that job by the new president, Donald J. Trump. 

Now, ultimately, that part of the quid pro quo did not work out, right?  As you know, the president`s campaign chairman, he, of course, now lives in prison where he is serving a 7 1/2-year federal prison sentence and he is awaiting the start of yet another trial on additional charges from New York state.  The most recent controversy over Paul Manafort concerns this letter in which the number two official in the Justice Department, Trump`s newly appointed deputy attorney general, has written to the New York state prosecutors who have brought charges against Manafort inquiring as to Manafort`s health and dispensation in prison and the question of where he`s going to be held while he`s awaiting trial on these New York state charges. 

There had been earlier reporting that Manafort was going to be transferred to New York City`s notorious Rikers Island jail complex to await the start of his state trial.  Now, it appears he won`t go to Rikers.  Instead, he`ll be staying in federal custody in New York federal lockup while he waits for his next trial to start instead. 

And whether or not his conditions of confinement have been influenced by the top Trump appointees at the federal Justice Department, it`s not exactly clear yet as this reporting has continued to evolve -- but, I mean, even before we get clarity on that, I mean, bigger picture, right, this is how things have worked out for the president`s campaign chairman in all this. 

Like, these are the questions about Paul Manafort at this point.  Is he going to Rikers or is he going to the federal lockup where El Chapo`s in charge, right?  Or is he staying at his federal work camp in Pennsylvania? 

I mean, that`s the range of possibilities for the president`s campaign chairman Paul Manafort at this point, none of which is good, no matter how you answer any of those questions about his current fate. 

As for the other guy in that arrangement, the guy who thought he was going to get to be secretary of the U.S. army because of his dealings with Manafort, he is also not good right now.  He has been indicted on federal bribery charges related to his interventions on those loans and related to that proposed job offer for him to be army secretary.  The bank CEO pled not guilty to that federal charge.  He`s due to get a trial date next month. 

So that first plan, that once upon a time plan for how the new Trump administration would staff up and appoint the most senior civilian leadership in the greatest army on the face of the earth, that plan "A" did not work out for them.  Don`t worry, though, they had a plan "B."

The president found another guy to nominate for that same job.  Quote: Whether it is his distinguished military service or his highly impressive track record in the world of business, Vinnie has proved throughout his life that owe knows how to be a leader and deliver major results in the face of any challenge. 

That was the announcement.  That announcement, Vinnie Viola, that plan "B" seemed to be going well until this part of that nominee`s track record was released by the local police department in Saratoga Springs, New York.  A police incident report about the new Trump army secretary nominee punching a guy out at a high-end horse auction in Saratoga Springs. 

It wasn`t like a youthful indiscretion from his sealed juvenile record or something.  The punching the guy out at the horse auction which led to the police report and all that, that was all less than six months before Trump announced him as his plan "B" nominee to be secretary of the army.  I guess they didn`t Google him. 

So that was weird, but their plan "B" for army secretary didn`t work out either.  That meant it was time for plan "C" for an army secretary.  You might remember that as the brief interregnum where the president`s nominee to be Army secretary was yet another guy who didn`t end up in the job.  It turns out he couldn`t get the support of Trump`s newly appointed defense secretary at the time.  This is when Jim Mattis was defense secretary. 

Secretary Mattis declined to answer when he was asked if he supported the plan "C" nominee to run the U.S. army, a guy named Mark Green.  Plan "C" Mark Green was a doctor from Tennessee who was a self-proclaimed creationist who said on tape, and I quote, "transgender is a disease."  He also mused on tape at a Tea Party event about putting down the armed member insurrection in this country. 

Secretary Mattis, are you OK with this guy running the United States army, sir?  Sir, sorry, did you hear the question, sir?  We didn`t hear your answer.  Do you -- 

So that one didn`t work out either.  Time for plan "D", right?  After all of those earlier experiences, president Trump still needed somebody to be the top civilian leader of the United States army.  His plan "D" choice after running through all those other carefully chosen best people was that he eventually arrived at the top lobbyist for Raytheon. 

Raytheon, one of the biggest defense contractors on earth, which means literally its income derives from military contracts.  That is ultimately who President Trump decided to put in charge of the U.S. Army, the top lobbyist for Raytheon.  Put him in charge of the army because, you know, drain the swamp. 

Well, now today that lobbyist has just been promoted.  As of today he`s the acting secretary of defense, because incredibly yet another Trump nominee has been caught up in a lurid and sad and in his case somewhat terrifying personal spectacle, and it has all now become public business because apparently there is no vetting whatsoever when it comes to the Trump administration filling the most important jobs in the U.S. government, including those in the military and national security fields.  They just put in guys who look the part or who, like, somebody said once would be good. 

I mean, remember the new V.A. secretary we were going to have?  Hey, how about Ronnie?  Hey, Dr. Ronnie, you happen to be, like, on the plane and within sight when we started talking about needing somebody to run the V.A. 

There you are, like, handing out the Ambien in the central aisle of the plane.  Hey, the president likes you, Ronnie.  Aren`t you in the navy?  Do you want to run the second largest organization in the western world with the responsibility of the care of tens of millions of American veterans? 

You seem like a nice guy.  You seem like you`d be good.  You want that job? 

Tell the Senate.  Here he comes.  That`s enough vetting. 

The president likes him.  He`s got a good reputation.  Look how friendly. 

I mean, that`s basically how they tried it with the V.A. of all things.  I mean, they did this with the secretary of the army multiple times and worse.  We`re now living through them doing it with the secretary of defense, which you`d think would be a job they`d take more seriously. 

And in some ways the implosion today of the defense secretary nomination for Patrick Shanahan, in some way this one stands alone in terms of its bloody and personal misery and we`re going to be talking in just a moment with "The Washington Post" reporter today who really broke this story open of what exactly the Trump administration was letting him twist in the wind all this time for, what they were just hoping no one would notice about him and maybe the FBI would let it slide in his background check.  We`ll talk in just a second about what exactly turned up in Patrick Shanahan`s life that the Trump administration apparently never vetted out of him, and so now it`s all come out in public and now he`s the latest of these nominees to implode. 

But for everything uniquely terrible about this latest personnel disaster and cabinet disaster today with the Shanahan nomination going away, I think it`s also important to see this thing that just happened with the defense secretary nominee as just one in a long line.  I mean, honestly, lots of people have criminal histories.  Lots of people have been involved in possibly illegal or shady or violent stuff.  Lots of people have been caught cheating or stealing or beating people up. 

I mean, we`re all more than the worst thing we have ever done, but one of the core functions of a functioning White House, that we didn`t used to have to even spell out because we thought it was intrinsically obvious, right?  We thought they`d at least see it as in their own interests enough to do it. 

One of the I can`t believe we have to say this basic rules of a functioning White House is that people who have been caught up in criminal activity or shady activity or cheating or stealing or violence or lying about any of those things or trying to keep their involvement in closeness to any of those things secret so people don`t find out.  I mean, one of the things a White House at a basic level is supposed to do is make sure people who are compromised in that way don`t get high-ranking jobs in the federal government.  I mean, you are supposed to check for that sort of stuff before you put people forward for high-ranking jobs in the government.  Particularly national security and military jobs, right? 

I mean, even if it`s not something bad that you necessarily did or it`s something that`s not all your fault, even if it`s just something that you really want to keep secret, therefore you are vulnerable to blackmail for anybody figures it out and tries to use it against you, right?  Even if you didn`t do something all that bad but it`s something you find embarrassing or otherwise so un -- not the way you want to think about yourself that people could use it against you as leverage. 

That kind of thing, anything serious like that would generally disqualify you from getting a high-level security clearance.  It would turn up in your FBI background check when you`re up for Senate confirmation.  It should turn up in the aggressive vetting you`re supposed to undergo from the White House itself even before anybody floats that you might eventually be considered for a potential nomination.

But not with this presidency.  I mean, even 2 1/2 years in now, how many times is this going to happen?  Now that it`s happening with the defense secretary are they going to take this seriously? 

I mean, this has happened over and over again.  I mean, between losing his plan "B" and plan "C" nominees for army secretary, between the forced withdrawal of those two consecutive, totally unvetted nominees to be army secretary, you might remember there was also Trump`s nominee for labor secretary, Andy Puzder, who it turns out had had his marriage featured on an episode of "The Oprah Winfrey Show" that was titled "high-class battered women." 

Andy Puzder`s wife had filed allegations during his divorce in which she said he hit her and threw her to the kitchen floor and unplugged the phone after she tried to call police.  She said that he assaulted and battered me by striking me violently about the faces, back, shoulders neck without provocation or cause.  She outlined what she said were her injuries. 

Andy Puzder denied this and his wife later recanted them.  It`s part of a child custody agreement later on.  She later said, no, no.  She took it all back.  He never abused her at all. 

But in 1990, there was Andy Puzder`s ex-wife wearing a disguise and big glasses and using a pseudonym describing allegations of physical abuse by Trump labor secretary nominee Andy Puzder on TV, the one she had also testified to in their divorce proceedings two years prior. 


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  He vowed revenge.  He said "I will see you in the gutter.  This will never be over.  You will pay for this."


MADDOW:  The day that -- the day that obtained that tape of that TV show featuring Andy Puzder`s ex-wife talking about what she said happened in their marriage, the day that take finally surfaced, Andy Puzder was out as Trump`s nominee to join the cabinet and run the Labor Department.  Trump instead picked Alex Acosta, who has since been told by a federal judge that he and his fellow former prosecutors acted illegally when they agreed to a, frankly, inexplicable plea deal with a serial child sex offender who is accused of molesting dozens of young girls. 

Alex Acosta agreed to an inexplicable non-prosecution agreement with billionaire child sex offender Jeffrey Epstein that precluded trying Epstein on any federal charges and that precluded investigations or charges against any of his potential accomplices.  Acosta is who did get the labor secretary gig and still has it, after Andy Puzder was deemed too controversial to get it. 

Before long, the Trump administration would also have to see off the staff secretary in the White House who worked every day in the oval office in the immediate company of the president, seeing every piece of paper that crossed the president`s desk no matter its classification level.  All of this despite the fact that his own application for a permanent security clearance just couldn`t seem to get through.  It turns out Rob Porter wasn`t getting his security clearance because the FBI was getting stuck on the serious allegations of physical abuse that had been made against him by not one but both of his ex-wives. 

Two days after Rob Porter had to leave the White House over those serious domestic abuse claims, a Trump White House speechwriter was also forced out after his ex-wife also explained to "The Washington Post" that she too had spoken to the FBI about her contention that she was subject to violent abuse by her husband during their recent marriage including her fearing for her life at his hands.  He denied the allegations. 

Quoting from "The Washington Post" at the time, quote: Trump`s speechwriter David Sorenson`s ex-wife called it scary that someone like her ex-husband had access to the White House.  Quote: Everyone can think you`re the most wonderful guy but you`re throwing women into walls by night.

What may be most remarkable about all those Trump staffers and nominees losing their jobs over these -- and losing their nominations over these various abuse allegations is that most of them actually did at least lose their jobs, even in this administration for stuff like this.  I mean, that itself was a surprise from the very start. 

Do you remember when Steve Bannon was first hired to run the Trump campaign in the summer of 2016 after Paul Manafort got fired because of his undisclosed ties to Russian interests and Ukrainian oligarchs? 

Steve Bannon was hired to run the Trump campaign in the first place despite absolutely lurid domestic violence allegations against him as well, including the publication of these police reports which detailed what police saw when they were summoned to his home in California, including the injuries to his wife and the destruction of the phone that could have otherwise been used by her to summon help after the alleged assault moved from the driveway back into their home.  Bannon was charged with domestic violence, battery and witness intimidation.  The court in southern California issued a domestic violence protective order against him. 

Now, I mentioned that witness intimidation was one of the charges against Bannon.  Ultimately the way that criminal case against him resolved is that his ex-wife, in fact, did not show up to the trial to testify against him.  The basis of the witness intimidation charge against him was that he was allegedly trying to terrify his wife into getting out of town and not turning up at the trial so she couldn`t testify against him. 

In the end, she got out of town and did not show up for the trial so she could not testify against him.  But because she didn`t show up, the charges were dropped.  And then Steve Bannon put in charge of the Trump campaign, hired on as White House senior adviser and now swanning around Europe trying to Trumpify European politics as well. 

This is how it`s bee since before the beginning, without even talking about the president himself.  Who is going to vet him? 

I mean, now the president`s running for re-election.  His kickoff re- election campaign rally is tonight.  And today his acting defense secretary, his nominee to run the defense department, that nomination blew up in a way that did not have to happen, that you`d think would have been caught early in any serious vetting effort by any White House, except for the fact that this White House 2 1/2 years in still doesn`t do any of that. 

As Patrick Shanahan`s defense secretary nomination was being withdrawn today, reporters Aaron C. Davis and Shawn Boburg at "The Washington Post" went to the press with this remarkable "stop you in your tracks" story that is based in part on an interview they were able to secure with Patrick Shanahan last night. 


PATRICK SHANAHAN, ACTING DEFENSE SECRETARY:  I don`t believe violence is appropriate ever.  And certainly there`s never any justification for attacking someone with a baseball bat. 


MADDOW:  For attacking someone with a baseball bat. 

Patrick Shanahan speaking to "The Washington Post" last night, having to explain his belief that there`s never any justification for attacking someone with a baseball bat. 

Over the brief 2 1/2 years that the Trump administration has been in there, we have seen a remarkably high number of Trump appointees and nominees resign or get pulled or at least get called out for a remarkable rogues gallery of alleged and admitted behavior.  Nothing like this, though, tonight with Patrick Shanahan. 

As "The Washington Post" went to press with the fruits of that interview today, the president announced that Patrick Shanahan`s defense secretary nomination was being pulled.  The story that made that happen and the lead reporter who got that interview is going to join us next. 

Stay with us. 


MADDOW:  So this was the first national news report on the subject this morning in "USA Today."  Quote: The FBI has been examining a violent domestic dispute from nine years ago between Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan and his then wife as part of a background investigation ahead of his possible confirmation hearing to be president Trump`s permanent defense chief.

That was this morning in "USA Today."  Then this afternoon, in "The Washington Post," this is how we knew it was all over for Patrick Shanahan as Trump`s nominee to be secretary of defense.  And I know this is, you know, just the latest Trump cabinet official or nominee to blow up in scandal, but this one is definitely different.  I will warn you it`s also a little bit hard to stomach. 

Quote: In the months that he has served as President Trump`s acting secretary of defense, Patrick Shanahan has worked to keep domestic violence incidents within his family private.  His wife was arrested after punching him in the face and his son was arrested after a separate incident in which he hit his mother with a baseball bat.  In November 2011, Shanahan rushed to defend his then 17-year-old son in the days after the teenager brutally beat his mother.  The attack had left Patrick Shanahan`s ex-wife unconscious in a pool of blood, her skull fractured and with internal injuries that required surgery, according to court and police records. 

Two weeks later, Shanahan sent his ex-wife`s brother a memo arguing that his son had acted in self-defense.  Quoting from the memo: Use of a baseball bat in self-defense will likely be viewed as an imbalance of force, said Shanahan, however, Will`s mother harassed him for nearly three hours before the incident.

In an hour-long interview Monday night at his apartment in Virginia, Shanahan, who has been responding to questions from "The Post" about the incident since January, said he wrote the memo in the hours after his son`s attack before he knew the full extent of his ex-wife`s injury.  Shanahan said Monday, meaning yesterday, he does not believe there can be any justification for an assault with a baseball bat.  He now says he regrets writing that passage. 

Quote: Quite frankly, it is difficult to relive that moment, and the passage was difficult for me to read.  I was wrong to write those three sentences, Shanahan said.

Quote: I have never believed Will`s attack on his mother was self-defense or justified.  I don`t believe violence is appropriate ever and certainly never a justification for attacking anyone with a baseball bat.

"The Post" goes on to explain based in part on extensive divorce filings, Patrick Shanahan`s own behavior in the immediate aftermath of the baseball bat fractured skull attack, including him renting a hotel room where he hold up for days with his son while police were looking for him. 

Joining us now is Aaron Davis, investigative reporter with "The Washington Post."

Mr. Davis, I appreciate your time tonight, this is quite a scoop. 


MADDOW:  So you mentioned that Mr. Shanahan had been discussing these incidents with "The Post," with you since January.  It`s remarkable that you guys have had this reporting project in the works for all this time while when he was not long ago confirmed as deputy defense secretary, this never turned up in any of the documents that were handed over to the senate.  Senators say they had no idea.  This apparently didn`t pop in any of his background stuff that was made available. 

DAVIS:  Well, Shanahan in his interviews with us says there was some litigation of this very issue the first go-round when he was up for the number two slot in the Pentagon, that that was communicated that a FBI background check was communicated to then chairman McCain and ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. 

It does seem, though, there`s been a much more fuller investigation by the FBI in the course of this much larger role as secretary of defense.  We do not know -- I mean, there`s a few things we don`t know about this situation.  We don`t know where the FBI is in their process of investigating this.  We don`t know if they`ve actually finished their investigation, given it to the White House and they`ve been sitting on it because of this or some other thing. 

But we do know that it became clear to Patrick Shanahan in recent days as just so many weeks had gone by without his nomination papers being officially transmitted to the Congress that this story, these domestic violence episodes were eventually going to have to be confronted by him in public. 

Now, it`s -- to your point earlier about the vetting issue, it`s pretty remarkable because for the past five months now or six months nearly Patrick Shanahan and those close to him, his family, people working with him in the Pentagon, have been working to, you know, make sure this didn`t come out in the press, to make sure that Congress never asked about this when it came to the confirmation hearing. 

So you have a situation, you know, where the very purpose of a confirmation hearing, of vetting nominees so that there isn`t something, as you said, that could be used as blackmail, we are very close to Patrick Shanahan being put before Congress for a confirmation hearing, possibly having this never come up.  You know, if there hadn`t been such a delay around the latest FBI investigation.  But possibly a very long time before, you know, this was out there and he was trying to keep it from getting out there and who knows how that could have been used against him. 

MADDOW:  And him serving nearly six months as acting secretary of defense with this potential leverage pending against him while he tried to keep it secret as well.  I mean, obviously an acting secretary doesn`t have exactly the same power as a secretary of defense, but it`s not like he` been shy in that position. 

I want to ask you something about some of the documents you turned up.  In your reporting with Shawn Boburg at "The Post", you`ve obviously gone through more than 1,000 pages of divorce documents.  You`ve gone through the police documents, including incredible detail.  Sarasota police wrote that the young man struck several blows to his mother`s head and torso, left her in a pool of blood and unplugged the landline phone cord, depriving the victim and the young brother the use of 9/11, or excuse me, 911 to render aid. 

I mean, this incredible detail from the police reporting on this.  And then also this memo that Shanahan himself wrote to essentially try to shield his son from getting in trouble on this stuff.  Is the memo that you guys have reported here, which is such an important part of the story, is this the first time it has become publicly known, that he did that memo? 

DAVIS:  Yes, that`s the first public reporting on this memo.  And the memo is, as you said, it`s pretty important because the lines that he used in trying to very early on decide if there was some mitigating factor, as he`s told me, you know, how did this happen, how did it come to be that my son did this?  He was really looking for what would be the defense and what would be the explanation. 

And he wrote this memo that he circulated with his attorneys that later was sent to another family member and found its way into the public court file where he did use this equivalency almost of a verbal assault with a physical assault.  And I think people who have heard that on the Hill have had kind of a visceral reaction to that sometimes, the way he phrased that.

He now says he regrets writing it.  He wrote it poorly.  Doesn`t mean it and doesn`t believe there is any justification for using a baseball bat, but this discussion, I do believe in my conversations with him last night and this morning have perhaps him hearing the words come out of his mouth and rereading this memo, perhaps for the first time visualized what a very public airing of this would look like. 

MADDOW:  Mmm-hmm. 

DAVIS:  And I think it became too much for him.  There is a document in the court file where it says Patrick Shanahan is not without fault in this whole situation.  He was never, you know, the person who used the baseball bat.  That was his son against the mother of his three children, but he was not without fault in that he knew there was a very complicated and tense situation going on with his ex-wife and the children and he should have done more in that situation. 

I think, you know, reading by what he has done today, stand up and walk away from the nomination, that this is a chapter two and perhaps a way for him to, you know, be the parent perhaps that earlier on in the course of this very awful, sad and tragic family history that he was, you know, somewhat criticized for. 

MADDOW:  Aaron Davis, investigative reporter with "The Washington Post" who broke this story wide open today, as Mr. Shanahan has stepped out and will not become the secretary of defense, Mr. Davis, thank you for helping us understand your reporting tonight.  Much appreciated. 

DAVIS:  Thanks. 

MADDOW:  I will say that, you know, getting -- this story being made public about the Shanahan family, you can`t be put forward for a Senate confirmable important national security position while having a big secret that you don`t want to come out that some people know about you that could be used against you, for one.  But when people do have secrets or they have things in their family that they cannot allow to become public for family reasons or even the most beneficial of reasons, that`s the stuff that comes up in a vetting that means you don`t get put up for the job in the first place, and that is the White House`s failing here, not Shanahan`s failing, the White House`s failing that they even tried it with him and they`re the reason this stuff is out in the open in a way that Shanahan`s family would rather -- would rather anything, right? 

Much more to come tonight, including Senator Chris Murphy joining us next.  Stay with us. 


MADDOW:  So we haven`t had a confirmed secretary of defense no nearly six months.  That`s a record -- over that six-month period, we`ve got ongoing U.S. operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and Syria.  We`ve had the Trump administration threaten brand-new wars against both Venezuela and Iran, and now today, Patrick Shanahan, the longest ever non-confirmed only acting defense secretary in U.S. history is himself out because the White House apparently did its usual bang-up job of vetting high-profile important nominees and they never noticed the huge bloody domestic violence crime and tragedy in his family`s recent history, which Shanahan has been desperately trying to keep secret while he was also expecting to be confirmed as defense secretary. 

Joining us now is Senator Chris Murphy who is on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. 

Sir, thanks very much for joining us tonight.  It`s nice to see you. 

SEN. CHRIS MURPHY (D-CT):  Thanks for having me. 

MADDOW:  So one of the consequences of this story is I think some senators have expressed concern that they didn`t know about this.  Shanahan was confirmed as a deputy defense secretary in the past.  He was well into the nomination process at this point.  They`d had no word.  The FBI paperwork on him had not been handed over. 

How concerned are you about this? 

MURPHY:  Well, I`m very concerned about it, understanding that there is likely a different amount of background investigation done for a deputy secretary versus a secretary, but as you point out, we`ve been waiting for six months for a secretary candidate to be sent to the United States Senate.  It`s unprecedented to have this much time go by without anyone as the formal head of our military, and had the president decided back in January or February that he was going to forward Shanahan`s name to the United States congress, this information would have come out much earlier and we could have moved on to the next nominee. 

What is particularly perilous is that this hasn`t ended yet.  We have another announcement of a new acting secretary, and it could be that for the better part of an entire year, we are not going to have anyone formally leading the entirety of the United States military, and given, as you mentioned, all of the different crises that are erupting around the world, that is as concerning to me as the lack of information about this particular nominee. 

MADDOW:  What is the practical consequence of having an acting secretary in there versus a confirmed secretary?  Obviously, we`re seeing the Trump administration act in ways that are, you know, concerning to a lot of people on Venezuela, certainly right now on Iran.  There`s been lots of confusion in terms of whether or not the president ultimately did give an order that U.S. troops should leave Syria or not and what happened to that order. 

I mean, ever since James Mattis left, there`s been no clear indication about how the administration handles matters involving civilian control of the military anyway. 

What have we seen that tells us about the difference of having somebody in there who is not confirmed? 

MURPHY:  So, Mattis was a commanding presence, and while he lost the faith of the president at the end, he was someone that the White House listened to. 

The problem is two-fold.  One, when you`re in an acting capacity, everyone wonders whether you`re going to be there for the long haul, and so, your influence is naturally diluted. 

Two, this particular acting secretary had absolutely no experience in the military or in national security policy.  He had not really worked at any substantial level inside a big bureaucracy before and he was by all accounts very ineffective and very quiet during the time that he was there.  So I think you have both of those problems. 

And you can see how this plays out.  The military doesn`t have a direct line into the national security adviser.  Their advice is supposed to flow through the secretary of defense. 

So, for instance, our military leaders in Iraq have been pretty clear with those of us who have visited that they think it was a pretty terrible decision for the administration to name the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization.  They told the administration that that would result in the relationship falling apart and attacks being launched against U.S. troops.  But without a formal secretary of defense to channel that information to the executive branch, it didn`t get listened to and we are now in a situation of crisis in part because of that one very bad decision that our military leaders counseled against. 

MADDOW:  In terms of what happens next here, we have a new acting secretary of defense, as you mentioned.  The president chose him for his current job, which was secretary of the army, from having been the chief lobbyist for Raytheon. 

Is this a nominee who you are inclined to feel -- to feel confident about?  Is this somebody who you think will ultimately be nominated to be the defense secretary?  Do you have any expectation in terms of how long it will take? 

MURPHY:  Well, listen, I hope that the president puts a name before us as soon as possible.  I don`t think there is any excuse for the president to take more than a few weeks before he submits this name or someone else`s name to be in that position permanently.  I am very worried about this broad trend in the administration to put lobbyists for the industries that these agencies do business with inside these positions. 

Raytheon as we speak has a very controversial sale pending before the United States Congress.  They make the precision-guided missiles that we sell to Saudi Arabia that they have used to drop bombs inside Yemen.  The idea that we would have someone that has worked for Raytheon that may want to go back to work for Raytheon setting defense policy that has deep objections on both sides of the aisle is alarming. 

You know, I understand there is unfortunately a resolving door in which lots of people on both the Democratic and Republican side of the aisle come in and out of the private sector, but this seems to be a trend line throughout the administration, the EPA, the Department of Interior, the Department of Defense, that suggests this administration is not so serious about cleaning up this swamp they talk about all the time. 

MADDOW:  The shock.  Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut, thank you for joining us, sir.  Good to having you here.

MURPHY:  Thanks. 

MADDOW:  All right.  Much more to come tonight.  Stay with us. 


MADDOW:  This is the "Orlando Sentinel" editorial page today. 

Quote: Our endorsement for president in 2020: not Donald Trump."

Today, "The Orlando Sentinel" published this blistering editorial basically opposite endorsing the president`s reelection.  Quote: Donald Trump is in Orlando to announce the kickoff of his re-election campaign.  We are here to announce our endorsement for president in 2020, or at least who we`re not endorsing, Donald Trump. 

Some readers will wonder how we could possibly eliminate a candidate so far before an election and before knowing the identity of his opponent.  Well, it`s because there is no point pretending we would ever recommend that readers vote for Trump.  After 2 1/2 years, we`ve seen enough, enough of the chaos, the division, the schoolyard insults, the self-aggrandizement, the corruption, and especially the lies, so many lies, from white lies to whoppers, told out of ignorance, laziness, recklessness, expediency or opportunity.  Trump`s capacity for lying isn`t the surprise here, but the frequency is the tolerance that so many Americans have for it. 

There was a time when even a single lie, a phony college degree, a bogus work history would doom a politician`s career.  Not so for Trump who claimed in 2017 he lost the popular vote because millions of people voted illegally.  They didn`t. 

In 2018, he said North Korea was no longer a nuclear threat.  It is.  In 2019, he said windmills cause cancer.  They don`t. 

Just last week, he claimed the media fabricated unfavorable results from his campaign`s internal polling.  It didn`t.

The editorial goes on from there in detail.  Trump has diminished our standing in the world.  He reneges on deals, attacks allies and embracing enemies. 

The nation must endure another 1 1/2 year of Trump but it needn`t suffer another four beyond that.  We can do better.  We have to do better. 

"The Orlando Sentinel" is a paper that usually endorses Republicans for president.  This un-endorsement today in "The Sentinel" is a blow to the president in a state he has to win for re-election, but do not look past the fact that it has been published in Orlando as the president arrived tonight in Orlando to launch his re-election campaign. 

According to "The Sentinel`s" editorial board, that was the point and their editorial page board editor joins us straight ahead.  Stay with us. 


MADDOW:  In what may be a new genre of political endorsements, "The Orlando Sentinel" newspaper today offered up an anti-endorsement of the president`s re-election. 

Quote: Our endorsement for president in 2020, not Donald Trump. 

They say this as the president arrives in their town tonight to launch his re-election campaign.  "The Sentinel`s" editorial board saying essentially they don`t know who is going to be running against him yet, but they know already, they don`t want Florida voters to vote for the president, no matter who he`s running against. 

Joining us now for the interview is Mike Lafferty, editorial board page editor at "The Sentinel". 

Mr. Lafferty, thanks for making time.  Appreciate you being here. 


MADDOW:  So, the president launching reelection campaign tonight in Orlando.  I think that`s a sign he thinks he`s in Trump country in your town tonight. 

What has been the reaction to this today from your readers? 

LAFFERTY:  Well, it`s been mixed.  That`s probably a typical answer, but we sat down and counted up the number of notes that we got, letters to the editor.  We got about 112 that liked what we wrote.  We got 108 that did not. 

It`s about the same split for the things that came directly to me and to a couple of others in the -- in the editing ranks.  So, it was pretty divided. 

Some people were really unhappy with it and, you know, they thought it was an insult to the president.  They thought it was an insult to the people who came to see him here.  And so, that`s what they thought. 

MADDOW:  Was it a hard call to do this?  Obviously, you knew that this would be national press.  You`d be asked to talk about it on national TV given the platform the president effectively gave your editorial decision by you making sure that it ran coincident with this speech tonight. 

LAFFERTY:  Yes, when we heard the president was coming to town for a rally and then heard the president was coming to town not just for a rally but to relaunch his campaign, we sat down and thought about what could we do to comment on that, and the idea emerged, let`s just go ahead and write the endorsement editorial.  And we -- yes, we knew that it would get some more attention that way.  I don`t think there`s anything wrong with that. 

And we also knew that there would be some -- there would be a lot of pushback on it, but, you know, we think this is an important issue and this was a good way for a lot of people to see it and so that`s why we did that. 

MADDOW:  Once you know who is running against him, you have a funny riff at the end of the editorial where you talk about how this non-endorsement isn`t defaulting to whomever the Democrats choose.  You have a history of endorsing Republican candidates for president in general elections. 

Once you do know who is running against him, do you think and the editorial board members will make another decision about whether or not to actively endorse his opponent or might this be it, just a non-Trump endorsement? 

LAFFERTY:  We, you know, we`re going to have to talk about it once we find out who it is.  And there are a couple of scenarios.  We could endorse that person.  We could decide not to endorse that person.  We could decide not to endorse. 

"The Sentinel" did that in 1980 when Ronald Reagan ran against Jimmy Carter.  The paper just didn`t endorse.  Found it couldn`t stomach either one of them for a variety of reasons.  So, that`s an option. 

I just want -- I thought it was important for us to say that, you know, this is not a default to the Democrat.  We want to know what that Democrat says, what they want to do. 

Our paper has a pretty long history of being fairly financially conservative.  We worry about deficit spending.  We worry about debts, national debt.  So, those are things that will be important to us when we talk about this. 

MADDOW:  Mike Lafferty, editorial page editor for "The Orlando Sentinel" -- this was super provocative and interesting and well-argued.  I really appreciate you giving us insight to your thinking behind it.  Thanks for being here. 

LAFFERTY:  Thank you. 

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


MADDOW:  Former White House communications director Hope Hicks name checked in the Mueller report more than 180 times.  The vast majority of them in volume two which is on obstruction of justice. 

Tomorrow, Hope Hicks will become the first fact witness from the Trump administration to testify before Congress on the Mueller investigation.  The White House is still trying to stop her, though, asserting today that Hicks is, quote, absolutely immune from being compelled to testify about her time in the White House.  This was the White House today basically telling the committee they`re going to put a chaperone in the room with Hope Hicks tomorrow to try to keep her from answering questions about her time in the White House and to try to keep her from answering questions probably about the presidential transition as well. 

But here`s a little breaking news for you.  We just got this.  The Judiciary Committee`s chairman, Jerry Nadler, has just responded to the White House claim that Hope Hicks is immune from having to testify. 

He tells the White House tonight: I reject that assertion.  Questions will be posed to her and we will address privilege and other objections on a question by question basis.

Chairman Nadler goes on to say, quote: The committee plans to ask Ms. Hicks about instances she witnessed in which the president took actions that may constitute criminal offenses, including obstruction of justice -- essentially, implicitly claiming there that it can`t be a privileged communication if in fact what that conversation was about was the commission of a crime. 

One other thing to keep an eye on with that Hope Hicks testimony tomorrow, Democrats are also reportedly planning to ask her about the hush money payments that were made to two women who are planning to make public statements about alleged affairs with Trump before the campaign.  Those happened during the campaign before the election, so not when Hope Hicks was working in the White House.  Not when she was working in the transition. 

Michael Cohen has already gone to prison in part for his confessed role in arranging those payments.  He didn`t invent that scheme on his own.  Will Hope Hicks be asked about it tomorrow?  Will they be able to stop her from talking about what she knows about it?  We shall see. 

That does it for us tonight.  Hope Hicks will be there 9:00 a.m. there tomorrow.  We`ll see you again tomorrow night. 


Good evening, Lawrence.

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