CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST, "ALL IN": That time is now is everything actually. That`s sort of our lives.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Whereas on the Rachel -- on the Chris Hayes show, that time is now. On THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW, it`s usually like, that time is 1917, in September.
MADDOW: Anyway! Thank you, my friend. Much appreciated.
HAYES: Take care.
MADDOW: And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.
Speaking of history, the two independent special prosecutors who pursued the Watergate scandal during the Nixon administration were Archibald Cox, in the first instance, and Leon Jaworski. Jaworski ended up getting appointed after President Nixon initiated the so-called Saturday Night Massacre, when he forced the firing of first Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox. He had to fire his way through the upper echelons of the Justice Department, until he`d find someone who would go ahead and fire Archibald Cox for him.
I mean, ultimately, we know how all of that ended, right? Leon Jaworski got Archibald Cox`s old job. He, much to Nixon`s dismay, carried on with the investigation that Archibald Cox started. The evidence that had been produced over the course of that investigation was ultimately handed over to Congress in a document that has become known as the Watergate road map.
Congress used that evidence that was collected by the Watergate special prosecutors to themselves draw up really damning articles of impeachment against Richard Nixon. And then it all came to an end. Nixon, knowing that he was not going to survive an impeachment vote, ended up resigning the presidency.
But whatever happened to old Archibald Cox? The first Watergate special prosecutor, the guy who was fired at the end of the Saturday Night Massacre?
Well, turns out after Nixon fired him, he landed at a good government organization called Common Cause. And at Common Cause, just ten years after Nixon resigned, in the year 1984, common cause, under the leadership of Watergate special prosecutor, Archibald Cox, they did something they had never done before. They issued a public report and sent a letter to every single United States senator, urging, for the first time ever, that a nominee for a cabinet position be rejected by the Senate.
Common Cause had never done something like this before, but they decided that this particular nominee was so bad, so dangerous, had such a terrible record, particularly when it came to ethical issues and corruption issues, that they just decided they had to take a stand. Archibald Cox warned the Senate that this nominee had a, quote, lack of ethical sensitivity, that he had shown a blindness to abuse of position.
So, that good government group, Common Cause, they did kind of go out on a limb, telling senators, say "no" to this guy. We`ve never said this before about a cabinet official, but this one, do not let this one be confirmed. That nominee they were so opposed to was named Ed Meese. Ronald Reagan had nominated Ed Meese to become attorney general.
Now, Ed Meese, had, in fact, by this point, sort of already had his share of scandal, even before Reagan nominated him to be attorney general. Meese had been involved in the Reagan campaign when Reagan won the presidency in 1980, and the transition was underway with the Carter administration getting ready to leave and the Reagan folks getting ready to come in and take over.
To run the operations of the Reagan transition, the incoming folks had set up a financial entity called the transition trust. And during the transition, before the start of the Reagan administration, that transition trust wrote Ed Meese a $10,000 check. Hmm, which he then promptly deposited in his own personal bank account.
And what the transition trust said that $10,000 was for was something they recorded as moving expenses. Now, it`s, of course, kosher for there to be a reasonably well-funded effort to set up an on ramp for the new administration to give them office space and get all their ducks in the row and start doing briefings with the outgoing administration, right? But $10,000 checks for moving expenses, for one individual person from the campaign. That`s not right.
And after Ed Meese was informed that him taking a $10,000 check from the transition for moving expenses is something that would likely be considered a crime, he took swift action. And you might think in such a circumstance, particularly at the outset of a new administration that really wasn`t looking for scandal right out of the gate, you might think what you would do in such a circumstance, if only to avoid being a distraction at the start of your candidate`s new presidency, you might think what you would do is return the 10,000 bucks, right?
Oh, no, in Ed Meese`s case, they just had them erase the designation that the check was for moving expenses and he instead had him re-categorize it. So now the $10,000 check to Ed Meese would be listed as consulting fees. And then he just kept the money.
Oh, it can`t be moving expenses? That`s a crime? Well, we`ll just erase that and call it something else. Ka-ching!
That was Ed Meese during the transition before Ronald Reagan was even sworn in. Ed Meese then became a staffer during the Reagan White House as a White House official. He got himself involved in further scandal. He came under investigation by a court-appointed special counsel, who looked at him for multiple allegations of corruption, specifically, Ed Meese was alleged to have given a whole bunch of different people jobs in the administration after those people had provided him various forms of financial assistance.
So when Ronald Reagan said, after all of that scandal, that he would put Ed Meese in charge of the Justice Department and make him the top law enforcement official in the country, this good government group, you know, Common Cause, run by Archibald Cox of Watergate investigation fame, they took a hard look at Ed Meese`s record, including the independent special counsel`s report on those allegations of corruption against Meese as a White House official. Meese was not criminally charged after that independent counsel did that investigation into him. And because he wasn`t indicted, he claimed he had been totally vindicated by that investigation, turns out if you actually looked at the report of that investigation, Meese had not been totally vindicated. The report was very critical of his judgment and his ethical standards.
Archibald Cox took a hard look at that report. Common Cause produced a digest of that report, that was easier to understand for the public. They took a look at Meese`s history and decided that for the first time in the history of Common Cause, they would prevail upon senators to please not vote for this guy. Please, not confirm this guy as attorney general.
He nevertheless was confirmed as attorney general, and thus started one of the more disastrous terms in U.S. history for a sitting attorney general. I mean, probably the thing for which Ed Meese is both remembered by both his supporters and detractors is that Ronald Reagan put him in charge of a presidential commission on porn. Ed Meese was assigned to head up the anti-pornography crusade of the Reagan administration, which resulted in, among other things, a 2,000-page report, which was very poorly received, because it did not appear to be at all based on any empirical evidence.
Nevertheless, Attorney General Meese formed what he called an obscenity strike force inside federal law enforcement. He then led the Justice Department to prioritize new and creative means of bringing prosecutions to try to blot out and eliminate the scourge of pornography from America. And while that must have been exhausting, Ed Meese also became the sort of animating legal force in the Reagan administration behind the Iran Contra scandal.
Some day, someone will make an amazing blockbuster movie about how astonish the Iran Contra scandal was, because I think I`m in the L.A., I`m keep thinking about that. Some Hollywood person out there, you should option Jane Mayer`s old book about the Iran Contra scandal. It should be -- anyway.
But for all of the craziness of that scandal and the indictments and the crazy cowboy adventuring of that scandal and the miracle that Ronald Reagan did not get impeached for that scandal, the bull`s-eye at the center of Iran Contra is that it was just so blatantly, blatantly and knowing knowingly illegal. Right before the Iran Contra scandal happened, right before the Reagan administration did what they did, Congress kind of knew what Reagan wanted to do and they passed a law to stop him.
Congress passed a law, there was an American law in effect and on the books, which said, the Reagan administration can`t give aid to the Contras in Nicaragua. And then the Reagan administration definitely gave aid to the Contras in Nicaragua, secretly, even though there was an explicit law prohibiting them from doing so. They sold missiles illegally to Iran to do it, to get the money that they were -- I mean, this whole crazy thing.
But the reason the Reagan administration ended up getting in so much trouble for Iran Contra is because they just blatantly broke that law, which specifically said they couldn`t do what they did. And the reason they broke that law, ultimately, is because of Ed Meese. Because Ed Meese, Ronald Reagan`s attorney general, very soberly concluded, when it comes to following the law, presidents don`t really need to do that.
Yes, there was an explicit law just passed by Congress that very clearly and unequivocally intended to stop the Reagan administration from doing this thing that everybody knew they wanted to do. When the Reagan administration went ahead and did it anyway, Ed Meese was like meh, I know there`s a law, but if the president does it, it`s not really illegal.
The laws don`t actually apply to presidential behavior. You want to break the law, Mr. President, I got your back. That was his legal advice. That was the legal spine on which they built the whole Iran Contra scheme, for which I contend, it is a miracle that Reagan never got impeached.
During that Iran Contra scandal and the subsequent big investigation into it, a whole bunch of documents that Ed Meese was supposed to be securing and preserving for that investigation mysteriously ended up getting shredded by White House officials. The stuff that Meese was supposed to be making sure was retained. Miraculously, all that stuff ended up in the shredder.
This is when he was serving as attorney general of the United States. Ed Meese also, as attorney general, came under scrutiny yet again from yet another independent counsel for a whole new raft of new corruption charges while he was serving as A.G. That independent counsel was reported contemporaneously at the time to be investigating, quote, whether Meese violated the law in helping a New York defense firm obtain an Army contract, whether Meese violated the law in contacting officials on behalf of a friend who put together a $1 billion Mideast oil pipeline project. And whether Meese violated the law in participating in telephone regulation matters at a time he was trying to sell his own stock in phone companies.
So, he`s under investigation for all of that alleged criminal behavior while he`s serving as attorney general, the first one that I mentioned there, the Army contract thing. That ended up being a doozy. Meese`s friend, who he helped hook up with that Army contract, and his own financial adviser, who he shared with that friend and a bunch of other people all ended up getting indicted and convicted and going to jail in that scandal. It was called the Wedtech scandal. Meese ultimately had to testify in some of those cases and was forced to admit from the stand that he had been way more involved in that scandal than he had publicly admitted to.
But this, again, was while he was serving as attorney general of the United States, all of this stuff was happening. He`s under investigation for all of those criminal allegations. And because of that, under Ed Meese at the Justice Department, there was a sort of famous revolt at the Justice Department sort of executive level right underneath him. I mean, he`s the attorney general, the number one official in the Justice Department, the number two official in the Justice Department is the deputy attorney general, the job that Rod Rosenstein famously had early in the Trump administration.
Well, under Ed Meese, his deputy attorney general resigned in protest of having to work under somebody like Ed Meese. Also, the head of the criminal division at the Justice Department resigned in protest at having to work under somebody like Ed Meese, who was under all of these multiple criminal investigations while still running the Justice Department himself. Four other top officials resigned at the same time, along with those top Justice Department officials.
All of those officials had actually conveyed a demand to the White House. They told White House chief of staff James Baker that Reagan needed to remove Ed Meese for the good of the country, needed to get him out as attorney general. Get him out for the good of the country, the good of the Justice Department, if Reagan wouldn`t do that, they said they would all resign in protest.
They all ended up resigning in protest, because Reagan wouldn`t remove Ed Meese. He still liked Ed Meese. He was his longtime friend. He wouldn`t let him go.
Ultimately, the only way they were able to pry Ed Meese out of the Justice Department is when that last independent counsel who was investigating him released his own sort of mammoth report on the corruption allegations against Meese. The day the independent counsel submitted his report on Wedtech and on the working on phone stuff when he was trying to sell his phone stocks and all those other investigations, it was only the day he submitted his report on those corruption allegations against Ed Meese, that day was the day Meese finally resigned.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ED MEESE, FORMER ATTORNEY GENERAL: Where I intend --
REPORTER: Attorney General Edwin Meese today with a surprising announcement about his future.
MEESE: I have informed the president that I will be leaving the administration towards the end of July or early in August, in order to accept new opportunities in the private sector.
ANNOUNCER: "NBC Nightly News" with Tom Brokaw.
TOM BROKAW, NBC NIGHTLY NEWS ANCHOR: Good evening.
Attorney General Edwin Meese`s announcement that he will resign by the end of July or early August came shortly after the special prosecutor today filed a lengthy report. As NBC`s James Folk reports tonight, even if Meese escapes prosecution, he leaves behind a record that has been criticized by Republican and Democrat alike.
REPORTER: When the special prosecutor`s report was carried into the courthouse after a year-long investigation, Meese was on a drug-busts trip to California. Meese did not wait to read the report before telephoning the president to resign.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Ed Meese never ended up going to prison the way that Nixon`s attorney general, John Mitchell, did. But among all of the attorneys general we have ever had in this country, he`s really right up there in terms of having one of the most scandal-ridden, ethically challenged tenures at the top of the Justice Department. Up to and including the fact that he was the subject of multiple criminal investigations himself, and that last independent counsel ended up referring Meese`s conduct own Justice Department for review and potential censure.
And I mean, I know we in some ways, we`ve kind of got it bad right now. I think it`s helpful to look back on other times in U.S. history and remember that we have had it bad in some of the same ways in other times of our history, too, and we`ve figured out a way to make it through. So like the Ed Meese story is good to remember, the John Mitchell story is good to remember, when you look at the Justice Department under William Barr and you think about how bad it could get and how abused the Justice Department could be, like the Justice Department has been in pretty bad hands before, and there`s been consequences for it. And it`s worth keeping that in mind.
And you know, in the Ed Meese case, it turns out to be particularly instructive for us today in 2019, in part because of where all of these folks who were involved in his scandal-ridden tenure in Washington, where they all ended up. I mentioned that during Meese`s disastrous tenure as attorney general, other senior officials resigned when the White House wouldn`t remove Meese from his position. One of the very high-profile Justice Department guys to resign, the guy who was the head of the criminal division at the Justice Department, who stepped down in protest against Meese`s alleged corruption, his name was William Weld. Bill Weld.
Where did he end up? Well, today in 2019, he`s running for president as a Republican primary challenger to president Trump.
Where did Ed Meese himself end up? Well, Ed Meese is still around and kicking. Ed Meese himself today turned up at the White House because President Trump today awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest award he can give. And if time is a circle, it`s a circle in the form of a snake both biting on and choking on its own tail, because there is Ed Meese, literally the anti-pornography crusader, the guy who launched the obscenity strike force at the Justice Department, and dedicated himself to eliminating the scourge of pornography from America, there`s him today receiving his medal from the man you can see here in one of his several roles in Playboy features.
This was the Playboy film`s centerfold feature, sort of a soft core number from the year 2000. He also appeared in Playboy movies in the year 2001 and even way back in 11994, which was still within very reasonable memory of attorney general Ed Meese launching his presidential commission on pornography and his obscenity strike force with which he intended to wipe out all pornography in America.
Attorney General Ed Meese today appeared delighted to be receiving his medal today from the president who has been identified as individual one in a case that put his own lawyer in prison for breaking federal campaign finance laws in order to pay hush money to a very well-known porn star before the 2016 election at the direction of President Trump. Mr. Obscenity Strike Force Meese, as I said today, just appeared to be happy to be getting his medal.
And at this event today, with President Trump, he did go out of his way to give a shout-out, specifically, to President Trump`s current attorney general, who will likely be on the same page of the history books about a certain type of attorney general in the annals of the U.S. Justice Department.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MEESE: You have risen to continue the string of great attorneys general in this country and I certainly appreciate what you`re doing now. I must say, from my own experience, I understand what you`re going through now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Hats off to you, Bill Barr, I know you`re at. I`ve been there. You know, I didn`t get indicted in the end. Take heart. And now, look, you guys are giving me a medal.
So this was just another remarkable day in the news. I mean, Ed Meese is at the White House getting his medal, while simultaneously this White House was sending a letter to Congress insisting that as far as they`re concerned, this whole impeachment thing isn`t really happening. The letter was signed with an enormous signature from White House counsel Pat Cipollone today, not so much a legal argument from the White House counsel as a political argument about how presidents don`t really need to pay any attention to impeachments. It`s a very Meesean argument about laws and other forms of accountability just not applying to presidents.
I don`t know if they timed this specifically to happen on the day that Ed Meese was in the House, Ed Meese who claimed that their presidents don`t need to follow the law and preserve documents while they`re part of ongoing investigations, but this letter appearing while Ed Meese was in the White House getting a medal seemed particularly apt.
When we all woke up this morning and check the news, we learned that last night, after midnight, the State Department had contacted Gordon Sondland, U.S. ambassador to the E.U., who had been expected to appear before the impeachment committees today for a deposition. Sondland`s attorney said that although he had intended to give his deposition and hand over documents and he had flown to Washington specially for that purpose, the State Department in that 12:30 a.m. phone call intervened and told him not to show up today.
CNN later reporting that it was actually the White House counsel`s office that decided that Ambassador Sondland would not be allowed to testify today. The president online took credit himself for blocking Sondland from testifying, which might not have been wise, given the thing he`s blocking Sondland from testifying in is in his own impeachment proceedings.
Today, we also learned that the whistle-blower from the intelligence community who basically pulled the fire alarm to alert Congress and the country as to what was happening, the whistle-blower`s whose initial account of President Trump getting on the phone with the president of Ukraine and asking for help against his potential Democratic opponent in the 2020 election, that whistle-blower, we learned today, in addition to going to the CIA general counsel to notify the agency about that alleged crime and in addition to filing his official whistle-blower complaint with the intelligence community`s inspector general -- in addition to that, that same whistle-blower apparently, contemporaneously, at the time he learned for the first time about the president`s call where the president made this demand that this foreign country start investigating Joe Biden, the day he learned -- or as soon as he learned about that call, the whistle-blower apparently wrote up a contemporaneous note to file or kind of a note to self, memorializing what he had learned.
Fox News was first to report on this today. It was then picked up by ABC News and "The New York Times" and a number of other outlets. If you sort of piece together the different descriptions of that memo that the whistle- blower wrote to himself as soon as he learned about what happened on that call, we get a pretty good idea of the general vibe of it.
Fox News describes it as a two-page, single-spaced memo that was written only July 26th, the day after the Trump/Zelensky phone call. According to Fox, it starts with this, the following is a record of a conversation I had this afternoon with a White House official about the telephone call yesterday morning between President Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
According to ABC New, the memo then states that the White House official who spoke with the whistleblower described the call as, quote, crazy, quote, frightening, and completely lacking in substance related to national security. Quote, the official who listened to the entirety of the phone call was visibly shaken by what had transpired and seemed keen to inform a trusted colleague within the U.S. national security apparatus about the call.
So after that conversation, between the White House official and the whistleblower, the whistle-blower then says, quote, I render to my office and wrote up my best recollection of what I had heard.
This is what intelligence and law enforcement people are trained to do, right? Then "The New York Times" has this, purportedly, quoting directly from the memo. Quote: The White House official stated that there was already a conversation underway with White House lawyers about how to handle the discussion -- meaning the discussion between president Trump and the Ukrainian president on the phone call -- because, quote, in the official`s view, the president had clearly committed a criminal act by urging a foreign power to investigate a U.S. person for the purposes of advancing his own re-election bid in 2020.
Well, that memo from the whistle-blower was reportedly given to the inspector general of the intelligence community, who presumably used that memo as part of the basis of his own investigation, which we know led him to conclude that the whistleblower`s complaint was credible and urgent. The inspector general has now given that document to Congress, as they continue to look into the whistleblower`s allegations as part of these impeachment proceedings. And now it`s gone to Congress, presumably it is somebody in Congress who has leaked it to all of these different media outlets.
It does really put a spotlight on why the White House might desperately be trying to stop somebody like Gordon Sondland, ambassador to the E.U., from testifying in these impeachment proceedings, as he was supposed to do this morning. I mean, we know from Sondland`s own accounts and internal communications that he spoke to Trump right before the call with the Ukrainian president. That`s the call in which at least some White House officials concluded the president committed a crime.
We also know from Sondland`s communications that have already been disclosed as part of the impeachment probe that he was the one, specifically, who was both in contact directly and personally with the president on this matter and he specifically was pushing the Ukrainians not just to do this investigation into Biden, he was pushing for them to make a public announcement about it. I mean, if it was just a corruption matter, as the White House and some Republicans continue to insist, it shouldn`t have mattered whether or not the Ukrainians were going to make a public statement about their investigation of Biden, right? They should have only cared that an investigation was underway.
But what Sondland pushed them for was what he described as the deliverable that President Trump wanted here, was a public statement from the Ukrainian government about investigating Biden. And of course, the reason they wanted a public statement about the Ukrainian government about investigating Biden was so that that ginned up investigation would be announced out loud for public consumption for the kind of political effect that Trump wanted for his re-election effort.
It wouldn`t do him any good if all they did was investigate, not if Trump couldn`t crow about it, right? Not if the Republican Party couldn`t run ads about it.
Wisconsin Republican Senator Ron Johnson also says that Ambassador Sondland is the guy who directly told him that Trump was, in fact, looking for a quid pro quo from Ukraine. That he was specifically making Ukraine`s military aid from the United States contingent on Ukraine first giving them this Biden investigation that Trump figured would help his campaign.
So, yes, you can understand why they want to block Ambassador Gordon Sondland from testifying, no matter the cost. But the cost here is starting to get clearer, in part because the history is never far below the surface. I mean, alongside everything else today, there was the Justice Department, under William Barr, ordering -- arguing in federal court today to a federal judge that the Justice Department shouldn`t have to hand over any evidence in its possession about these allegations against the president.
And when pressed by a seemingly incredulous judge, Bill Barr`s Justice Department argued today in court that Nixon himself, effectively, should never have been impeached for Watergate, because Congress should have never been given the evidence against Nixon, which Archibald Cox and Leon Jaworski assembled against him in the Watergate investigation before they put it into a road map and handed it to Congress, which allowed Congress to draw up its impeachment articles. What Bill Barr`s Justice Department argued in court today is that Congress never should have been given that evidence, because that evidence was about the president.
Here`s your medal, Ed Meese.
Judge Beryl Howell responded to that argument today from the Justice Department lawyer by saying, quote, wow, OK. As I said, the department, meaning the Justice Department, is taking extraordinary positions in this case.
When a federal judge looks at you and says, wow, really, that`s your argument? Beyond seeming utterly unpersuaded by what Bill Barr`s Justice Department is trying to make happen here in terms of the president`s immunity from all investigation, like the other federal judge who ruled against the president yesterday in the tax returns case, the case derived from the porn star hush money scandal, like that ruling in the tax case yesterday in New York, in this ruling today in D.C., this was a second federal judge in two days who not only scoffed at the Justice Department`s arguments that the president can`t be prosecuted or investigated, but this in two days was the second federal judge who went further than that, to question the long-standing Justice Department memos that say that a president can`t be criminally charged.
So, if judges are now starting to go at those Justice Department memos that say that presidents are immune from prosecution, it`s starting to look like the White House and Bill Barr may have bitten off way more than they can chew.
So this is all happening very fast. It`s all happening at once. Grand jury materials collected during the Mueller investigation, which may be relevant to the current impeachment proceedings, looks like those grand jury materials are going to be handed over to congress, as they pursue these impeachment proceedings against the president. That`s where it looks that`s where it looks like this case is going.
Some of the first disclosures from the Mueller report, or from the Mueller investigation that Congress has been trying to get, including FBI 302 forms, so FBI records of interviews with various witnesses, those forms are starting to be described to the court tonight, because that judge today in D.C. ordered the Justice Department to respond by tonight in terms of their intentions in that regard. So this sort of dam is starting to break. And the Congress is starting to get the stuff they are demanding.
The House also tonight moved quickly after Ambassador Gordon Sondland didn`t show up this morning, they have already issued a subpoena to him. So he`s now compelled to appear. They say they want his documents by Monday and his presence in person for that deposition by Wednesday of next week.
If the White House continues to try to block witnesses from these impeachment proceedings, the chairman of the committees leading the impeachment inquiry today made clear, that, you know, just as the first article of impeachment against Nixon was for him obstructing the investigation into his own behavior, trying to block witnesses and evidence from being handed over to Congress, they`re being quite clear now that they`re prepared to do the same thing against president Trump in this White House. They`re prepared to draw up the same kind of impeachment article against President Trump that was the article I of the impeachment proceedings against Nixon. And it seems like they might be moving fast to make good on that promise.
So, I mean, today will go down in the history of this impeachment as the day they gave Ed Meese his medal? What we all get out of this is the good news that irony isn`t dead.
We`ll be right back tonight. Stay with us.
MADDOW: The Senate Intelligence Committee today released volume II of their report on what happened during the 2016 presidential election. This one is on the way that social media was used as a battlefield for the Kremlin-directed efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election.
And the report has a bunch of new details, including this weird account of Russians at the Internet Research Agency, which is run by a Kremlin- connected oligarch, saying that they celebrated with champagne when the news arrived that Trump had won the election on election night in 2016. They popped champagne, because it meant that their efforts from that Kremlin-directed troll farm in St. Petersburg has been successful. They got what they had been working for.
Beyond eye-popping new detail like that, though, the most important thing is the stark top-line result of what Senate Intelligence Committee concluded, especially because they did so on a bipartisan basis. Bottom line, as far as they`re concerned, is, quote, the intelligence community assessed that the Russian government aspired to help President-elect Trump`s election chances when possible by discrediting Secretary Clinton and publicly contrasting her unfavorably to him.
The committee found that IRA social media activity was overtly and almost invariably supportive of then-candidate Trump and to the detriment of Secretary Clinton`s campaign. They also concluded bluntly that this social media effort to hurt Hillary Clinton`s chances and help Donald Trump`s chances was directed from the Kremlin. So, in short, it was Russia and Russia did it. And this should not be a surprise to anybody who has been paying attention, right?
Except for the fact that alongside the thing for which the president is being impeached now, him asking Ukraine to help him against his potential opponent in 2020, the other thing we now know that President Trump was asking for from that nation, from Ukraine, and the thing that the attorney general right now is pursuing around the world is an effort to prove that Russia didn`t attack the 2016 election after all. That it wasn`t them. That maybe it was Ukraine or somewhere else or maybe it was all made up and there was no attack after all.
The Senate Intelligence Committee saying today, on a bipartisan basis, that, yes, there was an attack. Yes, it was big. Yes, it was to support Trump getting elected, and yes, it was directed by the Kremlin.
Joining us now is Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi. He`s a member of both the House Intelligence Committee and the Oversight Committee in the House as well.
Sir, thanks very much for being here tonight. I really appreciate it.
REP. RAJA KRISHNAMOORTHI (D-IL): Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: So I know there is a lot going on right now. I do want to ask you about this very blunt conclusion from your counterpart committee in the Senate, the Intelligence Committee in the Senate, which is run by the Republicans, led by Senator Richard Burr, that it was definitely Russia, it was a big deal of a campaign, it was directed by the Kremlin, and they were trying to elect Trump.
I wonder if you feel like that is going to have a knock-on effect for any of the impeachment proceedings you guys are pursuing or anything else that you`re confronting right now when it comes to Bill Barr and the Justice Department and the White House?
KRISHNAMOORTHI: Yes, I think it reinforces the fact that, you know, for -- since 2016, America has been resolute in its determination that we not let what happened in 2016 happen again. And that`s, I think, part of the reason why I think American public sentiment is so in favor of this impeachment inquiry right now, because the allegations at issue are that the Trump administration is trying to get a foreign power to meddle in our democracy again, and this time in 2020.
And so, I think it just reinforced why this impeachment inquiry is actually so important and it`s something that the American people favor.
MADDOW: I was, I guess, not surprised, but interested in the way that Ambassador Sondland decided not to show up today. Ambassador Sondland appears to have been a very important witness and participant in terms of this scheme that the president is being impeached for now.
If you listen to his lawyers, they say, listen, he traveled back to Washington to do this, he prepared the documents that he had been asked to hand over. He`s not only prepared to participate in this deposition, he was enthusiastic and ready to do it and wanted to be as helpful as he could. He was only blocked from doing this because of a post-midnight call from the State Department and with a heavy heart, he`s bound to do what they say.
I feel like there`s a little bit of drama, a melodrama in the way that they are portraying this. What`s your perspective on him backing out of that deposition and what might happen next here?
KRISHNAMOORTHI: Well, we`re going to make it just a little easier on him, Rachel, and that means we`re going to give him a subpoena, which we delivered tonight, just to make sure that he has a personal invitation to appear. I think that, you know, Mr. Sondland is really at the heart of the allegations of the complaint. As you pointed out before, apparently, he talked to the president just a few minutes before the July 25th call with President Zelensky, and in aftermath, he had various conversations to basically effectuate this pressure campaign on Zelensky.
According to the "Wall Street Journal", he apparently talked to Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin who had been asking, what`s going on with this military aid, why is it being held up? And apparently, he was very frank with Mr. Johnson, Senator Johnson, and just told him, well, it all depends on these investigations happening with regard to Mr. Biden, as well as the Ukraine supposedly interfering in the 2016 elections, as opposed to Russia, which is, of course, a big bogus claim, which we can talk about that separately.
But it`s very important that we hear from Mr. Sondland.
MADDOW: Do you expect we got this letter from the White House today essentially saying that we`re going to pretend that the impeachment proceeding isn`t happening? As far as we`re concerned, it`s not a real thing, so don`t expect to get anything from us.
I didn`t read that as a legalistic argument from the White House counsel`s office.
MADDOW: It seemed like sort of a declaration of intent. Do you think that will change anything in terms of trying to get witnesses in evidence?
KRISHNAMOORTHI: No, I don`t think so. I think that just a couple of things. One, I think that anybody who doesn`t appear for testimony or anybody who blocks documents from being produced, I think they will figure into an obstruction count with regard to this impeachment inquiry.
And the second point, which is very important, is that I think that their blocked testimony or documents will likely invite the inference that those documents and testimonies support the allegations of the complaint. And now, Rachel, I think that because of public sentiment the way it is, in support of this impeachment inquiry, I think that, quite frankly, the president and the White House stalling and delaying doesn`t play well. And it actually hurts their position, because I think there`s a presumption now that something serious went wrong with that July 25th call. And that the whistle-blower`s complaint may have, you know, more weight than meets the eye.
MADDOW: Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi, member of the House Intel Committee and the Oversight Committee -- sir, thanks for being here tonight. Much appreciated.
KRISHNAMOORTHI: Thank you. Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: All right. Busy night. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Quoting from the judge`s ruling: The president asserts an extraordinary claim in the dispute now before this court. He contends that the person who serves as president while in office enjoys absolute immunity from criminal process of any kind.
Bared to its core, the proposition the president advances reduces to the very notion that the founders rejected at the inception of the republic and that the Supreme Court has since unequivocally repudiated that a constitutional domain exists in this country in which not only the president, but derivatively, relatives, and persons and business entities associated with him are in fact above the law. This court finds aspects of such a doctrine repugnant to the nation`s governmental structure and constitutional values. Repugnant.
That was part of the ruling yesterday in federal court in New York that allowed a subpoena to go forward for the president`s tax returns against targets from the president`s lawyers that he is immune from any such thing. But if you think this ruling went poorly for the president, including the word "repugnant" being applied to his lawyer`s arguments, if you think this went badly for Trump, you should see how badly this actually went for Vice President Mike Pence, who is the real loser here for a surprising reason, and that`s next.
MADDOW: Joining us now is Barbara McQuade, former U.S. attorney from the Eastern District of Michigan. She`s an MSNBC contributor.
Barb, thanks so much for being here. I really appreciate it.
BARBARA MCQUADE, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Oh, thanks, Rachel. Glad to be here.
MADDOW: So, here`s what I wanted to talk to you about. The committees that are pursuing impeachment proceedings in the House have already said explicitly that in addition to investigating the president, they`re investigating Vice President Pence for what appears to be his role, too, in this scheme to get election help from Ukraine. In this court case that the president basically lost yesterday related to his taxes, I went back and looked at the arguments the president`s lawyers made, and I was surprised to find that the president`s lawyer, William Consovoy really seemed to get out of his way, to say that the immunity he was arguing for for President Trump explicitly doesn`t apply to Mr. Pence.
He said in the transcript: The country can persist without a vice president. A president subject to proceedings in a state court, the distraction that would create, the multitude of problems that could arise, are unique and different in both degree and kind from anything that would attend to a proceeding against the vice president.
So, that now sticks out for me like a beacon. And I just wanted to know what you make of that. Is that something that would have naturally arisen in this case? Does it strike you as strange?
MCQUADE: It does strike as strange. It was kind of a gratuitous comment. No one was talking about the vice president. There`s no reason to talk about it.
And, you know, you couple it with President Trump`s comments to Congress that you really ought to look at Mike Pence`s phone calls as well as my own makes him wonder if he isn`t attempting to throw Mike Pence under the bus. And why might he want to do that?
Well, the line of succession for presidency is the president, the vice president, and the speaker of the House. And so, perhaps President Trump sees Mike Pence as expendable because if Nancy Pelosi is next in line, perhaps the Republican-controlled Senate will say, we don`t want to impeach President Trump because that means we would have a President Nancy Pelosi.
MADDOW: So if Pence got impeached first, then the scheme wouldn`t work because Trump could replace him with someone that would not be impeached. But if Pence and Trump were getting impeached simultaneously, that might be sort of an insurance policy for the president but because he could then guarantee that Republicans wouldn`t vote impeach and remove both of them, because aye yai yai.
Well, as a substantive matter, whether or not this is that kind of a Hail Mary, as a substantive matter, do the president`s lawyers have a point? I spent a long time looking into the Spiro Agnew case. I`m not sure that I was ever totally clear on the question of whether or not vice presidents have the same kind of immunity from prosecution that presidents do.
MCQUADE: Yes, I don`t think so. If you look at the reasons behind suggesting that the president is immune from impeachment or from indictment, it`s because he is himself the head of the executive branch, and so, he gets to call the shots and it`s sort of a metaphysical impossibility, the thinking goes, to indict the president. They also talk about the stigma of not being able to lead the country if have been in charge of a crime, the inability to discharge the duties of the office.
So other members of the cabinet can be impeached, executive branch cabinet officials, Supreme Court justices. So, I think it is just the argument for whom this argument applies. And even that is not set in stone. It`s still just an OLC opinion.
MADDOW: Which makes it a very interesting gambit if they`re trying to get Mike Pence impeached as an insurance policy for Donald Trump.
Barbara McQuade, former U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan, thank you for joining us, Barb. Good to see you.
MCQUADE: Thanks, Rachel. You too.
MADDOW: All right. We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: So, as you may know, the next Democratic presidential debate happens a week from tonight in Ohio. Twelve candidates will be on stage for that, Tuesday of next week, 12 podiums. That`s more podiums than they have ever had this year.
But now tonight, there`s some news. The Democratic Party has just announced the next debate after that one, debate number five in Georgia -- it will be happening in Georgia on November 20th. I`m delighted to say it will be hosted jointly by "The Washington Post" newspaper and by this network, MSNBC. They just announced that today. They have not announced the moderators will be.
So far, eight of the Democratic candidates have already qualified for that fifth debate including Andrew Yang who just punched his ticket for that debate today with the national Quinnipiac poll showing him at 3 percent. That puts him over the threshold. He will definitely be in.
But the news for now for tonight, "The Washington Post", MSNBC are hosting this next Democratic presidential debate, co-hosting, Georgia, November 20th. Got it.
MADDOW: We`re just about wrapping up for this hour, but I just want to tell you about something that has been starting to break as we`ve been on the air this hour. Following President Trump`s sudden announcement that U.S. troops be pulled back in Syria to allow Turkey to take territory currently held by the Kurds, with whom the U.S. has been allied there.
Reports are just now this hour starting to come in that Turkey is poised to cross the border into Syria, quote, shortly. David Ignatius of "The Washington Post" reports that his sources are telling him, the U.S. officials have just informed the Syrian Kurds that Turkey is likely to attack on air and ground in the next 24 hours. Quote, the Turkish attacks appeared to be coordinated with the Russians. Russian-backed forces are mobilizing to invade.
David Ignatius pointing out the other terrifying possibility here of thousands of ISIS detainees, quote, breaking out of camps and prisons with no American backup plan for that. He writes, quote, this is a major disaster coming at us because of Trump`s decisions. Quote, hours left to stop it.
Again, this is being reported by "The Washington Post`s" David Ignatius who does tend to have very good sources on these matters. We`ll continue to follow this as it continues to break over the course of the night.
That does it for this hour, though. We will see you again tomorrow.
Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL".
Good evening, Lawrence.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END