CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: -- park, to the utterly insane situation with California`s emissions standards and the president, and, of course, we`ll have the highlights from day two of our 2020 candidate forum. The full forum will be streaming live on NBC News now, starting at 9:00 a.m. tomorrow.
Thanks so much to everyone who joined us here tonight at Georgetown. I really appreciate it.
THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right now with some breaking news.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. I do have some breaking news.
But I have to tell you, I had no idea how this whole thing was going to work today. I didn`t have my head around it.
HAYES: I didn`t, either.
MADDOW: It`s been fantastic. It`s really, really awesome. I can`t wait for tomorrow. It`s amazing.
HAYES: Thank you very much. I`m going to watch the breaking news right now.
MADDOW: OK, very good. Thanks, Chris.
All right. And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.
Boy, has this been an incredible day of breaking news. I just want to jump right in because we have a lot to get to.
First, I`m somewhat amazed to get to report to you right now that the Trump administration has completely reversed themselves on a story that we have been covering pretty intensively for the last couple of weeks. It`s this astonishing policy decision by the Trump administration to specifically target dying kids or kids who are receiving medical care that was keeping them alive in this country and that they can`t get in other places. The Trump administration specifically targeted those families last month and sent them these letters, boilerplate letters, advising them they had 33 days to stop their life-saving medical treatment and get out of this country. With no way to appeal, with no second chances, nothing. Initial contact, final declaration.
The Trump administration never announced this policy decision. They just sent out these letters and I guess maybe hoped that they would get to do this without too many people noticing because, hey, it`s just immigrants, so who cares? Well, those brave families went public with the fact that they had received these letters. In some cases, these kids went public with the fact that their families had received these letters.
The resulting publicity and nationwide revulsion, I think it`s fair to say, over this action by the Trump administration, which would quite literally single out these kids and young people and end their lives, deliberately, right, you`re getting life-saving medical care that you can`t get anywhere else, and that`s the grounds on which you have been legally in this country, they`re ending that telling you to end that life-saving medical care and leave, that`s singling out individual known human beings for death.
So Trump administration does this quietly. I think they think they`re not going to get any bad press for it. They get some bad press for it.
They initially tried to claim they weren`t actually getting rid of this program, they were just transferring it to a new agency. Well, that other agency inside the Trump administration denied knowing anything about that. Then they tried a new announced ending the program overall, the kids and young people who had gotten this round of negative press attention from the Trump administration because of what the administration was trying to do, those kids would have their individual cases reviewed but nobody else would be allowed to stay.
Well now, as of tonight, they have finally reversed the whole thing. A homeland security official quietly notifying individual members of Congress that the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services is reinstating the old policy. And so this time it appears to be well and truly over.
Now, what may have gone on here is that Democrats on the Oversight Committee in the House had announced that they were going to hold another hearing on this policy. The previous hearing they heard from some of the kids and young people who would be killed by this policy change. Democrats had announced that at the next hearing next week, they expected the head of this Trump administration agency that had gotten rid of this program, they expected him there in person to testify on this policy next week.
Well, as soon as the policy was rescinded today, that acting head of that agency sent this letter to those House Democrats notifying them with sort of palpable relief that now that the policy has been reversed as of today, he has no intention of showing up for that hearing.
Isabel Bueso is one of the young people who spoke at the first hearing. We had her here on this program last week talking about the threat to her own life, the near certainty that she would be killed by this action from the Trump administration. She said today in response to the administration finally caving on this, quote, I am so grateful to all the leaders who spoke with me last week in D.C. and played a role in helping reinstate the deferred action program. While we have not received any official confirmation that my deferred action case will be approved, we are cautiously optimistic about this news.
Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley from Massachusetts who played a leading role in fighting against what the Trump administration was trying to do here, she put out, as did several members of Congress today, she put out a long statement in response to the policy`s reversal today, what was notable I think about Congresswoman Pressley`s response was it landed on this concluding line. Says, quote: When we fight, we win.
So that happened today. Knock me over with a feather.
In addition, it looks like the nickname, Moscow Mitch, being attached to Republican have aggravated and upset him just exactly the right amount if today`s about-face by Mitch McConnell is any indication. After resisting for months any effort to do anything to protect U.S. elections from foreign interference, despite what happened in 2016, Senator Mitch McConnell, who has recently been dubbed Moscow Mitch for his willingness to apparently sort of aid Russian interests whenever they cross his desk, Senator Mitch McConnell today finally reversed course, and announced that actually now he will support and, indeed, co-sponsor what has otherwise been a lonely mostly Democratic effort to spend $250 million on election security against foreign interference for 2020. Knock me over with a feather.
Also in the realm of news you didn`t think was possible that nevertheless broke today, the gun manufacturer, Colt, which I think holds the original patent for the ar-15 assault rifle to be marketed to civilian populations, Colt announced today that they will no longer manufacture AR-15s for the civilian market. OK.
So there`s this whole succession of breaking news tonight that`s all stuff that could be filed under, right, they said it couldn`t be done. Oh, yes, it is, and yes, it is, and yes, it is. I think all those stories today fit that category.
You would need a very different category, however, to characterize the big sort of shocking legal news of the day. And this happened in one of the many cases where the president`s financial records and his tax returns are being sought by one prosecutor or one investigator or another.
There was some actual down to the wire drama in this one today. This was a subpoena for eight years of the president`s personal and business tax returns that was served last week by prosecutors in New York. That subpoena required the president`s accounting firm, Mazars, to hand over those eight years of tax returns under the terms of the subpoena by 2:00 p.m. today.
Well, I said down to the wire. Just hours ahead of that deadline, today, the president`s legal team asked a judge in the Southern District of New York for a restraining order to block Mazars from having to respond to that subpoena at 2:00 p.m., which would have resulted in them handing over all the president`s tax documents. So I said this came right down to the very end.
In the end, the judge did decide to grand at a restraining order which blocks Mazars from having to hand over those tax documents at least yet. So, we got sort of close to the deadline then ultimately the president got some respite there and his tax returns weren`t handed over.
Aside from little bit of temporal drama, last-minute legal action, that last-minute restraining order, aside from that, though, what really ended up being the big news in that story today is the filing that the president`s lawyers made on his behalf defending him against the threat of his tax returns being released by this subpoena.
In this case, the legal case made by the president`s lawyers was so radical, and, indeed, so potentially historic, it is literally on the front page of "The New York Times" right now. Quote: Trump lawyers argue he cannot be criminally investigated -- and that is actually what the president claimed today in federal court in New York. Quote: The president cannot be subject to the criminal process while in office. That is from page 3 of their filing today.
Here it is on page four, even more emphatically. "The president cannot be liable to arrest, prison, or detention while he is in the discharge of his office, nor can he be investigated, indicted or otherwise subjected to criminal process.
Nor can he be investigated? Wait a second. Now, again, the case, they`re making this claim specifically in the context of this subpoena to the Mazars accounting official to get President Trump`s tax returns and they tie this argument specifically to that one subpoena.
Quote: Because the Mazars subpoena attempts to criminally investigate a sitting president, it is unconstitutional. But, again, the basic and broader point they`re making here, you can`t investigate a president. I mean, make no doubt about it, there`s a reason this is on the front page of "The New York Times" right now. The president is not just claiming that you can`t indict a sitting president. The president is now claiming that you can`t investigate a sitting president.
You might be remember that the president was quite recently the subject of a very high-profile criminal investigation. One conducted by special counsel Robert Mueller, right?
Mueller`s report, Mueller`s public defense of his report, said despite the fact Justice Department policy says you can`t indict a president, that same Justice Department policy, quote, explicitly permits a president to be investigated. That`s why the Mueller investigation happened.
Well, apparently that may have been true within the U.S. Justice Department as of May of this year, but now, it`s September. And now it`s the contention of the Trump administration that not only can a president not be indicted, he can`t be investigated at all for anything, no matter what he does. And so, and the good thing here is at least they`re putting all their cards on the table and they`re doing so in court in a way that that contention -- in a way that means that contention will presumably now be tested in court?
But it is a remarkable thing to see it in black and white. And that is just what they are claiming that the president really could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot someone in cold blood. Not only are they now claiming that he could not be indicted for doing that, they are now claiming he could not be investigated as to whether or not he did it no matter how many people saw him do it in broad daylight.
And that brings us to by far the biggest news of the day, which is this whistleblower story which is now going officially nuts. Now, this story`s been percolating since late on Friday night. It really blew up in the 9:00 hour last night in the middle of our show when the "Washington Post" published this sort of headline for the ages: President`s communications with foreign leader are part of whistleblower complaint that spurs standoff between spy chief and Congress.
President`s communications with foreign leader, what`s that about? "The Post" reporting last night that this whistleblower complaint that has been brewing in Washington has a sort of spooky and unplaceable story, "The Post" reporting last night it was sparked by President Trump`s communications with a foreign leader. Quote: Trump`s interaction with the foreign leader included a promise that was regarded as so troubling that it prompted an official in the U.S. intelligence community to file a formal whistleblower complaint with the intelligence community`s inspector general.
So that lands with a gigantic thud last night in the 9:00 hour. Since that initial "Washington Post" reporting 24 hours ago, the main substance of that report has been matched by NBC News, "The Wall Street Journal," CNN, "The New York Times," a whole bunch of other outlets. We still don`t know who this whistleblower is or how exactly he or she came to know the alleged contents of President Trump`s communication with a foreign leader, including his alleged startling promise.
But we do now know that whoever this whistle-blower is, he or she has just hired a lawyer and a real heavyweight lawyer who is, himself, ex-Department of Defense and an ex-CIA officer. According to his law firm, he is considered to be one of the nation`s leading experts on whistleblower reprisals, meaning people who get attacked, fired or otherwise punished for legally whistle-blowing on alleged misbehavior in government.
This lawyer apparently created the program inside the CIA to investigate and prevent reprisals against whistleblowers inside that agency. So, we don`t know if this unknown whistleblower retained this heavyweight lawyer before or after the whistleblower filed his or her complaint on August 12th, but it seems like picking up this lawyer might have been a prudent thing to do, because what has emerged over the course of the past 24 hours, astonishingly, is that the Trump administration at multiple levels appears to be handling this whistleblower complaint in such a way that they may be basically threatening prosecution of this whistleblower for coming forward with whatever this disturbing information is about President Trump`s alleged behavior.
Now, the complaint at least appears to be getting treated here as if it is outside the bounds of the law that protects whistleblowers. The law that protects whistleblowers from among other things being prosecuted for bringing forward sensitive information like this through the appropriate channels.
Now, why would that be? It has emerged over the past hours that the Justice Department led by William Barr for some reason they have been brought into this process. They`re not supposed to be within the whistleblower process, but the Justice Department has now been brought into this and it appears that they have provided some sort of legal argument, which nobody has seen, but the legal argument is reportedly that this complaint, this whistleblower complaint, isn`t a real whistleblower complaint and shouldn`t be treated this way. This whistleblower should not be treated as a real whistle-blower who was protected by the law. And, therefore, this whistleblower complaint doesn`t need to be handed over to Congress.
That appears to be the legal analysis provided here by the Justice Department under William Barr, nobody knows why they were even consulted but this is apparently how they have insert inserted themselves into the process.
CNN is reporting today in addition to the Justice Department getting involved here, the Trump White House has been directly involved in the handling of the complaint, which if you think about it is bizarre, right? Here`s CNN`s reporting, quote: The White House and Justice Department advised the director of national intelligence that the complaint regarding President Trump is not governed by laws covering intelligence whistleblowers.
So, it seems clear from multiple sources, including Congress, that this is the advice that William Barr and the Justice Department have provided on this issue. CNN is reporting it`s also advice the White House is providing as well. Think about that for a second. The fact that the White House was consulted on this at all, this is a whistleblower complaint about allegedly very troubling behavior by the highest ranking occupant of the White House.
So, you bring that complaint to the White House to ask how you should handle it? I mean, that itself is a complete deviation from how whistleblower complaints are supposed to be handled. You`re not supposed to go to the subject of the complaint, the person about whom the complaint has been registered and ask them how they think this matter should be taken up.
If this matter was, in fact, brought to the White House, has this whistleblower`s identity been protected even to the White House?
But that`s apparently how the Trump administration is handling this matter. After the intelligence community`s Inspector General Michael Atkinson met behind closed doors with the House Intelligence Committee for hours today, the chairman of that committee, Adam Schiff, raised the prospect publicly that not only is this unknown whistleblower potentially at risk of being retaliated against now and potentially even prosecuted by William Barr, but the inspector general who received the complaint might also be at risk here from the Trump administration and their reprisals.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): And the inspector general is doing his very best to be very careful that he follow the law. And in some respects, the inspector general is in the same position of the whistleblower which is, if the inspector general steps one foot outside of what he`s authorized to do, then he`s not protected. And so this shows how someone is trying to manipulate the system to keep information about an urgent matter from the Congress.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Whether or not the inspector general, himself, is at risk of being prosecuted by William Barr for the crime of receiving this whistleblower complaint about the president`s behavior, the inspector general appears to be doing everything he can under the law to try to make sure that this complaint is actually investigated, and that it is actually handled over to the intelligence committees in Congress which are supposed to have oversight over things like this and which are specifically supposed to receive whistleblower complaints without any interference from the subject of the complaint.
The Intelligence Committee today released a letter today from the inspector general in which the inspector general says that he considers himself to be bound by the administration`s decisions but he respectfully disagrees with their determination that this complaint doesn`t have to be handed over. He said, quote: The complainant`s disclosure not only falls within the DNI`s jurisdiction but relates to one of the most significant and important of the DNI`s responsibilities to the American people.
He also complained that while the backstop here is supposed to be the whistleblower him or herself should be allowed to convey their complaint directly to Congress, through secure and legal channels made available to them for this purpose, the Trump administration appears to be blocking the whistleblower from doing that as well. The inspector general also says he asked for permission to at least convey the general subject of the complaint to the intelligence committees today and he was denied permission to do so.
So, the inspector general got this complaint, has tried to do the right thing with it. This inspector general who looked into it, find it credible, found it to be urgent, found it something that needed to be investigated, that needed to be handed over to Congress, he is now in this anguished position saying what the Trump administration is doing here is blocking him from protecting this whistleblower which he`s legally obligated to do, Trump administration is also blocking him from making sure this serious and properly conveyed complaint is delivered to Congress. It`s his statutory responsibility to ensure that and they`re blocking him from doing it. So, he`s absolutely stuck and Congressman Schiff is signaling that that inspector general might, himself, find himself prosecuted or retaliated against just for receiving this complaint and trying to do the right thing under law with this matter.
Congressman Adam Schiff is going to be joining us live in just a moment.
We still, of course, do not know what the complaint, itself, is, but I have to tell you, "The Washington Post" just moments ago posted the next big development in this story. This is a story from "Washington Post" which has just posted, it cites two sources in saying that the whistleblower`s complaint about President Trump involves the nation of Ukraine.
There`s been a bunch of speculation about this over the course of the last 24 hours, in part just because of the tile timeline here. I don`t mean to be weird, this is going to sound weird, but don`t take it that way. If you have been watching this show over the past few weeks, you are probably better equipped to understand what`s going on here, this latest version of this story. You are probably better equipped to understand what`s going on here than your friends who have better things to do at 9:00 p.m. Eastern on a weeknight.
So, this story, this part of the story in this new development that this complaint about President Trump may involve the nation of Ukraine, this is -- this ought to ring a bunch of bells for you because we`ve been covering this pretty intensively. Two weeks ago on September 5th, "The Washington Post" ran this on the editorial page and even though it was on the editorial page, it contained this remarkable claim.
You see the headline there. Quote: Trump tries to force Ukraine to meddle in the 2020 election -- meaning the 2020 U.S. election. Explaining that the newly elected president of Ukraine appears to be a real reformer and a real small "D" democrat and that, therefore, ought to be a cause for celebration in Washington.
"The Post" argues that nevertheless the new Ukrainian president has received the cold shoulder from the Trump administration. He, quote, has so far failed to win the backing of President Trump. Not only has Trump refused the grant the Ukrainian leader a White House visit, he`s also suspended the delivery of $250 million in U.S. military aid to this country that is still fighting Russian aggression in its eastern provinces. Some suspect Mr. Trump is once again catering to Russian President Vladimir Putin who, of course, is dedicated to undermining Ukrainian democracy and independence.
But "The Post" says, we`re reliably told the president has a second and more venal agenda. He`s attempting to force the Ukrainian president to intervene in the U.S. 2020 election by launching an investigation in Ukraine of the leading Democratic candidate Joe Biden. Mr. Trump is not just soliciting Ukraine`s help with his presidential re-election campaign, he`s using U.S. military aid that that country desperately needs in an attempt to extort it. So, again, we still do not know if that`s exactly what this whistleblower complaint is about that`s currently blowing up proverbial Washington.
Shane Harris from the "Washington Post" tonight is reporting that the whistleblower complaint has something to do with Ukraine, but the timeline here may be instructive. This is what we know of the timeline: President Trump has a phone call with the new president of Ukraine July 25th. Three days later, the director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, is out. He submits his resignation.
Less than two weeks later, there`s a strange incident in the White House first reported by CNN in which that outgoing director of intelligence, Dan Coats, for some reason steps into a meeting being led by his deputy, Sue Gordon, and he tells her in the middle of the meeting, in front of a bunch of other people, hey, Sue, you need to resign. And Sue Gordon, in fact, submits his resignation that day.
Four days later, the whistleblower complaint is filed with the intelligence community`s inspector general. Three days after that, Dan Coats and Sue Gordon leave the White House. Before that week is out, President Trump says publicly that whatever Russia did to Ukraine to get themselves kick out of the G8, that should basically be forgiven. Russia and Vladimir Putin should be let back into the G8.
Before the next week is out, Politico is first to report that Trump has put on hold $250 million in military aid to Ukraine, money that was appropriated by the Congress to help Ukraine stands up to Russia. Before the next week is out, the White House announces that it is cutting almost the entire military construction budget in Eastern Europe that is specifically designated to help other nations on Russia`s border stand up themselves against Russian aggression of the type faced by Ukraine.
Two days after that, "The Washington Post" publishes its op-ed about Trump allegedly demanding help from Ukraine for his re-election effort and threatening to deny Ukraine U.S. military assistance unless and until he gets it.
And now, there`s a new acting director of national intelligence that isn`t letting the whistle-blower complaint that`s reportedly about Ukraine be forwarded to the intelligence committees which they`re legally required to do.
Somewhere out there right now in America is a whistleblower from the intelligence community who has gone through channels and done things by the book and sought whistleblower protection under law to alert Congress in good faith about a serious and urgent matter that reportedly involves the president, his communications with foreign leaders, some sort of promise that he has made to foreign leaders, and potentially some shenanigans involving the nation of Ukraine.
Bit by bit, the substance of the complaint seems to be coming to the surface while hour by hour, the Trump administration appears to be fixing its crosshairs on the whistleblower, and on anybody who helps him or her make this story known.
At a fundamental level, this is repulsive in terms of how whistleblowers are supposed to be treated in our country or in any. But this is also ongoing. This is live. It`s happening right now.
Shane Harris joins us next. Congressman Adam Schiff will be with us in just a moment. Stay with us.
MADDOW: A team of "Washington Post" reporters, Ellen Nakashima, Shane Harris, Greg Miller, Carol Leonnig, have been leading the way on this remarkable and still expanding story, about an unknown intelligence community whistleblower who`s come forward with a reportedly credible and urgent complaint concerning behavior by President Trump -- a complaint that the intelligence community inspector general is apparently trying to share with Congress although the Trump administration is blocking him.
Well, "The Post" just in the last hour has reported that that whistleblower complaint about President Trump has something to do with the nation of Ukraine. Very shortly after "The Washington Post" published that story tonight, "The New York Times" matched that detail of their reporting.
Joining us now is "Washington Post" national security reporter Shane Harris.
Shane, thanks for getting to a studio for us on short notice. I really appreciate it.
SHANE HARRIS, NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: No problem, Rachel.
MADDOW: So you heard me explain sort of my understanding about how the story has developed and the context here. I just want to ask you if anything that I said struck a sour note or seemed wrong or if there`s anything that I should correct there.
HARRIS: No, I think that that narrative right. And it`s important to piece these things together. We sometimes forget how they do line up in retrospect, don`t they?
MADDOW: OK. Yes. And for me, it`s not so much connecting the dots, it`s remembering what all the dots are.
MADDOW: Because they seem to connect in different ways with each new news story.
You and your colleagues are reporting that the complaint centers on Ukraine, but you don`t in tonight`s story offer any further detail on what about Ukraine or whether, in fact, it was a conversation with the president of Ukraine that was the nature of this.
Can you expand at all in terms of what you know about the Ukraine part of the story?
HARRIS: Yes, what we know is what`s in the story, and I realize that it`s frustrating to people. But we`re trying to be careful in making sure we understand each of these details here as we go. But I think a key piece of this is understanding that that whistleblower complaint does follow by a very short period, only 2 1/2 weeks, that conversation, that phone call, that President Trump had with the president of Ukraine.
And as you laid out these other dots, it`s clearly happening sort of in the same timeframe. So, I think we build on the reporting that we had yesterday where we knew that this was some allegation involving a promise, clearly some sense of wrongdoing by the whistleblower against the president, now we know that that centers on Ukraine. I think we`re kind of getting closer to the nexus of these facts.
But right now, all we know is what we put in the paper and that`s all we were prepared to report tonight.
MADDOW: And, Shane, there has been some reporting from various news organizations over the course of the day that maybe the whistleblower`s complaint isn`t about one thing that was done by the president, maybe it was about a series of events and this phone call with the foreign leader may have just been one thing.
Do you have any clarity in terms of whether or not this is about a specific single incident or whether this might be a broader complaint about a broader pattern or sequence of behavior?
HARRIS: Yes, I think we got some more of that today. There`s reporting that we have on our story as well, I believe it`s in "The New York Times" reporting tonight, too, when the inspector general for the intelligence community testified today, and we understand that in that closed-door session with lawmakers, he said that this allegation by the whistleblower, it doesn`t center on just one single event.
So, it`s important that we`re not simply focused on the phone call or the communication, it seems like there`s more to it than that. It could be a series of events. It could be a pattern of behavior. We don`t know.
But we shouldn`t be thinking about this as just a single incident, it sounds like, that this whistleblower saw, it sounds like there is more kind of a tapestry here, too, to try and examine.
MADDOW: To the extent that a presidential phone call is at least part of the basis of this complaint, does it seem clear to you, either from direct reporting or just from the way what you know about how these things work in the White House, that we can narrow down how this whistle-blower might have come into knowledge of what was said on a presidential phone call with a foreign leader? Does the White House still produce transcripts of these calls or notes on these calls? Do we know who sees them?
HARRIS: There is still documentation, it`s my understanding, on some of these although the distribution of that is much more tightly controlled, in part because of reporting that colleagues of mine did in 2017 on President Trump`s discussions in the Oval Office with two senior Russian officials where he actually ended up divulging the source on an important counterintelligence source of information for the United States that was being managed by Israel.
After that, we understand sort of the paper that gets produced after a lot of these meetings, kind of seeing what was going on, is less distributed. That doesn`t mean it`s not distributed. So, of course, there are still channels that these things can get out.
But, you know, there are a lot of people working in the White House on a lot of these issues. So, I don`t know that it necessarily narrows it down very much. But this person would have conceivably could have been in a position to either have direct knowledge of this information based on those kinds of readouts or to be in a kind of universe of people who understand what`s going on when the president does things like has a phone call with the president of Ukraine.
MADDOW: "Washington Post" national security reporter Shane Harris, thank you for your time. First of all, thank you and your colleagues for your reporting on this. You`ve done more than anyone else to help clarify this, thus far, and thanks for helping us this understand it tonight.
HARRIS: It`s always good to talk to you. Thanks, Rachel.
MADDOW: Thanks, Shane.
All right. The chair of the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff, joins us live next. Stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): We will be releasing the inspector general`s letters but I want to read one sentence from them.
Mr. Atkinson wrote: I set forth the reasons for my concluding that the subject matter involved in the complainant`s disclosure not only falls within the DNI`s jurisdiction but relates to one of the most significant and important of the DNI`s responsibilities to the American people.
This is what`s being withheld from Congress right now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff today quoting the intelligence community`s inspector general about this whistleblower complaint, which is now consuming Washington, right? It`s a complaint that reportedly concerns President Trump. The Trump administration is basically refusing to treat the complaint as if it is a whistleblower complaint under law which means they are not protecting the whistleblower from potential retaliation or even prosecution here.
They`re also refusing to hand the complaint over to Congress which whistleblower law requires.
Congressman Schiff joins us now live.
Mr. Chairman, it`s really good to have you with us tonight. I know it`s a very busy time.
SCHIFF: Thanks for having me.
MADDOW: We just spoke with Shane Harris of the "Washington Post" about their new reporting that this whistle-blower complaint may center on the nation of Ukraine, combined with earlier reporting from "The Post" and another others that might suggest this complaint has something to do with presidential communication with a foreign leader, potentially with the president of Ukraine, something else having to do with that country.
Just have to ask you, as the chairman of the intelligence committee, does that jive at all with what you know? Do you have any further information about the nature of the complaint?
SCHIFF: You know, I can`t comment completely in answer to the question. We haven`t received the complaint. Some of what we`ve been able to determine has been based on what the inspector general and the director of national intelligence have told us, and divining sort of between the lines.
But I can tell you this with certainty, and that is the inspector general found this complaint to be credible after doing an investigation. Found it to be urgent and found something else which has not really been focused on and that is that this does not involve a policy disagreement. So, a lot of people have been speculating, does this involve a presidential communication, does it not, and if it does, doesn`t the president have a right to be confidential?
This doesn`t involve some policy disagreement. This involves an allegation of serious wrongdoing. Something that the inspector general felt needed to be presented to Congress, was squarely within the jurisdiction of the director of national intelligence, and it is unprecedented for a director to withhold that information from Congress and I just want to say what`s at stake here, and why this is so serious for us.
The intelligence committee in both House and Senate do their work in closed session because we`re dealing with classified information, but the result of that is outside stakeholders don`t get to weigh in, don`t get to correct the record, don`t get to say that the intelligence agency representation on this isn`t accurate. We rely on the agencies to self-report when they have problems. And much of the time, they do.
But when they don`t, we are totally reliant on whistle-blowers which means if you can nullify that process, which the Department of Justice is effectively doing, it means the ability to do oversight is just crippled. And it means that serious problems, urgent problems that affect our national security, go unaddressed like this one, and it means that other whistleblowers who are watching -- I want to say to the whistleblower if the whistleblower is watching you tonight, that we are grateful for their courage in coming forward. We`re going to do everything we can to make sure this urgent issue is addressed and you`re protected.
MADDOW: If this whistle-blower whether or not he or she is watching tonight, if you are, hi -- if this whistle-blower does want to come directly to your committee and to the Senate Intelligence Committee, because the Trump administration is otherwise trying to throttle this at the level of the DNI, when I look at the comments of the inspector general, and I`ve been reading transcripts of your own remarks on this today, reading them closely trying to figure these out, it seems to me like the whistle-blower should be able to legally and securely come to you directly with his or her complaint provided that sort of channel for them to legally do so is open.
Is that channel available to them, is there a way you can directly tell the whistle-blower on TV tonight, here`s how you reach me, here`s how you connect legally with our committee?
SCHIFF: Look, we would love to talk with the whistleblower directly. And it was certainly our expectation when we wrote this statute that there would be an opportunity for anyone in the I.C. to come to the committee and expose wrongdoing, and that`s always been the case because whistleblower complaints, even when they were found not credible, even when they were found not urgent, were referred to our committee and the whistleblower was told you can talk to the committee.
Here, the director is refusing to tell the whistleblower that. In fact, the Department of Justice is effectively telling the whistleblower you are not covered.
SCHIFF: Which means there is a real risk even in coming to Congress and that is obviously a supreme problem. I would love to be able to say that the president won`t be vindictive, that the Justice Department won`t be vindictive but I can`t make that assurance if the Department of Justice is taking the position you`re not covered.
And, you know, the people who do come forward, they`re assured that if they do, their complaint will get to Congress. And so, a lot is riding on this if those promises are hollow, then it means these important sources of information about wrongdoing are going to dry up.
MADDOW: Congressman Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee -- sir, thank you so much for your time tonight. I know this is an ongoing fast-developing story. We`d love to have you back whenever we`ve got further developments to talk about, sir.
SCHIFF: Thank you.
MADDOW: Thank you very much.
All right. Much more to come tonight. Stay with us.
MADDOW: About two years ago, a pair of excellent reporters at "The New York Times" started breaking a story about allegations of rampant basically institutionalized sexual abuse carried out by a very powerful movie executive named Harvey Weinstein. That story set off a movement that touched not only movie executives but actors, comedians, musicians, chefs, doctors, senators, casino owners, attorneys general and, and, and.
Now, those two reporters, Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, have written one of the world`s great books about journalism, which is also the story of how they broke that story. I`m going to read a little bit because I want you to have a little idea of what I mean.
This is Jodi Kantor tracking down an internal memo from inside the Weinstein organization that details basically Weinstein`s sexual abuse.
Quote: Jodi reached into her bag, drew out a printout sheet prepared a few hours before and passed it to the Weinstein executive. Jodi explained that this was an account she heard from a well-known actress, to describe how a woman arrived unsuspecting to a meeting in a hotel room with Harvey Weinstein. To her surprise, she`d been shown upstairs instead.
When she got there, Weinstein was waiting in a bathrobe and asked for a massage. He tried to pressure her into sex by saying he could help her career. She fled.
As Jodi had guessed, the executive appeared aghast at hearing this. She told him that this actress was far from alone. That she and Megan Twohey had heard variations on this same narrative again and again.
Jodi and Megan didn`t know how many women had these kinds of stories about Weinstein, but based on what they were hearing, they believed the number might be very high. Jodi asked the executive again for the memo. He had already read her a few quotes which she had jotted down, but she wanted to understand the document better.
Could he pull it up again on his phone? He started to read the memo aloud then paused, he said, I`m going to pay a visit to the little boy`s room. He threw Jodi his phone. Open to the email with the memo. He rose from the table and left her alone.
Later that night, when they read the memo in full, the moral stakes of the investigation suddenly transformed and expanded. What had once been a historical corrective suddenly seemed a far more urgent pursuit. No one has ever stopped this man. If the reporters failed to publish their findings, he might go on to hurt someone else.
The reporters who broke that story and wrote this new journalistic thriller which is going to spawn a million young people to go to journalism school, they join us next. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Joining us here in studio are Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, two "New York Times" reporters who broke the Harvey Weinstein story, which of course has propelled the #metoo movement into the cultural and political force that it has become. Their new book is about how they chased down that story and put this bend in the arc of history. It`s called "She Said: Breaking A Sexual Harassment Story that Helped Ignite a Movement."
Ms. Kantor, Ms. Twohey, congratulations.
JODI KANTOR, REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Thank you very much.
MADDOW: It`s really good to have you both here.
Megan, I actually want to ask you an inappropriate first question.
MEGAN TWOHEY, REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: OK.
MADDOW: Which is you came back from maternity leave in July 2017. You`re given the option of reporting on Trump Tower Moscow or Harvey Weinstein.
Was that like close my eyes and pick? I mean, that`s two very difficult doors to choose between. Why did you pick the way you did?
TWOHEY: Well, that`s right. I mean, I took a day to contemplate that question and consulted with some colleagues. I had colleagues who had been reporting on Trump as I had before I`d gone off on maternity leave who said here`s the story of a lifetime, you`d be crazy to go off and look into this supposedly sleazy producer.
And I did actually have some questions about the investigation in terms of famous actresses. It was hard for me to conceive famous actresses as being victims. As investigative reporters, we really want to help give voice to the voiceless.
But in consulting with Jodi, she had really made the case that like actually if people like Gwyneth Paltrow and Ashley Judd had been victimized, if they`d been victims of sexual harassment, nobody is immune. And if we can help get to the bottom of this and bring this to light after so many years of silence, we may be able to make a difference.
MADDOW: And there is this story about getting people to put their names to the story, finding the victims. Once you found the victims, once you`re hearing the story, once you`re recognizing the similarity between all the stories, getting people to put their names on them. But that`s not it. That doesn`t get you to where you need to be.
And, Jodi, I feel like the decision to write this essentially as a journalistic thriller is to put at the center of the story this idea of provable fact. It`s not just accusation. It`s not just coming out. It`s about telling the story in a provable, objectives way.
KANTOR: Absolutely. In part because these events have come to mean so much to so many people, we realized that people did not know the true surprising story of how this unfolded behind the scenes. And so, we wanted to put that to paper and to take you into all of these situations. The first very tentative phone calls with these actresses. The final confrontations with Harvey Weinstein in the offices of the "New York Times," which were in part about trying to be fair to him and giving him a chance to respond to the allegations.
And showing exactly what you`re saying, that we weren`t just trying to put one or two hotel room stories in the newspaper, we were trying build a solid body of evidence about 25 years of allegations.
MADDOW: Yes, and the fact -- I mean, one of the things that I think has been such a -- has propelled this and ignited a movement is that it does reach the elite in every way. And I also feel like that`s kind of a product of the reporting process here.
I mean, if what you`re able to follow, if the money you`re able to follow is financial settlements and non-disclosure agreements, those are the tools of elite institutions used to protect elite men. And in non-elite environments, those might not be the tools that are used to cover these things up. And so, this reporting process is almost destined to bring down men at the highest echelons of society.
TWOHEY: Right. I mean, this story goes way beyond Harvey Weinstein. This is really an x-ray into abuse of power.
TWOHEY: So, in our first article we had been able to connect some of the dots of Weinstein and his alleged predation and how he had covered it up over the years. But since then in the reporting of this book, we were able to bring together so many other pieces of the puzzle to really pull the curtain back on the machinery that was in place, to silence accusers and cover up his tracks, and these legal settlements that had been paid to silence women. Harvey Weinstein had paid at least eight settlements from 1990 through 2015, and those -- that was basically (AUDIO GAP) covering up his tracks. So, we call into question those legal settlements that are used not just in the case of Weinstein but in sexual harassment and sexual assault cases across the country.
MADDOW: Well, the elite lawyers who come out worse than almost anybody in your story in part tells the story of how the elite legal profession has not only greased its own wheels doing this but has created a vehicle by which money gets you off, money allows you to do this sort of thing.
Do you feel like that`s punctured?
KANTOR: Well, there is a shocking memo in this book -- we included a lot of original documents here.
KANTOR: So people could just see and examine them for themselves, kind of join our partnership in puzzling through this stuff. There is a document that Megan got that Lisa Bloom, the famous feminist lawyer, wrote. And it`s essentially her job audition memo for Harvey Weinstein where she`s saying, I`m going to use my experience as a victims` advocate and I`m going to cross over to your side and put all of that experience and credibility to work for you.
(AUDIO GAP) memo on how she`s going to sort of fight back Rose McGowan`s allegation. And she is seen very explicitly I will cheat for you -- excuse me, I will manipulate for you, I will smear on your behalf.
MADDOW: For $895 an hour.
MADDOW: You can use my reputation as a victims` advocate to get rid of the victims that are haunting you.
MADDOW: What about the use of the security firms and these other sort of - - forgive the term. These sort of hit men of the industry that are used not only to go after and silence sources but to try to intimidate journalists who are doing this kind of work?
TWOHEY: Well, that`s right. Harvey Weinstein used a variety of private investigative firms to try to silence accusers and go after journalists as well, which in some ways was not that surprising to us. But the fact that he had used Black Cube, a firm that`s made up of former Israeli intelligence officials and agents who adopted fake identities to try to extract information from women who he thought might go public as well as reporters was like just jaw-dropping to us. I mean, Ronan Farrow was the first to break that news back in 2017. But you know, one of those contracts was basically a promise to those former Israeli intelligence officials that they would be paid a $300,000 bonus if they could bring a stop to our investigation.
MADDOW: Specifically if your article wouldn`t run.
TWOHEY: It was like a hit on our investigation.
MADDOW: Yes. Well, the investigation obviously was brought to fruition not only through your intelligence and your diligence but through the support of the institution of the "New York Times" that had the resources to get this done. People coming out is necessary. It is not necessarily sufficient. You do need the kind of work that you guys did and the kind of support you had to do it in order to make this happen. And you did.
KANTOR: Thank you so much.
MADDOW: Thank you.
TWOHEY: Thanks so much.
MADDOW: It`s great to have you here.
TWOHEY: Thanks so much.
MADDOW: All right. Jodi Kantor, Megan Twohey, two of "The New York Times" reporters behind the book. It is called "She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story that Helped Ignite a Movement." You should read it.
A lot of people are comparing this to "All the President`s Men." And when it gets compared to "All the President`s Men," "All the President`s Men" does not come out on the long end of the comparison.
That does it for us tonight. We`ll see you again tomorrow.
Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL".
Good evening, Lawrence.
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