White House blocking testimonies. TRANSCRIPT: 10/9/19, The Rachel Maddow Show.

Guests: Nick Wadhams

CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST:  That is ALL IN for this evening. 

"THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW" starts right now. 

Good evening, Rachel. 

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST:  Chris Hayes, is it actually true that when Trump was repeatedly wishing a happy birthday to Shinzo Abe, it wasn`t Shinzo Abe`s birthday? 

HAYES:  That`s -- yes, it was.  I know, and he kept going back to it over and over.  Like he`d seen it somewhere or somebody put it, and it`s like, you know, his brain is a stream and there is little bits of refuse gets thrown into it and they just float down the stream.  So, someone at some point balled up a Starbucks rapper that is Shinzo Abe`s birthday and toast it in. 

MADDOW:  Here`s what I think happened, because as you noted, it was actually Vladimir Putin`s birthday. 

HAYES:  Indeed, it was. 

MADDOW:  I think what somebody did is they realized that Trump was about to go on camera planning to wish happy birthday to Vladimir Putin and randomly -- got another world leader whose name they could spell without looking it up and just randomly changed it to make sure he wouldn`t accidently get on camera and repeatedly wish happy birthday to Vladimir Putin. 

HAYES:  It`s strong theory. 

MADDOW:  Well, Abe is easy to spell. 

HAYES:  It very much is.  Great guy. 

MADDOW:  Thanks very much, my friend.  Well done.

And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. 

You know, this was probably bound to happen.  I think we should have known this was coming.  I`m not sure we could have known that it would finally come out right in the middle of the impeachment proceedings against the president for asking a foreign country to help him against the Democrats in the next election.  I don`t think we could have known it was going to come out in the middle of this, but it was going to come out sometime.  So, why not now, right?  When it rains, it pours. 

The reason we should have known this was going to come out at some point was because not that long ago, less than a year ago, it was spelled out clear as day in public by a recently fired Trump cabinet official, and this sort of stuck in my crawl at the time, it was Rex Tillerson who said it and I am sort of obsessed with Rex Tillerson.  And personally, I`ll just let you know, at the time Rex Tillerson made these remarks, I was in the middle of writing my book, which is just come out in the past week and if you have seen the book, you may have noticed that it is more about Rex Tillerson than any other single person. 

I`m obsessed with Rex Tillerson.  I`ve essentially memorized all public utterances from of him since Trump, surprise, plucked him out of ExxonMobil and installed him as secretary of state in the first place even though he never met him before. 

But in December of last year, Tillerson had been fired already, and he did an interview that was a live event on stage in front of an audience in Texas and it was Rex Tillerson talking to CBS` Bob Schieffer, and in that instance, my friend, Rex Tillerson, let us know this was coming. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BOB SCHIEFFER, CBS HOST:  How would you describe Donald Trump? 

(LAUGHTER)

REX TILLERSON, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE:  Well, most of you probably know, know some of this, but I had never met Donald Trump until the day he asked me to be secretary of state.  He acts on his instincts and some respects that looks like impulsiveness, but it`s not his intent to act on impulse.  I think he really is trying to act on his instincts. 

It was challenging for me coming from the disciplined, highly processed- oriented ExxonMobil Corporation to go to work for a man who is pretty undisciplined, doesn`t -- doesn`t like to read, doesn`t read briefing reports, doesn`t -- doesn`t like to get into the details of a lot of things but rather just kind of says, look, this is what I believe and you can try to convince me otherwise, but most of the time you`re not going to do that. 

SCHIEFFER:  How did your relationship go off the rails? 

TILLERSON:  Well, I think part of it was obviously we are starkly different in our styles.  We did not have a common value system.  When the president would say, well, here`s what I want to do and here`s how I want to do it, and I`d have to say to him, well, Mr. President, I understand what you want to do but you can`t do it that way, it violates the law.  It violates treaty. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  So, Mr. Tillerson, did you just say that the president asked you to do things, multiple things that violate the law?  You`re saying he asked you to crime a little bit for him?  Multiple times?  And you`re just now telling us after you`ve been fired? 

When the president asked you to commit crimes while you were serving as secretary of state, did you do it at the time, sir?  And now, sir, would you like to elaborate?  That is all he would say. 

I have to say to him, well, Mr. President, I understand what you want to do, but you can`t do it that way, it violates the law -- nervous laughter from the audience. 

All right.  Tillerson said this out loud.  You could have bet in that moment that at some point, what he was talking about there would come out.  Well, now, in the middle of President Trump being impeached for allegedly abusing the powers of his office, an allegation to which he has frankly confessed, now, "Bloomberg News" reporter Nick Wadhams, and Saleha Mohsin and Stephanie Baker have finally got that story.  All these months later, they have figured out at least part of what that was about.

And if their reporting bears out and if the House of Representatives right now is drafting articles of impeachment and among other things are about this president abusing powers of his office, well, this is going to turn out to be a perspicacious time for this one to have finally come to the surface. 

Now, what "Bloomberg" is reporting tonight is something that has to do with this case.  This was the press release that was put out by the U.S. attorney`s office in the Southern District of New York about the unsealing of an indictment against a really, really, really, really rich Turkish guy, an Iranian Turkish gold trader who was arrested in the United States in the last year of the Obama administration.  He was arrested in March of 2016. 

He was brought to New York where prosecutors, federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York put him on trial for what they described as a multibillion-dollar -- basically a money laundering scheme, but a money laundering scheme with a specific purpose.  Essentially, the allegation from SDNY was that this guy, this gold trader, was using his sprawling international business as an international Laundromat which hid basically the source of funds and ultimate destination.

And the point of doing it was to allow countries and companies and individuals to illegally do business with Iran, right?  Iran is subject to crippling economic sanctions, international trade, international business with Iran and most parts of the world is a serious criminal acts in violation of those sanctions.  So running an international money laundering operation to facilitate lots of different people being able to evade those sanctions and illegally do business with Iran to the tune of billions of dollars, I mean, that was a huge national security case. 

But that was also a real kingpin-type operation for SDNY, but they got the guy and they put him on trial.  That`s how they were going after this rich Iranian Turkish gold trader that they arrested in 2016. 

Now, the gold trader did not appear to be running this scheme totally underground, totally on his say so without anybody knowing about it.  He had, it turned out, very, very close ties to the glove of Turkey, to the president of Turkey, Erdogan, and Erdogan`s family. 

And when that gold trader guy got arrested in the U.S. in 2016, Turkey and Erdogan went nuts about it.  They started going after the -- they started going after personally and specifically Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney for the southern district of New York who ran the federal prosecutor`s office that brought these charges against the gold trader.  They specifically singled out and started attacking the judge in the southern district of New York who was hearing that case. 

And I know that judges, you know, have U.S. marshals` protection for a reason.  Judges get threatened and have to deal with angry defendants and dangerous people all the time, right?  But to have the government of a foreign country, one of our supposed NATO allies essentially running an op against a U.S. judge and singling out and threatening a U.S. judge for that judge having the temerity to oversee the case involving some Turkish guy, I mean, that was scary stuff.  That was intense.  That was odd. 

And then it got more odd.  The president`s first national security advisor, a man named Mike Flynn, as you know, he is now awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty to lying to investigators about his secret communications with the Russian government about sanctions during the presidential transition.  But you might remember that as part of Mike Flynn pleading guilty, one of the things he also copped to was the fact he had been an undeclared foreign agent.  He had secretly been on the payroll of the Turkish government while he was serving as President Trump`s national security adviser during the campaign.

Remember the brilliant lead in "The New York Times", the first day that was reported.  This was actually before Flynn pled guilty and admitted to it in court.  It was sort of brilliant stanza as the lead paragraph from "The New York Times", from reporters Peter Baker and Matthew Rosenberg that day.  They said, quote, the candidate he was advising last fall was running on a platform of America first.  The client he was working for last fall was paying more than half a million dollars to put Turkey first. 

Mike Flynn was on the Turkish government`s payroll, right?  The Mike Flynn saga is not over.  He`s not been sentenced.  His case is taking sort of a weird turn in the last few months.  He`s adopted a new set of lawyers who are Fox News fixtures and appears to be aggressively shopping for a pardon from President Trump.  So among other things, he doesn`t have to spend any time in prison at all.

But one of the things Mike Flynn was invested for when he admit in court to the fact he had been on the payroll of this foreign country was this question of whether Turkey had specifically offered a whole bunch more money to Mike Flynn, a lot more money, millions of dollars to Mike Flynn if Flynn could use his influence with the U.S. government, with the incoming Trump administration to get that rich Turkish gold trader guy freed from prison. 

So, this Turkish guy who`s got direct personal connections to the top levels of Turkish government, he`s under arrest for this really terrible set of allegations involving him basically allegedly running an international operation to property up the Iranian economy with illegal money that evades sanctions.  After that guy gets charged, Turkey goes after Preet Bharara, the prosecutor, Turkey goes over the judge.  Turkey reportedly tells Mike Flynn, they would give him millions of dollars if he frees that guy, if he can rig something inside the U.S. government to free that guy.

The guy who arrested for this scheme also at some point along the line decides that he is going to need a very special kind of lawyer for this phase of his case and he hires a man named Rudy Giuliani to be one of his lawyers.  Well, now, what "Bloomberg News" is reporting tonight is that when Rex Tillerson said that President Trump sometimes asked him to crime, sometimes asked him to do things that were illegal, according to "Bloomberg News" tonight, one of the apparently illegal acts that President Trump solicited from Tillerson when Tillerson was secretary of state was that he asked for him to interfere with the Justice Department, to get that Turkish gold trader guy sprung from prison, to lean on the Justice Department to stop that prosecution of that Turkish gold trader guy, to interfere with the Justice Department, specifically, to interfere with Pete Bharara and SDNY, to get them to stop that prosecution. 

Quote, President Donald Trump pressed then Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to help persuade the Justice Department to drop a criminal case against an Iranian Turkish gold trader who was a client of Rudy Giuliani.  That`s according three people familiar with the 2017 meeting in the Oval Office.  According to these three sources, Tillerson, quote, refused the president`s request, arguing it would constitution interference in an ongoing investigation. 

The same sources telling "Bloomberg News" tonight that the other people who are in the Oval Office meeting and heard President Trump make this request to Tillerson, they were, quote, shocked by the request.  After Tillerson said no to this request from the president, according to "Bloomberg" tonight, Tillerson then stepped out of the Oval Office into a hallway outside the Oval, where he, quote, repeated his objections to then chief of staff John Kelly, emphasizing that the request was for something that would be illegal. 

Now, again, Bloomberg says they have got three sources here.  I`m dying to know who they are.  I mean, I`m dying to know if, you know, is Rex Tillerson one, right?  I don`t know.  They are not saying who their sources are so we don`t know. 

We do know according to "Bloomberg`s" reporting that this meeting in the Oval Office where Trump asked Tillerson to commit this crime, it occurred in the second half of 2017, which I think means that this would have happened after James Comey had already testified that President Trump had asked him to intervene with the Justice Department to quash the criminal investigation into Mike Flynn.  And that, of course, has led to very serious investigation of the president himself, a national uproar.  It`s not like the president would have known that asking somebody to lean on the Justice Department to stop a prosecution would be a kosher thing for a president to do. 

We do know that by late the following year after Tillerson was fired by Trump, he was willing to say on the record that the president had in fact asked him to do illegal stuff, we don`t know if Tillerson said that to Bob Schieffer, or one of the illegal requests the president made of him is this one Bloomberg is now reporting, but I`m desperate to know the answer to that, too. 

I mean, this would be a remarkable story at any time in any presidency, right?  President intervening to try to squash investigation of connected serious national security -- president beating the drum, banging his chest about Iran all the time, and then intervenes to try to get a guy who was evading Iranian sanctions to the tunes of billions of dollars, he personally intervenes to get the Justice Department to stop that prosecution.  I mean, he tries to get a member of his cabinet to pressure the Justice Department on this -- on his behalf. 

I mean, that`s the kind of thing for which presidents can get impeached.  So, for this story from "Bloomberg" to arrive tonight, when impeachment against this president is already in full swing, it`s just -- I mean, it`s Wednesday.  Let`s see what Thursday is like tomorrow this is our life now. 

Within the past 24 hours, the Trump White House sent this bizarre letter to the House of Representatives declaring that impeachment is unconstitutional, which is sort of amazing given that impeachment is quite literally in the Constitution of the United States.  If you want a little snapshot how the president`s defense is going against the full steam ahead impeachment proceedings, consider the White House is arguing that impeachment is unconstitutional while the president`s lawyers are simultaneously arguing in court that prosecutors aren`t allowed to investigate the president at all because the only constitutional remedy to his potential crimes is impeachment. 

So, they are saying he can`t be investigated criminally.  He can only be impeached and he definitely can`t be impeached and if the House tries to impeach him, it`s because they are trying to take on a law enforcement role that they`re not allowed to take on because that sort of behavior is reserved for prosecutors.  But again, prosecutors are not allowed to look him and the House can`t impeach him, either. 

So, I mean, you can see -- the point here that they don`t -- they may not - - I think the nice way to say this, they may have their eyes on the horizon.  They may have their eyes on their feet, on the immediate next step they need to take to try to answer these immediate legal questions that are confronting them.  But the president`s lawyers and Justice Department lawyers who are effectively acting as the president`s lawyers now, they are now making explicitly mutually exclusive, internally contradictory arguments about why the president`s crimes or alleged crimes can`t be held against him by any process.

Eventually, those internal contradictions are going to knock down one side or the other and eventually, they`re going to run out of room to run here legally speaking. 

After a brutal day for the president in federal court in Washington, D.C. yesterday, that was the court hearing in which the chief judge of the D.C. district court exclaimed out loud in a hearing the word "wow" about the Justice Department`s arguments that their take on presidential immunity now extends to the position that actually Watergate was OK.  Nixon should never have been impeached by the House for Watergate, they never should have been allowed to have the evidence that let them draw up articles of impeachment because that evidence never should have been handed over to Congress, wow, the judge said in response to that. 

After that brutal day in federal court yesterday, today, the Justice Department was basically forced to concede to that court that they are going to now start handing over investigative materials about the president that was first gathered in the Mueller investigation.  They`re going to start to hand over those materials to Congress, including at least some version of the FBI interviews with Don McGahn, the former White House counsel. 

The Trump White House tried to block that from happening from the very beginning.  They continue to try to block all witnesses from testifying in all congressional investigations, including the impeachment proceedings.  We`re now learning they may be trying to block the woman you see on the right side of your screen here, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch.  She was expected to give a deposition to the impeachment committees on Friday morning.  There are suggestions now that the White House is going to try to block her from making that appearance. 

The White House refusing to hand over documents, refusing to acknowledge or respond to subpoenas, refusing to allow witnesses to testify, the White House making these weird assertions of privilege that don`t exist in the law, that`s, of course, been a point of contention between the White House and Congress all along.  But in light of this impeachment inquiry, it will be much more than that. 

The House of Representatives now appears to be moving quickly towards drawing up the details of all of this obstruction from the White House and from the president specifically into an initial article of impeachment against President Trump.  Just as the first article of impeachment against Richard Nixon in 1974 was about obstruction, it appears that the House is moving to make the first article against Trump an obstruction article, as well.  It appears to be the first one they are working on in detail. 

In the course of drawing up that article, the House is now going to start getting all the obstruction materials that were collected about the president by the FBI in the course of that previous investigation that led to the Mueller report.  All right? 

The White House and the Justice Department had been desperately trying to block that but the house is about to start getting those materials.  I mean, that`s going to be icing on the cake in terms of them being able to write up a pattern of president`s behavior, including multiple allegations of his willingness to interfere and his efforts to interfere in on going Justice Department criminal investigations.  And now, look, as of tonight, here is a brand-new one, with three sources to "Bloomberg News".  Something that Rex Tillerson, I think, basically raised his hand and alerted to us months ago.  It`s now finally coming out. 

Joining us now is Nick Wadhams.  He`s one of three "Bloomberg News" reporters who just broke this scoop tonight. 

Mr. Wadhams, thanks very much for joining us.  Congratulations on this story. 

NICK WADHAMS, BLOOMBER NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER:  Thanks for having me. 

MADDOW:  So I summed up -- I tried to sum up what you and your colleagues reported tonight, as well as trying to put it in context of what I previously understood about this case.  I just want to ask you and be blunt if I -- tell me if I got anything wrong, if I mischaracterize anything. 

WADHAMS:  I think that was an extremely impressive summation of a very complicated case. 

MADDOW:  OK.  Well, that was nice of you to say.

(LAUGHTER)

MADDOW:  Let me ask you about this report that -- this detailed reporting that you have, three sources who are available.  You report that Secretary of State Tillerson recognized the president`s request he should intervene in this case as illegal.  Recognize that in the moment as illegal and he immediately rejected it because it would constitute interference in an on going investigation.  He then conveyed that according to your reporting to the White House chief of staff John Kelly. 

If this was in 2017, do you have any sense and can you talk at all about why this might becoming out now? 

WADHAMS:  Well, you know, I think what is going on is a lot of us were very interested, you know, after the Ukraine impeachment, the whistle blower complaint came out, we just started digging around on, you know, what other phone calls or interactions the president would have had and, you know, over the course of his term so far.  And, you know, I have spoken to many people who said that there were many calls the president made and many meetings he had where there were inappropriate things that were said, whether it`s State Department officials or White House officials who as in the whistle blower case in the Ukraine phone call were shocked sometimes or at the very least alarmed or felt something inappropriate was going on.

And as I just looked for more of those cases, I spoke with people close to the president who essentially said that, hey, this was one that not only had the president asked Tillerson to do something about this case but that he had also asked Tillerson to talk to Giuliani so that also obviously got my spidey sense tingling a little bit given the obvious parallel with the Ukraine case. 

MADDOW:  Nick, do we know if anybody -- presumably other than Rex Tillerson, Rex Tillerson according to your reporting didn`t do this and, in fact, was shocked by the request and immediately decided it was illegal.  Do we know if anybody else ever did approach the Justice Department and lean on them about this prosecution?  I know from the case of this gold trader that it took some pretty radical twists and turns before that case was over. 

Do we know if this request from the president was ever carried out by anyone else? 

WADHAMS:  No, well, what happened in the end was that Reza Zarrab essentially turned state`s evidence with prosecutors and agreed to cooperate in a much larger case against a Turkish bank and Turkish banking executive.  But, you know, all along during the course of the trial, there were -- the State Department was essentially tasked with the job of trying to see if there could be some diplomatic bargain arranged between Turkey and the U.S. and this was at the direction of the president to see if there could be some sort of trade made. 

In the end, we know obviously that the Department of Justice did not allow this to go through, but this was -- I mean, Rudy Giuliani was hired by Reza Zarrab testified about this on the stand, to find some sort of solution outside the confines of the court case.  So, it was well-known at the time, Rudy was open about the fact this is what he was doing and the machinery of the government, at least of the State department, was tasked with trying to help see if some sort of accommodation could be reached. 

MADDOW:  I have to ask you, Nick, NBC News, since I`ve been on the air, I just got handed to me a piece of paper that suggestions or that tells me that NBC News reached out to Rudy Giuliani in response to a publication of your report tonight, and he responded by calling it, quote, hit job, saying he never spoke to President Trump about his client, Mr. Zarrab.  He called the report a hit job and he said, I was representing him, meaning Mr. Zarrab, for a possible prison exchange. 

I have to ask for your response to Rudy Giuliani calling your work a hit job tonight. 

WADHAMS:  Well, we did speak -- my colleague Stephanie Baker spoke extensively to Rudy for the story.  He initially denied that he had spoken to the president but about half way down the story, we have a pretty extensive quote from Rudy saying, well, maybe I did and maybe I didn`t, I may have mentioned his name once of twice. 

So, we got inconsistent answers from Rudy on whether or not he had actually spoken to President Trump, and then he also just point-blank refused to tell us whether he had spoken with Rex Tillerson about this.  And he said, we had no right to know that. 

MADDOW:  Yes, exactly -- that was exactly the quote that I was looking through there.  Giuliani said he discussed the Zarrab case with State Department officials and disclosed that, although he declined to say if he ever spoke directly to Tillerson about the case, saying, quote, you have no right to know that.

Remarkable reporting especially given the kind of -- the three sides of the story you were given by just that one source. 

Nick, thanks very much for this and, again, congratulations to you and your colleagues on the scoop. 

WADHAMS:  Thanks a lot. 

MADDOW:  Nick Wadhams is a State Department reporter for "Bloomberg News".  Again, this story tonight that they are breaking, that according to three sources with direct knowledge of the incident in late 2017, President Trump reportedly urged a cabinet official, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, to go lean on the Justice Department to stop an ongoing federal prosecution of someone who was charged with helping Iran evade sanctions to the tune of billions of dollars. 

Rex Tillerson, according to this Bloomberg reporting, was told that he should work with Rudy Giuliani on this.  Rudy Giuliani at the time had been retained as a lawyer for that guy who Trump was trying to get off the hook. 

All right.  Lots to get to tonight.  Stay with us. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  The U.S. military divides up basically the whole world into different combatant command areas.  So, like all of Europe is covered under the United States European Command.  The continent of Africa is covered under U.S. Africa Command, which they call Africom. 

Fun fact about Africom, it`s headquarters in Stuttgart, in Germany, which is not in Africa at all, not even a little bit. 

But all of these things are a little weird, dividing up the world into spears of combatant responsibility itself is like a little hard to get your head around.  But when it comes to the Middle East, the whole Middle East, that is covered by something called U.S. Central Command. 

Now, why is it Central Command?  I don`t know, perhaps because it is the Middle East central and middle, close enough.  In any case, they abbreviate that as CentCom.

  And if you`re the U.S. CentCom commander, you`re a really big deal in the U.S. military.  You`re a really big deal in terms of the global military operations, right, given the enormity of the U.S. military role in the Middle East right now and for the past generation.

Well, the man who was head of CentCom for the U.S. military until just a few months ago, to earlier this year, is General Joseph Votel and he has just done something that those kinds of leaders really don`t often do.  General Joseph Votel has just written an article for "The Atlantic Magazine" basically sounding the alarm about something President Trump just did. 

The Syrian civil war, I know, is hard for a lot of Americans to follow closely and been going on for a long time.  American policy there has certainly been a jumble, but the basic lay of the land from our military`s perspective right now is that whatever the other equities are in that civil war, the apocalyptic end times terrorist group ISIS, them setting up their world headquarters in Syria and taking over huge swaths of that country and using them as an operating base, that was something the U.S. believed to be worth fighting against. 

That said, without any desire to launch a full-scale U.S. ground invasion of that part of the world, and mindful of the fact that ISIS had only been able to set up their geographic world headquarters there in a vacuum of authority because of the middle -- because of being in the middle of an on going civil war, the U.S. decided that the way to try to combat that was to find local forces who had their own interest in fighting ISIS for their own reasons and we would try to find local forces who are good fighters against ISIS, who are fighting them for their own reasons, but then we would bolster them.  We would support them and try to enhance their effectiveness.

And it took awhile and a few false starts for the U.S. to find the right group for us to try to bolster in that fight but then we found the group that the U.S. military believe to be the right group.  As General Votel writes today in this piece in "The Atlantic" called: The Danger of Abandoning Our Partners, he says, quote, the decision to partner with our Kurdish allies beginning with the fight in Kobane in 2014 was made against two -- excuse me, was made across two administrations and required years of deliberation and planning.  Eventually, that fighting force became the backbone of the entire fighting force against ISIS in Syria. 

Quote: That force went on to liberate the so-called capital of the caliphate Raqqa in Syria, and towns in the Middle Euphrates River Valley, culminating in the territorial defeat of ISIS this past March. 

Quote: Over four years, that force, the Syrian defense force, freed tens of thousands of square miles and millions of people from the grip of ISIS.  Throughout the long fight, the SDF sustained nearly 11,000 casualties.  By comparison, a total of six U.S. service members have been killed in the anti-ISIS campaign. 

That is the force that the U.S. military decided to support and bolster rather than doing the fighting in the front lines ourself.  That is the force that President Trump has now decided to abandon.  To let Turkey invade the ground that they`ve been holding so Turkey can take it for themselves. 

Our Kurdish allies who U.S. troops have been fighting alongside for five years against ISIS, they`re now looking down the barrel of what they say they expect to be mass slaughter at the hands of the Turkish military, all apparently approved on a whim by President Trump after he got off a phone call with the Turkish president a few nights ago. 

One senior U.S. defense official telling CNN today, quote: We are just watching the second largest army in NATO, the Turks -- we`re just watching the second largest army in NATO attack one of our best counterterrorism partners. 

Among the imminent threats at hand now because of what Trump has done is the potentially release of thousands of foreign fighters from ISIS who are allies, the Kurds had been holding prisoner in the region Turkey is now invading.  The Kurds are warning they are not going to be able to keep guarding all of those prisoners now, not at least in the long run, not if they have to instead prepare to go fight against the second largest army in NATO after us, which President Trump has just green lit and while President Trump has pulled our troops out of the way to let our allies be attacked. 

Now, why President Trump did this remains something of a mystery.  We`re going to get some expert help on that coming up later in the show, but I think it is worth noting that while Turkey and Russia do not have exactly allied interest in the Syrian civil war, Turkey and Russia do appear to be coordinating around this offensive against our allies, the one for which U.S. troops were pulled out of the way so Turkey could clear the area to their own tune. 

Turkey and Russia appear to be coordinating on this and both Turkey and Russia have been pressing and pressing and pressing for the U.S. to get our troops out of their way in Syria.  So, despite whatever differences they might have be between them, they`d like to settle things the way they want on their terms in the Middle East that they dictate from hereon out, not the United States, CentCom or not. 

We got more ahead.  Stay with us.  That`s next. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  It began this morning, Turkey launching a military assault in Syria that they`ve been telegraphing for a day or so, against a Kurdish fighting force that has been a critical ally of the United States and that U.S. troops have been working alongside for the past five years.  This assault today which started in Syria comes four days after President Trump made this no warning surprise announcement that he would order U.S. troops pulled back from that part of Syria basically to allow Turkey to do what it wants there. 

We have a report tonight from the region that Kurdish families tonight are fleeing the city of Kobani specifically they`ve been fleeing to what has been a nearby U.S. military base, because even though President Trump has ordered U.S. troops to basically abandon our Kurdish allies, those Kurdish families in Kobane feel like they have nowhere else to go, nobody else to turn to. 

And so, even with this policy change, they are still as they flee their city seeking out the U.S. or at least seeking out that U.S. base in search of American protection. 

Joining us now is Wendy Sherman, former under secretary of state for political affairs in the Obama administration. 

Madam Ambassador, it`s a pleasure to have you here tonight.  Thanks for your time. 

WENDY SHERMAN, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR:  Good to be with you, Rachel. 

MADDOW:  So, I have a layman`s understanding at best of the forces at work here.  So, I wouldn`t -- if you wouldn`t mind, I would -- if we could start with you setting me straight on this surprise U-turn decision by President Trump and what happened sense.  Let me ask you if you got any of that wrong? 

SHERMAN:  No, I think you laid it out quite well as usual. 

What`s happening here is the president used his own words and his great and utmost wisdom has put the United States on the side of a genocide.  It is likely to take place in the days ahead.  There`s word tonight from "The Washington Post", that David Ignatius is reporting that, in fact, there will be a ground and air assault that will start again in -- within the next 24 hours and it would be relentless. 

As you pointed out, the Russians are working with Turkey on this assault and it is going to be just utterly appalling, so appalling that it has gotten bipartisan support for sanctions against Turkey and the United States Senate.  It seems to be the one place where the senators can agree. 

MADDOW:  As far as I understand it and again, I reserve the right to be wrong here because I find this to be difficult to get current information as this is starting to change so quickly.  As far as I understand it, there are about 1,000 U.S. troops in Syria. 

With this -- with what`s there happening now, especially with what you`re reporting or what David Ignatius is reporting what may be about to happen in terms of the escalation here, I have to ask about the safety of U.S. troops in the environment and given the rules of engagement in which they are operating there, but also the question of whether or not those U.S. troops are in any continuing position to offer any protection, any shelter, any help in the case of mass civilian casualties or even a genocidal effort, as you described. 

SHERMAN:  Well, I think this is a terrific question and very concerning one because the president really doesn`t want American troops to have anything to do with this and said American troops have nothing to do with this.  And indeed, only about 50 to 100 troops are being pulled out of northern Syria to allow Turkey to move in and go forward.  So, indeed, we still have a lot of troop there is and although the president is trying to tell his followers that he`s getting all the troops out of Syria, in fact, he`s not. 

And what he`s done is green lighted Turkey, green lighted Russia and really given a present to Vladimir Putin who as you implied and pretty stated is trying to get a foothold in the Middle East, show that the United States is not a reliable partner and make common calls with Turkey, a NATO ally, an ally of the United States of America, an ally however that recently bought an air defense system from Russia and not from us. 

MADDOW:  In terms of Russian interest, obviously, the Turks have had it out for the Kurds for a time.  And so, Erdogan wanted to go in there and attack Kurdish forces is something that we can understand in terms of his direct interest and what we telegraphed for years in the way that Turkey has behaved frankly for decades. 

SHERMAN:  Yes.

MADDOW:  In terms of the Russian interest here, though -- I mean, I understand that Russia sees Syria as effectively its outpost, or sort of lily pad in the Middle East.  I don`t clearly understand why Turkey and Russia would set aside their differences about the Syrian civil war to effectively work together here.  Why this gift Turkey would simultaneously be a gift to Russia? 

SHERMAN:  Turkey is working hard to have it all ways.  Iran is a neighbor of Turkey`s.  They got an air defense system.  Turkey did from Russia, as I noted.  So Turkey is playing a very sophisticated geopolitical game here, trying to make sure it takes care of all interests and Russia who really Putin doesn`t have a particular yin except for what is in his personal own interest, sort of like the president of the United States.  So, if it works to make common calls with Turkey to gain control of a part of Turkey or have an interest in part of Turkey or I`m sorry, part of Syria that it never had before, they`re all in for the operation. 

MADDOW:  Wendy Sherman, former under secretary of state, MSNBC contributor, Wendy, thank you very much for being here.  I really appreciate your time tonight.

SHERMAN:  Thank you.

MADDOW:  All right.  More ahead tonight.  Stay with us.

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(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JONATHAN SANCHEZ, RECEIVES CARE UNDER MEDICAL DEFERRED ACTION POLICY:  When our lawyers told us that the medical deferred action program was cancelled, I started crying and telling my mom I don`t want to die.  I don`t want to die.  If I go back to Honduras, I will die. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  That was 16-year-old Jonathan Sanchez testifying to Congress last month about the Trump`s administration`s abrupt policy change that threatened his life. 

They didn`t make an announcement about it, but they cancelled a medical deferred action program, a program that for years allowed gravely ill kids like Jonathan who has cystic fibrosis allowed them to stay in the United States to get life-saving medical treatment here that they could not get in other countries.

Well, in August, the Trump administration sent letters to kids like Jonathan, telling them despite the fact that they were getting life-saving medical treatment here, they had 33 days to stop that medical treatment and get out of this country.  Again, the Trump administration didn`t announce this policy decision, they just sent out these letters to these families and I think kind of hoped they`d get away with it.

Well, Jonathan Sanchez told his story to local media in Boston.  As we showed you in that clip the top, he later testified before Congress, speaking out despite the overwhelming fear that for doing so he might be retaliated against by the Trump administration and deported to a country where he could not receive the medical care that is keeping him alive.

Well, faced with the publicity and the public outcry, the general revulsion over the fact that the Trump administration appeared to be singling out super sick kids to effectively hand them a death sentence, to effectively order them to stop receiving the medical care that was keeping them alive, the Trump administration last month finally announced that, OK, OK, they would reinstate that policy that they had canceled, at least that`s what they said.

Today, we got new reporting from "Commonwealth" magazine.  Their reporter Sarah Betancourt was at an event held earlier today by Massachusetts Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley and Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey.  Both lawmakers said that despite the Trump administration`s apparent reversal on this, there as yet no proof that these families cases are being processed.  According to Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, attorneys for these kids say that none of their clients have actually received formal approval of their medical deferred action claim since the administration said out loud that they were reinstating the policy.

That includes Jonathan Sanchez whose parents say his application has not been renewed, which means they are at and in danger of deportation.  They attended today`s meeting in place of their son, without him there today, that`s because he`s been hospitalized since Friday due to complications with his cystic fibrosis for which he is receiving life-saving care.

A lawyer for the Sanchez family tells us they haven`t heard a peep since the Trump administration announced that they were reversing course last month.  At this point, they do not know how alarmed they should be, but -- I mean, watch what they say, watch what they do, not what they say.  I mean, you have to watch what they say in order to see what you need to fact-check them against. 

But look at what`s happening when they think you`re not paying attention on this stuff.  They made this announcement to get all the public heat off of them.  In terms of their actions after that public announcement, so far, nothing.  There`s no reason to believe they`ve actually rescinded that policy that threatened all those kids.

Watch this space.  We certainly will.

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MADDOW:  This is what the gas stations in Mill Valley, California, looked like today.  1970 called, they would like their gas lines back, please. 

In Grass Valley, California, that was a run on batteries and flashlights.  In Napa Valley, good luck getting any ice.  Seems like that of people stocking up on water and ice and batteries and gas, looks like the thing you expect in congestion of hurricane or blizzards, the sort of natural disaster.  In this case in California right now, it is an act of God -- it is an act of man, excuse me, not an act of God. 

Tonight, 2 million Americans are about to spend their first night in darkness because the largest utility company in the country, PG&E, is deliberately and preemptively cutting off the power.  The fear is that after a long stint of no rain in California, high winds will knock down power lines and that could spark potentially catastrophic wildfires.  PG&E has already been blamed for billions and billions of dollars in damage from recent wildfires and declared bankruptcy. 

But this preemptive power shut off, the largest ever in California history means effectively that we`re surrendering in terms of our infrastructure.  We can`t count on our infrastructure anymore not to catch fire on just a bad windy day.  PG&E started cutting powder this morning starting in northern California.  All in all, about 2 million Americans affected.  That number is expected to grow.

Before this deliberate power outage situation in California is over, parts of southern California, potentially stretching all the way down to L.A. could be swept up in this, because turning the power back on is not as simple as just waiting for the winds to die down and flipping a switch.  PG&E says this deliberate blackout could last for days, maybe into early next week. 

One state senator from Northern California saying today, quote, this is third world stuff.  This is uncharted territory, a deliberate, apocalyptic blackout of our making and a utility company`s choosing, because it`s not better than the alternative. 

We do not know what happens here next, but we are about to find out, as California spends its first night in the dark. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  One quick last thing, the White House is still trying to block witnesses from testifying to the House impeachment proceedings.  "Axios" just reported a new request for testimony tonight from the president`s former top Russia advisor Fiona Hill.  Boy, I love to hear what she has to say.  The House set a date for her testify, give a deposition Monday morning next week.  We don`t know yet whether she wants to show up or whether they will let her.  But that`s just in. 

That`s just going to do it for us tonight.  We`ll see you again tomorrow.

Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL".

Good evening, Lawrence.

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