CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right now with Joy Reid, in for Rachel.
Good evening, Joy.
JOY REID, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, and what a weird world.
HAYES: I mean, I just -- I don`t know.
REID: What is there to say except wow. Yes.
HAYES: Lord help us.
REID: Thank you, Chris. Have a good night.
OK. Thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.
We have lots to get to tonight. But we start tonight with news about a key figure in Trump world and now a key witness in the Mueller investigation.
Rick Gates served as deputy chairman of the Trump campaign. Gates had been Paul Manafort`s right hand deputy working for Ukrainian oligarchs before Manafort joined the Trump campaign and brought Gates along. Manafort was pushed out of the Trump campaign in August 2016, but Rick Gates stayed on right through election day. Gates then served as the number two official on the Trump inaugural committee.
Because he held those key positions, Rick Gates was an up close first person eye witness to what was going on inside the Trump campaign at a very high level. In October of 2017, he was first charged alongside Manafort on multiple counts, including conspiracy, money laundering and acting as an unregistered foreign agent. After prosecutors hit him with another round of felony charges for a total of 31, Rick Gates flipped. He pleaded guilty to two charges while agreeing to cooperate and provide information to Robert Mueller`s team.
And this was a pivotal moment in the special counsel investigation. Rick Gates who knew so much about the inner workings at the very highest levels of the Trump campaign was now willing to spill secrets to Robert Mueller`s team.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST, "TRMS": Cooperation agreement he just signed is probably a nightmare scenario for a number of other people.
Rick Gates has been potentially witness to much more than Manafort saw. Rick Gates becoming a cooperating witness I think is a big leap forward in terms of how much of a window the Mueller investigation is going to have in all different phases of the Trump candidacy and the Trump presidency.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
REID: OK, that was February 2018. Rick Gates pleading guilty and agreeing to cooperate with Mueller and prosecutors.
Now, you can think about the Mueller report in two parts. It has the first volume that explores possible collusion or conspiracy, and the second volume that explores possible obstruction of justice.
If the president`s first White House counsel Don McGahn was the key witness when it came to obstruction of justice in volume two, then Rick Gates was unquestionably Robert Mueller`s key witness when it came to volume one. Rick Gates was at the center of and in many instances the source for some of the most damning findings in Mueller`s report, whether it related to WikiLeaks, the Trump Tower meeting or the funneling of internal polling data to Russian oligarchs by way of an associate with suspected ties to Russian intelligence.
It was Rick Gates who was behind the Mueller assertion that within the Trump campaign, aides reacted with enthusiasm to reports of WikiLeaks hacks. That is how Mueller attributes it. It was Rick Gates who recalled candidate Trump being generally frustrated that Hillary Clinton`s emails had not been found.
In one particularly tantalizing and heavily redacted passage, Mueller writes based on information provided by Gates that not only was the campaign strategy centered around the leaks, but Trump himself appeared to be aware of the upcoming data dumps. Quote: According to Gates, by the late summer of 2016, the Trump campaign was planning a press strategy, a communications campaign and messaging based on the possible release of Hillary Clinton`s emails by WikiLeaks.
Then after some further reactions, quote, while Trump and Gates were driving to LaGuardia Airport, redaction, redaction, redaction, quote, shortly after the call, candidate Trump told Gates that more releases of damaging information would be coming.
Rick Gates was also there in the August 2016 meeting at a New York City cigar bar that included Paul Manafort and his longtime business associate Konstantin Kilimnik, a man whom Mueller notes Rick Gates thought was a Russian spy and whom the FBI assessed has ties to Russian intelligence, quote, Manafort briefed Kilimnik on the state of the Trump campaign and Manafort`s plan to win the election. That briefing encompassed the campaign`s messaging and its internal polling data. According to Gates, that also included discussion of battleground states which Manafort identified as Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Minnesota.
Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania -- three states which nobody considered battlegrounds in the summer of 2016, and which Trump won by a margin of fewer than 70,000 votes out of almost 14 million cast.
Now, it has been well more than a year since Rick Gates pleaded guilty. In recent months, his sentencing has been repeatedly delayed, with prosecutors telling the court that Gates has continued to cooperate in several ongoing investigations. Well, now, we`ve learned that Rick Gates has nearly finished his work as a cooperating witness.
Today, the judge in his case granted a joint motion by Rick Gates as lawyers and government prosecutors for the probation office to begin the process of drafting its pre-sentencing investigation report so that Gates sentencing can be scheduled soon after his cooperation has been completed. That means they`re getting ready to tally up a recommendation for how much time Rick Gates will spend in prison with a maximum of four to six years likely less than that.
The new joint motion from prosecutors and defense lawyers noted that Gates as a potential witness in three upcoming trials. One of them is a trial of longtime Trump associate Roger Stone on seven counts of false statements, witness tampering and obstruction of an official proceeding related to WikiLeaks publishing stolen Democratic emails. That trial starts November 5th.
Gates` testimony in that trial could shed light on the redacted parts of the Mueller report when it comes to who knew what and when about the campaign`s communications with WikiLeaks. Gates is also reportedly a witness in the ongoing criminal investigation into the Trump inaugural committee, testifying in those cases looks likely to be Rick Gates` last chance at cooperating and reducing his own time in prison. For him and for the cases spun out of the Mueller investigation, the end of the road is getting closer.
What Mueller left in the two volumes of his report is now in the hands of Congress for lawmakers to decide how they want to respond, and that`s where we go from the Mueller report to what if anything will be done about what the Mueller team found.
Today, California Congressman Salud Carbajal became the 118th Democrat to publicly support the start of an impeachment inquiry of the president. That means a majority of Democrats but in the House of Representatives now support. It also marks the 25th member to come out in support of an impeachment inquiry since Robert Mueller`s testimony last week.
While Nancy Pelosi has thus far declined to back an official impeachment inquiry, today, the House speaker released a statement on the progress of House investigations, heralding Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler`s decision to go to court last week to abstain to obtain the redacted grand jury testimony in the Mueller report, and noting ominously that, quote, in America, no one is above the law. The president will be held accountable.
And while the investigations continue and calls for impeachment grow on one side of the aisle, on the other side, more Republicans are heading for the exits. The latest, Congressman Will Hurd of Texas, became the sixth Republican in just over a week to announce their retirement. Hurd`s exit causes more headaches for a party that already lost Susan Brooks, one of just 13 women in the House, and Brooks had been in charge of recruiting more women to run as Republicans. They`ll have to give that job to somebody else.
And Republicans say that there are more retirements to come. Hurd`s decision not to run again has put the GOP ahead of its pace in retirements ahead of 2018. In that midterm election, 34 Republicans decided not to seek reelection, and then Democrats won in a rout, smashing the Watergate era record for the largest margin of victory in a midterm election while winning back 40 seats in the largest Democratic House gain in over four decades.
So I have questions. Why exactly are we seeing this wave of Republican retirements? How does the Democratic push for impeachment affect the political calculations on both sides of the aisle? And what does this mean for 2020?
Joining us now is Democratic strategist Jamal Simmons, and Abby Livingston, Washington bureau chief for "The Texas Tribune".
Thank you both for being here.
And, Abby, I`m going to start with you. What should we take from Will Hurd stepping down?
ABBY LIVINGSTON, TEXAS TRIBUNE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF: Oh, there`s a lot to take from this. But I`ll think I`ll just start initially with the majority -- or the majority is at play are not at play here. So, Hurd represents the Texas 23rd district. This is one of those seats that`s competitive. There are very few left in America.
And so, it`s very rare that a House majority can have like that Democrats or Republicans can hold the majority without having the 23rd but on top of this, Hurd retiring -- Hurd was one of the best candidates in the country. Every Friday night, he was flipping a coin at a high school football game in this massive district. He was a huge fundraiser for himself and the NRCC, and not having an incumbent in that seat makes it much more difficult to hold.
And so, the central question right now in Washington is, is Hurd the first of incumbents who are in vulnerable seats to step down? And if that`s the case, this could be a very rocky year for the Republicans.
REID: Right, and you know, Jamal, there is a sense that when the president in your own party feels like he`s in trouble, but you have two choices, right? When this happened with Bill Clinton, you had two choices. You can get behind him and rally, or you can get the heck out of Washington, D.C., and avoid him.
This feels like Trump avoidance is beginning to kick in.
JAMAL SIMMONS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Oh it does feel like that. I mean, listen, Will Hurd is actually one of the more decent members of Congress and certainly for the Republicans. You know, Mia Love lost in that last election, so that means the Republican Party won`t have any African- Americans to this point in the Congress next year, unless somebody wins that we don`t know about and don`t suspect.
So, you know, for him to get out and decide to leave, I suspect a lot of this probably had to do with running upstream with Donald Trump at the top of the ticket and having to answer questions about Donald Trump every single day. I can`t imagine any worse way to spin a gear in my life, but - - and I guess Will Hurd sort of agreed, it`s very possible that that any chance the Republicans had to at least get back to parity climb back out of the hole is starting to slip away by all of these retirements and this might just be as they say over the Hill where I work, this might as be the tip of the iceberg.
REID: Right, can we just put this graphic up? This is the House of Representatives and the Congress. There are 54 black Democrats and there was one black Republican, and that would be Will Hurd. So, there will soon be none and that`s really weird. And also, the woman who was touted to recruit more women -- because they don`t have a lot of women either, they only had 15 -- and now, the recruiter is gone. So, that`s not a good sign.
And, Abby, you know, Texas has been one of those states that`s always been said, you know, it`s coming, it`s coming, it`s coming, that it`s going to become purple. Texas had a very close Senate race for Ted Cruz. You`ve now got Cornyn now, and lots of people are talking about, you know, it`s not certain that he gets back in. It`s obviously it`s more likely than not.
But if Texas is starting to see people say I`m not sure that I can carry Donald Trump on my back in this election in 2020, that sounds like a sign.
LIVINGSTON: Well, I almost didn`t take this job in 2014because there was almost no general election activity. Will Hurd`s district was the only one. And ever since, with the assent of President Trump, he is just radically changing the state`s politics. It is becoming a city versus rural divide, and we are on the brink of this map in 2011 that was drawn to protect a bunch of Republican incumbents backfiring on them.
And so, it is -- what I foresee happening in Texas over the next decade and I could be wrong and it could be much faster, but every year, every cycle, Democrats pick one or two -- one or two House seats up and it starts to build the party from the bottom up, rather than a savior coming in at the top of the ticket.
REID: Yes, you know, let`s talk about the way impeachment might impact this, Jamal, because what people will be carrying in theory -- you know, you have this -- there is a conventional wisdom in Washington that impeachment would help Trump, that it would actually energize and energize his base.
But if he can`t keep sort of regular order Republicans like Will Hurd from staying in their jobs, I`m not sure how he would build, you know, who`s he going to build with? Who would be the troops out there that rally to his defense? It`s just the people he`s already got.
Is it your sense as a Washington politico, an insider guy who knows the town, what would impeachment do to Donald Trump`s reelect and what would it do to the House members reelect?
SIMMONS: Yes, I -- you know, I -- Joy, I was deputy communications director for Al Gore in 2000, as you know, when he ran for president after the Clinton impeachment, and this logic that people have about Clinton is really kind of misty-eyed. I mean, they don`t quite remember this correctly.
One thing that happened is Bill Clinton in August before that midterm election, he actually took responsibility for what he did, he went on national television, he admitted what he did wrong and he apologized the nation, and every Democrat after that came out and lambasted him and then they ran for re-election.
Remember, Joe Lieberman actually became vice presidential nominee because of the speech he gave on Senate floor going after Bill Clinton. So, Donald Trump is not going to take responsibility for anything that he`s done and so, I don`t know the he`ll have the same fate as Bill Clinton did.
And I think ultimately -- remember, Al Gore didn`t get the White House and neither did Hillary Clinton in the two times she ran for president, she didn`t win the White House either. So I`m not sure impeachment politics worked out really well for the Democrats.
REID: And when you worked on that campaign, it wasn`t as if you guys were asking Bill Clinton to campaign for Al Gore, where there were a lot of requests for Bill Clinton. Yes, he was still popular with the public, but did he get a lot of requests for people to come out and hang around them once he had been impeached on their campaigns.
SIMMONS: No, no, and I`ll tell you this, the polling was very mixed. I remember someone explained to me they said listen when you ask people about Bill Clinton, there`s how they feel. They feel like they would your sister`s cheating husband, right, who got caught and getting run into him in the grocery store. You really like that guy, but you just can`t ever tell your sister you spent 30 minutes talking to him in the grocery store, you know?
So I`m not sure that -- I`m not sure that this way shakes out very well. Bill Clinton`s rehabilitated as to his image a lot over the years since, but at the time in 2000, it was not a very clear -- not a very clear result.
REID: And, Abby, I give you the last word on this, there a sense inside Cornyn world that an impeachment would be great for John Cornyn`s reelect, an impeachment of Trump.
LIVINGSTON: I don`t hear impeachment come up in the campaigns very much, and I -- especially in the Cornyn`s sphere, what I can say is down ballot House Democrats don`t want to talk about this and I think that`s where Pelosi is coming for in her resistance to this.
REID: All right. Well, we will see where it goes.
Democratic strategist Jamal Simmons and Abby Livingston, Washington bureau chief for "The Texas Tribune", really appreciate both of your time tonight. Thank you.
SIMMONS: Thanks, Joy.
REID: Much more to get to tonight including a little bit of math. That is fun. I love math. We`ll be right back.
REID: The first time we saw anything on this scale was the summer of 2009. All over the country, voters descended on town hall meetings hosted by their members of Congress. The Obama administration was on the cusp of passing health care reform and lots of Republican voters spurred on by groups funded by some of the richest people in America organizing under the Tea Party banner turned out to try and stop it by any means necessary, essentially organizing massive resistance against expanding health care.
But Tea Partiers flooded congressional town halls in huge numbers, demanding that their members say no to health care reform, which the Republican methods machine dubbed Obamacare.
We saw the inverse in the summer of 2017, when Republicans tried taking that very same health care, Obamacare, away. Democratic activists made schedules to show up at town halls organizing through the group Indivisible. They occupied the local offices of their members of Congress to tell them to save Obamacare, which unlike in 2009 had become really popular, as millions of people got access to health coverage in some cases for the first time in years.
This kind of ground-level action, this level of organization as a way to talk to lawmakers has become kind of a thing that happens in the month of August. It`s become part of the atmosphere of the House of Representatives August recess. The lawmakers go home to their districts, their month-long break from D.C. is not strictly vacation. They use the time to check in with their constituents.
And in the new model for activism, they really do hear from them a lot. The August recess for the full Congress, House and Senate, officially started this week. Lawmakers have already scheduled dozens of town hall meetings all across the country over the next month, and already, there`s a crystal clear message breaking through from the voters who plan to show up.
A coalition of four different progressive grassroots organizations are teaming up to pressure members of Congress during the August recess to start impeachment inquiries against the president. They`re calling it impeachment August. And in the tradition of Indivisible, it comes with an instruction manual.
Quote: Find a town hall or plan your own district office visit and ask a representative this, will you uphold your oath to support and defend the Constitution and support an impeachment inquiry into crimes committed by Donald Trump?
So, keep an eye on these town halls over the next few weeks. I expect some interesting answers to that question. Meanwhile, the number of lawmakers getting on board the impeachment train continues to tick up in the weeks since Robert Mueller`s testimony. Just in the last few days, a handful of House Democrats has said they now support impeachment inquiries.
That brings our count here at NBC to 118 House Democrats who support impeachment, plus newly minted House Democrat Justin Amash. One of those new calls for impeachment inquiry comes from Colorado Congressman Jason Crow. Congressman Crow is a freshman member of Congress. His district has been a Republican stronghold for more than a decade until he flipped it blue in 2018.
Which means coming out for an impeachment inquiry is kind of a gamble for a Democratic congressman running for re-election in a recently red district.
Congressman Crow says, quote: I didn`t run for office because I dislike Donald Trump. I ran because I love our country. It`s that same pride in our democracy and respect for our Constitution that fuels my support for an impeachment inquiry.
And joining us now is Democratic Congressman Jason Crow from Colorado.
Congressman Crow, thanks so much for being here.
REP. JASON CROW (D-CO): Hi, Joy. Thank you for having me.
REID: And I know there`s a slight delay, just for the audience to know.
So there were -- so there was some surprise among members of the media when Justin Amash who also he comes from a Republican district, he still was a Republican at a time, went to a town hall and heard, you know, just an uprising from people in that town hall about Donald Trump and about the things that he is accused of doing.
Have you been hearing from your constituents with regard to impeachment thus far?
CROW: Absolutely. I mean, I have heard from my constituents on both sides. I mean, it`s a very deeply rooted issue. People have strong feelings on both sides in a district like mine where we have a lot of unaffiliated voters. You know, you have people from different backgrounds and I`ve had to take that into account in my seven-month process of assessing this issue.
REID: Yes, and I grew up not too far from you. So I know that Colorado can be an interesting state and that it`s you know there are a lot of people who are hunters, there`s a lot of people who sort of lean Republican for a lot of reasons, but they`re environmentalist. People are interesting, right? You don`t have a lot -- you have some hard rights, but, you know, you have a lot of people that are sort of in the middle. When you`re looking at impeachment are you thinking of it from the point of view of the electoral aspect of it or for you is just a purely principled issue that you think that you`ll be able to pull over some of those people who are kind of in the middle Coloradans?
CROW: You know, my life has been defined by the oaths that I`ve taken. I took an oath when I first enlisted in the Army. I took another oath when I became an army officer and then yet another oath about seven months ago when I raised my right hand and joined 116th Congress.
And all of those oaths had the same phrase that I swore to defend the Constitution of the United States. And I`ve seen people, I`ve known people who have made great sacrifice to do that. So, for me being where we are now and seeing the actions of this administration, the stonewalling of Congress, I know that that for me and for my district, the next steps are to give Congress all of the tools that it needs to conduct the oversight and to hold this administration accountable.
REID: And if there`s one thing that Donald Trump is alleged to have done that really pushed you over the line, what would it be?
CROW: You know, there have been a number of things, right? You look at all the obstruction elements that have been outlined in the Mueller report, which he again you know underscored last week. You look at the fact that he`s just continuously stonewalled Congress. When I was in Iraq and Afghanistan, I saw in the eyes of those people what it is like to live in a society where there`s no rule of law, you know, where there`s hopelessness and where people know they can`t have justice from their government.
And then I fast forwarded from my time in Iraq and Afghanistan to on the campaign trail a couple of years ago, and very early on my time in the campaign trail, I had people that would tell me, you know, you seem like a nice guy, they liked what I had to say, but you know they just were so disenchanted with the system. They said the system was rigged and they`ve had lost hope.
And I thought back to that time in Iraq and I started to see the same elements of that hopelessness in our system here at home. So, for me, rule of law and upholding our checks and balances is so important and if this Congress can`t do that, if we can`t uphold our obligation in rule of law in our system, then, you know, I think we have a real problem and that`s what I know we have to do.
REID: Very eloquently said.
Congressman Jason Crow, Democrat from Colorado, thanks so much for some of your time tonight. Really appreciate it.
CROW: Thanks for having me on, Joy.
REID: Thank you.
And a quick thing, a minute ago, I said Congressman Justin Amash is a newly minted Democrat. I think I might have misspoke there. He`s a newly minted independent. It hasn`t gone all the way to the D side.
All right. And coming up, the news version of the call is coming from inside the House. That`s next. Stay with us.
REID: The Jupiter inlet lighthouse is in Jupiter, Florida, on the eastern side of the panhandle, about 90 miles north of Miami. The lighthouse has been around for more than a century since 1860. During World War II, the Jupiter lighthouse was a U.S. intelligence spy station. Today, it`s a rusty red beacon poking up along the shore. The lighthouse is surrounded by 120 acres of gorgeous farmland. There is a hiking trail, lots of trees, a lagoon, breathtaking views of the coast. Tens of thousands of people visit there every year.
In 2008, Congress designated the land around the lighthouse for federal protection and placed into the custody of the Bureau of Land -- place it into the custody of the Bureau of Land Management.
The BLM is the custodian of more than 245 million acres of land in the United States. That federal agency manages not just lighthouses and hiking trails, but also deserts and canyons and beaches, lands with minerals and oil and gas, and big open spaces with wild horses. It`s the job of the Bureau of Land Management and the people in charge there to protect the land in their custody, to develop the resources on that land safely and sustainably, and to make sure that public lands are kept in good shape for the long haul for everyone.
Just this week, Donald Trump put a new person in charge of the Bureau of Land Management as the acting director. His name is William Perry Pendley. He is a conservative lawyer and a former senior Reagan administration official.
The other thing to know about William Perry Pendley who is now in charge of protecting all of the public land is that Mr. Pendley does not think there should be public land in his country at all. No, I`m not kidding.
Here`s how "The Washington Post" described Pendley. Quote: Trump`s pick from managing federal lands doesn`t believe the government should have any. Since his time in the Reagan administration, Trump`s picked to lead the BLM has sued the Interior Department on behalf of the oil and gas industry. He`s tried to undermine protections for endangered species and publicly campaign to slash the amount of public land in this country, so that it can be developed by private companies instead.
In 2016, he called for the federal government to sell all of its public land, to just fork over 245 million acres of pristine landscape for private individuals and corporations to do who knows what with it. He claims that`s what the Founding Fathers wanted.
William Perry Pendley will be the acting director of the Bureau of Land Management until the president gets around to picking a more permanent one. Mr. Get Rid of All the Public Lands and Give It All to Private Developers will be in charge of all the public lands for the foreseeable future.
And maybe that`s the point. It is certainly in keeping with the theme of this presidency to deconstruct the administrative state as alt writer Steve Bannon described it, to dismantle the core functions of government from the inside out.
Hold that thought.
REID: Well, that was fast. It was just Sunday afternoon when Donald Trump announced by tweet that Republican Congressman John Ratcliffe was his pick to replace Dan Coats as director of national intelligence. Five days later, poof, Ratcliffe self-destructed.
This afternoon, Trump announced it actually just kidding. Ratcliffe is his pick for DNI after all. He blamed the media for Ratcliffe bursting into flames five days in without any mention of the bevy of self-inflicted wounds that sank his nomination, from apparently padding his resume and rounding up his track record, to his lack of experience in national security or intelligence, to say nothing of the lukewarm reception Ratcliffe got from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Now, if you feel like you`ve heard this song before with a Trump pick for a big job imploding out of the gate, well, you`re not wrong. By our account, this is the 35th time one of Trump`s nominations went busto, forcing Trump to pull a 180.
When asked what Ratcliffe`s demise says about the White House`s vetting process, Trump did a 180 of his own. Watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think the White House is a great vetting process. You`ve vet for me. When I give a name, I give it out to the press and you vet for me. The vetting process for the White House is very good but you`re part of the vetting process, you know? I give out a name to the press and they vet for me. We save a lot of money that way.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
REID: Oh, OK, man, so your vetting process is our fault. Got it. You`re also saving money by not actually betting anybody letting us do it for you. Perfection.
So, maybe, we shouldn`t be surprised that Ratcliffe met this fate, but as we wait for round two of presidential roulette DNI edition, it`s worth taking a moment to see the proverbial forest for the trees here, because this is more than just a mere hiring decision. The DNI, a position created in the wake of 9/11, is the top intelligence official in the nation, coordinating all of the other intel agencies. It`s on the intelligence community`s Mount Rushmore.
Who the president picks for that gig matters. It determines the strength of the entire intelligence community and it`s not hard to see why Donald Trump might want to rein in the intelligence agencies as he put it. The intel community has been a thorn in his side, particularly when it comes to Russia, taking every opportunity to point out that, yes, Russia interfered in our election in 2016, Russia never stopped and Russia is trying to do it again.
In January 2017, they put out that withering report on how Vladimir Putin ordered the attack on our election in order to help Trump, something that according to the Mueller report so upsets Trump because it feels to him like a challenge to his legitimacy.
Now, we can extrapolate from Ratcliffe`s qualifications for the DNI job what this -- what is White House -- what this White House occupant is really looking for in the next director of national intelligence, what Trump`s help-wanted ad would say. It might say things like, must be willing to attack special counsel Robert Mueller during his confirmation hearings, must want to settle Trump`s scores and exact vengeance for the Russia investigation, or as the economist put it, quote, Donald Trump wants a loyalist as America`s top intelligence official.
Whoever the president picks next, the hunt is on, and it might end sooner than we think. Trump today says he`s got a short list in his pocket with three names on it and he`ll be mulling it this weekend, while you pay for his latest vacay at his golf resort in New Jersey.
But somebody else put out an alternative help-wanted ad of sorts, the director -- for the director of national intelligence. Senator Mark Warner, vice chair of the Senate Intel Committee, who said the president should nominate, quote, someone with a deep knowledge of the intelligence community, respect for the hard work intelligence professionals do to keep us safe and the independence and integrity to speak truth to power when necessary.
And we shall see which of those help-wanted ads prevails.
Joining us now is Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat from Oregon, and a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
When the president tweeted that he was withdrawing the Ratcliffe nomination today, Senator Wyden clapped back: Maybe try vetting your nominees first.
Senator Wyden, thanks for being with us tonight.
SEN. RON WYDEN (D-OR): Thank you, Joy.
REID: Well, it`s -- Donald Trump said that we vet his nominee, so apparently, that`s the news media`s job. So maybe he won`t listen to you on that.
WYDEN: Most bizarre theory of vetting I`ve ever heard, Joy. I mean, I know the standards have changed a lot with the Trump administration, but we are not talking about national dog capture here. We`re talking about director of national intelligence. And in particular, we need somebody who will tell it straight to Donald Trump, not twist the facts for Donald Trump.
REID: But isn`t it the case that if anyone tells it straight to Donald Trump, they`re going to tell him again that Russia attacked our election and that other foreign countries are potentially working up to attack our election, and that makes me feel insecure. So, is it -- is it -- how likely is it that he would ever pick someone who would be willing to tell him hard truths?
WYDEN: I think you can`t do this job responsibly unless you`re willing to lay those facts that are actual facts on the table, like we understand, this is not about Donald Trump nominating a Democrat or any of this kind of thing. But we have to have somebody who`s experienced, who`s objective and it is not in question that Russia attacked our election system. And serving on the intelligence committee, I can tell you, Joy, what we`re looking at in 2020 in terms of attacks from hostile foreign actors going to make 2016 look like small potatoes.
REID: Well, we know that Donald Trump, you know, wanted what he got in William Barr, and that it`s pretty clear that he would like, you know, given that Mr. Ratcliffe was even on the table, that he would like to have someone like that running intelligence.
My question would be, whether or not the leader of the Senate, Mitch McConnell, who tends to be very accommodating to Donald Trump, was he the person that finally convinced Donald Trump to say no, and would he allow Donald Trump to put a William Barr-esque person in as DNI?
WYDEN: My sense is that Republican senators are really wrestling with this, because they know Donald Trump has got one more election. He`s very popular with primaries, but they are branding their party for the longer term and when you look at Devin Nunes, and Ratcliffe and the like, a lot of the Republicans on the Intelligence Committee have been leaning a little bit more towards an institutional approach and acknowledging that the Russians attacked us.
Now, let`s see if Trump`s going to go along with that.
REID: And I think that the challenge is, is that, you know, the Republican Party for a very long time prided itself as being Russia hawks, like in the Reagan era, and I wonder if when you talk to your colleagues behind the scenes, how far are they willing to let Donald Trump degrade the intelligence community, essentially just to make himself feel better because he doesn`t want to hear what Russia did to help him in 2016.
WYDEN: I`ve had plenty of differences of opinion with my colleagues. I was the one no vote on the election security report because I thought there needed to be a more activist role for the federal government. When you`re getting attacked by the Russians, you don`t send the county I.T. person out there to fight on the Russians. But I do think my colleagues now on the intelligence committee are going to say, no Ratcliffes, no Nuneses. We want somebody who acknowledges what the real threats are.
And Trump is going to have to make a call. Is he going to try and say I only care about somebody who shares my conspiracy theories or am I going to go with the Senate Republicans, particularly on the Intelligence Committee who are going to say we`re not going there?
REID: Well, one of the concerns about people when they looked at Ratcliffe was the fact that he would then have access to all of the information about the ongoing investigations, national security investigations that still relate to what happened in 2016. Is there any chance at all that McConnell and the Republicans would allow somebody on that committee that would undermine the committee? I mean, I guess that`s my question.
Do you have faith in Republicans on the other side of the aisle that they would protect the DNI from Donald Trump`s access to that kind of information?
WYDEN: So far, the Republicans on the Intelligence Committee have drawn a line. They have said, look, we are supportive of the Trump administration, we understand that the president sees things differently than we do on a number of occasions. But now, they`re going to have to actually fight back against people who aren`t objective and aren`t willing to have some connection to the facts. It comes down now, finally, America once again has a chance to get a qualified nominee in there.
If Donald Trump isn`t willing to have that kind of person, I`m going to do everything I can, A, to oppose a unqualified person, and push my Republican colleagues in the Senate to recognize this the question of country first.
REID: Senator Ron Wyden, member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, really appreciate you being here, and I thank you.
WYDEN: Thanks for having me.
REID: Thank you.
And still ahead tonight, a new investigation from House Democrats takes us back to the very, very beginning, day one, square one of the Trump administration, and what they found is amazing. That story is next. Stay with us.
REID: We are two and a half years and two weeks into the Donald Trump administration, and it is remarkable how much we continue to learn and how much prosecutors continue to investigate about Donald Trump`s very first day.
The Trump administration has come under investigation by federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York, also federal prosecutors in the Eastern District of New York, also federal prosecutors in Southern California, also, the attorney general in New Jersey, also, the attorney general in D.C., and that`s not even counting the congressional investigations.
You just start with the fact that the inaugural committee raised an unbelievable amount of money, over a hundred million dollars, more than twice what Barack Obama`s first inaugural raised, even though Trump`s inauguration was much, much smaller, despite what Trump you have you believe. No one has convincingly accounted for where all that money came from or where it went.
There was the political consultant and one-time business associate of Paul Manafort who admitted to illegally funneling a $50,000 foreign donation into the inaugural. Some of the inaugurate -- some of the investigations into the inaugural are reportedly looking into whether there were other such donations.
The vice chairman of Trump`s inaugural committee, Elliot Brody is reportedly under investigation by a federal grand jury, examining whether he used his position to drum up business deals with foreign leaders. Possibly the weirdest story out of the inauguration involved Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn, who at the time of the inaugural was working a side gig, getting paid to pursue a plan to build nuclear power plants in Saudi Arabia. A witness who later testified in an investigation by House Democrats claimed that on inauguration day, literally, during Trump`s inaugural speech, Flynn was texting one of the businessmen involved in this plan to pursue this nuclear power deal. He texted him during the inauguration that their plan was good to go.
The man who presided over the inauguration is Tom Barrack, Trump`s longtime friend and top fundraiser for his campaign. Tom Barrack was chairman of the Trump inaugural and until now, he`s managed to kind of skate above the fray of all the grossness and hints a potential corruption that went on around the event he managed.
But not anymore. First, we learned just how flimsy Barrack`s explanations have been for the inaugural`s vast spending. Ever since the inauguration, he`s repeatedly assured reporters that a full and clean external audit had been done on the inaugural committee`s finances. So there was nothing to worry about, all of the hundred million dollars was accounted for. But when a government watchdog group last month got a hold of what appeared to be that audit, Barrack was always talking about, it was kind of thin.
For instance, there`s a line in there that says that the inaugural spent almost $27 million on, quote, executive production. What`s executive production you asked? No idea. The audit doesn`t say. But, hey, there`s that $27 million accounted for. Nothing to see here.
Now, this week, a new report from investigators with the House Oversight Committee finds that Tom Barrack leveraged his close ties to President Donald Trump and the administration to promote his own interests, including by pushing Mike Flynn`s cockamamie Saudi nuclear plan. Oversight Chairman Elijah Cummings wrote, quote, the Trump administration has virtually obliterated the lines normally separating government policymaking from foreign -- from corporate and foreign interests.
As an example, the report says that Barrack and Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort worked together during the campaign to try to put language that had been drafted by Saudi and Emirati officials into a Trump energy speech. Emails obtained by "The New York Times" show Manafort and Barrack discussing how to change Trump speech, and even Republican platform language to, quote, make our Gulf friends happy.
Then, during the transition, Barrack negotiated with the Trump administration for a position, as Middle East envoy or ambassador to the UAE, while at the same time pushing for the Flynn Saudi nuclear plant, which would benefit Flynn and friends. The plan would also give Barrack`s Saudi friends the nuclear technology they wanted.
And also, Barrack was planning for his own company to purchase the American manufacturer of the nuclear technology that the Saudis would be buying. And voila, everybody gets rich.
Barrack and Flynn, and Flynn`s partners continue to push for this deal from inside the administration and for at least the first year of the Trump administration, even as career government officials warned that it was unethical and possibly illegal because it would be an end run around Congress.
And we learned this week that it`s not just congressional investigators interested in Tom Barrack. "The New York Times" reports that federal prosecutors have been looking at whether Barrack violated the Foreign Agents Registration Act, the law that Mike Flynn, Paul Manafort and Manafort deputy Rick Gates have all admitted to violating.
Quote: Questions about whether Mr. Barrack complied with FARA arose during the Russia inquiry led by special counsel Robert Mueller and were referred to the United States attorney`s office in Brooklyn.
Quote: The inquiry has proceeded far enough last month that Mr. Barrack was interviewed at his request by prosecutors in the public integrity unit there. Now, for the record, Barrack spokesman says that prosecutors told them they have no more questions for him. And Barrack has not been accused of wrongdoing.
But it really is remarkable. That here we are, more than two and a half years into the Trump administration and we are still learning about things that were happening on the very first day. We`re still learning about investigations into Trump`s inaugural, into his inaugural chairman.
And we`ll be right back.
REID: As the chairman of the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham has been trying for weeks to change the laws about dealing with migrants at the southern border. Among other changes, Graham wants to increase the time migrant children can be detained with their families from the court-ordered maximum of 20 days to 100 days, even though a court said you cannot do that.
Democrats have been able to keep the bill stuck in committee which has been frustrating for Chairman Graham. He is up for re-election next year and really needs to show Donald Trump that he is doing Trumpism really, really well.
Well, yesterday, the chairman decided to use a little more parliamentary muscle. Over Democratic objections he was breaking the rules, Graham held a vote to force his bill out of committee and over to the full senate. And what happened next? Well just roll the tape.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): The clerk will call the roll.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Chairman.
GRAHAM: The clerk will call the roll.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Chairman.
GRAHAM: The clerk will call the roll.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. Chairman, I`ve been -- this is unprecedented.
GRAHAM: No, it`s not.
SEN. PAT LEAHY (D-VT): These rules are no longer in effect. The same Republicans who voted for them six months ago say the heck with it. Tear them up. Tear them up. That`s what we`re doing. Just tear them up.
GRAHAM: What you`re telling me is that I should ignore what you did to me last week. I will not. You`re not going to take my job away from me. I take this very personally.
This committee is not going to be the dead-end committee on things that matter.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
REID: And voila, just like that. Senate Judiciary Committee approves Graham asylum abuse fix. Lindsey Graham`s legislation now heads to the full Senate and potentially Democratic-controlled House where it will be killed by the Democrats.
So, this was a full on stunt. But at least Senator Graham did his part for the Trump agenda and for his own conservative base. Happy re-election season.
That does it for us tonight. I`ll see you tomorrow on my show "A.M. JOY", 10:00 a.m. Eastern, right here on MSNBC.
Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD" and my friend Ali Velshi is here sitting in for Lawrence tonight.
Hello for the second time today, Ali.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END