RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Thanks, my friend. I appreciate it.
Thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.
Listen, don`t be embarrassed. There is no shame in it at all. You have a busy life. You have other stuff going on in your life besides the impeachment crisis in your government.
Frankly, even if you don`t have that much going on in your life besides the impeachment crisis in your government like this guy, still just keeping track of the evolving news stories about this crisis that we`re now in can itself be overwhelming. And, so, honestly, don`t be embarrassed. You have nothing to be ashamed of if you have not yet read the whistleblower complaint. It`s fine.
First of all, you can read it later. It`s not going anywhere. You can print it out now or you can save it on your phone or whatever. You can read it this weekend when you have some more time if you didn`t have time today. It`s nine pages single spaced.
For me, on a Saturday afternoon, I know that equates almost exactly to one beer in terms of the amount of time I would expect to spend cozying up with such a document. Nine pages, single spaced, that`s about a beer.
So, you can save it until you have a little bit of time, look at it this weekend. But I got to tell you. The other thing you could do is you could listen to it tonight or tomorrow on your morning commute.
Penguin Random House Audio who just full disclosure just did my audiobook for my book that comes out next week, which is why I know these guys, they today somewhat miraculously pulled off a completely professional audio production of the whistleblower complaint. Read by an award winning audiobook narrator/actor person who is really, really good. It is striking to me because this is a cool thing. But it is also sort of an amazing turn-around. This was only declassified this morning.
As of right now, you can already download it as the best spy novel audiobook that I have heard all year. And trust me, I rip through those things like you couldn`t believe. I know of what I speak. This is really good. Listen.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
NARRATOR: Dear Chairman Burr and Chairman Schiff, I`m reporting an urgent concern in accordance with the procedures outlined in 50 USC 3033 K5A. This letter was unclassified when separated from the attachment.
In the course of my official duties, I have received information from multiple U.S. government officials that the president of the United States is using the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 U.S. election. This interference includes, among other things, pressuring a foreign country to investigate one of the president`s main domestic political rivals.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MADDOW: And it goes on from there.
We have posted a link to that professional audio production of the whistleblower complaint that was just declassified today. We posted a link to that at Maddow Blog tonight in case you want to download it. It`s free.
And it is actually a very easy and elegant way to read the complaint yourself. I`m telling you there is no shame in admitting you might not have had a chance to do it yet. But you, at some point soon, will want to have read this whistleblower complaint because, holy mackerel.
We don`t know what the overall scope will be of the impeachment of the president over this scandal. It seems clear that the House of Representatives is going to impeach President Trump over this. A majority of members of the House have come out and said they favor an impeachment inquiry on these matters.
And when it comes to the core allegation here, when it comes to the specific thing that led Speaker Pelosi to announce that impeachment proceedings were being brought against the president, well, it`s very simple. I mean, the White House has released material showing that he did it. I mean, the core allegation against the president is that he is -- sing it, sister.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
NARRATOR: Using the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 U.S. election.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MADDOW: Using the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 U.S. election. That`s the core allegation that has led to these impeachment proceedings against President Trump.
It has already essentially already been admitted to and proven by material stuff declassified and released by the White House itself.
And, so -- I mean, it seems quite clear that there will be an impeachment. At least the core allegation here is sort of an open/shut thing. How long will it take the House of Representatives to go through this process, how much investigating they will do before they draw up articles and vote on them? What else about the president`s behavior related to this core scandal or what else about the president`s behavior more broadly might be folded into this impeachment inquiry, we still don`t know. I`m not sure the Democrats have yet decided, even among the key committee chairs who at this point will be steering the ship.
We`re going to be talking with one of those key committee chairs We can hopefully get more clarity if there is any clarity to get at this early point in the process. But obviously this is going very fast. And we`ve had remarkable access to information since this is broken open.
I mean, over the course of the past two days, we have received the White House notes from president Trump`s call with the president of Ukraine, which is the core incident that gave rise to this whistleblower complaint. We have now received a declassified version of the whistleblower complaint itself. And we have received importantly the inspector general`s take on that whistleblower complaint.
And that might just sound like another set of paper related to this, but that`s actually really important because however the president and the White House and the conservative media are going to go after the whistleblower, him or herself, by having the inspector general`s assessment of that whistleblower`s complaint, we have access to an independent professional evaluation of the validity of that complaint and the seriousness of that complaint. And it was written by the Trump appointed intelligence official who was legally responsible for receiving that complaint and deciding whether or not this was something important.
And this one -- this part of it, the inspector general`s letter that accompanied the whistleblower`s complaint, the whistleblower complaint is the one that has been turned into an audiobook already. The inspector general`s has not yet, but I think this is worth looking at, too. It is only five pages. It is worth seeing.
It says in part, quote: For the reasons discussed below, among others, I have determined that the complainant has reported an urgent concern that appears credible. Upon receiving the information reported by the complainant, the inspector general office conducted a preliminary review to determine whether the report constituted a concern under the whistleblower law. As part of our preliminary review, we confirmed that the complainant is an employee of an element of the intelligence community, an employee assigned or detailed to an element in the intelligence community, or the employee is of a contractor to the intelligence community. That means they have standing to make this whistleblower complaint.
Quote: To constitute an urgent concern under the whistleblower law, the information reported in the complaint must constitute a serious or flagrant problem, abuse, violation of law or executive order, or a deficiency related to an intelligence activity involving classified information. Here, the complainant`s letter alleged among other things that the president of the United States in a telephone call with the Ukrainian president on July 25th sought to pressure the Ukrainian leader to take actions to help President Trump`s 2020 re-election bid.
And then here is where the inspector general says, basically, that`s a big freaking deal. That`s not the kind of thing you can take lightly. That needs looking into.
This is from the inspector general. Quote: U.S. laws and regulations prohibit a foreign national directly or indirectly from making a contribution or donation of money or other thing of value or to make an expressed or implied promise to make a contribution or donation in connection with a federal, state or local election. No foreign person can contribute to U.S. election, money or thing of a value.
Similarly, U.S. laws and regulations prohibit a person from soliciting, accepting or receiving such a donation from a foreign national. You can`t ask for or demand that sort of thing from a foreign person or foreign entity either.
Quote: Further, in my judgment, the judgment of the inspector general of the intelligence community, alleged conduct by a senior U.S. public official to seek foreign assistance to interfere or influence a federal election would constitute a serious or flagrant problem or abuse under law. Which would also potentially expose such public official or others acting in concert with that U.S. public official to serious national security or counter intelligence risks with respect to foreign intelligence services becoming aware of such alleged conduct.
So, that is sort of incredible here, right? I mean, this is the inspector general for the intelligence community saying, hey, it is my job to look into these kind of complaints when they come in. I have looked into this complaint. This person has standing to make this complaint. What this person is saying happened here is not only a potentially very serious criminal violation.
I mean, asking for help in a U.S. election is a serious crime. Accepting foreign help from a U.S. election is a serious crime. But then there is also this other part about the potential harm to the country. If a, quote, senior U.S. public official is seeking foreign assistance to interfere in or influence a U.S. election, that is not only a problem in itself, but by doing that, that public official is now compromised, right? Because any foreign government that knows that this U.S. official is doing this can blackmail that official.
I mean, the U.S. president may be trying to hide the fact that he has done with this Ukraine. We`ll have more on that later. The U.S. president clearly has a strong interest. And it not becoming public knowledge that he has done this with Ukraine. That`s a well founded fear on the part of the president. He`s getting impeached for this now.
But nevertheless, he`s gone ahead and done this. And the White House is apparently trying to keep it secret. But there is a foreign country that knows he did it, right? Ukraine was there at the scene of the crime. They`re the ones who he asked to break the law.
But even beyond Ukraine, any other foreign country or foreign intelligence service that knew President Trump was doing this, that knew President Trump had sought Ukraine`s help for the 2020 election, that foreign country, that foreign intelligence service thereby has leverage over him, right? We know you don`t want this out, it would be a shame if it got out, huh?
Mr. President, we know what you have been doing with Ukraine. You know how much trouble you are going to get in if and when this ever becomes public in the United States. We`ll keep your secret. We know your secret, but we`ll keep your secret if you do something for us. If you do something you wouldn`t otherwise do or that would be bad for the United States, we can leverage you into doing it because we have something to lord over you, right?
This is why you don`t want foreign countries like having access to potentially bad behavior by U.S. public officials, right? This is why you don`t want U.S. officials in any position of authority or any access to sensitive or classified information who are doing bad things or who have secrets in their past or their present lives that could be exploited by anybody in a foreign country who comes to know of them, most especially the president of the United States. And now we know that that is in part how the inspector general in the intelligence committee was looking at this, right? Oh, dear, right?
Thank you, whistleblower. I consider your complaint to be credible and urgent. If what you said happened actually happened, A, this is freaking illegal and, B, it`s a counterintelligence threat to the country.
So, the inspector general looks into it. As the inspector says in his letter, quote, I have determined that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the complaint relating to the urgent concern appears credible. My office is preliminary review indicates that the complainant has official and authorized access to the information and sources referenced in his or her complaint and that the complainant has subject matter expertise related to the material and information provided in the complaint.
Quote: Other information obtained during my office`s preliminary review supports the complainant`s allegation that among other things during that July 25th call, the president in fact sought to pressure the Ukrainian leader to take actions to help the president`s 2020 re-election bid. Meaning not only is this serious. Not only is the person who brought this complaint a person in a position to know of which he speaks, but the inspector general with the considerable resources of that office looked into it and found corroborating information to support the complaint`s central allegation about President Trump`s behavior.
And, so, there remains considerable controversy as to how this whistleblower complaint was handled after the inspector general produced this report about it which will curl your hair, right? The complaint comes into the inspector general. He looks at it, spends two weeks going through it, finds it`s credible and corroborated and urgent, and lets the director of national intelligence know.
The handling of this matter thereafter will be controversial for a long time. The director of national intelligence was raked over the coals today in the intelligence committee as to why he took this urgent and credible and corroborated complaint brought to him by the inspector general and instead of giving it to Congress he brought it to the White House and to the Justice Department?
I mean, that controversy is not resolved. The actions of the director of national intelligence, the actions of the White House, the actions of the Justice Department will continue to be scrutinized in this regard and I think eventually some heads will have to roll in terms of how they blatantly attempted to suppress this whistleblower complaint.
But it is out now and we do know what it says and we do know that when the whistleblower raised alarms about that presidential phone call with a foreign leader, well, the White House`s own notes from that presidential phone call track exactly what the whistleblower was raising the alarm about. That itself speaks to the whistleblower`s credibility. Wherever the whistleblower was getting his or her information, it was good information because that person in their complaint basically described exactly what happened in that call. The president did in fact contact a foreign country to tell them to take law enforcement action against his potential rival in the 2020 election here in this country.
And so that claim by the whistleblower, which started this whole scandal, is corroborated by the White House`s own documents. And now, in addition to that central claim, we got all this new information today because we got the whistleblower`s complaint. New information about what Trump and the Trump White House allegedly did here.
And I think the easiest way to get through some of it while still allowing for the prospect of additional breaking news tonight, which I`m sure we need a lot for, I think the easiest way to maybe get through it is to focus in on the questions we can now ask in an informed way and the sort of questions that need answered next and in order. For me, one of the first and most urgent questions we need to ask is, what`s going to happen to the whistleblower, right?
Part of the controversy around the way this whistleblower complaint was handled is that the White House and Justice Department under William Barr, they have made this case that this whistleblower actually isn`t protected by the federal whistleblower law. So, even though whistleblowers are supposed to be protected from being fired or retaliated against or even prosecuted, if the White House and the Justice Department say, well, yes, that law doesn`t apply to this complaint, there is a question as to whether or not that whistleblower may face any those forms of retaliation or persecution for coming forward.
On that point, the director of national intelligence did try to give a personal assurance today that as far as he`s concerned, the whistleblower should at least be allowed to come forward to Congress.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): Director, do I have your assurance that once you work out the security clearances for the whistleblower`s counsel, that that whistleblower will be able to relate the full facts within his knowledge that concern wrongdoing by the president or anyone else, that he or she will not be inhibited in what they can tell our committee, there will not be some minder from the White House or elsewhere sitting next to them telling them what they can or cannot answer. Do I have your assurance they will be able to testify fully and freely and enjoy the protections of the law?
JOSEPH MAGUIRE, DNI: Yes, Congressman.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Will the whistleblower be allowed to speak to the Intelligence Committee about his or her complaint? Well, the DNI says yes. We shall see.
Beyond just being allowed to speak to the intelligence committees, will the whistleblower be protected more broadly? And I mean that in a very basic sense because you may have heard about this today. This is the way President Trump was talking about this matter as of this afternoon at an event in New York City that was closed to the press, despite the fact that this audio leaked out.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: But basically that person never saw the report, never saw the call, he never saw the call, heard something and decided that he or she, or whatever the hell they saw -- sort of like almost a spy. I want to know who`s the person that gave the whistleblower, who`s the person that gave the whistleblower the information? Because that`s close to a spy. You know what we used to do in the old days when we were smart? Right? The spies and treason, we used to handle it a little differently than we do now.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MADDOW: That`s the president today citing the penalty for treason, which, of course, is execution, while talking not only the whistleblower himself or herself but about the supreme working inside the White House and the U.S. government who provided this whistleblower information for his or her complaint. You know what we used to do in the old days when we were smart, right? The spies and treason, we used to handle it a little differently than we do now.
I`m sure the White House will try to pass that off as the president joking around. You can hear from -- I don`t usually play sound of the president. I put those things in a file marked the president says thing.
But I think it`s worth hearing the actual tone of the president when he made those remarks today to make sure he was not joking. It`s the president threatening today that anybody that gave this whistleblower this information ought to be executed.
I mean, let the record show that two days ago, the House of Representatives formally announced impeachment proceedings against the president on the basis of this very scandal. These people that he`s talking about, any government officials or White House officials who provided information to the whistleblower who brought this scandal to light, those people are going to be the witnesses in the impeachment proceeding or they are likely to be prospective witnesses in the impeachment proceeding against the president, which is now underway.
Which means that today, this afternoon, as a matter of law, the president was threatening witnesses in the impeachment proceeding against him with death, with execution, and I know the president has said he could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot someone and nothing would happen to him for it. Sort of getting closer and closer to a real life test of what we hoped was a hyperbolic antidote.
Under William Barr, it should be noted, the position of the Justice Department right now is not only that the president can`t be indicted if he commits a crime, the position of the Justice Department under William Barr is that the president can`t even be subject to the criminal process. He cannot even be criminally investigated no matter what he does or how many people know about it or see him do it.
So with the president threatening at this closed press event today that whoever gave this whistleblower information about his own behavior ought to be executed, I mean, one thing that`s -- that`s intimidation of witnesses involved in a federal investigation. That`s a crime. Presumably he believes he can`t by definition commit a crime.
I mean, not to get too weird, but if the president decided he knows who those people are and he decides he wants to carry out that sentence himself -- I mean, would the Justice Department have a problem with that? What if he did it openly on the South Lawn, right, in front of Pat Cipollone, the White House counsel, and Bill Barr, the attorney general? He`s out there killing somebody, right? This is how we deal with spies and treason. What would the Bill Barr Justice Department do with that information, right?
If the president believes it is OK to threaten the witnesses in an impeachment investigation that has just been launched two days ago and the lawyers of the Trump administration are telling him no matter what he does, he`s immune from investigation, let alone prosecution, I mean, the worst case scenario here really is bonkers. But that`s what happens when the Justice Department takes the kind of position that it has and you have got a president like this willing to take advantage of it.
The chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Intelligence and Oversight Committees tonight has just released a new statement in response to this threat from the president today. Quote: President Trump is fully aware that our committees are seeking testimony from this whistleblower and others referenced in this whistleblower`s complaint released today as part of the House`s impeachment inquiry. Our nation`s laws prohibit efforts to discourage, intimidate or otherwise pressure a witness not to provide testimony to Congress.
No officials with knowledge relevant to the committee`s investigation, including knowledge of the subject of the whistleblower complaint maybe subject to any intimidation, reprisal or threat of reprisal. And all witnesses must be made available for congressional testimony. The president`s comments today constitute reprehensible witness intimidation and an attempt to obstruct Congress`s impeachment inquiry.
We condemn the president`s attacks and we invite our Republican counterparts to do the same because Congress must do all it can to protect this whistleblower and all whistleblowers. Threats of violence from the leader of country have a chilling effect on the entire whistleblower process, with grave consequences for our democracy and our national security.
Or in other words, Mr. President, what you just did today threatening the witnesses, that`s another article that we`re going to vote on in your impeachment. Congratulations.
But the shocking news today, I find it alarming sort of, but not surprising -- can those things coexist? That the president made these threats against the witness already, right? The big, unexpected news today that we got from the whistleblower`s complaint was something that we really hadn`t had any inkling of otherwise and we didn`t have any reason to expect.
That was the whistleblower`s allegation that not only did the president solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 U.S. election, but in addition to that, what the whistleblower`s complaint says is that multiple White House officials and White House lawyers knew about what the president did and took unusual and overt steps to cover it up.
Quoting from the whistleblower`s complaint: The White House officials who told me this information were deeply disturbed about what had transpired in the phone call between President Trump and the Ukrainian president. They told me there was already a discussion ongoing with White House lawyers about how to treat the call because of the likelihood in the officials retelling that they had witnessed the president abuse his office for personal gain.
In the days following the phone call, I learned from multiple U.S. officials that senior White House officials had intervened to lock down all records of the phone call, especially the transcript of the phone call that was produced by the White House Situation Room. This set of actions underscored to me that White House officials understood the gravity of what had transpired on the call.
White House officials told me they were directed by White House lawyers to remove the electronic transcript from the computer testimony in which such transcripts are stored. Instead, the transcript was loaded into a separate electronic system that`s otherwise used to store and handle classified information of an especially sensitive nature. One White House official described this act as an abuse of this electronic system because the call did not contain anything remotely sensitive from a national security perspective.
And then in what was initially described as a classified appendix to the whistleblower`s complaint, the whistleblower elaborates in a few more sentences which would be like the car movie chase scene, shootout, exciting music, jump cut part of this spy movie, again, this from the originally classified appendix to the whistleblower`s complaint, quote, according to multiple White House officials I spoke with, the transcript of the president`s call with President Zelensky was placed into a computer system managed directly by the National Security Council`s directorate for intelligence programs. This is a standalone computer system reserved for code word level intelligence information such as covert action.
According to information I received from White House officials, some officials voiced concerns internally that this would be an abuse of the system and was not consistent with the responsibilities of directorate for intelligence programs. According to White House officials I spoke with, this was not the first time under this administration that a presidential transcript was placed into this code word level system solely for the purpose of protecting politically sensitive rather than national security sensitive information.
And so, question. If the whistleblower is right and White House lawyers directed that the evidence of this behavior by the president should be hidden in a code word protected server that is supposed to be for national security specific information and it`s not the first time they have done such a thing -- well, who would have had the authority to do that? Who would have had the authority to upload this kind of information into that code word protected secure server? Who has the authority to check that server now to see what else they might have secreted there?
And honestly, how dangerous is it that they have done this? "The Wall Street Journal" tonight has further detail on how this White House cover-up might have worked. Quote: A highly secure computer system where aids to President Trump reportedly stashed the details of his call with Ukraine`s leader is so secretive that even top White House national security aides don`t have regular access to it.
It is the most tightly controlled of at least four different computer systems used by the National Security Council and contains the most precious of American secrets. U.S. covert actions in other countries and counter intelligence probes aimed at finding spies within.
Quote, working at the White House National Security Council means juggling multiple computers every day. One is used for unclassified communications, a second is run by the Pentagon, it`s known I think it`s SIPRNet. That`s for information up to the level of secret.
A third system is for even more sensitive data designated TS/SCI for top secret/sensitive compartmented information. That`s the third level.
Finally, there is the fourth and most sensitive system, the one that was reportedly used to hide the evidence of President Trump trying to get a foreign country`s help for the 2020 election. And this most sensitive system is managed by the National Security Council`s directorate of intelligence programs. It is, officials say, in fact, as the whistleblower said a standalone system. It is disconnected from other networks. The data it contains can be retrieved only by those who have code word access to individual intelligence programs.
Well, who had the necessary access and clearances to hide the president`s call transcripts on that national security server? And what can be done now to follow that incredible, you know, not just revelation, but that incredible lead on what else they might have done now that we know where they have been stashing everything?
Joining us now is Congressman Adam Schiff. He`s the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, and he has had a very long day.
Sir, thank you very much for joining us tonight. I appreciate your making time.
SCHIFF: My pleasure.
MADDOW: I have a whole bunch of questions for you, sir. But let me just ask, first of all, if I said anything in there not in keeping of your understanding of where we are or what the revelations in this scandal have been thus far? Did I screw anything up there?
SCHIFF: No. I think you summarized the allegations very accurately and the seriousness of them and also the irony, the dissonance of hearing so many of the Republicans today talk about how this whistleblower wasn`t even listening to the call himself or herself so they`re not credible.
Well, actually, the allegations are more credible because their sources are so good. It would be one thing if the record of the call came out and it completely contradicted the whistleblower and you could argue, see, the whistleblower was wrong about the call and therefore, the whistleblower is wrong about everything else. But the whistleblower was so remarkably accurate, it just further enhances the credibility of that person, which means, I think, that it is far more likely that other information in that complaint is also accurate.
MADDOW: Let me ask you about one specific thing from the whistleblower complaint which has earned a follow-up from Senator Dianne Feinstein today. In the whistleblower`s complaint, the whistleblower, he or she says, in the days following the phone call, I learned from officials that senior White House officials had intervened to lock down all records of the phone call, especially the official word for word transcript of that call that was produced as is customary by the White House Situation Room.
Is it your understanding that what the whistleblower is describing there, the official word for word transcript of the call, is basically the document that we have seen, those sort of close notes from the White House on what happened over that call, or is the whistleblower talking about something that`s even more specific as a transcript?
SCHIFF: Well, the short answer is I don`t know for sure. But the whistleblower may very well be describing the call record that we have now seen. It certainly is an accurate description of that call record. But also, it`s not always the case that there is a recording of a call or a word for word -- I mean, not in the sort of term of art sense but actually a verbatim transcript. It`s more often I think a summary, as this is.
So I don`t know that that indicates that there is in fact a separate recording or transcript of that recording. But, of course, that`s one of the things we want to find out.
MADDOW: The complaint also says that all records of that call, including what we think is this document that`s now been released as notes to that call were locked down in the words of the whistleblower, that they were essentially migrated on to a special server system that is usually reserved for the most highly classified information inside the National Security Council.
What`s your reaction to that and does your committee have the authority, have the jurisdiction to investigate that further?
SCHIFF: We certainly have the authority, and we have the jurisdiction to investigate that.
And here is another irony today. That is the Department of Justice opinions says that the director of national intelligence doesn`t have jurisdiction here because this doesn`t involve an intelligence issue. This involves foreign interference in our elections.
Well, first of all, that should come as a revelation to the director of national intelligence that he doesn`t have jurisdiction over foreign interference. That is a central part of his mission. In fact, that`s what the inspector general meant when he said that this is what the American people would understand as core to the function of the director.
But more than that, where do they hide this stuff? They hide it with a covert information files in this super secret computer system that`s marked for classified intelligence information. So, but apart from that -- the idea that this system is being accused to conceal interactions of the president with other leaders that may reveal impropriety or illegality or betrayal of oath of office is one of, I think, the two serious allegations, core allegations in the whistleblower complaint.
There is, of course, the most serious allegation that the president was using his office, abusing his authority to leverage Ukraine while holding up military aid for that country to manufacture dirt on his opponent. There is that whole constellation of issues in which you have got Rudy Giuliani revolving that constellation and laying the groundwork for that call and doing who knows what else.
You`ve got Bill Barr whose role is still undetermined. The same Bill Barr on a mission to try to give credence to this conspiracy theory that, no, it was Ukraine that was interfering in our election, not Russia. By the way, that theory that the attorney general has been promoting with his investigator resources and the president was interested in getting Ukraine to promote with its investigative resources, that narrative comes from Russia. And that makes it all the more insidious.
MADDOW: Meaning Russia has been promoting that as a counter narrative to excuse their own behavior in 2016 and blame somebody else. That`s where that started.
SCHIFF: Absolutely. Absolutely.
MADDOW: Congressman Schiff, I just want to ask you about this sort of surprise revelation today about, as you say, hiding the material that proved the president`s behavior, the evidence of the president`s behavior in with the covert action files.
I know that the Gang of Eight, of which you are a member, is the intelligence committee chairman. I know your committee, the intelligence committee, has access to what the intelligence committee does, even the most secret stuff. When the whistleblower says that he or she has information that this isn`t the first time that that secret server has been used to basically stash information that would otherwise be politically incriminating of the president but otherwise didn`t belong there, can you go look at that server and if they have now taken that stuff off the server after stashing that there before, would there be traces left? Would there be evidence that stuff was put there and then removed?
SCHIFF: Well, I think it is certainly very relevant to our investigation. There is no limitation in terms of what we can see when it comes to intelligence. There is no classification so high that it cannot be shared with Congress.
But the idea here that this system is being abused to conceal wrongdoing is so pernicious, and the allegation that the White House counsel if part of this, White House counsel doesn`t exist to be the president`s criminal defense lawyer. That is Rudy Giuliani`s some time job. I guess the other part of his job is to get the president out of criminal trouble. But the White House council is supposed to represent the office of the presidency. It doesn`t represent the office of the presidency when it is helping the president conceal wrongdoing.
But here we have such a blurring of the lines between what Rudy Giuliani does as personal lawyer, what the White House counsel does in its capacity, what Bill Barr does as the top law enforcement officer. They`re basically all part of the same legal team. There seems to be little division of responsibility.
And I think that`s a perversion of how the system was intended to work. We are certainly going to try to find out what`s in that safe. And one of the first things that we did, Rachel, was send everyone concerned a preservation order to preserve the evidence. And part of that evidence is where that evidence is located.
So, if there is an effort to take that information out of the safe and put it somewhere else and hide the digital dust that would show that it was there, that is a very clear act of obstruction of Congress with its own set of serious consequences.
MADDOW: Congressman Adam Schiff, the chairman of the House Intelligence committee, busy man these days. Thank you for taking time to be here tonight, sir. I really appreciate.
SCHIFF: Thank you.
MADDOW: Important news there actually from Chairman Schiff that the intelligence committee has sent preservation orders, telling all the relevant entities involved here, including presumably the White House Counsel`s Office and others that they can`t throw anything out, they need to retain all records.
Obviously, the mantra from the White House, from the Watergate era is that it is the cover-up not so much the crime. The destruction of evidence ends up being one of the ways that you figure out what happened, right? Destruction of evidence not only shows consciousness of guilt but that shows you who is involved, shows you who is involved in the cover-up.
At this point, there is a lot of leads points at the White House and specifically at the White House council`s office in terms of how this bad behavior has been trying -- has been covered up so far. If they are going to try to stop them from further covering it up, it seems like we will have to act fast.
All right. We`ll be back. Stay with us.
MADDOW: I said at the top of the show, we should like make room and make plans to have more breaking news. I didn`t know that anything was going to break. I had a sneaking suspicious about it. But now, "The New York Times" has broken new news in this story, and it`s interesting.
According to just reported story from "The New York Times", the whistleblower made this complaint through the whistleblower process we have learned about over the past few days, the letter that was addressed to the intelligence committees that was delivered to the inspector general of the intelligence community, the inspector general assessed it, passed it on to the DNI. The DNI bottled it up after consultations with the Justice Department and the White House, didn`t just hand it on to the intelligence committee immediately. That`s a continuing source of controversy.
Now, according to "The New York Times", this whistleblower lodged these allegations through a separate whistleblower process, through an anonymous process at another intelligence agency around the same time that he or she separately filed the whistleblower complaint that we already know about. The whistleblower delivered a somewhat broad accusation anonymously to a lawyer at an intelligence agency.
The initial allegations reported only that serious questions existed about a phone call between Mr. Trump and a foreign leader. That intelligence agency began to try to assess whether a reasonable basis for the accusation existed. That agency then learned while interrogating the complaint that multiple people had raised concerns about Trump`s call with that foreign leader.
That intelligence agency then called in John Eisenberg, deputy White House counsel, who also was staff to the National Security Council. Eisenberg, the intelligence agency who had been alerted by the whistleblower and their deputies, quote, spoke multiple times the following week. They decided the accusations had a reasonable basis.
Those officials spoke on August 14th to John Demers, who`s the head of the National Security Division at the Justice Department, according to three people familiar with the discussion. Demers, the head of the National Security Division at the Justice Department then went to the White House to read the transcript of the president`s call, to assess whether or not to alert other senior law enforcement officials. Mr. Demers decided to notify the deputy attorney general, the number two person in the Justice Department, Jeffrey Rosen, and Brian Benczkowski, who`s the head of the department`s criminal division.
Department officials began to discuss the accusations and whether and how to follow up. Attorney General William Barr learned of the allegations around that time. While Mr. Barr was briefed, he did not oversee the discussions on how to proceed. As the White House, the intelligence agency and Justice Department officials were examining the accusations, the whistleblower who had lodged this complaint anonymously with the intelligence agency grew concerned after learning that his or her intelligence agency had contacted the White House and that is why the person decided to pursue this whistleblower complaint through a separate channel.
Joining us now is David Laufman, who is a former chief of the counterintelligence section of the Justice Department under President Obama and through the first year of the Trump administration.
Mr. Laufman, I know that you were just receiving this information as reading in on this as I am here, so I don`t want to test you on it. But I do want to ask your initial reaction to this breaking news story I just tried to recount.
DAVID LAUFMAN, FORMER CHIEF OF DOJ`S COUNTERINTEL & EXPORT CONTROL SECTION: Well, the first thing I react to is that this whistleblower engaged in herculean efforts to operate through legitimate, lawful processes to make known his or her concerns about the president`s alleged abuse of power, and so is to be further credited for operating through appropriate channels.
MADDOW: When you look on balance on what the whistleblower is alleging about the president`s behavior and we now know about behavior within the White House, involving White House lawyers and other White House officials so essentially submarine evidence of the president`s behavior by hiding it in a secret server that wasn`t designed to hold that kind of information, when you look at the balance of that actual allegation and the continuing evolving story that we got about how the whistleblower`s allegation was handled at all levels of government in the intelligence agencies by the intelligence community inspector general, by the DNI, the involvement of the Justice Department, the involvement of the White House council`s office, are you sort of equally concerned about those two things? How do you feel about the handling of the complaint vis-a-vis the overall serious about what he or she is alleging?
LAUFMAN: Well, some of these actors performed credibly. The inspector general of ODNI did exactly what he should have done. I think his legal analysis on its face appears sound. There could be potentially, you know, reasonable disagreement by lawyers parsing the words of a statute, but I`d have to say that the Department of Justice`s interpretation seemed a little contorted to determine that disclosure to Congress was not mandated.
But in any event, we now have these allegations before us. And it will be up to Congress to undertake a thorough investigation that can withstand public scrutiny in which they have complete access to all the necessary information to arrive at sound, factual conclusions.
MADDOW: As a Justice Department professional with the kind of national security background that you have and counterintelligence work that you have done, one of the reasons I wanted to talk to you today Mr. Laufman is because of the counterintelligence concerns that were raised in a letter from the inspector general here saying that a U.S. public official did what is described by this whistleblower. That raises serious concerns in terms of foreign country`s foreign intelligence services finding out that this had happened and potentially using it as leverage.
I mean, how serious to you is this alleged misbehavior and do you think that the house of representatives is warranted in their decision to pursue potential impeachment simply over this matter?
LAUFMAN: I think this particular allegation is extremely serious. We`re talking about an abuse of power by the president of the United States to coerce the leader of a fledgling democracy fighting for its life against a primary neighbor, an aggressor, our primary adversary, to conduct an investigation aimed at developing dirt on a domestic political rival. If that is not a quintessential example of high crimes and misdemeanors, I don`t know what is.
Having said that, there is still lies before us the necessity for a robust investigation by Congress that is comprehensive, that can withstand public scrutiny and that the American people can have confidence in. But the core allegations that are before us now, whether or not that type of investigation ensues, could not be more disturbing.
MADDOW: In terms of the alleged -- forgive me -- the cover-up as alleged by the whistleblower in the complaint we had made public today, this allegation that White House lawyers directed White House officials to basically misfile, to migrate this transcript of the president`s call into a super secure server that`s designed for the most serious and secret national security sensitive information to essentially hide this there to limit the number of people who could see it, to limit the potential damage and exposure of this behavior by the president, it`s hard for me as a layman to assess the propriety of White House lawyers ordering such a thing or if White House officials following through on it.
What is your take on that?
LAUFMAN: I mean, certainly, you know, their motivation is central, I guess, to an assessment of the priority of it. If they were putting it there for safekeeping to make sure nobody else screwed around with it, maybe they should be given a gold star. But if they were putting it there to conceal it from congressional oversight or from anybody else that learned about it and wanted access to it, that`s pretty disturbing.
MADDOW: Dave Laufman, former chief of the Justice Department`s counterintelligence section, sir, I really appreciate your time tonight. Thank you for making time to be here.
LAUFMAN: Good to be with you, Rachel.
MADDOW: All right. We`ll be right back. Stay with us.
MADDOW: We`re continuing to cover this still developing story tonight that has led to impeachment proceedings being opened against President Trump. And that led today to the public release of a whistleblower complaint, a whistleblower complaint that outlined concerns about the president seeking dirt on a potential political rival ahead of the 2020 election. But also, concerns about how the White House dealt with records related to the president`s call with the president of Ukraine that was the basis for the whistleblower`s complaint.
In this complaint that was unsealed today, the whistleblower says, quote, White House officials told me that they were, quote, directed by White House lawyers to remove the electronic transcript from the computer system in which such transcripts are typically stored. Instead, the transcript was loaded into a separate electronic system that is used to store and handle classified information of an especially sensitive nature.
The whistleblower goes on to say that he or she was informed that this was not the first time the White House had done such a thing, using the special secure server to essentially hide information that was not nationally security sensitive but was politically sensitive because it related to the president`s own potential misbehavior.
Joining us now is Robert Litt. He`s a former general counsel for director of national intelligence under President Obama.
Mr. Litt, thank you so much for making time. I appreciate it.
ROBERT LITT, FORMER GENERAL COUNSEL FOR DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: Thank you for having me, Rachel.
MADDOW: First of all, I would like to get your overall take on where we are and what we understand about this story. It has only been a couple of weeks, less than two weeks since we first learned about the existence of this whistleblower complaint. What do you think overall given your experience at ODNI about what we`ve learned thus far in the series of this crisis?
LITT: In my opinion, it`s important to keep our eyes on the most important aspect of this, which is the potential abuse of power by the president of the United States, not only the mere fact of trying to enlist a foreign government in digging up dirt on his political opponents but the apparent, on its face, threats of extortion where you know, it is sort of a nice little country you have here. It would be a shame if something happened to it.
And that to me is the core of this. I happen to disagree with Congressman Schiff on whether the DNI`s behavior was appropriate or not, but I think that`s a side issue because we`ve got the complaint now. We`ve got the transcript now.
Similarly, with respect to the issue of how this document was handled within the White House, and placing it on a special server, I think that`s -- I think that`s significant. I think that`s wrong. I think that reflects that people at the White House knew what the president was doing was wrong. But I think it`s not the core.
I think the core here is, what -- did this president abuse his presidential powers for personal benefit?
MADDOW: In terms of the aspect of it that you`re describing here as a side issue. But it`s new to us today and I think for a lot of us --
MADDOW: -- outside the intelligence world, it`s hard to get your head around and it`s interesting. I guess, to know that the National Security Council uses multiple levels of computer systems that are various levels of classified and unclassified information, if they have routinely or regularly or at least multiple times been stashing information on the most secure of those servers, specifically to prevent people who would otherwise have access to that information from seeing it, essentially pretending it is more classified information than it is, presumably that should be under the oversight of the director of national intelligence.
That`s an intelligence community type concern. It is hard for me to imagine who investigate that`s sort of thing and makes sure that something like that is being properly done and not abused.
LITT: Well, you`re right. It is hard to determine who should investigate it, because the White House takes the position that the president has the ultimate control over all classification. In particular, Congressman Schiff earlier mentioned covert action. And it has always been the position of the president that that is something the president controls directly and the DNI doesn`t control.
So, I think the White House will probably take position that this is their own systems, and the DNI can butt out and Congress can butt out.
MADDOW: If the White House counsel`s office has been accessing that very secret server, that highly classified server, and they`re not supposed to be, is that the sort of thing that the White House is also supposed to self-police on?
LITT: Well, I don`t know that we know that anybody had access to the server who was not supposed to. The question was, was this information on that server that didn`t need to be on that server? And that`s what I think the allegation here is, that things were put into this server to which there was extremely limited access.
But as you noted, John Eisenberg, who is the deputy White House counsel and the legal adviser to the National Security Council, he would have had access to that and other people in his staff would have. But a lot of people who otherwise would have access to memoranda of presidential conversations would not have access to that.
MADDOW: Robert Litt, former general counsel for the director for national intelligence, I know this stuff is sort of run-of-the-mill work a day stuff for you guys within the intelligence community. To us laymen, it`s brand new and it`s really helpful to have your help and understanding. Thanks very much for your time tonight.
LITT: You`re quite welcome.
MADDOW: All right. We`ll be right back. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Up until now, the impeachment issue has harshly fallen along partisan lines. But, tonight, the Republican governor of Vermont, Phil Scott, says he supports an inquiry. He`s told the "Washington Post," quote, Congress has a solemn responsibility to every American to fulfill its role in our government system of checks and balances. The Republican governor of Vermont.
Also, another blue state Republican governor, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker has also called on Congress to investigate President Trump`s actions, although he stopped short of using the term impeachment inquiry.
Obviously, those guys have no role in the impeachment process whatsoever. But along partisan lines, it is a break nonetheless.
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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