RACHEL MADDOW, MSBNC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Thanks, my friend. Much appreciated.
CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: You bet.
MADDOW: Thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.
So we`ve got a bit of a scoop tonight. You might have heard a little bit about it before the start of the show tonight. If because you heard we have this scoop, you are just joining us for the fist time, welcome. Happy to have you here. Hope you come back frequently.
Now, I am under no illusion that our scoop here is the only news going on in the world today as we`ve been talking about for the last couple of hours here on MSNBC, former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg appears to have taken the first steps to start a presidential campaign today.
"The New York Times" first to report he dispatched staffers to the great state of Alabama today, which doesn`t have a particularly -- doesn`t have a particularly important role to play at this point in the Democratic primary. But Alabama does have an early filing deadline for candidates getting their name on the ballot for the Democratic primary. So, we`ll be talking a little bit about that Bloomberg news later on tonight. That news is causing lots of buzz. And interestingly lots of ripples of speculation about other Democratic candidates who might still get in if Mike Bloomberg`s apparent move here can be seen as a sign that actually it`s not too late for more Democrats to get into the race to try to win this nomination.
I will just mention that our Pulitzer Prize-winning colleague Eugene Robinson reported online tonight that multiple sources -- excuse me -- that a single source has told him that former Attorney General Eric Holder has been talking to strategists about whether he ought to get in the race as well. Again, Eugene Robinson reporting that tonight with a single source. But if Eric Holder is potentially in the mix and Mike Bloomberg looks like he might be in the mix, well, jeez, just when you thought it`s all over, it`s never over.
Today also marked an embarrassing and expensive end for President Trump to a lawsuit that was brought against him last year for what appears to have basically been a fake scam charity that he operated for decades. It was called the Donald J. Trump Foundation. It`s no more.
It was ostensibly a charity. It was registered as such in New York. Pulitzer Prize-winning reporting from David Fahrenthold at "The Washington Post" detailed how Trump used the money from that so-called charity to pay for things like debts his businesses owed or illegally bolstering his presidential campaign and stuff like buying himself portraits of himself.
That reporting and others led ultimately to New York attorney general filing just a barnburner of a lawsuit against President Trump claiming, quote, persistently illegal conduct at his charity. When that lawsuit was filed by the New York attorney general, President Trump declared publicly, quote, I won`t settle this case. Today, he settled this case.
The judge in the case ordered him to pay $2 million to actual charities. He`s also ordered to shutdown his own fraudulent charity forever, and the president has to admit in writing to multiple instances in which the money for this charity was misused by him and his businesses.
Now, this settlement today is not to be confused with the $25 million settlement the president had to pay for his Trump University thing being a scam. That multi-million dollar fraud settlement is the one he made a couple of years ago as he was becoming president.
I know it can be confusing, but this is actually a whole different multi- million dollar settlement he`s had to pay, not about his Trump University being a fraud. That was another settlement, this about his Trump charity also being a fraud. But it can get confusing all the multi-million dollar fraud settlements the president is paying to settle claims over all of the things he`s put his name on over the years.
In the impeachment proceedings against President Trump today, today saw the first closed door testimony from an official from Vice President Mike Pence`s office. We`re going to have more on that later on this hour. That`s a potentially very interesting turn in the impeachment proceedings. Again, this was closed door testimony, though.
Yesterday, we learned that Ambassador Bill Taylor and senior State Department official George Kent will be the first two witnesses in the public phase of the impeachment proceedings. They`ll be the first two witnesses at the first public impeachment hearing which will be Wednesday of next week. Taylor and Kent will be the witnesses that day. Yesterday we got the transcript of the deposition that Taylor gave to the committees already.
Today, we got the transcript for the testimony that George Kent gave the committees already. And while the Kent transcript that was released to the public today is 300-plus pages of fun just like Ambassador Bill Taylor`s was, it`s fairly easy to see even in this lengthy document why the house might see these two guys, Taylor and Kent, as good first witnesses for the first public hearing to lay out the scope of what really happened.
This is from the George Kent transcript released today. Quote, after having had these two conversations, I wrote a note to the file saying I had concerns there was an effort to initiate politically motivated prosecutions that were injurious to the rule of law both in Ukraine and the U.S. I informed the senior official still present and the European bureau at 7:30 on a Friday night, I informed that official of my intent to write a note to the file which he agreed was the right thing to do.
Question, and when you say politically motivated investigations. Answer, quote, the investigations that were being suggested were the ones that Rudy Giuliani had been tweeting about, meaning Biden, Burisma, and 2016.
That`s from the transcribed -- the transcript of the testimony from Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent. That deposition transcript was released today. George Kent will be on the stand at the first public impeachment hearing of the president which will be Wednesday of next week.
That`s all today. A lot going on.
We`re also going to be talking tonight about the fact that the judge in the ongoing criminal trial of the president`s oldest political advisor, today, the judge in that case had to tell the jury in that case that they are not allowed to download and watch any of the "Godfather" movies when they go home from jury duty tonight. No watching the "Godfather", you guys, even though we know it`s all relevant to this case. There can be no Michael Corleone on your Netflix cue until this trial is over. Do you hear me?
That is not the normal kind of thing a judge has to say in any criminal trial let alone one connected this closely to the president of the United States.
So, lots to get to tonight. These are crazy times. But things have been crazy for a while now as you know. And that brings us to this scoop that we`ve got tonight. It was more than a year ago now, September 5th of last year when an op-ed was published in "The New York Times." The headline was: I am part of the resistance, inside the Trump administration. I worked for the president but like-minded colleagues and I have vowed to thwart parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations.
That op-ed published in "The New York Times" last September, the author anonymous. Before you got to the actual op-ed, there was this paragraph of explanation from "The New York Times" explaining why the paper was taking this, quote, rare step of publishing an anonymous op-ed. "The Times" said it had done so, quote, at the request of the author, a senior official in the Trump administration whose identity is known to us and whose job would be jeopardized by its disclosure.
But then below that explanatory intro from "The Times", the mysterious author just jumped right in, and it was as dramatic as you`d think it might be. Quote: President Trump is facing a test to his presidency unlike any faced by a modern American leader. Many of the senior officials in his own administration are working diligently from within to frustrate parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations. I would know, I am one of them.
Quote: We believe our first duty is to this country and the president continues to act in a manner detrimental to the health of our republic. That is why Trump appointees have vowed to do what we can to preserve our democratic institutions while thwarting Mr. Trump`s more misguided impulses until he`s out of office. It may be cold comfort in this chaotic era, but Americans should know that there are adults in the room. We fully recognize what is happening, and we are trying to do what`s right even when Donald Trump won`t.
Wow, right? That`s September 5th of last year.
The author got specific in terms of outlining concerns among those closest to the president, got very specific about that in one particularly unnerving way that went onto dominate the news for quite a few days afterwards. The author asserting there were, quote, early whispers within the cabinet of invoking the 25th Amendment as a means of removing Trump from office from within. Just gob-smacking stuff, right?
And of course it would be hard to overstate the gravity denying level of intrigue that anonymous op-ed generated, right? Both about what this anonymous official was saying about what was effectively wrong with the president, what was happening inside the White House, but there was also this furious explosion of speculation as to who anonymous was, who had written this thing. A parade of senior administration officials came out and denied themselves being the author.
You might remember the use of the word lodestar in the op-ed made a lot of people question whether the author could potentially be Vice President Mike Pence. Could it be? I don`t know.
The word lodestar has been one of his favorites in recent speeches. Could it be it? After speculation fell on him in that way, Vice President Mike Pence not only emphatically denied being the real author, he said that whoever was the real author must resign immediately.
The U.N. ambassador at the time, Nikki Haley, perhaps inadvertently brought suspicion on herself too when she unprompted published this forceful denial in "The Washington Post." Quote: When I challenge the president, I do it directly. My anonymous colleague should have too.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis all of them came out and said not it, not it, it isn`t me. Meanwhile, the president`s own response was to tweet a single word with question mark: Treason? He followed that up with another calling upon "The New York Times" to, quote, turn him or her over to the government at once.
Needless to say, "The New York Times" is not going to do that. But there was every expectation that the author would be outed, would be found out somehow soon, right? But yet now, well over a year later since that op-ed was published, the identity of that senior administration official remains anonymous. We still don`t know whoever that was warning of a dangerous president, right, who was only being held back from a true disaster from his own appointees working diligently from within to frustrate parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations.
I mean, whoever that was more than a year later, that person is still anonymous. And now, it`s come to this. Within the last two weeks, we got news this still anonymous author has written a book. And it`s called, quote, "A Warning."
The book is done and due to be published this month. The news that anonymous op-ed author has written a book along the same lines that has setoff a whole new round of guessing games as to who it might be. It remains unclear who it is, and, interestingly, it remains unclear whether the author is still a member of the administration. Anonymous is still being billed as a senior Trump administration official.
At the times of the "The New York Times" op-ed in September, though, "The Times" went out of their way to describe the op-ed writer as a current senior administration official. Is the person still a current official inside the administration? We don`t actually know as the book is coming to press. Only the book`s publisher and "The New York Times" editorial page department know who it is and whether or not that`s still the case. They`re not saying.
But I`ll tell you tonight, we have obtained excerpts from this book, lengthy excerpts from this book. And I`m going to share a couple with you tonight. I will tell you, bottom line, the op-ed -- and again, I haven`t seen the entire book. I`ve seen the excerpts.
Bottom line, what I can tell you from the excerpts that we`ve seen is that main point of that op-ed was that reassurance, right, it may be cold comfort in this chaotic era, but Americans should know there are adults in the room. We`re trying to do what`s right even when Donald Trump won`t.
It was kind of -- it was an alarm, but the anonymous author was saying there are people here making sure things don`t go so badly off the rails, the country is not going to be at risk in the way you might be worried about because we`re here -- since that op-ed was published, this author is now sounding a different tone. This author is now essentially saying that if you were comforted at all by the fact there were officials inside this administration who were keeping things on track and thwarting the president`s worst and most misguided impulses, you maybe shouldn`t be comforted by that anymore because that may no longer be the case. And even if it is the case there are people trying, it may not be enough.
So, as I say, my impression here overall is that it is dark, but we`ve got these new excerpts. And I`m going to share them with you now.
So, this first one is from the introduction. This, again, is from a warning by anonymous, a senior Trump administration official.
Quote: The Donald J. Trump administration will be remembered as among the most tumultuous in American history. Future historians will record the volatility of the president`s decision-making as well as the internal struggles of a government forced to grapple with it. They will write that his advisers came to find him unfit for the job. He couldn`t focus on governing and he was prone to abuses of power from ill-conceived schemes to punish his political rivals to propensity for undermining vital American institutions.
The president still lacks the guiding principles needed to govern our nation and fails to display the rudimentary qualities of leadership we should expect of any commander in chief. In "The Times" op-ed, I wrote of a quiet resistance of Trump appointees at the highest levels trying to manage his rash impulses. We wanted the administration to succeed and supported significant components of the president`s agenda. But we were alarmed by his unstable behavior in public and in private.
Those who tried to steer him away from self-destructive impulses were not the so-called deep state, I wrote, but the steady state. This idea was assailed by the president. But the notion his team is working to protect him from himself has since become one of the defining narratives of the Trump administration. Indeed, it was a hallmark takeaway from special counsel Robert Mueller`s report on the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
The president`s efforts to influence the investigation were mostly unsuccessful, Mueller wrote, but that is largely because the persons surrounding the president declined to carry out orders or recede to his requests, close quote.
This included the president`s demand that White House counsel Don McGahn fired the special counsel, a request McGahn rebuffed for fear it would trigger what he regarded as a potential Saturday night massacre and lead to Donald Trump`s impeachment. It probably would have.
President Trump should not be shocked that wary aides and cabinet members saved his presidency. My colleagues have done so many times. He should be worried. We all should be worried that these reasonable professionals are vanishing.
The president is chafed by those who dared to challenge him. He`s targeted and removed many of these officials. From Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, to Chief of Staff John Kelly, one by one. Others have grown tired of the charade and left of their own accord.
With every dismissal and departure of a level-headed senior leader, the risks to the country grow and the president is validated by a shrinking cadre of advisors who abet or encourage his bad behavior. We are already seeing the consequences. Through a toxic combination of amorality and indifference, the president has failed to rise to the occasion in fulfilling his duties. In these pages, I will underscore what Americans should actually be concerned about when it comes to Trump and his administration.
So that is the first excerpt we have obtained from the book "A Warning" by the anonymous author who published that explosive op-ed in "The New York Times" last fall claiming both the president was dangerously unfit and that he was only being held back from disaster by some of his own advisers who were working to frustrate his worst intentions. I`m going to take a break here for a second, but I will to tell you there`s more.
That whole idea laid out at the end of that first excerpt here of what Americans should actually be concerned about when it comes to Trump and his administration. We`ve got a lot more specificity from this anonymous author in terms of what anonymous means by that. What exactly we should be concerned about.
So I`ve got another excerpt for you from "A Warning" by anonymous, a senior Trump administration official coming up next.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: So, tonight, we have obtained the first full excerpts of this. It`s a new book. It`s called "A Warning" by anonymous, a senior administration Trump official. It`s not yet published.
Anonymous in this case is the same senior Trump administration official who last year sounded a public alarm in a "The New York Times" op-ed claiming that President Trump was basically dangerously unhinged and a danger to the country but there were Trump appointees even at the highest levels who knew that about the president and were trying to protect the country from him by thwarting the worst of what the president wanted to do.
That was the thesis of the op-ed last year. In this new book, which is again called "A Warning," anonymous is still anonymous, remarkably. And this author takes a somewhat darker view about whether anybody inside the administration can do enough to protect the country from the kinds of dangers that anonymous says this president poses. This is very provocative thing, obviously, which is why I`m broadcasting these excerpts right now because they are of keen public interest.
But in this position -- this portion that we`ve got, this long excerpt I`m about to read you right now, there`s real specificity in terms of what anonymous is saying what there is to worry about. And this section starts with a subtitle. The subtitle is, quote: He`s about to do something.
To be clear, there is no seditious plot inside the administration to undercut the president. The steady state is not code for a coordinated scheme to sabotage his policies or worse, oust him from office. I use "resistance" in quotes because it`s neither the right`s fear of a deep state gone rogue, or the left`s conception of an active subversion campaign.
Trump`s critics who are rooting for an actual resistance have let their imaginations run wild with the idea of public servants frustrating the fears of government to bring down Trump. If this kind of conspiracy exists, it`s news to me and it would be disturbing. Public service is a public trust. Any government employee with such a nefarious end goal should be condemned. Instead, the early steady state formed to keep the wheels from coming off the White House wagon. When presidential appointees started conferring about their shared concerns with the nation`s chief`s executive, it was not in the dimly lit smoke filled back rooms of Washington. It was done informally, in weekly phone calls around the margins of meetings.
People who compared notes in the workday and in the normal course of business realized that the administration`s problems were more than fleeting. They were systemic, they emanated from the top. Two traits are illustrative of what brought the steady state together: the president`s inattentiveness and his impulsiveness. Both will be documented in this book.
But coming to terms with these characters for the first time had a powerful impact on the people serving in the administration. Take for instance the process of briefing the president of the United States, which is an experience that no description can fully capture. In an administration, advisers -- in any administration, advisers would rightfully want to be prepared for such a moment.
This is the most powerful person on earth that we`re talking about. But before a conversation with him, you`d want to make sure you`ve got your main points lined up in a crisp agenda you`re about to present. You`re about to discuss life and death matters with the leader of the free world, a matter of utmost sobriety and purpose.
The process does not unfold that way in the Trump administration. Briefings with Donald Trump are of an entirely different nature. Early on, briefers were told not to send lengthy documents, Trump wouldn`t read them. Nor should they bring summaries to the Oval Office. If they must bring paper, then PowerPoint was preferred because he`s a visual learner. OK, that`s fine, many thought of themselves, leaders like to absorb information in different ways.
Then officials were told that PowerPoint decks needed to be slimmed down. The president couldn`t digest too many slides. He needed more images to keep his interest, and fewer words.
Then they were told to cut back the overall message, on complicated issues such as military readiness to the federal budget, to just three main points. Eh, that was still too much. Soon, West Wing aides were exchanging best practices for success in the oval office.
The most salient advice, forget the three points. Come in with one main point and repeat it over and over again, even if the president inevitably goes off on tangents, repeat until he gets it. Just keep steering the subject back to it. One point, just that one point, because you cannot focus the commander in chief`s attention on more than one gosh darn thing over the course of a meeting, OK?
Some officials refused to believe this is how it worked. Are you serious, they asked, quizzing others who briefed the president? How could they dumb down their work to this level? They were facilitating presidential decisions on major issues, not debates about where to go out for dinner.
I saw a number of appointees as they dismissed the advice of the wizened hands and went in to see President Trump, prepared for robust policy discussion on momentous national topics, and a peppery give-and-take. Those people invariably paid the price.
What the "F" is this, the president would shout, looking at a document one of them handed him? These are just words, a bunch of words, it doesn`t mean anything.
Sometimes he would throw the papers back on the table. He definitely wouldn`t read them.
One of the hardest culture shifts took place in the National Security Council. NSC staff were accustomed to producing long winded classified memos, but if the aim was to educate this new commander-in-chief, they couldn`t submit a 50-page report entitled something like integrated national strategy for Indo-Pacific Partnership and Defense and expect him to read it and then discuss it. That would be like speaking Aramaic to Trump through a pillow. Even if he tried very hard to pay attention, which he didn`t, he wouldn`t be able to understand what the hell he was hearing.
It took a lot of trial and error for West Wing stands to realize there needed to be a change in the White House briefing process. Until that happened, officials walk out of briefings frustrated. Quote, he is the most distracted person I have ever met, one of the president`s security lieutenant confessed. Quote, he has no F-ing clue what we are talking about.
More changes were ordered to cater to Trump`s peculiarities. Documents were dramatically downsized and position papers became sound bites. As a result, complex proposals were reduced to a single page or ideally a paragraph, and translated into Trump`s winners and losers tone.
Others discovered if they walked into the Oval Office with a simple graphic Trump liked it would more than do the trick. We might hear about it for days in fact. He would hold onto the picture waving it around in meetings. Did you see this? You can believe this? This is beautifully, something truly special.
Dan, he might summon the White House`s social media guru who sits just outside the Oval Office. Dan, let`s tweet this out, OK? Here`s what I want to say. That way the public would get to share his excitement, too.
One graphic that left Trump spellbound was intended to explain certain government and industrial relationships. The basic depiction of interlocked gears likely pulled from clip art showed how different levels of the government bureaucracy depended on parts of the private sector. The president was so mesmerized he showed it off to Oval Office visitors for no apparent reason, leaving us and them scratching our heads.
Another time, he became enamored with a parody poster in the style of the "Game of Thrones" with the words "sanctions are coming" overlaid on the photo of the president. This was meant to be a teaser for forthcoming Iran sanctions. Trump was elated and tweeted the image out to his followers at once, resulting in a cycle of memes mocking the graphic.
Seeing this type of behavior was both educating and jarring to the burgeoning steady state. It was a visceral lesson we weren`t just appointees of the president, we were glorified government baby-sitters. The feeling of unease was cemented by having to deal with the president`s penchant for making major decisions with little forethought or discussion. These "five-alarm fire drills," as I call them, seemed like a curse. When Trump wanted to do something, aides might only get a few hours notice from him before he announced it.
They then launched a frenetic response effort, a race against the clock to reshape his views before the tweet out. This could up end entire workdays. Over time, the last minute warnings actually came to be seen as a luxury. It`s better to have a few hours or minutes for that matter to intervene than have no opportunity at all to convince Trump to hit the brakes on some whacky or destructive idea. He`s less inclined today to preview his decisions.
Here`s how it might play out in the early days of the administration. The president sees something on television, he doesn`t like it. It makes him think maybe I should fire the secretary of commerce or we should pull out of that treaty, it`s really a terrible treaty after all. He might tee up a tweet, then he bounces it off the next aide he talks to who`s stunned to discover the terrible idea is tip of brain for the president of the United States and might be on the brink of becoming reality.
The aide finds the president disinterested in thinking through the consequences. We`re going to do this today, OK, tell Sean to get ready. He wants Press Secretary Sean Spicer prepared to defend it to the death.
Staff throw up the bat signal, calling a snap meeting or teleconference. He`s about to do something, one warns the group, explaining what the president is about to announce. He can`t do this. We`ll all look like idiots and he`ll get murdered for it in the press, the other explains. Yes, well, I`m telling you, he`s going to do it unless you get to it fast, the first warns. Can you cancel your afternoon?
Officials rush back to the White House. The delicate Oval Office schedule is shattered to make way for an unexpected intervention, and top agency executives scrap meetings with foreign leaders, press conferences and briefings to join the gathering. The conversation with the president is tense. He wants to do what he wants to do. Consequences be damned.
It isn`t beneath him to attack his own family members, too. Jared, you don`t know what you`re talking about, OK? I mean, seriously, you don`t know.
After some dire warnings, everyone will get subpoenaed. This will cost you dearly with working class voters. This will put Americans in harm`s way. He might show signs of reconsidering.
Refusing to admit error, the president insists he still wants to go with his original plan, but he backs off temporarily or agrees to a less dramatic measure, averting disaster for the moment.
These mini crises didn`t happen once or twice at the administration`s outset. They became the norm with after shocks that could be felt for days. Some aides were so worn down by the roller coaster of presidential whims that they started encouraging him to hold more campaign rallies, putting aside the fact it wasn`t campaign season.
The events had the dual benefit of giving Trump something fun to do and also getting him out of town where he would hypothetically do less damage. More public events were put on his schedule allowing frayed nerves back in Washington the chance to recover.
So, there`s a little bit more here I`m going to read. But I should interject here to say this warning -- these are excerpts from "A Warning" by anonymous.
And, you know, the anonymity here is a consequential thing. The anonymity of the author for this, you know, ostensibly news-making book that he or she just written is a little bit of a conundrum for those of us in the news business who are supposed to independently verify what appear to be news- making claims here, right? In a normal journalistic context, if you had someone saying, you know, X happened at such and such meeting, the president said X at such and such a meeting, you could go to other people who are at that meeting, you could tell them what the source claimed, right? You could ask the other people at that meeting questions about what the author says happened.
But with an anonymous author trying to protect his or her identity, you can`t do that same thing. You can`t ask people, hey, is this also your recollection of that meeting because this author says he or she was there and you were, too, right? I mean, you could try that. But honestly, you do that once or twice when the meetings in question are small groups of people including inside the Oval Office, you do that once or twice and quickly you`ve outed the person who`s now written up the account of this meeting.
So, I mean, that`s an issue here with this new book, right? This new book which is called "A Warning" by anonymous, because this is an anonymous book, our ability to independently verify this stuff, the ability of other news organizations to independently in a reportorial context be able to identify these specific allegations, figure out who might be able to corroborate them and try to chase them down, it`s almost impossible to do. And that`s a serious consequence in terms of the impact of this book by virtue of the fact it has an anonymous author.
The White House for its part has responded to the publication of the book with a statement from spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham. She says, quote: It takes a lot of conviction and bravery to write a whole book anonymously. It`s the White House is dismissing it.
But honestly, you know, it`s not just the White House making these claims. The author has faced a lifetimes worth of criticism for not being willing to come forward to standby his or her claims, right? That criticism has become more stark now that we are seeing these witnesses stand up and defy orders from the White House not to testify, right? To standby their own claims with their own names attached, showing up in person to talk about their concerns about the president`s behavior in the context of this impeachment.
I mean, if all of these people can`t stand up and testify and put their names to this stuff, why not anonymous? Well, anonymous makes his or her own case for staying unknown in the book. And for what it`s worth, the author`s representatives say he or she does not stand to make money off the book, which is interesting. The author reportedly did not receive an advance -- turned down an advance and intends to donate a majority of the profits from the book to non-profit organizations that focus on press freedom, including the White House Correspondents Association.
We`re advised any profits that aren`t so donated as far as we understand it may be set aside to contend with any legal fees that arise from the publication of this book.
So, again, we`ve obtained these first excerpts from this. I`ve got one more little bit of this that I want to read you tonight where the author grapples with the question of anonymity and staying in this administration despite this view of this president. We`re going to do that when we come back.
We`re also bring into the conversation somebody who has been a senior administration official who`s been in the room with other presidents talking on issues this serious who can hopefully give us some, I think, context in terms of whether or not these very stark warnings from this anonymous author are as dangerous as this author makes them seem.
We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: Quote, I know that`s a question many of you are asking. Why didn`t anyone leave? God knows it would have been easy. We all have draft resignation letters in our desks or on our laptops.
That`s the half teasing half true advice you get on day one in the Trump administration or immediately following Senate confirmation. Be sure to write your resignation letter. You may need it at a moments notice or less. Some of us did consider resigning on the spot in the aftermath of the Charlottesville, Virginia, conflagration.
Quote, one journalist reported a cabinet member saying he would have written a resignation letter, taken it to the president and shoved it up his -- the sentiment was shared but in the end no one angrily stormed out. There was no protest resignation.
Why do people stay? A close friend asked me at the time. You should all quit, he`s a mess.
That`s why I responded, because he`s a mess. It was true for a lot of us. We thought we could keep it together. The answer feels more hollow than it used to. Maybe my friend was right. Maybe that and the aftermath of Charlottesville, maybe that was a lost moment when a rush to the exits would have meant something.
Joining us now is Ben Rhodes, who`s deputy national security adviser under President Obama. He`s the author of "The World As It Is: A Memoir of the Obama White House," which he was able to put his name to proudly.
Ben, thanks very much for being with us tonight. I really appreciate you making time.
BEN RHODES, FORMER OBAMA DEPUTY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Thanks, Rachel.
MADDOW: So, I know that you`ve been absorbing the excerpts of this book as I`ve been delivering here. I just want to get your top line reaction. This is -- this does feel like a warning from this anonymous Trump administration official.
RHODES: Yes. I mean, on the one hand, look, this isn`t surprising. Anybody who`s watched this administration and president for three years is not surprised to hear these things.
I do think, though, we have to understand just how serious this is. People`s lives are at stake. People died because of these kinds of incidents that the author writes about. And to be very specific, you read the excerpt of the Iran sanctions poster, for instance.
You know, I remember briefing President Obama when groups of people many times having long briefing memos where President Obama the next morning had read them the night before and said, well, on page 7, I have questions about the centrifuges at Fordo, an Iranian nuclear facility. And meanwhile, President Trump just went to see a sanctions poster.
Well, that`s our Iran policy right now, is that sanctions poster. Iranians are suffering for it. Medicine is being denied to the Iranian people. The Iranians have now resumed their nuclear -- potential nuclear weapons` capability, including at the nuclear facility in Fordo.
And to get to the point of people dying, if President Trump had been briefed on what would happen to the Kurds when he rashly decided to pull out after one phone call with Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, he would have known that a decision he made would lead directly to the loss of those Kurdish lives.
So, these are life and death matters that presidents address. If you don`t read the briefing memos, if you don`t take the job seriously, real world consequences happen. And that`s what I think we need to take away from this.
This can look like a reality show. We spend a lot of time talking about small, venal things, oftentimes things Trump tweets. But the president of the United States is responsibility for the security, the safety, prosperity of the American people and for very complex issues around the world.
And it`s remarkable to me here we are three years later, and we have someone who`s demonstrably unfit for this office, who makes a mockery of an office that is deeply important to the direction of this country and the world, and this person is laying out for us I think in really chilling detail just how demonstrably unfit he is.
MADDOW: I think the other thing that rises, right, to the top for me, though, almost both on the meta sense and in a direct sense for now that I go these excerpts from the book is the question of responsibility and the sort of room to maneuver for people who are senior officials inside this administration. I mean, there`s the fact this is being published anonymously. There`s the type of, you know, Oval Office behavior as you just were describing there as something as serious as the Iran nuclear deal.
I mean, you`re a senior official in the Obama administration. You knew who President Obama was when he got elected and when he performed as president, it`s my sense from reading your book and talking to you, that he essentially was the president you thought he would be.
Ben, if you`d gone in to talk to him about the Iran nuclear deal or something more serious and he morphed into the type of person that is described here in this book and started behaving that way and started treating this issue with that kind of lack of gravity, what would you have felt like your responsibility was to do, as a senior administration official seeing the president behave that way? What becomes your responsibility once you`re a witness to that?
RHODES: Well, you know, first of all, part of what`s been so difficult about the last three years is that I don`t think that our system ever anticipated that someone like Donald Trump could become president. You know, the way in which the Founders designed the system, the way in which candidates were nominated, someone like this is not supposed to be president of the United States. I don`t know how to put it more bluntly than that. The gravity of the job is just too much.
I would also say, Rachel, I`m appalled not just necessarily this person is anonymous, but there are a lot of people who have seen this president up close who know these things. They need to tell us what they know.
There is an election in one year. If this president is allow today be in charge for another four years, god help us, Rachel. And the reality is it is getting worse because he`s increasingly surrounded by sycophants. He`s increasingly surrounded by people who won`t listen, who won`t tell him what he needs to hear.
And that`s just going to get worse in a second-term. And so, what I find really appalling is that all these people who have cycled through, who could tell us what they know, who have been in rooms like the one that author describes, I think they have a responsibility to publicly say what they know because the American people have to make a decision that could affect the future off our democracy and the future of the stability of the world.
And one year from just last week, there are people who have things to tell us.
MADDOW: Ben Rhodes, former deputy national security adviser for President Obama -- Ben, thank you for being with us tonight to help put this in context. I really appreciate it.
RHODES: Thanks, Rachel.
MADDOW: You do need to understand what even a good White House or bad White House or well-running presidency or poorly running presidency, you kind of have to understand what senior administration officials even in a fairly whacky presidency might see up close and personal in order to see the contrast in what is being described by this author. But, again, what we were able to describe the first excerpts from "A Warning", by anonymous, a senior Trump administration official, raising the prospect that a senior administration official should have potentially -- should potentially have resigned en masse after Charlottesville, raising the possibility that the president needs things to be dumb down for him so much he can`t even, as has previously been reported, handle picture-base briefings or briefings with more than one point in them.
This is sobering stuff. And I know there`s going to be a frenzy around people trying to figure out who this is. And there`s lots of controversy over this person doing it anonymous. But the title here is out. This is real warning.
All right. We`ll be right back. Stay with us.
MADDOW: OK, so here`s something fascinating that happened today. It has to do with this pivotal meeting which is starting to loom larger and larger in the context of the impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump. That is Vice President Mike Pence on the right there sitting down in Europe with the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
This meeting happened on September 1st. So, this is well after President Trump already got on the phone and told the Ukrainian president that he needed to start doing investigations of people for Trump, people like former Vice President Joe Biden.
At this meeting, after that phone call, we know that Vice President Pence told the Ukrainian president in person, face-to-face, that, yes, the U.S. government is holding up military aid to Ukraine unless Ukraine takes action on corruption.
Well, one of the things we`ve been focusing on is who else was in that meeting. You see Energy Secretary Rick Perry there and you seer the former national security advisor John Bolton. There is Gordon Sondland, Donald Trump`s handpicked ambassador to the E.U.
Just yesterday, we learned he now admits after revising his testimony to the House impeachment proceedings, he now admits when Pence was done with that meeting, Sondland got up and did his own meeting with the Ukrainian government on the sidelines of this event in which he personally reinforced to them what they needed to do to get their military aid was announce investigations into Joe Biden.
Well, among the U.S. officials who are at that meeting, in addition to those people I just pointed out was this person in the second row here. That`s an aide to Mike Pence, someone detailed to the Pence office. She`s named Jennifer Williams.
I should mention that she was also listening in on the July 25th phone call between President Trump and President Zelensky, the one where Zelensky asked Trump for more military aid and Trump asked Zelensky to investigate the Bidens. Do us a favor though.
Well, Jennifer Williams, that official, appeared on Capitol Hill today to give testimony on the impeachment proceedings. She`s the first person from the vice president`s office to do so.
But I want to point out one other thing. Also at that September 1st meeting between Mike Pence and the Ukrainian president was the man we spot shadowed here. This is the senior director on the National Security Council who was involved in Ukrainian negotiations.
Interesting thing that happened today. Today, while Jennifer Williams was testifying behind closed doors in the impeachment proceedings, that other guy who was also there at that meeting quit his job today. He quit his job at the White House, his resignation is effective tomorrow.
So we get in quick succession, very quick succession this week, we get Gordon Sondland revising his testimony about that meeting, to say, actually at that meeting that`s where I delivered the definite specific quid pro quo demand that you`re not getting your military aid unless you investigate the Bidens. Then we get Pence`s aide from that meeting, surprise, agreeing to testify behind closed doors today.
And while she was testifying behind closed doors today, we get a surprise announcement that this other person from the National Security Council who was staffing that trip, sitting alongside her, while she`s testifying, he quit today, effective tomorrow.
And maybe these are all unrelated things but a lot of those things are happening all at once in quick succession right now, and you have to wonder what it all means for Vice President Mike Pence. I mean, the president is being impeached for withholding military aid from Ukraine to force tem to go after Joe Biden. When Mike Pence sat down with Ukraine`s president in September, at that meeting, he had almost certainly received the transcript of the call which President Trump demanded that the Ukrainian president do exactly that, and then Pence was at that meeting with an aide who`d actually been on that call.
President`s -- Vice President Pence`s defense in the impeachment proceedings thus far seems to be, hey, you know, at that meeting, at that September 1st meeting when I pressured the Ukrainian president about corruption, I didn`t know corruption meant Joe Biden. Even though everybody else at that meeting apparently definitely knew it was about Joe Biden, Mike Pence`s defense thus far is I had no idea.
Meanwhile, everybody around him is quitting and revising their testimony. You OK, Mr. Vice President?
MADDOW: A little bit of breaking news tonight. Since we have been on the air, the House impeachment committees tonight have just announced a subpoena for the White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney. That means that impeachment investigators are now trying to compel Mulvaney to testify. They previously scheduled him for a deposition tomorrow about what he knew about the suspension of military aid to Ukraine while the president was trying to get Ukraine to gin up investigations against his domestic political rivals.
But this is no longer a request for testimony. Now with this subpoena, it should under normal circumstances compel him to be there.
In terms of the subject matter here, you`ll remember that speaking from White House briefing room last month, Mulvaney already admitted the military aid was held up in a quid pro quo. He just flat out said and it said get over it. But with the subpoena tonight they want him to come in and testify about it.
Of course, realistically, we don`t expect him to comply, but the impeachment committees are signaling here that if White House officials and other people instructed to do so by the president just flat out refuse to respect lawfully issued congressional subpoenas, that may end up being further articles of impeachment against President Trump that they ultimately bring to the floor of the House. So we shall see.
But, again, the White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney has now officially been subpoenaed to testify before the impeachment committees tomorrow. We`ll keep you posted.
That does it for us tonight. We`ll see you again tomorrow.
Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL".
Good evening, Lawrence.
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