CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: And there`s a new episode available right now with Andrew Marantz, author of an incredible new book about the hijacking of American political conversation through social media. You can listen wherever you get your podcasts.
That is ALL IN for this evening.
"THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW" starts right now.
Good evening, Rachel.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Thank you, my friend. Much appreciated.
HAYES: You bet.
MADDOW: Thanks to you at home for joining us at this hour. Very happy to have you with us.
On this day, this date, September 25th, in 1973, the vice president of the United States, Spiro Agnew, wrote a really strange letter to the speaker of the house. This is the letter.
As you can see it`s on the vice president`s letterhead. It`s dated September 25th, 1973. It`s addressed to the honorable Carl Albert who at that time was the Democratic speaker of the House.
And in this letter, Vice President Spiro Agnew respectfully requested that the House of Representatives should please impeach him, which is a weird thing to request, right? That is a weird thing to ask for. But the reason Vice President Agnew did that on this date 46 years ago was because he thought if Congress took up impeachment proceedings against him, he could probably survive that because, yes, the House was Democratically controlled and yes, Agnew had been caught doing pretty bad stuff but a two-thirds vote in the Senate to remove him, he thought for sure he could survive that.
Because, you know, as controversial as he was, as big as the scandal was that he was increasingly wrapped up in, the vice president at the time figured he still had enough support among the diehard Republican base that even if the worst happened when it came to impeachment, what could they do to him? He figured there was no chance they`d get a two-thirds vote in the Senate to expel him from office. So, no matter what they did, he`d still be able to keep his job and he would still be vice president.
What he was hoping for when he wrote that letter 46 years ago today is that the House would take him up on this offer. They would start impeachment proceedings against him. And that, he figured, might be his only hope of getting the Justice Department to leave him alone. Because at that point, Justice Department prosecutors had been investigating Vice President Agnew in a long running extortion and bribery scandal and they were planning on indicting him.
That day, this date 46 years ago, September 25th, 1973, the attorney general at the time, Elliot Richardson, one of the great heroes of the independent American rule of law, Elliot Richardson, Richard Nixon`s attorney general, had just announced that there had been a breakdown in talks between Agnew`s legal team and the Justice Department prosecutors who had been after Agnew. Because of the breakdown in negotiations, the Justice Department, Attorney General Elliot Richardson made clear that they were going to take the evidence that they had gathered against Agnew in this criminal investigation and they were going to present that evidence to a grand jury the very next day, and they were expecting that grand jury to indict the vice president.
And, boy, did Vice President Agnew not want to be indicted. He did not want a criminal case against himself. That`s why he was asking for the impeachment instead. He thought maybe that would derail this pending prosecution. He hoped the Justice Department would see that as a sort of constitutionally preferable and more simple alternative. Maybe that would stop this criminal investigation, this pending criminal indictment, this expected criminal trial of him.
It was a desperate gambit by Spiro Agnew asking to be impeached. It did not work.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good evening. Vice President Agnew`s request that the House of Representatives investigate allegations that he was involved in an illegal kickback scheme was rejected today by the Democratic leadership of the House. Speaker Carl Albert said the Agnew matter is before the court and that the House will take no action at this time.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: The vice president`s request to please be impeached was turned down by the House. And so, the criminal case that the Justice Department proceeded against him and ultimately that`s how the very, very, very corrupt criminal vice president, Spiro Agnew, was removed from office. He pled to a reduced charge in a Maryland courtroom under a binding deal with Justice Department prosecutors that required him to resign his office.
And Spiro Agnew was the most defiant, combative, unapologetic, blustery, in your face Republican of his time. Way more confrontational, way more of a chest pounder than Richard Nixon ever was. But even as he denounced the investigation against him and he denounced the Justice Department and he denounced the prosecutors who were leading this witch hunt against him, he was terrified of criminal prosecution because he knew that would be the end for him. And indeed it was. He was right.
And it is still amazing to look back on this day in 1973 and see him begging for impeachment as a preferable alternative to what he knew would be his other fate if the Justice Department went through with charges against him. It makes you realize the power and the importance of a Justice Department that is independent, right, and an attorney general, right, who is known to be independent, who is known and from whom it is expected that he will prosecute law breaking no matter who the suspected criminal was or what his public office is.
I mean, Attorney General Elliot Richardson had been appointed by Richard Nixon. He was a lifelong Republican. The lead prosecutor working under Richardson on the Spiro Agnew case, he was a lifelong Republican from a powerful Republican family, from Agnew`s home state.
His own brother was a sitting U.S. senator from the Republican Party in Maryland who basically owed his seat in the U.S. Senate to Nixon and Agnew. And yet those prosecutors were not bought. They did not see themselves as working for the president or for the vice president. That attorney general and that Justice Department were willing to prosecute Vice President Spiro Agnew because they knew he had broken the law because they followed the evidence where it led them.
They don`t make them like that anymore. President Trump does not need to worry about the same kind of things that may have kept Spiro Agnew awake on this night in 1973. We learned today in what was just a remarkable series of revelations in this new scandal that has led the House of Representatives to open impeachment proceedings against president Trump, that has started a cascading series of revelations from the White House and the Justice Department that have now left this thing off the leash.
Today, we learned things that were just wild. And as best as we can tell, the next 24 hours is probably going to be even more wild. But let`s just start, let`s just start from the baseline. Let`s start here`s where we are.
It was less than two weeks ago that we learned from the head of the Intelligence Committee that there had been some sort of whistle-blower complaint that had been filed according to official channels the way it was supposed to be filed, but for some reason it wasn`t being handed over to Congress, which is what the law says is supposed to happen. The head of the intelligence committee was very upset about that but we didn`t understand a lot about the nature of that complaint.
Within a few days, though, "The Washington Post" was first to report that the whistleblower`s report was in fact about behavior by President Trump. Something, "The Washington Post" reported, involving the nation of Ukraine. Something involving the president making some sort of promise to a foreign leader in a phone call.
That whistle-blower`s complaint was reviewed by the intelligence community`s inspector general. That inspector general founding the whistle-blower`s complaint to be credible and urgent and under federal whistle-blower law, that should have set in motion a nondiscretionary basically automatic series of events, which should have culminated in the intelligence committees in Congress being given copies of that whistle- blower complaint very quickly, within seven days of the determination that the complaint was credible and urgent.
It turns out what the intelligence chairman was so upset about is that the Trump administration had stepped into the whistleblower process to block the complaint from being handed over to Congress as required by law. And this part of the story has been emerging bit by bit through published reports. It`s not totally clear yet.
We`re going to speak with a reporter in just a few minutes who may be able to clear up some of this. We expect we`ll get more of it clarified in testimony early tomorrow morning. But it appears what happened in terms of the Trump administration intervening here, to block that whistle-blower complaint from being handed over to Congress, it appears that what happened is that the director of national intelligence, instead of giving the whistle-blower`s complaint to Congress, instead he decided to take advice on the matter from the Justice Department and possibly from the Trump White House itself.
The advice, the direction he was given was that actually this complaint wasn`t really a credible and urgent whistleblower complaint, despite what the inspector general said. It wasn`t really that. It shouldn`t be treated as such. The whistle-blower shouldn`t be afforded the kinds of protections under law that a whistle-blower is supposed to get in these circumstances.
The advice he also got was that the whistle-blower complaint definitely shouldn`t be handed over to Congress.
Well, now that has evolved quickly, right, and in some unexpected ways. I mean, despite every other knee-jerk partisan things that happens in Washington, now over the last two days, we`ve had both the House and the Senate unanimously pass resolutions, unanimously. I mean, the House it was 421-0, unanimous resolutions in both the House and the Senate calling from this whistle-blower`s complaint to in fact be handed over to the intelligence committees in Congress as it`s supposed to happen by law.
Now, the White House has released notes from the president`s call with the president of Ukraine that was reportedly part of the basis of the whistle- blower`s complaint. We`ll have more on that in a second.
But in addition to releasing the White House notes from that call, the shocking thing that was revealed today, the contents of this -- the shocking thing that was revealed today, the contents of this -- the shocking thing that was revealed today was that the contents of this whistle-blower complaint were looked at by the inspector general of the intelligence community, were looked at by the director of national intelligence, and those two officials, both of whom are Trump appointees, decided to refer the underlying conduct to the Department of Justice for potential criminal prosecution.
I mean, this is two Trump appointed officials, the acting director of national intelligence on your left, the inspector general for the intelligence community on your right. Both of them making criminal referrals to the Justice Department concerning the president`s behavior as described in this whistle-blower complaint.
And that is a remarkable epitaph enough for this presidency. He hasn`t even been in office three years and the justice department is again having to look at this president for potential criminal prosecution? I mean, that itself is remarkable enough.
But then the revelations just kept getting more astonishing. What we learned over the course of today is that once the Justice Department got involved here, the low rumble you might have felt under your feet was Elliot Richardson spinning like a Veg-O-Matic in his grave, because with this Justice Department in this administration, under this attorney general, it`s clear that the president has absolutely nothing to worry about in terms of criminal prosecution or criminal investigation, even when two Trump-appointed officials refer the president for prosecution to the Justice Department.
I mean the bottom line, according to the Justice Department today, is that the Justice Department decided to not even open an investigation into President Trump`s behavior here, despite the criminal referrals from two Trump-appointed officials. How did they arrive at that decision? Well, it`s not pretty.
It`s reported today that prosecutors` investigation into the president`s behavior consisted entirely of them looking at the White House notes from the president`s call to Ukraine. The same notes that we saw today. The investigation, such as it was, reportedly did not even involve the Justice Department or the FBI speaking to anybody who was directly involved in that call, nor did they speak to the person who issued the complaint. They just looked at those White House notes and said, eh, we`re not going to look at this any further. There`s no reason to have an investigation here.
Now that we the public have seen those White House notes from the call, though, we know that in that call the president repeatedly talked about Attorney General William Barr, the head of the Justice Department, as the person who the Ukrainian president should work with if he really did want to provide dirt on the president`s likely political opponent, Joe Biden, which was what the president was requesting from Ukraine in that call.
I mean, there`s multiple repeated reference to William Barr being, according to the president, part of this scheme, that the Justice Department was then asked to investigate, which makes it a remarkable thing that William Barr did not recuse himself from this, right? And his own Justice Department under William Barr not recused from this matter proceeded to advise the director of national intelligence that there was not only nothing to investigate here in terms of this being a criminal matter, indeed this shouldn`t even be conveyed to Congress.
Did he mention that the president says Bill Barr is part of this scheme? I mean, here`s Bill Barr`s Justice Department simultaneously telling the director of national intelligence, no, don`t hand this on to Congress. Oh, yes, we`ll look at this as a potential criminal matter in terms of the president`s behavior. Sure we will, right?
But knowing full well that it is the position of the Justice Department that the president can`t be indicted for any criminal behavior, and indeed under this Justice Department when it comes to this president, they`re currently arguing that the president not only can`t be indicted, he can`t be investigated for any potential criminal behavior. I mean, literally, this morning in court in New York, the president`s lawyers are arguing in one of these court cases about legal efforts to get access to the president`s tax returns, they literally made this argument this morning in court about the president.
Quote: Your honor, he, meaning the president, he cannot be subject to criminal process while in office. So, Attorney General William Barr is implicated by the president in this scheme to get a foreign government to help him in his next election campaign. William Barr nevertheless gets his own department involved in the handling of this whistle-blower complaint about the president.
The advice from William Barr`s Justice Department is that this matter should not be conveyed to congress. And as a criminal matter, not only can the president not be indicted for this or anything, but the president cannot be investigated for anything.
And so, yes, I`ll handle this. Oh, it has to do with the president? He`s fine, I won`t even investigate. No, you can`t hand it to Congress either. And, yes, I`m happy being involved in this, even though I`m implicated in it too.
Who knew that William Barr was going to be the star player here? I mean, it`s hard to look back on Watergate as like the golden age of the rule of law, given that one of Nixon`s own attorneys general actually went to prison for his role in Watergate. But, I mean, compare Elliot Richardson and his handling of the Spiro Agnew scandal with what William Barr was revealed to have done today.
I mean, in this era, in this scandal, and what is looking like it will be this impeachment, Attorney General William Barr is up to his neck in this thing. And the extent to which he`s going to try to use the Justice Department to get the president off the hook here looks like it`s going to be a major part of this ongoing developing story and it`s going to be a major part of this point in -- a major point in this time in American history.
Unlike 1973, though, it`s clear that impeachment is not going to be a refuge for this president. The House closed in tonight on 218 members of Congress now publicly in favor of these impeachment proceedings, 218 is the magic number, because that is a majority of the House, 218 lawmakers supporting these impeachment proceedings. If 218 lawmakers vote to support impeachment articles against the president, that is enough to impeach the president.
And as members of the House sorted of rose on this issue in those numbers today, I think it became clear that whatever the White House thought it was doing to defend itself or to head off this impeachment is doing quite the opposite. I mentioned the White House notes today that were released by the White House, notes from the president`s call with the president of Ukraine.
I mean, it`s right there in black and white that President Trump in fact did what Democrats are accusing him of doing and why they have brought impeachment proceedings against him. In the notes released by the White House, the president overtly does ask Ukraine for help digging up dirt against President Trump`s potential 2020 Democratic rival, Joe Biden.
Quote: There`s a lot of talk about Biden`s son. That Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that, so whatever you can do with the attorney general, meaning with Bill Barr, that would be great.
I mean, at this point, I feel like I need to apologize. I hereby apologize. Last night on this show I said somewhat cavalierly that while we were expecting the White House to release notes of this phone call today, there was no reason to expect that the Trump White House would allow for the release of any notes from this call that implicated the president and the behavior the Democrats -- the behavior that Democrats want to impeach him for.
I apologize, I was wrong about that. They really did release the plain text of these notes on this call that absolutely show the president doing exactly what he is about to get impeached for. They just unequivocally lay it out.
There he is, asking a foreign country for help against his expected opponent in his re-election campaign. They just released it. Done. No need for an investigation, right? The White House themselves admits that the president has done the thing that he`s going to get impeached for doing.
What is maybe worse, I guess definitely weirder about this phone call about which we now have these White House notes is that in addition to asking this foreign country for help against Joe Biden ahead of the 2020 election, the president also asked them for something else. So, the context here obviously, this is Ukraine.
Ukraine is a country that is fighting for its life against Russia. Russia recently invaded Ukraine and took part of their country and is occupying a whole big heavily populated swath of Ukraine, even to this day. Ukraine has a big, long border with Russia. Russia is also being incredibly aggressive with them, literally to the point of invading and taking parts of their country.
Ukraine is very, very vulnerable to the far superior Russian military, which has already been used against them with thousands of people dead in this war in Ukraine. Part of the way that Ukraine is holding on and not being totally overrun is because of the international support for them against Russia, including crucially military support from the U.S. government. And so, here`s this part of the phone call today which you`ve heard a million people quote all day today. It appears to represent what basically seems to be the quid pro quo request from the president making Ukrainian military aid contingent on him getting something for himself from Ukraine.
So, you`ve heard this quoted a million times today. But this is also the part that I think it`s important to note takes President Trump beyond him just trying to get dirt on Joe Biden.
The Ukrainian president says according to the notes from this call, quote: I would also like to thank you for your great support in the area of defense. We are ready to continue to cooperate for the next steps, specifically we are almost ready to buy more Javelins from the United States for defense purposes. Javelins are anti-tank missiles that are an incredibly important part of Ukraine`s defense against the Russian military.
Again, he says we are almost ready to buy more javelins from the United States for defense purposes, period. Then, President Trump responds. I would like you to do us a favor, though.
The word "though" doing a lot of work here, right? You`d like to buy some anti-tank missiles to defend yourself from the Russian military that`s invaded and occupying your country? You`d like to buy those missiles, would you? Well, I would like a favor, though.
Quote: I would like you to do us a favor, though, because our country has been through a lot and Ukraine knows a lot about it. I would like you to find out what happened with this whole situation with Ukraine. They say CrowdStrike, and then there`s an ellipses. We don`t know exactly what that means from this White House notes.
The president sort of therefore, thereafter devolves into like refrigerator word poetry, not good English, free association, which is the way he sometimes speaks. After the word CrowdStrike, he says, I guess you have one of your wealthy people, another ellipses. The server they say Ukraine has it. There are a lot of things that went on, the whole situation.
The president says, quote: I would like to have the attorney general, William Barr, call you and your people and I would like you to get to the bottom of it. As you saw yesterday, this is the day after Robert Mueller testified in Congress about the Mueller report, that whole nonsense ended with a very poor performance by a man named Robert Mueller, an incompetent performance. But they say a lot of it started with Ukraine. Whatever you can do, it`s very important that you do it, if that`s possible.
That`s President Trump`s response to Ukraine asking to buy anti-tank missiles to protect themselves from the Russian military. And while the president`s words don`t always hang together as English, what he appears to be talking about there is a conspiracy theory regarding the Russian attack on our election in 2016, right?
Remember that in the summer of 2016, before the election, Democratic Party was hacked, all its documents and emails were stolen. The Democratic Party hired a cybersecurity firm to come in and assess what happened. That firm was called CrowdStrike.
The report from CrowdStrike on that attack was the first public assertion that the attack on the Democratic Party appeared to have originated from Russia, from the Russian government. What the president appears to be suggesting here in this call to Ukraine is that somehow the hacked Democratic Party servers ended up in Ukraine and CrowdStrike has some Ukrainian connections, which is why he wants the Ukrainian president to get involved with this.
I mean, the whole point of this particular conspiracy theory is that Russia didn`t really carry out the hack of the Democratic Party. Russia didn`t really mess with our election in 2016. This is a conspiracy theory that has been pushed by Russia, by Russian bots, by far right sources, by one of the president`s key political advisers. We`ll get to that in a second.
But the theory goes that this attribution that Russia is the entity that attacked the Democratic Party, the theory goes that that attribution of responsibility for the attack to Russia is something that was ginned up by this company CrowdStrike just as a way to make Russia look bad because CrowdStrike has some connection to Ukraine. We`re not sure what it is.
Ukraine hates Russia. Russia didn`t really do it, they`re being falsely blamed and maybe Ukraine can get to the bottom of it. I know that sounds nuts and I know it seems like, oh, Maddow, maybe it`s hard for you to be parsing that out of these incoherent sentences from the notes from the president`s call.
Honestly, the reason we can spell out more clearly what this is about because this is in real life the legal defense being mounted by the president`s long-time political advisor Roger Stone. The way that Roger Stone is trying to defend himself on multiple felony counts in court is that by claiming that this company, CrowdStrike, is secretly Ukrainian and Russia didn`t really attack the election, and Russian didn`t really hack the Democratic Party`s emails, it`s all false claim by CrowdStrike because they have some sort of Ukrainian connection. The Ukrainians wanted to blame the Russians to make Russia look bad. Russia is actually innocent. The Democratic Party hacked itself.
That is how Roger Stone is trying to beat his felony charges in court. Just this past week, the judge in his case threw out an effort to suppress all the fruits of the search warrants in his case because of Roger Stone`s claim that all those search warrants were based on false allegations against Russia and Russia is innocent and CrowdStrike`s lost servers in Ukraine might explain all of it.
I mean, this is an off the deep ending claim. It really is not working for Roger Stone in court and it`s not working in the court of public opinion either. Russia really did attack our election. CrowdStrike did find that Russia attacked the DNC servers.
But after CrowdStrike founding that, then all U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies found that too. The attribution that Russia was responsible for the attack was the basis for a 12-person indictment against Russian military intelligence officers from Robert Mueller. I mean, in the real world, there was no question that Russia attacked the 2016 election to benefit Donald Trump.
But in the world that just unfolded to us today in the middle of this impeachment scandal, President Trump not only admits to doing what the presidents are now going to impeach him for, he not only concedes that he went to the government of Ukraine to try to get dirt on Joe Biden ahead of the 2020 election. We also learned that he is trying to enlist Ukraine to help him in this effort to exonerate Russia for their attack on us in 2016, to get what Russia did wiped off the ledger somehow.
Why are they going back to this? I mean, I understand that President Trump might want to try to cheat in 2020 using another country to try to win re- election. I get like why he might be doing what he did toward 2020. But he already won back in 2016. Why go back and try to make it seem like Russia didn`t help him win?
There`s a few rationales that you might game out. I mean, I guess they could be trying to help Roger Stone`s defense. The president could also just be trying to recreate a new revisionist history where his election in 2016 doesn`t have an asterisk on it because of Russian interference to help him win.
But I would remiss -- I`d be remiss if I did not also note that there is one other party that benefits if Trump is able to get this done. And that`s Russia. I mean, Russia still denies having anything to do with the 2016 election interference. Part of the reason they still deny it and can`t admit to it, they can`t even brag about it as much as I`m sure they`d love to is because their 2016 election interference led to a whole bunch of quite serious sanctions against them that are really bad for their economy and they really, really want lifted.
There`s no way they can get those sanctions lifted as long as the U.S. government still officially blames Russia for having interfered in Trump`s election. And Trump apparently is trying to enlist Ukraine in trying to disprove that Russia interfered in the 2016 election. And that is just what we learned today.
Tomorrow, the director of national intelligence will be testifying in open session on live TV at 9:00 a.m. Eastern. He is right in the middle of some of the most intriguing stuff here that we don`t yet understand about what has gone wrong.
"The Washington Post" today reported that that official, the acting director of national intelligence threatened to resign if he were blocked from telling Congress what he knows tomorrow. The DNI is now contesting that report and saying he didn`t threaten to resign.
"The Washington Post" stands by its reporting. It`s just incredible drama still unfolding in all corners.
We`ve got "Washington Post" reporter Shane Harris joining us. We`ve got "New York Times" reporter Michael Schmidt joining us. We`ve got a member of the intelligence committee who was able to view the whistle-blower`s complaint in a special secure facility today who`s going to be joining us.
We`ve got Senator Chris Murphy who`s going to be joining us who`s just back from a trip to Ukraine where he talked to the Ukrainian government about all of this.
Lots to get to. We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: As I mentioned at the top of the show, today has been a wild day of news. Yesterday, the impeachment proceedings against the president were launched. Today has been an incredible day of revelations. I think tomorrow may be even more wild.
One of the big, big, big hard turns in the news today, though, came at 2:44 p.m. this afternoon when "The Washington Post" broke this story. Acting director of national intelligence threatened to resign if he couldn`t speak freely before Congress on whistle-blower complaint.
Joining us now is one of the reporters who broke that story. Shane Harris is an intelligence and national security reporter with "The Post." He`s been bylined on scoop after scoop on this story and includes today`s reporting on the DNI.
Shane, thanks very much for being here. It`s nice to have you here.
SHANE HARRIS, INTELLIGENCE AND NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Good to be here. Thanks, Rachel.
MADDOW: So, this has been an interesting day since you first broke this news. You and your colleagues at "The Post", the director of national intelligence, the Acting Director Joseph Maguire then came out and denied that he threatened to resign. I know you at "The Post" are standing by this reporting.
How can you help us understand the ebb and flow of this today?
HARRIS: Well, Joe Maguire has really been stuck in the middle of this fight between Congress and the White House since the beginning. I mean, he did not expect nor wanting to become the acting director of national intelligence. And this whistle-blower issue sort of landed in his lap when he took that office. We know that Democrats in particular have been castigating him for his decision not to transmit that whistle-blower complaint to Congress. I think his position and the position of his supporters is that, look, the White House and the Justice Department are the ones saying this isn`t in your lane, Joe Maguire, so don`t give it to Congress.
And I think he clearly feels caught in the middle. Our understanding is that when the time came that he was going to be called up to "The Hill", if the White House was going to insist that he just basically sit there and not answer any questions and stonewall Congress, that he was prepared to step down from his position rather than do that.
MADDOW: In terms of how Director Maguire handled this, it`s been hard from a layman`s perspective and just an outside perspective, so much stuff with intelligence is just hard to follow from the outside. It`s been hard for me to discern whether or not it was proper for Director Maguire to take advice from the justice department or even potentially from the White House as to what he should do with this complaint. I mean within the four corners of the whistle-blower law, it looks like once he got this designation from the inspector general that this was a credible and urgent complaint, it sort of looked to me that he didn`t have the discretion to go anywhere else other than to Congress with that complaint, even if he did want to add his own comments to it.
Do you have any sense of how Director Maguire viewed his own responsibilities in that regard?
HARRIS: Well, how he particularly reviewed them in his own mind, I don`t think I know, and we really don`t know right now. I expect that he`ll have an opportunity to talk about that tomorrow, however. This will be his first chance.
But, you know, Director Maguire is not a lawyer. He is advised by lawyers. You`re right that the plain reading of the statute here, the whistle-blower protection act says the DNI shall transmit that complaint to have Congress. It doesn`t really contemplate an instance, I think, in which the subject of the complaint is the president of the United States.
So, naturally, in a case like that, one lawyer might assume that it might be good to get the guidance of the Justice Department. I think a big question for Joe Maguire will be where did you come down on this? Did you agree with the lawyer, did you not? Did you think this was the reading of the statute and I`m going to do what it says?
But, clearly, he is caught be twixt and between here, the Congress, the executive branch, the White House, and the Justice Department leaning on him and the DNI`s office. It`s obviously an extraordinary case given the president is the subject. It will be fascinating to see if he`s willing to share that tomorrow, why he did what he did. We know he wants to stand up for his integrity.
I`ll be looking to see whether or not he actually gives us a window into his decision-making, though.
MADDOW: On that last point, that was the last thing I was going to ask you, Shane. As a reporter knowing what you know about this story with the very intriguing reporting from you and your colleagues today about this threat to resign by Director Maguire if he was forced to stonewall Congress and forced to deny them information he believes they should have, what do you think that we should be watching for when we see that testimony? Obviously, we`re looking all to find out what might be in the text of the whistle-blower`s complaint. But what else do you think we should watch for from him?
HARRIS: I think you should look for signs of tension between him and the administration. This is someone who is a navy admiral. He had served as the director of the National Counterterrorism Center. Again, I don`t think ever expected to see himself in a position like this, even as acting, a senior in the administration.
Look for the places where he`s asked to talk about his interactions with the Justice Department, with the White House, particularly with the White House counsel as well, who we understand played a big role in this. I think that`s where you`re going to look for signs of tension. And where he disagreed or frankly where he agreed and was prepared to go along with what the administration wanted to do.
MADDOW: Shane Harris, intelligence and national security reporter with "The Washington Post," thank you for helping us understand your reporting tonight. Shane, I appreciate it.
HARRIS: Thanks, Rachel. Good to see you.
MADDOW: All right. We have a deluge of news ahead. Stay with us.
MADDOW: We have some breaking news. There`s all this anticipation building around what is in the whistle-blower complaint. We know about the phone call between Donald Trump and the President of Ukraine. But as that transcript notes from that call were released today, surprise, we got word that the complaint itself, which is based in part on that call, was itself conveyed to members of Congress who were allowed to read it today in a secure facility even though I believe they were not able to take copies of it themselves to see.
Well, tonight, "The New York Times" is out with this new scoop. According to "The Times" tonight, the whistle-blower raised alarms not just about that phone call but also how the White House handled records of the conversation or, put another way, quote, the unusual manner in which White House officials handled internal records describing the call.
We also learned in this new scoop from "The Times" that the whistle-blower identified multiple White House officials as witnesses to potential presidential misconduct who could corroborate the whistle-blower`s complaint. The time says that the intelligence committee`s inspector general actually interviewed witnesses before deeming the whistleblower complaint urgent and credible, and before concluding that the president may have violated campaign finance law when he went to Ukraine to ask them for help.
And that, quote, Mr. Trump`s potential misconduct might expose him to serious national security and counterintelligence risks.
That scoop tonight at "The New York Times", from reporting team of Charlie Savage, Michael Schmidt and Julian Barnes. Michael Schmidt is able to join us here on set tonight, for which I am very grateful.
Michael, thank you for coming back.
MICHAEL SCHMIDT, REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Thanks for having me.
MADDOW: I didn`t expect to have you back a second night in a row.
SCHMIDT: Two nights in a row.
MADDOW: So the whistle-blower complaint, as far as we understand this, tell me if I`m getting this wrong. As far as we understand, the whistle- blower complaint is based in part on the president`s conversation with President Zelensky of Ukraine which we saw White House notes today. It`s also based in part on how the White House handled those notes or how it handled other information around that call or how it handled other unrelated incidents?
SCHMIDT: So, there`s a standard protocol for discussions between the president and a foreign leader. It usually goes in as a secret document. It`s in a classified system. But those people in government who need to know what was discussed, you know, folks who deal with that particular country have a chance to read it.
One of the issues that is part of this complaint is how the conversation was dealt with. It was not dealt with in that typical manner. So, why was it not dealt with that way? Why were the alarms raised? Why was it different?
And now we start to see a bit of a fuller picture here. We were very concentrated obviously on the transcript, but the complaint is broader than that and that is one part of it.
MADDOW: So the complaint is a written document that has been shown in unredacted form to members of the intelligence committee and to congressional leadership?
SCHMIDT: Correct, and it`s a classified document.
MADDOW: It is. Is there any expectation that it will go through a declassification process so that it can be shown at least in part to the public?
SCHMIDT: I assume so. And I think that`s something that the White House realized they`re going to have to do here. As we see, they have changed their body posture over the past few days. They`ve tried to disclose these things.
I`m not sure that disclosure has done the things that they wanted it to do. The president thought that putting this out would help him because he thought Democrats had overplayed their hands. Not sure that that`s been the case today.
But I think this is a document we will probably see, given all the scrutiny that it`s been given.
MADDOW: It has been interesting to see members of Congress come out of the SCIF, come out of the facility in which they can look at this and they`re all being very careful at least in public not to describe the classified document. But a lot of them are expressing concerns that like the White House notes from that call with President Zelensky, what they say they are seeing in the complaint is worse than they expected and more detailed than they expected.
One of the details that you and your colleagues report is that the whistleblower provided the names of White House officials who could corroborate this complaint?
SCHMIDT: Correct. The whistleblower gave the names of several folks who would back up his account, who would be able to corroborate it. And in an instance like this when you`re a whistleblower, you want those people to be there. You`re really out on a ledge by yourself and you want for this to be substantiated, and for the investigators to be able to go in and to find the same things, to be able to establish that this indeed happened even if maybe you`re not a Trump supporter like apparently this whistleblower was.
MADDOW: Saying the Trump supporter reference is a notation made by the inspector general in terms of assessing the credibility of the whistleblower, noting that this person arguably may have had some political interests, but nevertheless was found to be credible by the inspector general.
SCHMIDT: Correct. Obviously in any investigation you could have certain feelings about different people involved in it, but also be truthful. And as you`ve seen the president and on Fox News, folks seize on the fact that this person was not a Trump supporter, and it was enough to make it into this document.
But as you said and as we noted, the inspector general found the allegation to be certainly enough to pass it along.
MADDOW: And this intriguing detail that the inspector general actually as part of his investigation talked to some of these other White House officials who were described by the whistle-blower as potentially corroborating witnesses, did the I.G. do that himself? Does he have a team of investigators who can go out and do that?
SCHMIDT: Well, I`m not sure who -- you know, if it was the I.G. or the investigators, but this is a full-blown investigative office. They are in charge of looking into these types of allegations not just, you know, at let`s say the NSA or Pentagon, throughout the entire intelligence community.
Remember, this is the institution that had to look at Hillary Clinton`s emails several, several years ago.
Michael Schmidt, one of the -- part of "The New York Times" reporting team that has broken another scoop on this story. Mike, thank you for coming. It`s really good to have you. Thanks.
I want to bring into the conversation now, Congresswoman Jackie Speier, Democrat from California. She is a member of the House Intelligence Committee and also Oversight Committee. As such she would have been afforded the opportunity to see this complaint.
Congresswoman, thank you so much for being here. I appreciate you making the time.
REP. JACKIE SPEIER (D-CA): Thank you for having me on, Rachel.
MADDOW: Were you able to view the whistle-blower complaint today? I know that it was made available to members of your committee.
SPEIER: Yes, I did review it in its totality.
MADDOW: And I know that -- I am not going to push you at all to make you talk about classified things that you cannot talk about.
But I want to ask your own personal reaction to looking at that document, your sense of its importance and your reaction to it.
SPEIER: Rachel, I can describe that complaint as nothing short of explosive. It is so much more than the summary of the telephone call that has been presented by the White House as evidence, and I`m not even in a position to say that that was at all involved in the complaint until it is actually declassified. But I can tell you that I was stunned by the breadth of the complaint and the details with which the whistle-blower expressed his concerns.
Now, the inspector general did find that it was both credible and urgent and in the 15 months since he has been appointed by President Trump, he has never found a whistle-blower complaint to reach the stage of being urgent. But he has, in fact, transferred all of these whistle-blower complaints to the committee as have previous inspector generals as well.
So, he was handling this by the book, and it was the director of national intelligence that turned the tables on him.
MADDOW: In terms of that urgent designation that you just described there, that`s striking that this inspector general hasn`t found other complaints to deserve that specific designation. Can you help us understand what that means? Does that mean that if this complaint is not addressed, there is an urgent risk of national security harm to the United States? Is that -- is that what that means? Or does it have some other technical meaning in this context?
SPEIER: No, you`re absolutely right. The term is defined in the statute, but it does speak to the impact on national security and the risk to the United States. So it met that classification.
MADDOW: You`ll hear from the acting director of national intelligence tomorrow at your committee. We`re all very much looking forward to that live testimony at 9:00 a.m.
From what you have seen and from what you understand about how to relationship between that publicly available phone call, the notes from the phone call we saw today, the complaint that you`ve seen, what you`ve heard already from the inspector general, the expected testimony from the DNI, do you expect that we the public are ever going to know the contours of what really happened here and what this whistleblower was trying to raise these red flags about? Or is this something that is always going to be mostly classified and we`re going to have to guess at it?
SPEIER: No, I don`t think it will be mostly classified because, in fact, most of which the whistle-blower described, he believed was unclassified. So I think a good portion of it will be made available to the rest of the members of Congress and to the public at large.
It`s really important, though, to ask the director of national intelligence, when you have a statute that requires you after seven days upon receiving from the inspector general a credible and urgent whistle- blower complaint, why he didn`t automatically send it to the House Intelligence Committee and the Senate Intelligence Committee? Somehow word got to the White House or to the attorney general, and I guess one of the questions we need to ask tomorrow is, why did he contact them or was he contacted by the White House because they had somehow gotten wind of this?
MADDOW: Hmm. That seems like the sort of thing that should be sort of clarifiable at that testimony.
Congresswoman Jackie Speier, from the great state of California, member of the House Intelligence Committee, looking forward to the testimony tomorrow. Thanks for helping us understand it in advance tonight.
SPEIER: Thank you.
MADDOW: All right. Joining us is Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut. He sits on the Foreign Relations Committee.
I specifically want to speak with Senator Murphy tonight because he met with the Ukrainian president and visited with Ukrainian government officials in Ukraine and has some unique insight here.
Senator, thank you so much for making time to be with us tonight.
SEN. CHRIS MURPHY (D-CT): Thanks a lot.
MADDOW: Tell us where you`re at right now on this story, given your sort of unique subject matter expertise in this area and what has unfolded over the course of this last 48 hours. What do you make of this moment that we are in?
MURPHY: Well, way back in spring, I started to hear these concerns raised to me by my Ukrainian contacts that the Trump administration through Rudy Giuliani and perhaps others were engaged in a pretty substantial pressure campaign to get the new president to turn his administration into a vehicle for the president`s political advancement in an attempt to try to destroy the president`s political opponents.
And so, I think what we`ve seen in this transcript this morning is really just the tip of the iceberg. And though I haven`t seen this whistleblower complaint, I guess that it may provide some really alarming context to how comprehensive this effort was to try to enlist the Ukrainian president in the president`s 2020 reelection campaign. And so when I went to Ukraine, I raised this with the president, with President Zelensky. I told him that it really was not in Ukraine`s interest to get involved in the 2020 election. He assured me they had no interest in doing so.
But it now seems as if the entire U.S./Ukraine relationship over the past several months has been viewed by the president as simply a mechanism to try to advance his political interests, and that`s likely why this becomes an urgent national security concern, because the focus of our relationship with the Ukraine prior to Zelensky`s ascension to the presidency was around sending a message to Russia that their aggression in the region would be met with a firm response from the United States, by turning it into just a mechanism to try to help the president`s reelection, that is of grave consequence to U.S. national security.
MADDOW: Now, the president tried to drag you into this by essentially claiming your contacts with the Ukrainian government, your discussions with President Zelensky themselves should be seen as improper, which is sort of weird what about-ism, he accused you of having threatened the government of Ukraine. I have to ask your response to that.
MURPHY: Yes. I mean, that`s an interesting Jedi mind trick by the president, to suggest that I am engaged in corruption because I`m telling the Ukrainian government to not accede to the president`s corrupt request for them to interfere in the 2020 election.
I`m very clear about what I said to the president of Ukraine. I told him that if he`s talking to the United States, he should be talking to the State Department. He should not be engaged in conversations with the president`s reelection campaign. And if he were to do that, he would damage his credibility globally and in the United States, that is not -- undue interference.
That is a recommendation that the government of Ukraine stay out of U.S. politics, which is really good advice for any foreign government. So I stand by that belief and would say it again if I had the chance to talk to the Ukrainian president.
MADDOW: You mentioned at the top of our discussion tonight that you feel like this may be just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what was going on here between the Trump administration and this, what appears to be a corrupt effort to enlist this foreign government in helping the president get reelected.
I know that you were very reluctant to come out and say that you believe the president ought to be impeached on this and on any other matter. But you recently came out and said despite that earlier reticence, you real I do believe impeachment proceedings are warranted here. Given that and given what you know about the circumstance, I wonder what you think about how the House should approach this. Should they just approach this discrete issue of the president asking a foreign government for help with his reelection campaign, and just say it`s basically done and move forward and impeaching him on that?
Or do you think this should be sort of a toe hold to investigate these issues more broadly, to try to bring all of this stuff to light, especially if you think there is a lot more here?
MURPHY: Well, I think we have an interest in expediency. The president only has slightly more than a year left on his term, and so I would like to see a process in the House that works as quickly as possible. And I do believe that if the president is shown to have used his office in order to try to get a foreign government to interfere in the 2020 election, that in and of itself is impeachable.
And so, I leave it to the House generally to decide the scope of this inquiry, but I don`t know that you have to go much beyond the events that have been uncovered in the last several days. And I frankly think that there`s a lot of questions that need to be asked just about the extent of this corruption.
Remember, Mike Pompeo said this weekend, you know, he can`t tell you if members of the State Department itself were not involved in this pressure campaign. There are reports today that our envoy for the U.S. -- Ukraine/Russia dispute, Kurt Volker, may have been involved.
So, I think there is plenty of investigation to do here. This may be enough for the House to take on in and of itself.
MADDOW: If those other officials were involved, do you think that impeachment proceedings should be brought against them?
MURPHY: Well, listen, you can`t be serving in the United States government if your chief concern is trying to trade the reputation of the United States to reelect the president. And so, if there are any State Department officials who have facilitated this campaign of corruption, then they need to resign, or they need to face consequence.
Kurt Volker is a widely respected diplomat, somebody who did lots of work for years with John McCain. He has been charged with trying to press the Russians to step back from their invasion of Ukraine. If, in fact, he has been spending his time on other endeavors, such as the ones that Rudy Giuliani has been endeavored in, he can`t continue in that position.
MADDOW: Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut -- sir, thank you for your time this evening. Much appreciated.
MADDOW: We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: As I mentioned, this has been a wild day. Tomorrow is probably going to be more wild. I can tell you tomorrow is already a huge day in the news. Nine a.m. Eastern Time, the acting director of national intelligence, Joe Maguire, will testify in open session before the House Intelligence Committee. Open session, that means it will be on TV, which means you have to call in sick probably. Ahem.
Then at 11:00 a.m., he is going to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee. That will not be on TV, that will be a closed session. So we`ll be watching for any characterization that`s come out of that closed door session.
Also tomorrow, the general inspector for the intelligence committee, Michael Atkinson, the one who fielded this complaint, and we learned tonight from "The New York Times", apparently interviewed witnesses in the White House that could corroborate the whistle-blower`s complaint. He is also going to be testifying before the Senate Intelligence committee behind closed doors after the acting DNI is in there first.
So, this story developed in ways that were not hard to follow -- I mean you can follow every piece of it. They were just sort of hard to believe as each new piece of it fell into place today. I think tomorrow may be another day like that.
Get a good night`s sleep. That does it for us tonight. We`ll see you tomorrow.
Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL".
Good evening, Lawrence.
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