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Pam Bondi and Trump Foundation. TRANSCRIPT: 12/13/19, The Rachel Maddow Show.

Guests: Cass Sunstein


Good evening, Rachel.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST:  Good evening, Chris.  Spectacular.  I love your live shows. 

Thanks, my friend.

HAYES:  Thank you.  Have a good weekend.

MADDOW:  Thanks.

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

Impeachments turns out they are unpredictable things.  We have not had very many of them in the course of U.S. history so by definition that means we don`t have a lot of historical experience and data to extrapolate from in terms of forming an informed take on what`s going to happen next and how this is all likely to turn out.  I mean, if nothing else I think that should make us all a little bit humble about predicting what`s going to happen in the end with this impeachment or even what`s going to happen next with this impeachment. 

For example, this time last night I was all confident, just flat out saying here on the air that before the end of the night last night, the House Judiciary Committee was definitely going to vote on articles of impeachment against President Trump.  I was forgetting that I should be humble about these things as we all should be.  I said, you know, you should definitely plan to get the physical paper of edition of your newspaper today, because newspapers all over the country their headlines this morning would be these historic front page spreads about the Judiciary Committee passing articles of impeachment against the president.  Yes, I was so sure. 

That`s actually not what was on the front page of any paper in the country today, in its paper edition at least because of course they didn`t get to the articles of impeachment last night.  I was all confident and cocky being like oh, yeah that`s definitely going to happen.  That did not happen.  That said, I feel like the universe rescued me a little bit on this because the front pages of today`s newspapers around the country were still kind of awesome even if they weren`t those headlines that I predicted about them passing the articles. 

I mean, just to chapter the moment of where we are, the front pages of today`s papers around the country were kind of amazing.  This was the "L.A. Time`s" front page today, "On the Brink of Impeachment Vote."  They`ve got that two man shot with Jerry Nadler in his glasses looking very sober and next to him is the top Republican on the committee, Doug Collins.  What`s he doing?  He`s like blowing up an imaginary beach ball, making this incredible grimace. 

This was the "Arkansas Democrat Gazette", impeachment hearing rancorous, divided panel moves House closer to vote.  And again, you`ve got Nadler and Collins there. 

Here`s "The Washington Post," article one, abuse of power, article two, obstruction of congress.  Rancor ahead of historic vote, judiciary panel weighs charges.  Anger fuels marathon impeachment debate. 

All the away across the country, this was "The San Francisco Chronicle" today.  House panel on brink of historic vote.  Delay: chairman puts off decision as parties battle.

Other side of the country again, this is "The Tampa Bay Times", fierce debate ahead of vote. 

This was "The Arizona Republic", this is interesting.  Look at their headline, right, they said, partisans hold the line in the impeachment debate, but then they focus in on members of Congress who are on the judiciary committee who are from Arizona.  Arizona representatives remain united with their parties as judiciary panel argues over articles against the president.  So focusing in on members of Congress from their state and saying, yes, they`re sticking with their party lines. 

There`s -- two more to show you.  Here`s the Kansas City Star.  GOP tries to kill impeachment charges as process grinds on. 

And one last one.  Here as usual with the best headline of the bunch, "St. Louis Post Dispatch", look at all those great photos of all those members on the committee.

That`s Louie Gohmert on the far left there, covering up his hands, covering his face involving his hands.  On the far right, that`s Pramila Jayapal killing somebody with her eyes.  Doug Collins and Jerry Nadler maximizing the expressive character of their big ole` faces. 

Then you get that stark, stark headline.  House judiciary impeachment debate over time.  And that is exactly what happened.  It did go into overtime. 

We thought that the -- I thought that they would vote last night.  I`m sorry.  That had definitely been the plan, but they didn`t vote last night.  There was a sudden adjournment, much yelling and screaming about that, much upset.  But then they reconvened this morning and it was over pretty quick.  Votes finally on two articles of impeachment against President Trump this morning. 

First one -- the first article abuse of power.  The second one obstruction.  Each of those articles passed 23-17, which is party line vote.  All Democrats in favor, all Republicans opposed. 

And even though it feels like we now know how this is going to go all the way through to the end, I am reminded if only because of what I said last night that humility is in order.  Impeachments are unpredictable.  They are rare.  They`re very rare in U.S. mystery.  They`re always a little bit wild. 

And, you know, it`s fine to form reasonable expectations about how they look like they`re going to go, but don`t get out of over your skis on any particular part of this.  Let me give you an example of what I mean.  Beyond me saying that thing definitively last night that didn`t happen today. 

Let me give you another example from Watergate.  In the Watergate scandal, they actually considered five articles of impeachment against Nixon.  The Watergate equivalent of what we had yesterday and today in the House Judiciary Committee where they marked up and ultimately voted on the impeachment articles, back then 1974, the equivalent of what we just went through yesterday and today happened at the end of July.  The Judiciary Committee met to mark up and ultimately vote on articles of impeachment against Richard Nixon.  It was July 27th, July 29th, and July 30th, 1974.

Of the five articles of impeachment they considered against Nixon, they only passed three of them.  There was a fourth one on Nixon ordering the bombing of Cambodia.  That one didn`t pass out of the Judiciary Committee.  There was a fifth article of impeachment about tax fraud, which was basically about the taxpayers pay to renovate Nixon`s beach house.  That one didn`t pass the judiciary committee either. 

But three articles against Nixon did pass -- abuse of power, obstruction of justice, and contempt of Congress.  For all three of those articles that passed in the Judiciary Committee against Nixon, a whole bunch of Republicans on the committee voted no -- 11 no votes, 11 no votes, 15 no votes.  That`s where things stood in the Nixon impeachment scandal, in the Watergate scandal when they happen at this point in the process, with the Judiciary Committee having just voted on articles.  Not exactly along party lines but pretty much along party lines. 

And the expectation at that point was that, you know, they would go through the process.  They would take those articles of impeachment that passed out of Judiciary, the three of them that passed.  They would take them and put them on the House floor.  And if any of those three articles passed on the House floor, then those would move over to the Senate.  And on the basis of those charges, there would be a trial of Nixon in the Senate. 

And everyone thought at this point of the game with Nixon that they knew what would happen in Watergate.  But what actually happened in Watergate was nothing like that.  Less than a week after the Judiciary Committee voted for those three articles of impeachment that they passed against Nixon, less than a week later, Nixon was forced by an order of the Supreme Court to release more evidence that pertained to the scandal, including a tape in which he could be heard ordering that the Watergate investigation of the FBI be shutdown. 

I mean, think about that for a second.  Less than a week before they had just voted on the impeachment articles in the Judiciary Committee, just like we had happen today.  And everybody thought they knew how this was going to go in terms of those articles going to the floor in the Senate and the trial and everything.  But then after they already voted on the articles on the Judiciary Committee and then this new bombshell evidence drops out of the sky and politically it`s just chaos. 


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Good evening.  President Nixon stunned the country today by admitting that he held back evidence from the House Judiciary Committee, keeping it a secret from his lawyers and not disclosing it in public statements.  The news has caused a storm in Washington.  And some of Mr. Nixon`s most loyal supporters are calling for his resignation. 

The president issued a statement about the evidence he kept secret saying this was a serious act of omission for which I take full responsibility and which I deeply regret.  The reaction at the Capitol to the president`s disclosure that evidence was held back was one of shock and dismay among some of his most hardworking supporters.  It is seen by many as a decisive turning point in the impeachment process.  Here now is some congressional reaction. 

RAY SCHERER:  The effect of the president`s statements on his supporters in the Judiciary Committee was devastating.  Republican Charles Wiggins of California, the president`s strongest defender, said, I have reached the painful conclusion the president of the United States should resign.  Wiggins said the national interest requires the president to concentrate his efforts on a speedy and orderly transition of power to Vice President Ford. 


MADDOW:  Congressman Charles Wiggins, Republican member of Congress from Richard Nixon`s California, he was just an unimaginable defection from Richard Nixon`s camp.  Wiggins was the strongest and most outspoken and most compelling supporter of Nixon on the Judiciary Committee. 

Right, Congressman Wiggins voted no on all five of the impeachment articles that they considered against Nixon.  He led the Nixon camp in the Judiciary Committee.  He led the Republican resistance to the impeachment.  But even he when faced with this new incontrovertible evidence about what Nixon had done, he, too, decided that Nixon had to go.  It actually made the front page of the "New York Times" the next day. 

I mean, Wiggins wasn`t like in leadership or anything.  He wasn`t like a -- you know, he wasn`t speaker of the House or something.  But I mean, talk about a day in which you want to buy the paper, right?  This was August 6, 1974, you see the banner headline there.  Nixon admits order to halt inquiry on Watergate six days after break in, expects impeachment, support ebbs. 

See the upper right-hand column there, tapes released.  And there`s two big fat columns there in the middle of the front page, the verbatim copy of Nixon`s statement about the disclosure of the tapes. 

But then also there above the fold, I mean next to the picture of the Democratic Leader Tip O`Neill, there`s this back bench California Congressman Charles Wiggins with his incredible head of hair, right?  And he gets his own headline on the front page of "The New York Times" that day specifically because he`s the epitome of the staunch Republican defender of Nixon.  He gets his own headline on the front page.  Wiggins for impeachment, others in GOP join him. 

Front page of "The New York Times" Tuesday, August 6th.  And indeed that was the death knell, right?  By the end of that week, Nixon was gone.  That was the Tuesday paper I just showed you.  He resigned on Friday.  Frankly, so he could have at least the perceived dignity of quitting rather than being forcibly removed from office which was obviously going to be the next thing that happened. 

But even then, even at that moment in the impeachment of Nixon, I`m telling you, impeachments are unpredictable at any stage of the process.  So Nixon resigns Friday, August 9th ahead of what me expects to be the culmination of impeachment proceedings that would see him removed from office.  Even guys like Chuck Wiggins were against him now, saying he should resign, there was no hope for him. 

But even then, even when Richard Nixon resigned the presidency, the first American president to ever do that, right, there was still more to do when it came to that impeachment.  Because by the time Nixon resigned on August 9th, the Judiciary Committee in the House hadn`t even finished their formal report on the impeachment inquiry.  They didn`t finish their report on the impeachment until almost two weeks after Nixon was already resigned and gone from office, which was kind of crazy, right? 

I mean, Nixon has resigned and is no longer president.  He`s a private citizen.  Vice President Gerald Ford has been sworn in to replace him.  The country is catching its breath from this absolutely unprecedented thing, an American president had never been forced from office in the middle of his term by a scandal until this moment. 

And like a week and a half after that, a week and a half later, there`s the judiciary committee, oh, by the way we actually have to finish this.  Here`s our 528-page report on the impeachment investigation.  This is the report that would have guided the floor vote on the articles of impeachment against Nixon if we`d gotten that far, but we didn`t because he quit.  But still, here`s the report. 

Yes, you`ve got to finish it out, right?  They did this whole investigation.  It occasioned this incredible moment in American history.  This is the formal record of what happened, so you`ve got to finish it.  Even though Nixon was gone, here it is for the record. 

But even then, there were still more surprises. 


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The impeachment report was accepted in routine rapid fire manner.  Chairman Peter Rodino presented it.  Majority Leader Thomas O`Neill offered the resolution to accept the findings. 

There was no debate and the electronic vote counter registered 412-3 acceptance. 

MADDOW:  Four hundred twelve to three?  To three? 

Let`s think about that for a second.  Nixon over the course of the past month at that point, right, had the judiciary committee passed three articles of impeachment against him.  Then after that, when further damning evidence came out against Nixon that blew up his whole defense, even Republicans who had voted against the articles of impeachment admitted publicly, yes, they also were done, he should resign.  Nixon had in fact resigned. 

At which point, the House still had to put out sort of the final punctuation mark on this sad case.  The Judiciary Committee produces 200,000 words, this 500-page-plus long report, laboriously laying out the evidence and the damning patterns of Nixon`s behavior.  I mean, it is done at this point. 

The only live question at this point in the Watergate scandal is whether Nixon might be indicted and potentially put in jail, right?  They get the final report in the House and don`t even bother debating.  They`re like, yes, we`re going to hold the vote.  We`re going to accept this report as the very last thing we do here so that the formal record of this incredibly unique and terrible moment in American history is now formally adopted into the congressional record and it is officially put in the history books. 

And three members of Congress vote no on that?  They vote no, they don`t want to do that?  They`re against putting that in the congressional record?  We should make no record of what just happened here.  What? 

I`m telling you, in an impeachment anything can happen.  Who were the three people that voted against accepting into the congressional record the Watergate report?  Well, of the three of them, two of them were Dixiecrats, segregationist, Southern white Democrats.  One of them was named Sonny Montgomery. 

Fun fact again about Sonny Montgomery.  As a colonel in the Mississippi National Guard, it was Sonny Montgomery who personally led the arrests of John Lewis and other freedom riders in Mississippi bus stations in 1961 when they`re trying to desegregate public transportation in the South.  Sonny Montgomery.

It was also Otto Passman, another Dixiecrats from Louisiana, who said at the time, he actually issued this in a written statement.  He said, quote, I contend that Richard M. Nixon is the greatest president this country ever had.  Rather than take any chance of doing anything offensive to this great man, I decided to vote no. 

Move over, Lincoln.  Move over, George Washington.  Again, that guy`s vote was that there should be no congressional record of the impeachment of Richard Nixon.  At this point, Nixon had already resigned his office and was no longer president.  I want no record of this, I`m voting no. 

The third and final vote along with those guys was a Republican from Indiana named Earl Landgrebe, one of the great names in American politics ever.  Earl Landgrebe was a guy in general I think enjoyed being contrary, being kind of the poison ivy patch at the picnic. 

For example, Earl Landgrebe once voted against cancer research.  He was the only vote in the entire Congress against this cancer research appropriation, because he argued against the cancer research.  He argued, what`s the point?  He literally argued that there was no point in spending any money to try to cure cancer because there was no point in curing cancer, because even if we cured cancer, that would only change, quote, which way you`re going to go. 

Yes, why bother trying to stem off death?  What a waste of work. 

There was another occasion in Congress where Earl Landgrebe also voted no on a quorum vote.  It was literally a vote where you just had to say you were physically there in the room so they knew there were enough people in the room for them to do Congress stuff, like take votes. 

He voted -- he was in the room and he voted no.  As in, no, I`m not really here.  I mean, that`s like somebody calling roll.  Bueller, Bueller?  Not here.  Right?

When asked afterwards why he voted no on the quorum vote, he said he could not recall exactly.  But I`m sure at the time it seemed quite imperative to him.  Earl Landgrebe has gone down in history as a kind of Ripley`s believe it or not character in the Watergate era because of stuff like that, but also in large part because of the specific interview he did about Nixon, at the height of Watergate, with "The South Bend Tribune" newspaper in his home state of Indiana. 

The week of Nixon`s resignation, he said, quote, don`t confuse me with the facts, I have got a closed mind.  I will not vote for impeachment.  I`m going to stick with my president even if he and I have to be taken out of this building and shot. 

Don`t confuse me with the facts, I`ve got a closed mind.  NBC News caught up with Earl Landgrebe just outside the capitol building after the smoking gun evidence was released showing Nixon personally ordering the shutdown of the Watergate investigation.  Even at the point with Nixon`s staunchest supporters, people who had voted against the articles of impeachment, flipping saying he`s got to go, even at that point he was unperturbed. 


REPORTER:  Some members of the committee have looked at the new transcripts and concluded a case can be made for obstruction of justice.  Do you think first that case can be made, and even at this point the president should be removed? 

REP. EARL LANDGREBE (R), INDIANA:  I don`t think he should be removed, and I don`t think he should resign.  I -- maybe it`s because I`m not a lawyer.  Maybe I`m not quite as gung ho on legalism.  I`m still trying to maintain some balance and to let into this whole matter some -- just Hoosier horse sense, you see?


MADDOW:  Let me just interject there, what he said there was Hoosier horse sense.  He`s reminding folks at home in Indiana he`s a Hoosier and therefore he`s got a better horse sense view of this.  He actually gets hanged up on the Hoosier horse sense of this as the reason why Richard Nixon should stay president. 


LANDGREBE:  I just -- I can`t -- I just will not permit just strict sheer legalism to warp my Hoosier horse sense, you see? 

REPORTER:  So even if he is guilty of obstruction of justice, you do not think he should be removed? 

LANDGREBE:  Absolutely not.  Not until somebody proves there`s damage other than just offending some legalistic congressman who contends that the president lied to me.  When you prove damage, when you prove damage to this great country, when you prove that we`ve lost some freedom.  When you prove that part of our country has been taken over, has been given to a foreign power.  When you prove some damage, then you`ve got a case.  But there`s no damage here that can be proven. 


MADDOW:  Now, see, if it were foreign influence, if it were some foreign power being invited in, well then even Earl Landgrebe would concede that you`ve got a case.  I mean, even that guy.  I`ll tell you the postscript on Earl Landgrebe he was walloped in his re-election effort in 1974, sent packing.  He was replaced by a Democrat who happened to be a history professor from the local university. 

Impeachments take wild turns, and we think we know what`s going to happen.  We think we know how they will proceed, but do not get too cocky.  I mean, here`s what we think is going to -- here`s what we think is going to happen over the next few days in this impeachment.  Articles of impeachment were voted out of the Judiciary Committee today. 

Tomorrow, the House is going to have a pro forma, very brief session that they need to do to introduce the articles in a sort of technical session.  We don`t expect anything substantive to happen there, but you never know.  On Tuesday, the Rules Committee will very briefly have their own moment where they basically need to play their part in getting the impeachment articles onto the House floor under the rules of debate by which those articles of impeachment will be considered.  Again, we don`t expect that to be a substantive thing but anything can happen. 

That night, Tuesday night next week we are expecting there to be demonstrations and marches all over the country on the eve of what is expected to be the House floor vote on impeaching Donald Trump.  Groups like Indivisible and Move On are expecting demonstrations and marches in support of impeachment all over the country in all 50 states on Tuesday night.  Again, the eve of what is expected to be the House floor vote for impeachment. 

And then on Wednesday morning, the House will convene for a full floor vote on these two articles.  If the House votes for even one of the two articles of impeachment, President Trump will become only the third president in U.S. history to be impeached.  And we`re going to talk tonight what will happen then in terms of the Senate, putting him on trial and considering removing him from office. 

But I just want to highlight one other thing to watch for in the meantime, and I`m bringing this up here because nobody has really been talking about this, but as far as I can tell, again being humble.  Not trying to be too cocky about this.  As far as I can tell there`s another part of this about to happen. 

Just as there was that final report on the Watergate scandal and the impeachment of Richard Nixon, the complete historical record of the impeachment investigation that would have been used to guide the house floor vote on the impeachment of Nixon if he hasn`t resigned before that time came, that report that three members of the House decided should not be included into the congressional record, we should pretend it didn`t happen.  That final report from the Judiciary Committee, again, over 500 pages at the end of the Watergate proceedings.  It was produced less than two weeks after Nixon actually resigned. 

There was also one of those same kinds of reports for the Bill Clinton impeachment in 1998.  That one was 450 pages including a big long dissent from the judiciary committee`s Democrats.  Their part of that report in the Clinton impeachment started with this: the Judiciary Committee Democrats uniformly and resoundingly dissent.  The guy who`s now chairman of that committee, Jerry Nadler, was one of those Democrats uniformly and resoundingly dissenting from the Judiciary Committee`s report on the Clinton impeachment back in 1998. 

After the judiciary committee passes articles of impeachment which just happened today and sends those articles toward the House floor, one thing that happens in impeachment proceedings is that the Judiciary Committee also produces a big comprehensive final report for the congressional record that summarizes the impeachment case and is supposed to guide the vote on the floor.

And yes, every impeachment is a little different and they all have very unpredictable elements.  As far as I can tell, that`s about to happen here too in the Trump impeachment.  We believe sometime before midnight on Sunday night, the Judiciary Committee in the House is going to produce their own final report on the impeachment of Donald Trump which is intended to be a guide for the floor vote that`s going to happen next week.  And again, anything can happen. 

But I`ll tell you on the facts of the matter, if you have been waiting on the House to explain if and how they believe president Trump`s actions here in this impeachment on the Ukraine scandal may fit into a larger pattern of him courting foreign influence in our elections, or him abusing power in office or broadly obstructing justice, if you have been waiting to hear the larger narrative of how this impeachment fits into a pattern of behavior by the president, this report we`re going to get sometime between now and midnight Sunday that, that is probably where that will be. 

So, anyway, be humble.  No time to be cocky, but also pay attention.  We`ve got a big night ahead.  Michael Beschloss is going to be joining us.  We`ve also got important news from the United States Supreme Court. 

It`s all ahead.  Stay with us tonight. 


MADDOW:  Today on the day the judiciary committee passed two articles of impeachment against President Trump, the United States Supreme Court also announced that it will hear a key and determinative case about President Trump trying to withhold evidence from investigators, specifically evidence about his tax returns and other financial records.  The Supreme Court says they`ll take up three cases in combination on that issue.  They`ll hear arguments in March.  They`re likely to rule by June. 

And while it is amazing the president of the United States has gone to the Supreme Court to try to stop anybody from seeing his tax returns, the history here is also uncanny.  I mean, not to put too fine a point on it, this is also basically what happened in the middle of the impeachment proceedings against Richard Nixon when the Supreme Court then took up the issue of what evidence he could hold back from investigators.  That, of course, did not end well for him when the Supreme Court ruled unanimously against him.  That resulted in evidence being released by the White House that resulted in President Nixon resigning from office. 

Joining us now is NBC News presidential historian Michael Beschloss. 

Michael, thank you for being here.  I feel like I`m trapped in a time capsule tonight. 


MADDOW:  Well, other than my obvious affinity for Earl Landgrebe stories. 

Let me ask you about -- 

BESCHLOSS:  Right, the Hoosier horse sense. 

MADDOW:  The Hoosier horse sense which amazing. 

Let me ask you about this -- what I see as parallels here, both in terms of sort of -- the unpredictable twists and turns in the impeachment but also the late breaking news today that the Supreme Court may have a starring role here in the next few months. 

BESCHLOSS:  Well, I think that`s right.  It`s doubtful that`s going to have too much to do with impeachment at least at the moment.  But one of the articles of impeachment that actually was voted down in the case of Richard Nixon was to look at Nixon`s taxes.  They decided not to do that.  The other was the secret bombing of Cambodia. 

So, the parallels certainly are there. 

MADDOW:  In terms of what I think has been an under-covered part of this process, as far as we can tell, we think by midnight Sunday night, we`re going to get the judiciary committee`s full report on the president`s impeachment.  I`ve reviewed today the Nixon report of that kind and the Clinton report of that kind, they strike me as very complete historical records of everything that happened during the impeachment, including minority views and dissenting views from lots of individual members. 

How important have these documents been over time? 

BESCHLOSS:  Well, in the Nixon case it was really important because that was 528 pages.  And the idea was to set down the record of why Richard Nixon would have been impeached if he had not quit to avoid having to face the Senate trial in the face of almost certain impeachment, because many in the House and Senate were worried that if they did not have that report, Nixon would spend the rest of his life saying I was railroaded, I didn`t do things that other presidents did not do.  And in fact maybe if I`d fought that Senate trial, I might have prevailed.

And you know what, Rachel, it turns out that`s exactly what Richard Nixon did the rest of his life. 

MADDOW:  Was it surprise during Watergate when this very, very important new evidence turned up that ended up being determinative in terms of Nixon`s future?  I was struck by the time line when they started to get ready to vote on the articles in the Judiciary Committee which was a thing we saw happen here today, the Supreme Court around that time had handed down its ruling.  Nobody exactly knew what was going to be produced by the White House. 

Was it a surprise that something so damning was released in the middle of that process after the articles had already passed out of judiciary? 

BESCHLOSS:  It was.  And what Nixon had been praying for was that the Supreme Court would vote on his side.  And Nixon said, you know, I appointed four of those members of the Supreme Court.  I sure hope they feel obligation and loyalty to me.  He thought there was a good chance that the Supreme Court would rule in his favor.  As it turned out, it didn`t. 

And so only at the last minute after three articles of impeachment had been voted was Nixon compelled to admit that he had obstructed justice by trying to stop that FBI investigation and taped himself doing it. 

MADDOW:  Michael, let me just ask you one last question.  I feel like this is one of those times when everybody is describing everything as historic and I`m falling into this myself.  As an actual presidential historian, do you -- are you frustrated by everybody putting that label on anything or are you feeling that too? 

BESCHLOSS:  I think asking a historian if he`s unhappy to hear the word "historic" is probably something you`re not likely to get a yes for, but it is historic.  Of course it is.  This has only happened, it will be three times in our history.  That`s an awfully long period of time, 242 years. 

No matter what happens and I agree with you that impeachments can be unpredictable.  Of course this is historic. 

MADDOW:  NBC News presidential historian Michael Beschloss, thank you for joining us tonight, Michael.  Great to have you here. 

BESCHLOSS:  My pleasure.  Thank you.

MADDOW:  All right.  We`ve got much more ahead.  Stay with us. 


MADDOW:  It`s 2013, the attorney general of the great state of Florida was running for re-election.  She he received a fat check in the mail that fall from New York City.  It was a $25,000 check payable from the Donald J. Trump Foundation, payable to the PAC supporting the re-election campaign of Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi. 

That has become a famous donation over time in part because of the timing when that check was sent.  Right before that check arrived in the mail, "The Orlando Sentinel" had put up this headline.  New York`s Trump University lawsuit draws Florida officials` attention. 

At the time in 2013, a thing Donald Trump was running in New York which would be eventually be described by prosecutors as a major interstate fraud scheme, a thing called Trump University, it was facing a class action lawsuit over claims that Trump University had bamboozled tons of people all over the country out of their money.  Pam Bondi was the attorney general of Florida, and in that capacity, her office was thinking about having Florida join all the other states that were suing Trump University as a fraud. 

That was September 13, 2013, big headline, right?  Florida might be joining the big lawsuit against Trump University.  Although it was less than a week later, September 17th, when Pam Bondi`s re-election PAC got one of the biggest donations it received that cycle, that check for $25,000 from Donald J. Trump`s charity, the Donald J. Trump foundation. 

And then, what do you know, a few weeks after that, Pam Bondi`s office in Florida decided that they had looked into it but they wouldn`t pursue a lawsuit against Trump University after all.  Ta-da. 

And I mean where do you want to start with that one, right?  First of all charities like the Trump Foundation can`t give money to political campaigns and PACs and candidates so the donation itself no matter the timing was not allowed under law, and the timing was super suspicious and in terms of that charity it wasn`t a one off in terms of something that looked a little hinky.  Donald Trump turns out to have used his foundation for years to improperly further his own political interests and his own business interests. 

Last year, the attorney general of New York filed a lawsuit accusing the president of misusing the assets of that foundation basically operating that charity as a fraud, as another fraud.  Just this week, a few days ago, President Trump had to pay $2 million as a settlement in that case.  So the Trump foundation hasn`t fared well.  It`s gone now. 

Pam Bondi on the other hand has landed on her feet.  She was recently brought to the White House to be a lawyer on the president`s impeachment defense team.  In order to take that role, though, and this is awkward, she had to resign from a lobbying firm she`d been working at.  A firm called Ballard Partners. 

If that sounds at all familiar to you, it`s because you might have seen headlines about Ballard Partners being one of the entities that has been subpoenaed in the criminal case running in the criminal court in New York basically parallel to the impeachment proceedings on Capitol Hill.  This is criminal case in the southern district of New York that involves Igor Fruman and Lev Parnas.  They took part in a scheme for which president Trump will be impeached, working with Rudy Giuliani.  They are charged in the Southern District of New York now with multiple felonies. 

And according to "The New York Times," this lobbying firm that Pam Bondi worked at until like five minutes ago, Ballard Partners, they`ve been subpoenaed in that case in part because they paid thousands of dollars to Lev Parnas for some sort of business deal that appears to have coincided with the impeachment scheme.  Of all the lobbying firms Pam Bondi could have possibly worked for, that`s the one?  The firm she has to leave in order to work on Trump`s impeachment defense just got subpoenaed for information about a time in which she had been working there in a criminal case related to the impeachment scandal? 

I mean, that`s very awkward for her to be involved in the president`s defense given that.  Not nearly as awkward, though, as this picture of Lev Parnas with Pam Bondi with their arms around each other.  He of course is one of the defendants in that criminal case related to impeachment scheme.  And there`s one of the president`s defense team with him. 

And this is the person the White House thinks should be working on the president`s defense and potentially one of the people the White House wants representing him at his trial in the Senate.  The person seen smiling in a picture with a defendant in a criminal case that is part of the impeachment scandal.  Do they not know anybody else? 

But that`s just part of what folks are worried about when it comes to the upcoming Senate trial.  We`ve got more on that coming up next. 

Stay with us. 


MADDOW:  Under the rules of an impeachment trial in the U.S. Senate, it`s the senators who act as jurors.  They have to take an oath in which they solemnly swear they have to do impartial justice according to the Constitution and the laws, so help me God.  Take it away, Mitch McConnell. 


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY):  Everything I do during this, I`m coordinating with the White House counsel.  There will be no difference between the president`s position and our position as to how to handle this to the extent that we can.  We have no choice but to take it up, but we`ll be working through this process hopefully in a fair short period of time in total coordination with the White House counsel`s office and the people who are representing the president in the well of the Senate.


MADDOW:  He`s part of the jury.  He`s planning on running the Senate trial in his words in total coordination with the defendant in the trial.  Is that how it`s supposed to go?  Actually what are the rules for how it`s supposed to go? 

Joining us now is Cass Sunstein.  He`s professor of constitutional law at Harvard.  He`s advisor to President Obama.  He`s been described as the most cited legal scholar in the United States.  The author of over 40 books on legal matters including "Impeachment: A Citizen`s Guide."

Professor Sunstein, it`s great to have you here tonight.  Thanks for making time.


MADDOW:  So how much do we know about the rules?  How proscribed are the rules of the Senate for conducting an impeachment trial? 

SUNSTEIN:  The Constitution doesn`t specify.  What we know from Alexander Hamilton and we might say Senator McConnell meet Alexander Hamilton, is the Senate is supposed to be independent and supposed to be impartial.  And the whole idea is not to be closely coordinated with the person who`s accused of committing an impeachable offense.  So, that`s built into the leading commentary on the founding document. 

MADDOW:  If that is not adhered to, if for example Senator McConnell wasn`t just talking on Fox News but he does intend to run the Senate trial as he said in close coordination with the White House and not essentially as an independent matter where the Senate makes up its own mind about how it`s going to move forward, is there any corrective there? 

SUNSTEIN:  Well, ultimately, we the people are in charge, and Senator McConnell is a very important senator but he`s not the only senator.  And there will be a rebellion I believe in the country and in the Senate if he holds to that unconstitutional conception of his role.  This is something that is not ambiguous in the Constitution that the Senate is supposed to be an intermediary between the representatives of the people, that is the House of Representatives and the accused, that is the president. 

And here in stating that role of the Senate as the jury between the representatives of the people and the accused.  Again, I`m quoting Hamilton.  That was his authoritative account. 

MADDOW:  If what you`re describing, if it is a clear constitutional violation to not be impartial to sort of, you know, openly or even gleefully admit that you`re running the impeachment trial for the benefit of the defendant and in coordination with the defendant and Senator McConnell goes about it this way, if the chief justice of the Supreme Court who I understand presides over the trial shares your view of that, would he be in a position to make sure that the Senate trial runs differently against the wishes of senator McConnell? 

SUNSTEIN:  It would be hard because the chief justice`s role is mostly ceremonial.  In the past, it`s to make sure that nothing untoward in some technical sense happens.  But the fact is there has to be a trial, and there are procedures laid out actually by the Republicans in connection with the Clinton impeachment and the trial that followed, and that`s actually very fortunate. 

The Republicans themselves are responsible for the best precedent we have, which means if there`s an egregious departure from that precedent where things were done basically above board, and if Senator McConnell deviates dramatically from that procedural regularity, it will be palpably, you know, the word unfair is too gentle for what it will be. 

MADDOW:  Professor Cass Sunstein, thank you so much for being with us tonight.  I hope you don`t mind if we keep you on speed dial.  I think the next few weeks, we`re going to need -- we`re going to need some grounding in the founding documents in this country in order to find our way here.  Thanks for being with us tonight. 

SUNSTEIN:  My pleasure.  Thanks to you. 

MADDOW:  More to come.  Stay with us. 


MADDOW:  Here`s something I have absolutely no idea how it`s going to work out.  But it`s got to work out one way the other and soon.  The next Democratic presidential debate is next week.  It`s Thursday at Loyola Marymount University in L.A., Los Angeles. 

This is debate number six.  It`s the first of all the Democratic debates this year that will have fewer than ten people on stage at once.  Right now, there`s seven qualified candidates and the deadline`s passed, so it`s those seven. 

That said, it appears out of tonight that it`s very possible there will be zero candidates on that debate stage next week because 150 people who work at Marymount University are planning to run a picket line.  They`re going to be walking a picket line outside the debate venue on the day of the debate.  Their union is in a very live debate labor dispute with a contractor at that school.  The union has been pushing for better wages and better health care options for months since the spring of this year. 

But talks broke down this month.  And that meant a picket line was a very real possibility for the night of the debate.  And Democrats don`t cross picket lines.  And today, one by one, starting with Elizabeth Warren, every candidate who made it into that debate, who`s qualified for that debate announced they would under no circumstances cross a picket line in order to get into the that venue. 

The Democratic National Committee said tonight they too see this as a real problem and are promising to find a fix.  Quote: Congressman Tom Perez would absolutely not cross a picket line and would never expect our candidates to either.  We`re working with all stakeholders to find an acceptable resolution that meet their needs and is consistent with our values and will enable us to proceed as scheduled with next week`s debate. 

So, at least for now, it seems like some of the details of the debate are up in the air.  Again, right now, the plan is still for Thursday night, Loyola Marymount.  But if there`s going to be a picket line there, it can`t happen there.  It is unclear what the acceptable resolution here might be, but they`re definitely trying, working on it. 

We`ll be right back. 


MADDOW:  If you felt like this week was three years long, wait until you see what`s coming next. 

Tomorrow, there`s going to be a pro forma session in Congress where the articles of impeachment will formally be introduced, at least I think that`s the formal thing they`re doing tomorrow.  In any case, it`s expected to be a procedural thing, a pro forma session, which is usually no big whoop but this is an impeachment.  So, be on your toes.  Weird things happen. 

Then -- so, that`s tomorrow.  That`s Saturday.  Sunday, we believe by midnight Sunday night, the House Judiciary Committee is expected to release its full report on the impeachment of President Trump.

Now, technically, that`s supposed to guide the floor vote that`s going to happen on Wednesday.  But we also expect that to be a substantive report, including potentially this might be the place where the House ties the Ukraine scandal to things in the Mueller report and other patterns of the president`s behavior. 

Then on Tuesday, the rules committee is going to establish the rules for the floor debate on impeachment.  That night, we also expected to see hundreds of marches and rallies and vigils all across the country in support of impeachment, Tuesday night, impeachment eve.  Because on Wednesday, the full House is expected to debate and vote whether to impeachment President Trump which would make him only the third impeached president in U.S. history.  That`s the plan but anything could happen. 

That does it for us tonight.  We will see you again we`ll see you again on Monday. 

Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD" where Ari is filling in with Lawrence tonight.

Good evening, Ari.

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