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Richard Spencer fired as Secretary of Navy. TRANSCRIPT: 11/25/19, The Rachel Maddow Show.

Guests: Glenn Simpson, Peter Fritsch

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:  Good evening, Chris.  Thanks, my friend.  Much appreciated. 

HAYES:  You bet.

MADDOW:  And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.  Happy to have you here. 

It`s been a day of drama in the news.  We could tell it was going to be like that from the first instance when this letter from the secretary of the Navy, Richard Spencer, was released to the public.  It is his resignation letter, although there had been some spin from the White House, from the administration, that he was fired, this letter makes clear that it was a resignation. 

The letter makes clear that the president`s decision to intervene in the military justice system and the military chain of command to benefit a Navy officer who`s become a real cause celeb on the Fox News Channel, the Navy secretary basically spells out in his letter that that was such an egregious decision from the president, it was such an egregious order from the president, that the Navy secretary is choosing to resign in protest.  He says, quote: As secretary of the Navy, one of the most important responsibilities I have to our people is to maintain good order and discipline throughout the ranks.  I regard this as deadly serious business.  The lives of our sailors, marines and civilian teammates quite literally depend on the professional execution of our many missions. 

And they also depend on the ongoing faith and support of the people we serve and the allies we serve alongside.  The rule of law is what sets us apart from our adversaries.  Good order and discipline is what has enabled our victory against foreign tyranny time and again.  The Constitution and the Uniform Code of Military Justice are the shields that set us apart and the beacons that protect us all.  I have strived to ensure our proceedings are fair, transparent, and consistent from the newest recruit up to the flag and general officer level. 

Unfortunately, he says, it has become apparent that in this respect, I no longer share the same understanding with the commander in chief who appointed me, in regards to the key principle of good order and disciple.  He says, quote: I cannot in good conscience obey an order I believe violates the sacred oath I took in the presence of my family, my flag, and my faith, to support and defend the Constitution of the United States.

And, I mean, you`ve probably seen the headlines about this for the past day and a half now, right?  The circumstance of the president`s intervention in that case, the result in resignation/firing of the Navy secretary in response, that is being spun by the White House more recklessly than a washing machine with a cinderblock in it, but by releasing this letter of resignation and making clear that he resigned because of the president`s intervention to undermine the rule of law and the Constitution as applied by the military justice system, we get from Richard Spencer, the now- ousted, or now-resigned Navy secretary, we get both a rare example of a high-level Trump administration official resigning on principle, rather than agreeing to carry out an immoral or illegal order. 

And we also get something that turned into sort of a theme song for today`s news because we started the day with that -- that defense of the rule of law, that principled resignation in protest from the Navy secretary.  We`ve now ended the day tonight, at least I think the day`s over, with a clarion ruling basically along the same lines from a federal judge.  Federal district court judge in Washington, D.C., who has been hearing the case of whether or not the president is within his rights to simply tell high-level administration officials that they should not testify to Congress even when they are subpoenaed to do so. 

The judge in this case, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson tonight has ruled against the president and has ruled that in this specific instance, the official that the president has instructed to defy the subpoena, former White House counsel Don McGahn, the judge says Don McGahn must comply with that subpoena and he must turn up to Congress to testify.  And this is -- this is a long ruling tonight. 

It`s -- but it`s interesting, it seems to me like it is written with a broad audience in mind because it`s not -- it`s not a super legalistic thing.  It`s not just a mechanistic order that McGahn has to show up and here`s the precedents that lead to that and so forth.  This is the kind of court order, the kind of judicial ruling that is -- if this were on indictment, you`d call it a speaking indictment, right? 

This is a ruling that is designed to be read by people who are outside this case.  This is a ruling, I think, in the specific, that is designed to remind us all what kind of government the Constitution spells out for us and why, when all else fails, we should be able to count on the judiciary, the court system, the rule of law, to protect the Constitution, to make sure that the law is upheld.  To make sure that nobody is above the law. 

In this case, the judge explicitly spells out you should be able to count on the court in cases like this to block the president from assuming powers for himself that Judge Jackson describes not only as monarchical but tyrannical.  She also repeatedly gives the Justice Department a big, strong brushback for their defense of the president`s position in this case.  She`s just scalding about the Justice Department, about the position they took here, defending President Trump, but also how they took it. 

Quote: When DOJ insists that presidents can lawfully prevent their senior level aides from responding to compelled congressional process, and that neither the federal courts nor Congress has the power to do anything about it, the Justice Department promotes a conception of separation of powers principles that gets these constitutional commands exactly backwards.  In reality, it is a core tenet of this nation`s founding that the powers of a monarch must be split between the branches of government to prevent tyranny.  Thus, when presented with a case or controversy, it`s the judiciary`s duty under the Constitution to interpret the law and to declare government overreaches unlawful. 

Similarly, the House of Representatives has the constitutionally vested responsibility to conduct investigations of suspected abuse of power within the government and to act to curb those improprieties if required.  Accordingly, the Justice Department`s conceptual claim to unreviewable absolute testimonial immunity, essentially that the Constitution`s scheme countenances unassailable executive branch authority, that claim from the Justice Department is baseless and as such, it cannot be sustained.

Quote: DOJ says the president has the authority to make unilateral determinations regarding whether he and his senior-level aides will respond to or defy the subpoenas that authorized House committees issued during constitutionally authorized investigations of potential wrongdoing within his administration.

At that point, Judge Jackson diverts briefly to insert a footnote, I kid you not, that referenced George Orwell.  You can tell she`s sort of getting, gearing up for something here. 

Quote: Unfortunately, for DOJ, these contentions about the relative power of the federal courts, congressional committees and the president distort established separation of powers, principles, beyond all recognition.  The arguments that the Justice Department advances to support its claim for testimonial immunity for senior-level presidential aides transgress core constitutional truths. 

Right.  We`re putting Orwell in the footnotes.  We are transgressing core constitutional truths.  We are taking the Justice Department to the woodshed. 

I mean, at this point, she`s only 39 pages into like a 120-page ruling but she`s just getting warmed up.  I mean, look at this line. 

What is missing from the Constitution`s framework is the president`s purported power to kneecap House investigations of executive branch operations by demanding that his senior-level aides breach their legal duty to respond to compelled congressional process.

I have -- I have never seen the word, "kneecap," used as a verb in a federal court ruling before.  What`s missing from the Constitution`s framework is the president`s purported power to kneecap House investigations of executive branch operations. 

I have never seen "kneecap" used like a verb as that in the federal court ruling.  I may have been reading the wrong kinds of cases, but let me just read you -- I`m going to read you couple lines here and I`m going to close with what I think is the most powerful part of the ruling. 

Judge Jackson says toward the end of this ruling tonight, quote: The United States of America has a government of laws and not of men.  The Constitution and federal law set the boundaries of what is acceptable conduct.  However busy or essential a presidential aide might be, and whatever their proximity to sensitive domestic and national security projects, the president does not have the power to excuse him or her from taking an action that the law requires. 

Stated simply, Judge Jackson says, the primary takeaway from the past 250 years of recorded American history is that presidents are not kings.  This means that they do not have subjects bound by loyalty or blood whose destiny they are entitled to control.  Rather, in this land of liberty, it is indisputable that current and former employees of the White House work for the people of the United States and that they take an oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.

Like I said, this is, like, this is the judge`s ruling equivalent of a speaking indictment, right?  This is a history lesson and a message to the public. 

I just want to read you just one last piece of this because this is the Don McGahn case which is being decided here by this judge, right?  The ruling says, bottom line, that Don McGahn has to testify.  That Trump can`t tell Don McGahn to defy the subpoena to testify, but this case did not come up in the context of the current impeachment proceedings against President Trump, right? 

You will remember that Don McGahn, then-White House counsel, was subpoenaed to testify to Congress not because of the current impeachment but because of the Mueller investigation.  Remember, Don McGahn was, like, the key witness to ten different instances of potential obstruction of justice that were laid out in great detail in Mueller`s report.  Don McGahn was cited more than any other witness in that report. 

But even though that was the context in which this case was initially brought, the case is being settled now, this ruling is arriving now tonight, of course, while impeachment proceedings are under way, and while congressional oversight of this president is, therefore, at its most serious and most consequential point yet.  And so this is just the last bit of this I want you to hear.  Listen to how Judge Jackson sort of situates us here in that moment, in the importance of this moment for the rule of law, for the fate of the republic.

She says, quote: When a committee of Congress seeks testimony and records by issuing a valid subpoena in the context of a duly authorized investigation, it has the Constitution`s blessing.  Ultimately, the committee is acting not in its own interest, but for the benefit of the people of the United States.  If there is fraud or abuse or waste or corruption in the federal government, it is the constitutional duty of Congress to find the facts and as necessary take corrective action. 

Conducting investigations is the means that Congress uses to carry out that constitutional obligation.  Thus, blatant defiance of Congress` centuries- old power to compel the performance of witnesses is not an abstract injury, nor is it a mere banal insult to our democracy.  It is an affront to the mechanism for curbing abuses of power that the framers carefully crafted for our protection.  It is hard to imagine a more significant wound than such alleged interference with Congress` ability to detect and deter abuses of power within the executive branch for the protection of the people of the United States.

And so, Don McGahn and other senior White House officials who have been told to defy congressional subpoenas by the president, according to this judge`s ruling, Don McGahn and similarly situated White House officials, they are not bound by the president`s instruction when he tells them, don`t go.  They, instead, are bound by the subpoena and they must go.  They must go to Congress and they must testify. 

Now, in response to this ruling tonight, Don McGahn`s lawyer said this, he said, Don McGahn will comply with Judge Jackson`s decision unless it is stayed pending appeal.  And at the time I got on the air tonight the decision had not yet been stayed pending appeal, everybody is expecting it likely will be.  While the Trump White House and the Justice Department under William Barr try to drag this out as long as possible.  They`ll keep appealing as far as they can. 

So, we`ll see how that affects the ongoing investigations and impeachment proceedings on Capitol Hill and who has to testify despite Trump telling them not to.  We don`t know exactly the timeframe on which this will ultimately be resolved, if as expected the government appeals it to a higher court.  We also don`t know whether any of the White House officials who are currently refusing to testify in the impeachment proceedings might have been waiting for a court ruling like this to give them some cover, right?

This is a court order that says you have to follow these, these subpoenas, you have to obey these subpoenas, the president telling you not to is not actually legally kosher.  The president doesn`t have the right to tell you to defy a subpoena for no reason.  If there are any White House officials who have been defying subpoenas on the president`s order and those White House officials in fact in their secret heart of hearts might actually want to testify rather than having to, you know, continue to sit there silently while everybody else tries to blame stuff on you, you`re not allowed to defend yourself, just speaking hypothetically -- Mulvaney -- we don`t know whether there are any of these White House officials who might have been waiting for a ruling like this to make a change, make a decision in terms of whether or not they`re going to obey subpoenas or continue to defy them. 

But while the stakes here are high enough as it is, there`s also these criminal cases that are proceeding alongside and in parallel with the impeachment proceedings on Capitol Hill, right?  And today, alongside this clarion rule of law decision from Judge Jackson and the D.C. circuit, and D.C. district court, today also those criminal cases produced some sort of bonkers headlines, including for the man who is apparently still President Trump`s lawyer because Rudy Giuliani is definitely who you would go to for legal advice and who you think the president of the United States should be consulting for his wise advice and guidance on legal matters at this point. 

Rudy Giuliani apparently is still the president`s lawyer, keep that in mind when you see the headlines today about Mr. Giuliani.  "The Wall Street Journal" was first to have this story today.  Quote: Federal subpoenas seek information on Giuliani`s consulting business. 

Again, these are not subpoenas by Congress in this case.  These are subpoenas by a federal grand jury working with federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York.  That federal prosecutor`s office in the Southern District of New York at one point was led by Rudy Giuliani when he was U.S. attorney in New York. 

Times have changed.  So has Rudy Giuliani.  Now he`s under investigation, under what appears to be a serious criminal investigation by the office he used to lead. 

As I mentioned, "The Wall Street Journal" was first to report this story quickly followed by "The Washington Post" and CNN and several other outlets.  Ultimately, it was "Reuters`" reporter Aram Roston who was first to report some of the actual texts of these subpoenas that have reportedly been delivered to multiple people associated with Rudy Giuliani in recent days and weeks. 

According to Roston`s reporting, quote, the subpoena requests that the recipient provide all documents, including correspondence with or related to Rudolph Giuliani, Giuliani Partners, or any related person or entity.  Giuliani Partners is Rudy Giuliani`s consulting company. 

Quote: The subpoena also seeks documents related to any actual or potential payments or agreements to or with Giuliani.

So, if Roston is right about that being the specific language that`s on these subpoenas that have been going out to multiple people in recent days and weeks, there`s no doubt that this is not just about people who Rudy Giuliani knew, this is about Rudy Giuliani and his firm and money paid to him or promised to him through his firm.  This appears to be a serious active criminal investigation into the president`s personal lawyer. 

I mean, one of the president`s personal lawyers is already currently serving a long federal prison term right now.  This -- this would be his current personal attorney who`s not currently incarcerated, but how many more of them are there going to be, how many more of them are going to go through this? 

I mean, also, I don`t know whether this is a standard thing or not when it comes to subpoenas, but "The Wall Street Journal" and several other outlets that followed their reporting today say that one of the striking things about these new subpoenas that have been going out in the Giuliani case in recent days and weeks is not only that they`re asking for all of this information very specifically about Rudy Giuliani, the president`s lawyer, but the subpoenas apparently are also describing which crimes are under consideration by prosecutors in this case. 

Again, I don`t know if this is normal for a subpoena, but according to "The Wall Street Journal" these subpoenas reportedly, quote, list more than half a dozen potential charges under consideration including obstruction of justice, money laundering, conspiracy to defraud the United States of America, making false statements to the federal government, serving as an agent of a foreign government without registering with the Justice Department, donating funds from foreign nationals, making contributions in the name of another person or allowing someone else to use one`s name to make a contribution, plus mail fraud, plus wire fraud.  Anything else? 

These grand jury subpoenas not only mentioned Giuliani himself and his consulting firm, they`re also reportedly asking for materials related to America first action, which is the officially endorsed Republican super PAC that is the chief fund-raising entity in support of President Trump`s re- election.  So, the president`s lawyer, the one who`s not in prison, the one who`s not in prison, is now apparently the subject of this serious criminal investigation and the main funding entity, the main super PAC associated with the president`s re-election effort, is also the subject of these subpoenas from a federal grand jury involved in an active criminal investigation in the Southern District of New York. 

Oh, so that`s not good.  I mean, all right, the president knows he`s in trouble in terms of what`s going on in Washington.  The president has lawyers to help him with his trouble.  One of his lawyer seems to be in lot and lots of trouble now, while the impeachment inquiry is in full swing. 

And if that`s not enough, CNN also broke this story today.  You may remember that up of the cute little nicknames SDNY has for President Trump is, quote, individual-1.  When the president`s first personal lawyer Michael Cohen was sent to federal prison, that was in part for campaign finance felonies that federal prosecutors said had been committed not only to benefit President Trump`s re-election campaign, but those felonies had been directed by President Trump. 

According to federal prosecutors in the Cohen case, it was President Trump who directed the commission of the felonies for which Cohen was convicted.  Cohen is one of the people who carried out that criminal scheme after being told to do so by the president.  That`s why he went to jail. 

The president, himself, was not criminally charged, presumably because under justice department policy, a president can`t be criminally charged.  But that case is still alive.  Whether or not it`s still alive is a matter of federal prosecution in the Southern District of New York.  The New York district attorney has essentially picked up that case under state law because under state law, that whole scheme for which Michael Cohen has already gone to federal prison, it might also be a state law criminal violation, particularly if the president`s business was used to help in the commission of that crime, if the president`s business was used to disguise or basically launder the quarter million dollars or so that was paid out in that illegal scheme. 

Well, today, CNN reports that in that case, in the New York district attorney state law investigation of that hush money case, the president`s longtime friend, head of the company that publishes "The National Enquirer" supermarket tabloid, he has been speaking with New York prosecutors about this case.  You might remember "The National Enquirer" and parent company had a non-prosecution agreement when the SDNY was initially investigating this matter.  That non-prosecution agreement was only federal.  Any immunity deal like that for David Pecker and his company would not apply to state prosecutors looking at this as a matter of state law.  Incidentally, neither would the president have any ability to pardon anyone associated with this as a way of getting them off the hook. 

In addition to interviewing Michael Cohen in prison multiple times about this case, and now apparently interviewing David Pecker, the guy from AMI as well, these prosecutors have also subpoenaed documents related to this crime, including financial records they have subpoenaed from the president`s accounting firm, Mazars.  Because there wasn`t enough happening already today, tonight, the Supreme Court, yes, that Supreme Court, the Supreme Court of the United States, tonight issued a stay on a lower court ruling that had upheld the validity of a subpoena to Mazars for those Trump financial records. 

So, that decision by the Supreme Court -- that decision by the Supreme Court to put a hold on that lower court ruling, to issue a stay on that ruling, suggests to some legal observers that the Supreme Court of the United States is going to take that case.  That they are going to take up this issue of Mazars and decide whether or not the president`s financial records can be obtained by subpoena, in one of these myriad investigations that now, you know, seeks to not just uncover the president`s behavior but to follow the money trail behind it. 

So, that`s all today, right?  I mean, busy day today with a strong rule of law theme song uniting today`s fast-developing stories on all these different fronts. 

When it comes to following the money, though, I -- you are going to want to meet our next guests.  They`re here in studio tonight.  When it comes it this president and the scandals that surround this president, particularly the very serious ones, there is no one who has followed the money more aggressively and in more detail than the two guests that we`re about to have on this show. 

There`s also been nobody who`s gotten more blow-back and more retaliatory attacks for their work.  These guys have been through the wringer, but they have dug up the most extraordinary material and they`re joining us here live, next.

  Stay with us. 


MADDOW:  After last two weeks after drama in the impeachment hearings, Congress has now gone home for the Thanksgiving break, but they did leave behind certain thoughts and expectations for what`s going to happen when they get back.  Or maybe even during the break, including this twist you might not have expected.

Quote: Now that House Democrats have wrapped up public hearings on President Donald Trump`s pressure campaign to get Ukraine to launch politically advantageous investigations, there are plans to hold at least one public impeachment hearing on Trump`s misdeeds as alleged in the special counsel`s report.

Oh, really?  Having been surprised on a near daily basis by this story and these unfolding scandals, with this, as with everything, I will believe it when I see it, but is Congress going to hold a public hearing on the Mueller investigation in a way that they haven`t already in the context of this impeachment? 

We do know that Congress is interested in whether the president has obstructed justice, for example.  By stonewalling Congress the way he stonewalled the Mueller investigation.  And honestly, when it comes to the Mueller investigation, when it comes to the core allegations at the heart of that scandal -- well, we just got a really, really, really, really good new account of how that all came together.  And specifically, what the people who looked hardest at that evidence came to know about the president, how they came to know it, and the price they paid for it when it became known what they were doing. 

Glenn Simpson is a former investigative reporter at "The Wall Street Journal."  He`s also the founder of Fusion GPS, the firm that began looking into Donald Trump right after he joined the presidential race in 2015, the firm that hired British ex-spy Christopher Steele of the famous Steele dossier. 

Republicans in Congress have hauled Glenn Simpson in for testimony.  They have gone after his bank records.  They have tried to discredit him at every turn. 

But Glenn Simpson is still doing his work.  He has a new book out with his fusion GPS co-founder and fellow "Wall Street Journal" alum Peter Fritsch.  The book is called "Crime in Progress: Inside the Steele Dossier and Fusion GPS Investigation of Donald Trump."

Now, I`ve read kind of all the books on this subject.  I mean, not like there`s a whole library of them, but there`s a number of books on this subject.  This is the one you want to read. 

Let me just give you this.  This one part here about the Mueller report just to give you a little bit of flavor.  Quote: In the end, the Mueller probe sidestepped the question that so unnerved Fusion GPS and Christopher Steele in the summer of 2016.  Was the president of the United States under the influence of a foreign adversary? 

As the dust settled on Robert Mueller`s work and his desultory testimony before Congress, several realities became clear.  First the main lesson of Watergate wasn`t heeded.  Mueller did nor or was not allowed to follow the money.  There`s no indication in his report the investigation looked at Trump`s taxes, his outstanding debts, his curious relationship with Deutsche Bank or his long history of financing real estate projects with foreign cash of unknown origin, precisely the places where Russian influence efforts were most likely to surface.

They continue, quote, was Russia using economic or other leverage to manipulate Trump?  Did that explain Trump`s bizarre coddling of Putin and his reluctance to impose sanctions or say a harsh word about Russia`s illegal seizure of Crimea, its use of chemical weapons in England, its attempts to hack the U.S. election system? 

That central question, whether Russia had Trump under its thumb, was the focus of a secretive counterintelligence investigation that, according to Mueller, was hived off from his duties early on.  Its findings, if any, remain buried deep in the bowels of the FBI spy-hunting unit where they will likely remain. 

Joining us now are the authors of "Crime in Progress: Inside the Steele Dossier and the Fusion GPS investigation of Donald Trump", Fusion GPS co- founders Glenn Simpson and Peter Fritsch.

Gentlemen, thank you both for being here.  It`s good to have you here.



MADDOW:   I feel like not only I, but all of us have heard so much about all of you, having you here telling your own story feels like a turn of the tables.  The -- in the prologue, you make clear this is only possible essentially because of the investigations of you, because of the way Congress came after you.  Can you explain that? 

SIMPSON:  Well, the Republicans controlled Washington for two years, all of Washington for two years, and they used that time to investigate the investigators and dig into us and waste enormous amounts of money trying to find something on us that would discredit us rather than investigating the Russian attack on our election and our democracy. 

MADDOW:  And the consequence of that materially for you, you`re essentially freed up to talk about some things that would otherwise be confidential client matters? 

FRITSCH:  That`s absolutely right.  We respect our covenants with our clients, in this case, the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary for president campaign.  We were not able to talk about those things for a long time and in the meantime, faced a lot of pressure from Republicans in Congress, specifically the chairman of the Judiciary Committee and the House Intelligence Committee, Devin Nunes. 

MADDOW:  In terms of the way that you approach the pressure (ph) -- the reason I think this book is sort of the one you should read of all the books that have been written about this subject is because I feel fairly steeped in this matter and I learned something on every page, just a lot of detail in there that I didn`t know, everything from the criminal background of the guy to whom Trump sold his house in Palm Beach, of that $100 million house.  I mean, to Lindsey Graham supporting John McCain`s decision that the Steele memo should be shown to FBI Director James Comey, which you wouldn`t know talking to Senator Graham today. 

FRITSCH:  I mean, the point is we started in August of 2015 working for Republicans, by the way, less known, everyone forget that.  And we turned up a lot of indications of Trump`s kind of unexplained relationship with Russia and with Russians and people who were alleged and convicted criminals, up to and including now Paul Manafort.  Paul Manafort was actually one of the most interesting and shocking sort of appearances on the stage for us because we had worked on him more than a decade ago at "The Wall Street Journal."

SIMPSON:  Something, and the Dmytro Firtash was another subject of our reporting back then.  So it was quite extraordinary to have written about several of the people who a decade ago who surfaced in 2016. 

MADDOW:  In terms of your -- both of you having background at "The Wall Street Journal," the type of work you`ve done at fusion, ability you have not only to do exhaustive public records stuff but really to get into the financial and business side of things, you raise this provocative question early on and return back to it again and again in the book that one of the unusual things in President Trump`s business history is that he did try over and over and over again to do deals in Russia.  He went to Russia.  He tried to set up deals there. 

He did set up deals in lots of other international locations, but for some reason in Russia, nothing visible ever came of it. 

FRITSCH:  That`s -- that`s why we called Chris Steele. 

It turns out there`s no public record access laws in Russia that allow you to actually get to the bottom of some of the questions we had.  So, because of that, we turned to the most, in our judgment, the most respected and competent person to conduct some of those inquiries. 

SIMPSON:  And it`s still an enduring mystery, but, I mean, the circumstances under which we came to Chris were more prosaic than what we`re living through now.  We weren`t looking to see whether Donald Trump had a secret relationship with the Kremlin, we were looking into whether he`d been involved in any sort of questionable business deals, sort of more routine foreign corruption cases, that sort of thing. 

MADDOW:  We`ll be right back with Peter Fritsch and Glenn Simpson, Fusion GPS co-founders.  Their new book is called "Crime in Progress."  It`s really good. 

We`ll be right back with them after this.  Stay with us. 


MADDOW:  The new book is called "Crime in Progress: Inside the Steele Dossier and the Fusion GPS Investigation of Donald Trump."  Fusion GPS has been turned into an epithet in the words, in the mouths of House Republicans and some Senate Republicans it trying to essentially blame you guys for having invented the myth that Russia interfered in the 2016 election. 

You write about how being aware at the time when you guys were doing your work that there was going to be blow-back, that you would become target, you write in very serious terms about the risk to the sources who were used to collect some of this information. 

Did you anticipate that you would -- that your lives would be transformed to the degree that they have? 

FRITSCH:  I mean, we knew that would happen when once the dossier was published by "BuzzFeed" --

MADDOW:  Yes. 

FRITSCH:  -- in January of 2017.  But I don`t know if we were as former journalists we were that well-prepared for the scale and the banality of the lies being told on the right about us, and the willingness of the Republicans to put party before country.

SIMPSON:  I mean, so, I went to college in Washington.  I basically spent most of my professional life in Washington covering scandals.  And so, there was some ability to anticipate what might happen to us in terms of investigations and legal costs and all that.

But this is so off the charts of anything that I`ve ever seen, you know, in my career in Washington.  The amount of concerted effort to destroy us through lawsuits, congressional investigations, right-wing media attacks -- I mean, it`s been wild. 

FRITSCH:  We have great company now, former ambassadors, former FBI directors, and a number of others, right? 


FRITSCH:  Anyone who criticizes this president is attacked mercilessly. 

MADDOW:  Because the book is coming out now in the midst of the impeachment of Donald Trump, on this Ukraine issue, I do want to ask you to talk a little bit about the Manafort factor because there is drama, sort of personal drama in the way that you guys write about how you had previous knowledge of Manafort.  You`ve looked into Manafort in your journalistic enterprises in the past and through some other Fusion research and then when Manafort was appointed to run Trump`s campaign, you were shocked for a number of reasons. 

Manafort also seems to be playing a pretty considerable role in the current scheme for which the president is being impeached.  Rudy Giuliani said he`s been consulting with Manafort on strategy on this matter. 

FRITSCH:  Sure. 

MADDOW:  Can you help people understand the importance of Manafort?  I think he`s started to be seen as a marginal figure here.  But you saw him as really central. 

SIMPSON:  We did.  I mean, we didn`t immediately see him there -- initial reaction when he was hired to help run the campaign was just shock and disbelief, and we just assumed he would quickly go up in flames and would be, you know, buried in scandal from his past.  That actually didn`t happen.  As time went on, we began to think that he was there for a reason and that it was not a coincidence that he had joined the campaign. 

MADDOW:  What do you mean? 

SIMPSON:  Well, after the platform, after the Republicans changed the platform during their convention to make it softer on Ukraine, that seemed like something that Manafort probably had a hand in and really the only beneficiary of that was Russia.  So, it`s a puzzle, and these pieces are starting to come together and they make it more suspicious that something is going on here. 

FRITSCH:  Just to back up half a step, Paul Manafort was one of the most ruthless beltway bandits on the Republican side for many years working for dictators around the world, Ferdinand Marcos, et cetera, et cetera.  You know, he popped back up in the mid-aughts, 2000s, working for Yanukovych, the president of Ukraine, who was a Putin-backed, you know, puppet frankly.

And, you know, we worked on stories after that.  At the time, though, he sort of disappeared.

MADDOW:  Uh-huh.

FRITSCH:  And for a while, you know, he really disappeared and turned out he was in business with Oleg Deripaska, a Russian oligarch who`s very loyal to Vladimir Putin.  Glenn, who`s something of a wizard when it comes to public documents, turned up the fact that he was being pursued by Oleg Deripaska, you know, for a debt he owed him. 

MADDOW:  Several million dollars of debt. 

FRITSCH:  More than several hundred --

SIMPSON:  Tens. 

FRITSCH:  Tens of millions of dollars. 

MADDOW:  And that --

FRITSCH:  To the effect -- to the point that a service processer looked for Paul Manafort in Virginia and couldn`t find him.  That`s how off the map he was. 

MADDOW:  When Donald Trump picked him to run his campaign. 

FRITSCH:  Correct. 

SIMPSON:  The preceding year or two.  Yes. 

So -- and the fundamental thing we learned when we were covering Russian oligarchs and Russian corruption in the 2000s was that Putin exercises his influence in the West via his loyal oligarchs.  It`s an informal system, but they take direction from the Kremlin. 

MADDOW:  Glenn Simpson and Peter Fritsch, the co-founders of Fusion GPS, the book is "Crime in Progress: Inside the Steele Dossier and the Fusion GPS Investigation of Donald Trump" -- you guys have been through hell and high water.  Thanks for putting in your own words and helping putting it all in one place.  Appreciate it. 

FRITSCH:  Nice to meet you. 

MADDOW:  Thanks. 

SIMPSON:  Thank you.

MADDOW:  Thanks. 

All right.  We`ll be right back.  Stay with us. 


MADDOW:  We are following two major legal developments tonight, one from the United States Supreme Court about the president`s financial records, that order takes up just one piece of paper.  It says basically the president can stop his accounting firm from handing over his financial records to prosecutors.  Excuse me, to congressional oversight committee.  He can block those records from being handed over for now, pending a possible Supreme Court hearing on that issue.  So, that`s just the one-page order. 

The other one we are following, the chunky one, is about former White House counsel Don McGahn and whether he has to comply with congressional subpoena to testify before the House Judiciary Committee.  The short answer from this federal judge on the Don McGahn issue is, yes, Don McGahn must testify, but the full 120-page answer is honestly worth every word. 

Some select lines.  Quote: What is missing from the Constitution`s framework as the framers envisioned it is the president`s purported power to kneecap investigators in the House of Representatives. 

Or this: The court cannot, quote, abide the Department of Justice` less than subtle suggestion that the president wields virtually unchecked power.  Continuing, quote, stated simply, the primary takeaway from the past 250 years of recorded history is that presidents, American presidents are not kings.  This means that they do not have subjects bound by loyalty or blood whose destiny they are entitled to control.  Rather in this land of liberty, it is indisputable that current and former employees of the White House work for the people of the United States.

And then there`s this simple one, quote: Per the Constitution, no one is above the law.  That one practically embroiders itself, right? 

Joining us now is Barbara McQuade, former U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan. 

Barb, thanks very much for being here tonight as this stuff continues to roll in at pace. 

BARBARA MCQUADE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY:  Oh, thanks, Rachel, I am glad to discuss this opinion because I, too, have never seen the word, "kneecap," in a judicial opinion.  I was digging through it looking for a reference to cement overshoes. 

MADDOW:  Yes, exactly.  It is dramatic and it seems to be written not just for lawyers and the people involved in the case but for a wider audience.  At least that`s how I read it.

But I wonder, do judges actually do that?  Do judges sometimes write opinions knowing that there`s going to be sufficient public interest that it might get read on TV, it might get read in classrooms, that it might become essentially a document that`s for public consumption? 

MCQUADE:  Oh, sure.  I think sometimes they use soaring rhetoric, you know, imagining that it will be etched into the stone above a doorway someday, but I also think that there is a lot of substance in this opinion.  It does go on for 120 pages but today is the great day for the rule of law and that is what is the ultimate conclusion that she writes here that presidents are not kings, that we have this tri-part form of government and it`s very important that we maintain the checks and balances.  And so, I think at its heart, it`s a very patriotic opinion. 

MADDOW:  The -- heading into this, we`ve been, obviously, watching the McGahn case on substance because the question of whether McGahn is going to testify is, itself, a meaty, substantive, interesting matter.  But now that the impeachment is under way and there`s all of these other senior officials who are also defying subpoenas the way that Don McGahn did, there`s been a question as to whether or not this ruling would be narrowly targeted to just apply to Don McGahn or whether it might also apply to people like John Bolton or the deputy national security adviser under Bolton, Charles Kupperman, or any of the other people who are fighting subpoenas including those who have asked other judges to weigh in on that. 

Can you tell us how broad or narrow you think this is construed? 

MCQUADE:  I think the judge here used language deliberately to try to suggest that it`s not narrow, that it implies, for example, she says even to witnesses who work in the national security space.  Nonetheless, this opinion really does only apply to this witness, if other witnesses received subpoenas, they, too, could file a legal challenge in court.  The case might be assigned to a different judge, most likely would be assigned to a different judge and that judge would be free to write on a blank slate.

Now, this opinion would serve as some guidance but not binding on that judge.  And I think strategically, the House Democrats may want to avoid the scenario.  They have a good opinion.  Maybe ride this through the Court of Appeals and all the way through the Supreme Court. 

MADDOW:  Speaking of the Supreme Court, briefly, Barb, we`ve got this one- page order essentially putting a stay to the subpoena to Mazars, that they should hand over the president`s financial records.  It`s just a stay.  It`s not a ruling. 

But do you see that as a sign that the Supreme Court is going to take up that case? 

MCQUADE:  I do.  I think it would be a bigger deal, more newsworthy perhaps if they denied that request for a stay and the case were allowed to proceed and the tax returns would be turned over immediately.  I think this just means they are more likely -- the standard means that there is a likelihood that the justices want to hear the case, that there is some irreparable harm that could occur if they don`t take the case.  And so, I think it`s a signal they will take the case but not a signal as to how they will decide to the merits. 

MADDOW:  Barbara McQuade, former U.S. attorney in Michigan, thank you so much for being here, Barb.  I really appreciate it. 

MCQUADE:  Thanks, Rachel. 

MADDOW:  All right.  More news ahead, stay with us. 


MADDOW:  It was just under the wire, just before the deadline of midnight on Friday night when the State Department released 100 pages of documents related to the impeachment inquiry.  A federal court had ordered those documents released to a watchdog group called American Oversight.  American Oversight had sued for them under the Freedom of Information Act.

And, yes, midnight begrudging release or not, there was plenty of stuff to see in those 100 pages.  You could see the White House helping Rudy Giuliani get in touch directly with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.  This is while Giuliani was pushing for the ouster of Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch.  You can see in those 100 pages that Rudy Giuliani did, in fact, talk to Secretary Pompeo at least twice, just before, in fact, Marie Yovanovitch was pulled off her job in Ukraine. 

So, that was very bad news for Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in terms of his complicity in the impeachment scandal.  That was in the 100 pages we got from the State Department Friday night. 

But thanks be to FOIA, here comes more.  Today, a federal judge ordered the Defense Department and the Office of Management and Budget to turnover more than 200 pages of documents about the same scandal.  Half of them need to be released by December 12th.  The other half by December 20th. 

This is in response to another Freedom of Information Act request by another watchdog group, in this case, it`s the Center for Public Integrity.  These documents are likely to be about the military aid to Ukraine that was held up on the president`s orders.  The holdup of that aid has become a central matter in the impeachment inquiry.  The president ordering that aid to something that OMB officials apparently discussed openly inside administration while the aid was being held up. 

But how the Defense Department and the White House discussed it and whether they talked about the reason it was being with held, we may be about to find that out, too. 

Stay tuned.  Watch this space. 


MADDOW:  I mentioned earlier in the hour that Congress is on their Thanksgiving break as of this week.  The Intelligence Committee chairman, Congressman Adam Schiff of California, released a letter to his congressional colleagues today explaining what`s happening in the impeachment process now that the scheduled public hearings are over. 

Congressman Schiff saying today that the committee will now start to produce its report on the findings of its investigation but intriguingly, he suggested that while new information continues to be produced, that will either be added to the report as it comes out, they may also, they may also append new information to the report even after they initially publish their initial findings. 

The reason that`s interesting the question of when the impeachment articles are going to be drawn up and voted on in the House, but in the more immediate sense, it also may affect when the Judiciary Committee gets going.  This technically is being sort of handed over to the judiciary right now to handle the drawing up of those articles and the preparation ultimately of those articles for the full house to vote on, with the intelligence committee producing its report now as they get ready to hand that over.  We have very little insight into how judiciary is going to approach work. 

Luckily, a member is going to be on with Ali Velshi who is in for Lawrence tonight. 

So that will do it for me so you can move on to that.  We`ll see you again tomorrow. 

Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD" with Ali Velshi, in for Lawrence.

Good evening, Ali.

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