CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: That is ALL IN this evening.
"THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW" start right now with Nicolle Wallace in for Rachel.
Nice to see you around these parts. Good evening, Nicolle.
NICOLLE WALLACE, MSNBC HOST: It`s late.
HAYES: You are --
WALLACE: Thanks, Chris.
And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. Rachel has the night off but she will be back tomorrow. Don`t despair.
And on a day that saw Donald Trump dispense with any notion he wouldn`t publicly seek the help of foreign governments to aid with his political dirty work, on a day when we thought that might be the big top story, we begin with even more breaking news on this fast-moving and growing scandal.
Here is the top of the new report from "The New York Times" from reporters Kevin Vogel and Mike Schmidt, they report this, quote: Two of President Trump`s top envoys to Ukraine drafted a statement for the country`s new statement for the president in August that would have committed Ukraine to pursuing investigations sought by Mr. Trump into his political rivals. That`s according to three people briefed on the effort.
They continue, quote: The drafting of the statement marks new evidence of how Mr. Trump`s fixation with Ukraine began driving senior diplomats to bend American foreign policy to the president`s political agenda in the weeks after the July 25th call between the two leaders.
So, just backing up for a minute here, July 25th is when President Trump has his phone call with Ukraine`s new president. And according to the White House`s own notes on the call, the Ukrainian leader brought up military aid that his country was expecting from the U.S., military aid that Donald Trump had just put on hold. And Donald Trump said to him on that call, quote, I would like you to do us a favor, though. He asked the Ukrainian president to help cast doubt on Russia`s responsibility for attacking the 2016 U.S. election. Then he asked him for help ginning up dirt on Trump`s potential political rival Joe Biden.
The White House put the notes from that call on a super secret server meant for highly classified code word protected material. But now we know, according to "The New York Times" tonight, that Trump`s top Ukraine diplomats then set about trying to get Ukraine`s president to commit publicly to doing Trump`s bidding.
Here`s more from that "Times" report. Quote: The statement was drafted by Gordon Sondland, U.S. ambassador to the E.U., and Kurt Volker, then the State Department`s envoy to Ukraine. The statement committing Ukraine to investigate conspiracy theories about Joe Biden and about Russia not having hacked the Democrats in 2016. "The Times" says, quote, it is unclear if it was delivered to the Ukrainian president but no statement was released publicly under his name.
They continue: The drafting of the statement was an effort to pacify Mr. Trump and Rudy Giuliani and normalize relations between the two countries as Ukraine faced continuing conflict with Russia. Mr. Sondland and Mr. Volker believed that Mr. Giuliani was, quote, poisoning Mr. Trump`s mind about Ukraine and that eliciting a public commitment from Mr. Zelensky to pursue the investigations would induce Mr. Trump to more fully support the Ukrainian government.
And as we said, all of this comes on a day when President Trump asked yet another country, this time China, to investigate Joe Biden, erasing all doubt about whether he could or would or will happily collude with foreign powers in plain sight to boost his re-election prospects.
With the idea that the president`s mind is being poisoned against an allied country and that U.S. diplomats were scrambling to try to contain the damage is a frightening prospect on its own.
Joining us is one of the reporters who broke the story tonight, Mike Schmidt is a Washington correspondent with "The New York Times."
Take us through where this report fits into the rest of the fact pattern that we have now about if you take the Rudy dossier that the State Department inspector general turned over to Congress yesterday, you take this effort, that conspiracy theory had filtered down.
MICHAEL SCHMIDT, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: You have to put all that aside. You have to look at this in the context of the July call. In July, the topic of these investigations is brought up by Trump on the call with Zelensky, the Ukrainian president. A month later, here you have two diplomats coming up with a statement that specifically says and commits the Ukrainian government to investigating the things that Donald Trump wants them to, the things that will be politically advantageous to him.
And these diplomats are trying to get the Ukrainians to say it, to put this statement out, because if they say it publicly, it`s different than saying it privately on a call with the president. If they say it publicly, it locks them in to doing that, to doing what they say they will do to investigating the people that Trump wanted them to.
WALLACE: What did these diplomats want, why did they want to lock Zelensky in?
SCHMIDT: Well, that`s the question. What it appears from our reporting is that they are trying to pacify Giuliani and Trump. They think that Giuliani has poisoned Trump on Ukraine and they believe this is getting in the way of the entire relationship between these two countries.
And in order to fix that they need to sort of get Giuliani and Trump to back off. So if the Ukrainians commit to this, commit to investigating it, then maybe they`ll go away and these diplomats will be able to do their job. This was -- we have no evidence this was tied to the aid. This was simply trying to get Trump to back off and allow the State Department to do its day-to-day work that he was trying to get in the way of.
WALLACE: Is there any evidence that Mike Pompeo or anybody else who was up the chain of command from these diplomats had any conversations about the aid?
SCHMIDT: In our story tonight, we don`t tie any of this to Mike Pompeo. It`s just these two senior officials that were dedicated to dealing with Ukraine that were the folks who, you know, had worked on this statement and had passed it over to an intermediary for Zelensky for Zelensky to look at.
The interesting thing that is the Ukrainians had the foresight to know this was a bad idea, and they decided not to do it because they didn`t want to get more deeply involved in the United States politics.
WALLACE: You used the word "poisoning," and it literally jumps off the page. Whose assessment was it that Donald Trump`s mind had been poisoned against the Ukrainians and who did the poisoning?
SCHMIDT: Well, Volker and Sondland, these two senior State Department officials, knew what Giuliani was telling Trump and they knew how angry Trump was getting with them. Trump was convinced that Ukraine was a corrupt country. He didn`t want to do any dealings with them. And they believed this was being fed by Giuliani who had all this different information and dossiers he was developing on what happened in Ukraine.
So they were trying to get Giuliani to stop doing that to Trump, to stop infecting his mind with these different things. And they thought by getting the Ukrainians to commit to it, maybe Trump would be at bay.
WALLACE: Mike Schmidt, Washington correspondent for "The New York Times," thanks for your reporting and thanks for joining us tonight.
Even as we`re getting this new reporting on the details of President Trump`s pressure campaign, elaborate pressure campaign on Ukraine, the impeachment inquiry into that pressure campaign is unfolding quickly in the House. One of the diplomats who reportedly drafted that statement for the Ukrainian president that we were just talking to Mike Schmidt about, Kurt Volker, resigned last Friday night.
And today, he was the first person interviewed as part of that impeachment inquiry. He was deposed on Capitol Hill today for 9 1/2 hours. And he`s reportedly not the only Trump administration official to be resigning under the harsh glare of the impeachment proceedings around this Ukraine matter. Trump Energy Secretary Rick Perry, who House investigators very much would like to talk to because Perry went and met with the Ukrainian president at least three times, said yesterday he would willingly cooperate with the impeachment inquiry.
But tonight, wouldn`t you know it, "Politico" reports that Rick Perry is resigning next month. NBC has not confirmed that reporting and we, of course, cannot say for certain at any point why Perry is reportedly resigning.
Joining us now is someone who may want to talk to Rick Perry, California Congressman Eric Swalwell. He sits on the Judiciary Committee and Intelligence Committee, and he was at today`s deposition of the former envoy to Ukraine, Kurt Volker.
Congressman Swalwell, thanks for being with us. We now know from "New York Times" reporting tonight that Ambassador Volker was one of two diplomats who took this list of Trump`s poisoned mind request to the Ukrainians.
Where do you see that fitting into the fact pattern emerging?
REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D-CA): Good evening, Nicolle.
You know, what we saw today was further evidence that there was a shadow shakedown under way. And it actually fits right in with what the whistle- blower complaint alleged, which was that there was this ongoing scheme to get the Ukrainians to play ball with two asks that the president of the United States had. One which was to exonerate Russia for their role in the 2016 election and interfering, and two, investigate my upcoming 2020 potential opponent, Joe Biden.
And that ongoing scheme went up to that phone call and beyond. And so, you know, if -- I`m not going to comment on the reporting as it relates to Mr. Volker today, but again that conduct by the president is leveraging U.S. tax dollars to benefit himself in a U.S. election. That`s what`s so improper about it.
WALLACE: Is there anything you could say, you were in the 9 1/2 hour deposition today.
SWALWELL: I was.
WALLACE: Fox News and ABC is reporting on a series of encrypted messages that were shared. Is there anything you can tell us about those messages?
SWALWELL: We have evidence that corroborates what the whistleblower said. We have additional witnesses that we now will want to hear from. But we also see that State Department officials from the beginning were concerned about Rudy Giuliani`s role with Ukraine and that just as recently as a couple of weeks ago, before the whistleblower complaint was made public, that one official had identified a concern about tying security assistance to the Ukrainians in exchange for helping Donald Trump`s political campaign.
WALLACE: Congressman, there are so many parallels between Donald Trump`s alleged conduct in the Russia investigation and Donald Trump`s really sort of out in the open conduct as it pertains to asking the president of Ukraine to dirty up the Bidens.
What is there left in the whistleblower complaint that Donald Trump hasn`t already publicly confessed to?
SWALWELL: We actually have a presidential confession to extortion. We have a job to give him a fair process, we`re going to do that. We`re going to continue to interview other witnesses.
But when I was a prosecutor, Nicolle, when the suspect confessed to the crime, that in most cases reduced the number of witnesses that you had to talk to. We`ll continue to talk to witnesses, receive evidence, hope that the president and his team cooperate. But I don`t think this has to draw on for -- you know, beyond this calendar year, because we have sufficient evidence of what the president`s done.
But that`s not to put a deadline on it, it`s just to say that we have witnesses who are cooperating, and we`re seeking testimony from others. And the president himself has actually admitted to the conduct.
WALLACE: Ambassador Volker, not a household name. This has come about so quickly, unlike the Mueller probe where Don McGahn and others became household names. Can you put Volker`s role in some sort of context? Is he someone who was uncomfortable with Donald Trump`s demand that the Ukrainian leader dirty up Biden? Is he someone who believed that there was a quid pro quo, either implicitly or explicitly? Who is Ambassador Volker in this scandal?
SWALWELL: Yes. What I can say about Ambassador Volker is that he is a career diplomat. He`s a professional. He knows Ukraine. He knows the challenges it poses. He knows the role the United States plays in that when the United States asks Ukraine of something, because how much they depend on us economically, militarily, just by the credibility we give to them, that they will take that and seriously.
What is offensive to me is that you have this special envoy in place and then you have a rogue emissary like Rudy Giuliani who the president seems to prioritize his take on Ukraine and his relationships with Ukrainians more than the seasoned professional who actually was there to advance U.S. interests, and instead this was only about Donald Trump`s personal and political interests.
WALLACE: In 9 1/2 hours, did it become clear to you whether Ambassador Volker believes that the military aid to help the Ukrainians protect themselves against Russia was tied to carrying out Donald Trump`s political request about dirtying up the Bidens?
SWALWELL: I`ll leave it at this. We have evidence now that there were State Department officials who believed that it was tied to whether or not Ukraine would participate and help Donald Trump in his upcoming election. So we have a responsibility now to further investigation that.
But again, you don`t have to go much farther than Donald Trump`s own confession and the transcript or the call readout that he provided, where he said, I have a favor to ask, though. Most people don`t say, hey, this is a quid pro quo. He came pretty damn close.
WALLACE: He sure did. Congressman Eric Swalwell, member of the House Intelligence Committee, appreciate you spending some time with us.
SWALWELL: My pleasure.
WALLACE: Let me bring in to our conversation, Ambassador Michael McFaul. He is a former ambassador to Russia under President Obama.
Thank you for coming back, you and I talked at 4:00. And you know ambassador Volker. At 4:00, we were just learning a little bit about this 9-1/2-hour deposition, it hadn`t wrapped up yet.
But if you could respond to what the congressman just said that he didn`t answer directly but after 9 1/2 hours of testimony, he believes there are State Department officials who understand that the military aid was connected in some way to that request to dirty up the Bidens?
MICHAEL MCFAUL, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO RUSSIA: Well, that`s because there`s another ambassador, an acting ambassador, another -- not a household name, Nicolle, his name is Bill Taylor. He`s a former ambassador to Ukraine that went out there and is serving as acting ambassador, and now, reporting says that this is crazy to link those two things in a conversation with Mr. Volker and our E.U. ambassador.
And I just want to underscore another piece that connects some of these dots. If you go back and look who was on the delegation, the presidential delegation to the inauguration to President Zelensky, it was led by Secretary Perry. But Kurt Volker was also on that trip. And the E.U. ambassador, Ambassador Sondland, was also on that trip.
Those are the two ambassadors, Volker and Sondland, that are now writing this statement to try to pressure Zelensky to investigate Hunter Biden. And I think that -- I want to just underscore, it is highly unusual for the E.U. ambassador, he is a political appointee, he`s there because he gave money to President Trump, to be involved in matters dealing with Ukraine.
And the other thing I just want to say about Mr. Volker, he is a seasoned diplomat. You`re right about that. But he was an unpaid official working on this and was not the special envoy to all of the Ukraine. He`s supposed to be working to end the war in the Donbass.
I`m sure he got tangled in this. I know Kurt well. He probably doesn`t like to be tangled in this. But their writing that statement to put pressure on President Zelensky I think is inappropriate behavior for State Department officials.
WALLACE: And would you surmise that being someone who knows what diplomatic norms are and are not, that he spent 9-1/2-hours and he became the first witness in the impeachment inquiry because he sees this as you do, or do you think he`s in there sort of fighting for his own legal and political equities?
MCFAUL: So, I obviously don`t know. I want to say I`m speculating.
But I think Ambassador Volker signed up to this job to try to end the war in Donbass. I`ve seen him many times while doing that job. He was valiantly trying to do that.
In the middle of all that, President Trump, with his other special envoy, Rudy Giuliani, decides that the only thing they care about with Ukraine is, one, investigating Hunter Biden and the corruption, quote unquote, of the vice president, and to underscore, there has been zero evidence to substantiate that allegation. And two, he wants to get Putin off the hook and blame the Ukrainians for the interference in 2016.
And my guess is, and I`m just guessing here, Ambassador Volker is trying to create a relationship between President Zelensky and President Trump, and he thinks, well, if I can just get Zelensky to say this statement on the record, maybe they can repair that relationship.
And, you know, I think it was the wrong thing to do but I can understand why you might be dragged into that muck if you`re trying to do your job vis-a-vis ending the war in Ukraine.
WALLACE: Let me ask you to take a step back and from a diplomatic lens and U.S. foreign policy hat on, how weird is it that they had to cajole this whole situation, when the actual policy question at hand is protecting an American ally from Russia?
MCFAUL: You know, I`m so glad you asked that, because again, based on the reporting, and I`m just reading the reporting like you, but they`re going out of their way to get the president of Ukraine to make a statement to appease the president of the United States who wants to investigate his political opponent, right? Why isn`t there somebody that walks into the oval office and says, Mr. President, this is wrong, Mr. President, we have national security interests in defending the sovereignty of Ukraine. We are seeking to deter Russia from what they`re doing in Ukraine.
Why didn`t the national security adviser do that? Why didn`t Secretary Pompeo do it? He`s claimed on the record now he was on the call because he really knew the policy well. Why isn`t he the one telling the president, you can`t do this, this is a cockamamie scheme, there are no facts here, Mr. Giuliani is not an expert on Ukraine, he doesn`t know who Mr. Shokin is, he doesn`t know who Mr. Lutsenko is, you got to clean this up and conduct the policy to advance the interests of the president of the United States?
That, after all, is the oath of office that the president took. And why somebody wouldn`t just tell him that, seriously, we have to know why everybody is so afraid of this guy that they won`t tell him you can`t do that?
WALLACE: Well, it reminds me of the explanation that former acting director of the FBI, Andy McCabe, gives for opening the full investigation into whether Donald Trump was wittingly or unwittingly advancing Russia`s national security interests, because once again, the kind of almost reflexive U.S. foreign policy to aid an American ally, to help them protect themselves against Russia, is not on the other side of a red line, it`s up for grabs, in what you describe as a scheme.
And I wonder if you think that is worthy of more probing, of understanding just how many people were in on a scheme.
MCFAUL: I think that`s an excellent question. I would love to know what Secretary Perry and Ambassadors Volker and the others on that delegation were discussing with Mr. Zelensky months before this phone call, right? That was a trip Vice President Pence was supposed to go on, they downgraded it. It seems to me the policy towards Ukraine got hijacked by a focus on two objectives, you know, undermining the story that Russia -- not the story, the facts that Russia intervened in our election in 2016, and searching for dirt on the Bidens and everything else got put to the side.
I think we really need to know when this started and how many people were involved in it. It sounds like it was more than just one phone call.
WALLACE: It sure does. Ambassador, we always end up with more questions than answers, but for that I`m grateful to you.
MCFAUL: Sure, thanks for having me.
WALLACE: Former U.S. ambassador to Russia, thank you so much for being here.
We have a lot more to get to on what has become yet another nonstop news day, including the not-so-veiled request from the president to another foreign power. That`s just ahead.
WALLACE: President Trump already under threat of impeachment for asking the president of Ukraine to investigate his political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden, he did it last July in a phone call that the White House at first tried to keep secret. So, it makes it even more puzzling that today the president`s impulse was to do the same thing, again, only louder, in front of the cameras and in public.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: Mr. President, what exactly did you hope Zelensky would do about the Bidens after your phone call? Exactly.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I would think if they were honest about it, they would start a major investigation into the Bidens. It`s a very simple answer. They should investigate the Bidens because how does a company that`s newly formed and all these companies, if you -- and by the way, likewise, China should start an investigation into the Bidens, because what happened to China is just about as bad as what happened with -- with Ukraine.
REPORTER: Have you asked President Xi to investigate Biden?
TRUMP: I haven`t, but it`s certainly something we can start thinking about.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WALLACE: That really happened. So, if the first potential article of impeachment is Ukraine, might China be article number two?
Joining us now is Matt Miller, former chief spokesman for the Justice Department.
Thank you for being here with us, Matt. Just -- you and I had so many conversations over the last two and a half years. What did you think when you saw Donald Trump seek out and ask in the case of China, really threaten them with all the leverage, in his words, that he has over China, if they don`t cooperate with his political efforts?
MATTHEW MILLER, FORMER CHIEF SPOKESMAN FOR THE JUSTICE DEPARTMENT: You know, in one sense, it`s stunning to see an American president stand there in front of the White House and launch a brazen attack on the rule of law and democracy in the country. It`s hard to say anybody could be surprised at Donald Trump doing this. This is the same person who has a candidate called on Russia to interfere in the election in 2016. Famously, said, Russia, if you`re listening.
We just recently found out that, you know, he told the Russian foreign minister and Russian ambassador in the Oval Office that he wasn`t worried about their interference. And, remember, earlier this year, when he told George Stephanopoulos that he would welcome, you know, interference from a foreign adversary in the election. And he backtracked from that remark under pressure but I think it was always cheer that he meant it.
And so, to see him standing there and say it today, it`s not really surprising but I think it adds real urgency to what the Democrats are doing in the House and trying to impeach him, because what it means is he`s not going to stop inviting foreign countries to help him in the election. It`s not just going to be Ukraine. Now, add another country to the list. I`m sure we`ll add more as we get closer to November 2020.
And so, what it does is raise the stakes for impeachment because it means as long as he`s in office, we may not have a free and fair election in this country. And that is an alarming thing to say in the United States of America.
WALLACE: You know, I remember all the post, sort of, 9/11 analysis was about our failure of imagination, to fail to imagine what threats we face. I wonder if we are engaged in the same sort of failure of imagination. We are only having this conversation, Democrats are only proceeding with impeachment, they didn`t move to impeachment after the other two incidents you named, Russia, are you listening, or telling George Stephanopoulos, yes, I would listen to a foreign power. They moved to it after a whistleblower complaint revealed the substance of this one phone call.
Are we -- are we -- I know there`s a political need for impeachment to be focused, but are we failing to imagine what else goes on?
MILLER: Look, I think -- I think impeachment ought to be focused on the thing that`s most likely to lead to conviction in the Senate. But the reason to impeach the president, the reason to try to remove him from office, is because all of the things he does to threaten democracy in the country.
It`s not just his invitation to foreign leaders to interfere in the election. Look what he`s done with trying to build a wall, which he believes building a wall before the election is key to his survival. So you see him pushing the bureaucracy, inviting people to break the law to seize lands, telling them, if you break the law, I will pardon you, something like his invitation to China and Ukraine to interfere, the kind of thing that would have been inconceivable two or three years ago.
It would have been inconceivable in the beginning of his administration. But now in this later stages where you see the guardrails come off and there aren`t people around him to tell him no, who will push back. I think we do have to ask the question, is there anything that you can imagine that he wouldn`t do, any norm he wouldn`t violate, any law he wouldn`t break to win re-election?
I have a hard time coming up with some way to answer that question.
WALLACE: Susan Glasser writes in "The New Yorker" that Donald Trump would appear to be trying to self-impeach. What do you -- what do the Democrats do with all this evidence that Donald Trump is providing about his own guilt?
MILLER: Well, they`re going to obviously have to use it. But I think -- I think you make the point, whatever percentage you attach to him being impeached, convicted, removed from office right now, I think it`s hard for that to be accurate because you can`t factor in how he`s going to behave. Look, in just the week and a half now since Nancy Pelosi said the House is going to proceed with impeachment, you`ve seen the president really kind of spiral out of control.
I think the display we saw yesterday, it was just full of self pity and anger, followed up today with these invitations to foreign countries to interfere. You know, self-impeaching is one way to put it. The other way is, he is possibly changing public opinion in a way that`s even more effective than what Democrats in the House can do, and that can have a real, you know, real say on his ultimate political prospects.
WALLACE: It`s a good point. And lots of potty words yesterday which break right through and doesn`t help him where he`s already hurting with suburban moms.
My last question is public opinion. CBS had the polls swinging to 55 percent of the public supporting the commencement of an impeachment inquiry. Does that embolden Democrats or reassure Democrats? We`ve had lots of conversations about how wary they are about impeachment.
MILLER: Yes, I think they`re emboldened, but also emboldened by the president`s behavior and the defense he`s making for himself. We saw the last week, his defense has largely been to gaslight the public, saying what you saw in this transcript isn`t what happened, you may think you see me pressuring a foreign leader, but no, that wasn`t pressure, it was a perfect call.
You saw him shift strategies today. And instead of gaslighting, now he`s trying to move the goalposts and say, now it`s acceptable to pressure a foreign leader. The problem is that is it`s an overwhelmingly unpopular position with the American public. Poll after poll after poll says Americans reject that position. So, if that`s the strategy, if that`s the message he`s going to push, he`s putting the Republican senators as the ultimate jury in an impeachment trial, in a very difficult position.
One way he could have done is say, well, maybe I went too far but it`s not impeachable. That`s not what he`s done, he`s asking Republicans to endorse the proposition that inviting foreign interference is OK, and I think that`s a very, very tricky thing for them to do.
WALLACE: Tricky is one word for it.
Matt Miller, former chief spokesman for the Justice Department, I appreciate you staying up with me.
MILLER: Thank you.
WALLACE: Still ahead, more on Vice President Pence`s see no evil, hear no evil strategy. We have "The Washington Post" reporter who broke that news, straight ahead.
WALLACE: So, today, the vice president was in Scottsdale, Arizona, doing what we usually think of as normal stuff for a vice president. But after a roundtable with Hispanic leaders, when it was time to take questions from reporters, the vice president got asked about, what else, the impeachment scandal currently engulfing his boss, the president.
Vice President Pence got asked about the allegation that the president leaned on Ukraine to investigate the last vice president and current Trump political rival Joe Biden.
Pence`s opinion? Go for it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When you hold the second highest office in the land, it comes with unique responsibilities, not just to be above impropriety but to be above the appearance of impropriety. Clearly in this case there are legitimate questions that ought to be asked.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WALLACE: Hmm. When Vice President Pence said legitimate questions that ought to be asked, he was essentially parroting and defending the president`s unfounded and debunked conspiracy theories about Joe Biden, even as the vice president has become the latest high-profile administration figure to become embroiled in the scandal. "The Washington Post" reported last night that Pence was involved in Trump`s alleged efforts to pressure Ukraine. Aides to Pence said he had either not known or not understood what the president was allegedly doing when he asked the president of Ukraine for a favor.
But there he was today, in Arizona, telling reporters that the president did nothing wrong in that call. As this scandal continues to hang over the White House, more people in Trump`s orbit are coming under more and more scrutiny. Even before the reporting this week about Pence, this there was Attorney General Bill Barr whose name came up several times during President Trump`s now infamous July 25th conversation with the Ukrainian president. Then it was Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who finally admitted that he was on the line listening during Trump`s July call with the Ukrainian leader. Also that he was passed oppo documents by Rudy Giuliani that targeted Joe Biden and the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine before she was removed from her post.
The vice president`s staff is now scrambling to try to distance him from the scandal, maintaining that while he personally delivered the message that military aid was being withheld, he was totally and completely unaware of Trump`s prior request for dirt on Biden.
Today, he found himself having to explain that dubious position to skeptical reporters.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: Can you say what you spoke about with President Zelensky when you met with him in Poland and whether the Bidens detail up, whether you mentioned the Bidens at all with him?
BIDEN: Well, as I said the day after that meeting, we focused entirely in my meeting with President Zelensky of Ukraine on the issues that President Trump had raised as a concern, namely the lack of support from European partners to Ukraine and real issues of corruption in Ukraine. Those were the topics that we discussed. That was all we discussed.
But the simple truth is that those are the same issues that the president raised with President Zelensky in their call. Anyone who looks at the president`s transcript will see that the president was raising issues that were appropriate, that were of genuine interest to the American people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WALLACE: Joining us now is Greg Miller, national security correspondent to "The "Washington Post."
It`s great to have you here. I`m a fan of all your reporting. But this story just jumps off the page, how is it going to land with the guy in the office with no corners? It seemed to me and I wonder what your thoughts are, that Pence did a little bit of dancing today.
GREG MILLER, NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yes, I mean, I think he`s in a tough spot. He has so far in this presidency walked this tightrope where he sort of is supporting the president at every step but simultaneously keeping some distance away from him, enough distance that he hasn`t been terribly tainted by all these scandals.
But I think in our story today we were trying to write about just how difficult it is to kind of accept that assertion of obliviousness in this case given how many flags there were swirling all around the vice president while he`s delivering these messages, these powerful and important messages to this new leader in Ukraine.
WALLACE: I mean -- and obliviousness is the perfect word, because if you take what pence said in the tape we played, you have to believe that he didn`t know that when he said investigate corruption, what Zelensky heard was investigate Biden. Is that your understanding of Pence`s position today?
MILLER: I think that is Pence`s position. And, you know, I`ve had many senior officials, including senior officials in this administration, say they find it highly implausible that Pence didn`t read the transcript of that July 25th call between Trump and Zelensky before Pence then goes off to meet with Zelensky. It would border on malpractice for him not to do that when he`s meeting a new leader, with a such a thin resume at that point, frankly, that Zelensky had.
You would want to know if you were vice president of the United States, who you were talking, what has he been like in conversations with the president. That would be the first place you turn. But even if you accept that claim from Pence in this case, he would have to ignore everything that Giuliani was doing and saying in a very public fashion, and all of these other alarms that were happening in and around him at the White House.
WALLACE: The other pieces in the public record include your reporting that Pence`s national security adviser was listening in on the call.
WALLACE: So you have to believe that Pence took too much Ambien and wasn`t awake long enough on that flight to read the briefing paper, which had to have included the transcript, and that Pence`s national security adviser, it would seem like a fireable offense if the national security adviser devoted just to the vice president doesn`t brief the vice president about a call he listened in on about the world leader he`s about to talk to.
MILLER: Thank you for reminding me of that, that was one of the most fortunate facts in our story, that yes, the vice president`s national security adviser was on that call, was in the Situation Room listening to Trump speak with Zelensky on July 25th. And astonishingly, the officials we talked to said that national security adviser, Keith Kellogg, basically asserts he saw nothing unusual or heard nothing unusual, nothing jumped out at him that required any kind of response or reaction in that call.
So, I mean, you`re really caught here when these guys stake out a position like that. I mean, either you`re not paying attention and kind of sleeping through this stuff, or you`re so inured at this point to the kind of outrageous things that happen each and every day that you`re no longer capable of distinguishing something when it comes along as egregious as this. You know, asking the leader of another country to dig up dirt on a Democratic presidential candidate no longer registers with you as a problem.
WALLACE: It`s an unbelievable state of affairs.
Greg Miller, thank you so much for this reporting and for spending time with us. We`re grateful.
MILLER: Thank you.
WALLACE: Up next, there`s one story that`s been flying under the radar for the last few weeks but I suspect that won`t be the case much longer. That story straight ahead. Stay with us.
WALLACE: OK, I`m going to go out on a limb here and say maybe it`s time for Rachel to start playing the lottery.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHEN COLBERT, TV HOST/COMEDIAN: We`re talking about this impeachment story right now. What is not being talked about, in your opinion that we should be talking about because we`re so obsessed with right now?
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST, "TRMS": What`s being squeezed out of the news?
MADDOW: So much. For example, there`s another whistle-blower.
COLBERT: What -- what?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WALLACE: That was Rachel and Stephen Colbert.
Less than 48 hours ago, and lo and behold, that story she was talking about is blowing up. The reporter who broke it joins us next.
WALLACE: So you`re forgiven if you didn`t realize there are two whistleblowers. But there are. One has to do with President Trump pressuring Ukraine to dig up dirt on Joe Biden. The other has to do with the president`s taxes.
Now, that whistle-blower has been flying under the radar. We get our first heads up in August when the famously understated chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Richie Neal, let it slip, almost as an afterthought.
Under federal law, Chairman Neal has the right to request the president`s tax returns, which he did, back in April. Ever since, Chairman Neal has been quietly arm wrestling the Treasury Department for them. That case was a real sleeper until late August when Chairman Neal suddenly released a mountain of legal filings and buried in there was this bombshell.
Quote: on July 29th, 2019, the committee received an unsolicited -- the word unsolicited is underlined in here -- an unsolicited communication from a federal employee setting forth credible allegations of, quote, evidence of possible misconduct, specifically, potential, quote, inappropriate efforts to influence the mandatory audit program of a president`s income tax returns.
That was in August. Ways and Means Chairman Richie Neal revealing a whistleblower had alleged possible misconduct related to the audit of the president`s taxes. For weeks, there`s been radio silence until now.
Last week, Chairman Neal revealed he`s trying to make the whistleblower complaint public. This week he said the house is sending their top lawyer to go talk to the whistleblower.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
REPORTER: There`s been a report that there`s another whistleblower complaint about efforts to influence the audit of the president`s taxes. Have you seen that complaint?
REP. RICHARD NEAL (D-MA): It is accurate to say that there has been an individual who has stepped forward and made some allegations, and the legal counsel for the Ways and Means Committee, Doug Letter, who has argued in front of the Supreme Court, they are proceeding on the basis of trying to interview the individual.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
WALLACE: So, all of a sudden, there are all these smoke signals that something is happening with this second whistle-blower. And tonight, finally, "The Washington Post" fills in some of the blanks.
They report that the whistleblower is a, quote, career official at the IRS who alleges that at least one political appointee in the Treasury Department attempted to improperly interfere with the annual audit of the president or vice president`s tax returns, a process that is, quote, supposed to be walled off from political appointees and interference.
Joining us now is Tom Hamburger of "The Washington Post," one of the reporters who broke that story.
Tom, thanks for being here, and congratulations on this. Viewers of this show have been following this story for a long time.
How did you reach this breakthrough, and what`s your understanding of the latest?
TOM HAMBURGER, REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, we did understand, as you pointed out there were hints. Chairman Neal had alluded to it in a court filing for that ongoing case he has seeking the president`s tax returns.
And once the very explosive charges from the intelligence community whistle-blower burst forth, there was more attention looking back. Is there a second whistle-blower? And we found that this second whistle- blower has emerged. We were able to talk briefly with this individual. And we talked also with Chairman Meal`s staff, with the whistle-blower complaint submitted to Chairman Neal and to Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley.
We got confirmation that there is such a complaint, and as you just described, we understand the complaint deals with potential interference and audit of the president`s tax returns.
WALLACE: And you alluded to the intelligence community whistleblower. That complaint becoming public changed everything happening in Washington. Is there any timeline or prediction that this whistleblower complaint will become public in a similar manner?
HAMBURGER: Well, the timeline isn`t precisely clear, but we do know that Democrats on the Ways and Means Committee are proceeding hoping to make it public. That`s what Chairman Neal has said. And just tonight after our story appeared, the ranking member of the Finance Committee, Senator Wyden of Oregon, came forward and said, this is something we need to investigate and we need a bipartisan review of this complaint as soon as possible.
So, will it emerge publicly, will more details emerge? We haven`t seen the complaint, only heard about it from those on Capitol Hill who have seen it. But Richard Neal has described the complaint as serious and that he has a sense of urgency in trying to find out whether there was, in fact, political interference in an audit of the president`s tax returns.
WALLACE: I cannot think of anything, not even this country`s state secrets, that is guarded more ferociously than Donald Trump`s taxes. Do you have any indication, any reporting it could be an audit related to the president or vice president, do you have any indication about what the substance is that makes up this complaint?
HAMBURGER: So, we -- our understanding is that -- and this complaint is not, as we understand it from those who have seen it on Capitol Hill, does not deal specifically with the president or the vice president`s taxes. But rather with some kind of pressure that was placed upon those career IRS officials who are tasked annually with reviewing the president and vice president`s tax returns. And that`s done in a process that is meant to be fully insulated from political pressure.
And what this whistleblower complaint deals with is an allegation that there was, in fact, some political pressure applied on those who were reviewing the audit.
WALLACE: It`s an unbelievable piece of reporting. We`re grateful to have it, grateful to have you spend some time with us.
HAMBURGER: Thank you.
WALLACE: "The Washington Post`s" Tom Hamburger, thank you.
More to come tonight. Don`t go anywhere. We`ll be right back.
WALLACE: On Tuesday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo sent a letter to House Democrats essentially telling them to bug off and threatening to block the depositions of State Department officials called to testify in the impeachment inquiry. But tucked in at the end of that letter, the secretary of state also said that he plans to respond to a congressional subpoena calling for documents related to the Ukraine investigation. He said that he intends to respond by the deadline, which is October 4th, which of course is tomorrow. So, it will be interesting to see what, if anything, gets produced tomorrow.
Also tomorrow, the House Intel Committee plans to hold a closed-door meeting with Michael Atkinson. Now, he`s the inspector general for the intelligence community and unlike the last time Atkinson was on the Hill, the whistleblower complaint is now out in the open. So presumably he should be a lot more free to speak his mind in front of congressional investigators.
And if all that were not enough, Rachel will join me on my show, "DEADLINE: WHITE HOUSE" tomorrow at 4:00 to talk about all this, plus her new book, "Blowout." And then good news, the best news, she`ll be right back here in this chair tomorrow night. Quite a Friday, as she would say, eat your Wheaties.
That does it for us tonight.
Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL".
Hi, I never get to say good evening, Lawrence.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END