CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: And 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.
My guest here on set this hour is going to be former FBI lawyer Lisa Page who has been targeted by name and personally and in very personal terms by President Trump in a way that almost nobody else he has targeted who had anything to do with the investigations into this presidency has ever had to deal with.
Tonight, it`s going to be Lisa Page`s first television interview since leaving the FBI. She`s going to be here live on set with us in just a few minutes. So I`m very excited about that interview, honored that she has chosen here to be the place for that first interview.
When you get sentenced for a federal crime, one of the things the court gives you the opportunity to do is have people submit letters on your behalf, telling the judge that, you know, you`re a nice person and you`re very sorry and those crimes were a totally aberration, other than that, you`re great and the judge should be nice to you in the sentencing.
And I don`t know if all federal judges take these letters seriously when they`re submitted in conjunction with somebody`s sentencing but some of them clearly do. And in the case of President Trump`s deputy campaign chair who`s also the number two official on his inaugural committee, Rick Gates, it appears the federal judge who sentence Rick Gates today did read all the letters submitted on Gates` behalf, and she did take them seriously.
We at least know that she quoted from them quite literally when she handed down Rick Gates` federal sentence today. But the judge in the Gates case also did take issue with one assertion that had been made about Rick Gates in one letter that was sent into the court on his behalf. And that one assertion was something the judge plainly just couldn`t abide, and so she called it out in open court in a way that I think maybe gives us our best new idea for a t-shirt that could potentially explain the news this week.
Here`s what the judge said today in court. Quote: One of the letter writers said that Gates got caught up in D.C. political drama, but I reject that. It is perfectly possible to conduct yourself with ethics, integrity and no hint of scandal even in politics. Even in Washington, D.C., even in Ukraine. Politics don`t corrupt people, people corrupt politics.
Just in case we needed a better bumper sticker, politics don`t corrupt people, people corrupt politics. Judge Amy Berman Jackson in federal court in Washington today while she was in the process of sentencing Rick Gates, the deputy chair of the Trump presidential campaign and number two official on the inaugural.
Interesting, though, this particular judge hasn`t just overseen the Rick Gates case, she has overseen more criminal prosecutions stemming from the Mueller investigation than any other judge in the country. She`s had a whole bunch of them. And at this sentencing for Rick Gates today she, you know, rips Rick Gates for the severity of his crimes, she praises Rick Gates for accepting responsibility for his crimes and pleading guilty and becoming a wholehearted cooperator with prosecutors.
Indeed, he has agreed to keep cooperating with prosecutors in multiple ongoing matters even after his sentencing today. The prosecutors sent information to the judge about that today under seal, because those are still ongoing legal matters that Gates is helping with.
But in addition to doing all that, the judge who again has overseen all of those Mueller derived prosecutions did this sort of remarkable thing in court today. At one point in the middle of talking about Gates case and the law that sort of directs in terms of what kind of sentence he should get and aggravating and mitigating factors and all that, at one point the judge basically just stops that part of the sentencing and says you know what I need to digress. I need to talk about something else here for a second.
And it is impossible to forget in this moment that this is the literal eve of President Trump`s impeachment for him demanding that Ukraine give him ginned up material to help him in his next election against his Democratic rival, right? While the president and the attorney general, the head of the Justice Department are daily ripping the FBI and ripping the Justice Department for having ever investigated Russian interference in the last election.
Well, the judge who was overseeing more of the criminal cases that derive from that investigation more than any other today had her own moment in court today while she`s sentencing Trump`s deputy campaign chair. She`s sending him to prison, right, and in the midst of sending him to prison, she says this -- and it is basically in praise of Rick Gates. But listen to how she says it.
She says, quote: Before I go further to discuss the nature and extent of Mr. Gates` cooperation, I think it`s necessary to digress a moment to mention the substance of some of his cooperation. Mr. Gates provided information, not hearsay but information based on his personal knowledge, meetings he attended, conversations in which he was a participant and information verified with contemporaneous accounts of numerous, undeniable contacts and communications between individuals associated with the Trump presidential campaign and individuals associated with Russia and Ukraine.
One cannot possibly maintain this was all exculpatory information. It included first-hand information about confidential campaign polling data being transmitted at the direction at the head of the campaign to be shared with Russian and Ukrainian oligarchs. It included first-hand information about a meeting within the campaign concerning attending a meeting with Russians for the sole stated purpose of providing information that could be used against Hillary Clinton. And it included first-hand information about claims made by an individual close to the campaign to be in contact with WikiLeaks concerning the release of e-mails obtained when the DNC e-mails were hacked.
Gates` information alone, says the judge -- Gates` information alone warranted indeed demanded further investigation from the standpoint of our national security, the integrity of our elections and the enforcement of our criminal laws. Not all witnesses with knowledge did cooperate, and not everyone who corresponded testified truthfully. And many communications were lost to investigators because they were deleted or they were conducted on an encrypted platform and not saved.
But Rick Gates` debriefings, his multiple incriminatory bits of evidence on matters of grave and international importance are a reminder that there was an ample basis for the decision makers at the highest levels of the United States Department of Justice, the United States Department of Justice of this administration, she says, to authorize and pursue a law enforcement investigation into whether there was any coordination between the Trump campaign and the known foreign interference in the election. As well as into whether there had been any attempt to obstruct that investigation and to leave no stone unturned no matter what the prosecutors determined they had evidence to prove at the end of that investigation. For these reasons, Gates` decision to be honest about what he knew was an important public service under difficult circumstances.
So, Rick Gates today in terms of his sentence, he got more than prosecutors asked for. The prosecutors wanted basically a year probation for him because he`d been such a good cooperator in so many cases that he had information about. He didn`t get a year of probation, he got three years of probation. Plus, on top of that, he has to do 45 days in prison.
Interestingly, the judge made clear at sentencing today he`ll be allowed to serve those 45 days in prison on weekends only if he wants to. He can be a weekender, but he does have to serve that time.
But to get this rip roaring defense of the investigation into the president and his campaign and to get this, you know, sort of rip roaring explanation from the judge of this serious national security risk of inviting some other country to mess with our elections, I mean, to have that in federal court from the judge who has handled all of these cases and to have it happen on impeachment eve, I mean, the screenplay writes itself. And honestly, the scandal itself keeps writing itself, as the president hurdles towards impeachment tomorrow.
In the past two days the, president`s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, with whom he carried out this plot to get Ukraine to help him against Joe Biden for the next election, Mr. Giuliani over the past two days has told "The New Yorker" magazine and "The New York Times," he`s confessed to both of them he led the effort to recall the ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, because she was in his way of the effort to leverage Ukraine into doing these investigations into Joe Biden to help Trump in 2020.
I believe that I needed Yovanovitch out of the way. There`s a lot of reasons to move her. Right.
"The Washington Post" today reports on the fact the smears that Giuliani and ultimately President Trump himself spread about that ambassador, the literally fake made up created out of whole plot allegations against her were not just voiced by the president and Mr. Giuliani, they were spread online by a Russian disinformation network, the same network that was also active in the 2016 Russian online operation to help Trump and hurt Clinton in that presidential election.
Today in federal court in New York, one of the men under indictment who was working with Rudy Giuliani in this effort in Ukraine, who says he was working with Giuliani as part of Giuliani`s representation of President Trump, Lev Parnas today in federal court in New York was spared by the federal judge in his case who did not accede to prosecutors request to take Lev off house arrest and instead put him in jail awaiting trial, and that judge`s decision apparently makes sense legally. Lawyers I talked to today says it was a predictable result from the judge.
But in terms of the plot of impeachment scandal, it seems like a lucky break for Mr. Parnas since his lawyers had to admit in court today that one of the things he didn`t disclose to prosecutors ahead of him getting his House arrest bill conditions is that he got this million dollars wired to him from Russia months before he was arrested and as they admitted to in court today, that million dollars came from a Kremlin-connected oligarch who`s under indicted in this country that is fighting extradition in a multi-million dollar corruption and bribery case, who U.S. federal prosecutors say is an upper echelon associate of Russian organized crime.
Dmitry Firtash is who sent Lev the million dollars the month before he got arrest. First is the Kremlin`s long-standing man in Ukraine. He`s been feeding Rudy Giuliani material for this plot that he tried to pull off with President Trump in Ukraine. He`s under indictment in this country. Prosecutors say he`s a huge deal in the Russian mob.
And for some reason in September of this year, he was wiring a million dollars to Lev while Lev was working for President Trump on this scheme with Rudy Giuliani, the scheme for which the president is now being impeached.
In terms of that impeachment tomorrow, the rules committee started meeting earlier today. They are still meeting tonight to try to set the terms of debate for tomorrow`s House floor vote on impeachment. As I said they`re still meeting. We don`t know exactly how tomorrow`s going to go procedurally but we believe it`s going to start at 9:00 a.m. in the House.
We also don`t know if tomorrow`s proceedings in the House might go so long that the floor vote might actually have be held on Thursday instead of tomorrow. We`ll have to see how it goes depending on what they ultimately decides in rules and how it plays out on the floor of the House.
But this is impeachment eve. Protests in favor of impeaching President Trump were held all over the country tonight, from Boston to St. Petersburg, Florida, to Lexington, Kentucky, Kansas City, Missouri, Knoxville, Tennessee, from Boise, Idaho, Houston, Texas, Phoenix, Arizona, Aspen, Colorado. Some of these protests are still going on.
Here is nobody is above the law projected on Senator Ron Johnson`s office building in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, tonight.
This is New York City, protesters holding up a giant poster of Article II Section 4 of the U.S. Constitution. Protesters in New York marched from Times Square holding that sign which features, of course, the part of the Constitution that gives Congress its impeachment power.
In Raleigh, North Carolina, pro-impeachment protesters came out in large numbers. And among other things they sang Christmas carols. There was a big crowd today and tonight in Georgia and they are in Atlanta, chanting "this is what democracy looks like". People were out in the snow in 28- degree weather in Portland, Maine, earlier tonight.
This is Metairie, Louisiana, outside Congressman Steve Scalise`s office saying, hey, hey, ho, ho, Donald Trump has got to go. In Philadelphia, what they`re saying is when I say people you say power. People, power.
This demonstration is more than 600 of them all around the country tonight, all 50 states.
There`s a lot going on right now needless to say, right? We`ve got these legal developments in the criminal cases that are all related to the president. We`ve got the protests all around the country calling for his impeachment tomorrow trying to move lawmakers to support impeachment. The president today sent cocoa for cocoa puffs, forgive me, letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi objecting to impeachment proceedings in the most bombastic terms imaginable.
I am not going to read it here. You`re welcome to in your own time. It`s basically six pages of performative explanation points from the president.
The White House counsel`s office apparently taking care to put out word tonight they didn`t have anything to do with this letter, this is all him.
Our president is to exclamation points what a porcupine is to quills and he feels threatened and bristles. And exclamation points then when he comes down, like calm down.
I mean, sometimes it is entertaining sort of from a distance, but sometimes it turns out being willing to ask questions about the president or God forbid ask questions about the president, that sometimes has consequences for you the asker. President Trump has gone after a whole string of people who were involved in the initial investigations in Russian interference in the 2016 election and complicity of the Trump campaign and some aspect of that campaign.
FBI Director James Comey, the FBI`s director, Andy McCabe, who became FBI director after Trump fired Comey. The head of the CIA, John Brennan, the director of national intelligence, James Clapper, and those are sort of just the leading lights.
The president hasn`t just idly gone after people involved in the Russia investigation, though. He`s been pretty specific and deliberate and pointed about it. He explained a few weeks ago that several people involved in the Russia investigation should be brought up on treason charges. And, of course, treason is a capital offense, so he`s calling ultimately for their execution.
One person on that list was Peter Strzok who I`m told not long ago was the top counterintelligence agent at the FBI. Peter Strzok had a sterling career at the FBI, including key roles in breaking up high profile Russian intelligence operations inside the United States. He was the lead counterintelligence agent in the FBI, and he worked on the 2016 Russia investigation.
He was fired in 2018 over text messages he had sent which reflected his personal political views about President Trump, critical of President Trump, and frankly critical of other people in politics, too.
Now, the president hounds him by name as the FBI`s sick loser, Peter Strzok, leader of the rigged witch hunt. Investigating this president, specifically investigating the central question of his campaign`s potential involvement with the Russian interference in our 2016 election to try to get him into the White House -- I mean, that national security imperative described in passionate terms today in federal court by the judge who was overseeing more of the criminal trials that have derived from that investigation than any other. The people who have actually done that work, the people how have actually talked about it or supported it or criticized it, but actually done the work, they`ve all been lined up at the proverbial firing line by this president, as he and his supporters, both in Congress and in the conservative media, have just tried to pick them up off, destroy them one by one, ending their careers one after the other, deriding them, attacking them.
But the president has reserved particularly and particularly sustained ire for one former FBI lawyer named Lisa Page. Lisa Page had been a federal prosecutor. She`d worked in the criminal division and in the national security division at the justice department. She worked at the FBI. She had significant roles in the Boston marathon case and in the Edward Snowden case.
Early in 2016, Lisa Page was working a special counsel to Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe. She worked on the Clinton e-mail investigation. That same year, later in 2016, she would also play a smaller role in the Russia investigation. And when that became the Mueller investigation, she briefly worked on that team as well.
But in the summer of 2017, after James Comey was fired by the president as FBI director, after Robert Mueller was appointed special counsel, after all that was all under way, Lisa Page was told at the FBI that she was under investigation herself for political text messages. In a groundbreaking interview that Lisa Page just did with Molly Jong-Fast at "The Daily Beast", Page described viscerally what it was like to have her text messages discovered and investigated by the inspector general.
She said, quote: At the end of the July in 2017, I was informed by the DOJ inspector general`s office that I was under investigation for political text messages. And honestly, at the time I have no idea what they`re talking about. And initially, they`re very coy about it. They don`t tell me much about it. I don`t have the first clue what they`re talking about.
What I do know is that my text messages will reveal that I had previously had an affair. I`m overwhelmed by dread and embarrassment that the prospect of the inspector general investigators, Andy McCabe, my colleagues could now or could learn about this deeply personal secret.
As Molly Jong-Fast reports, quote, excuse me, as Molly Jong-Fast reports: Page was convinced that she`s followed all the rules. She is after all a lawyer and knows she is a restricted employee under the Hatch Act and therefore can`t engage in partisan political activity.
Page says, quote: And I know I`m nowhere close to that. I don`t engage in partisan politicking at all, but having an opinion and sharing that opinion publicly or privately with another person is squarely within the permissible bounds of the Hatch Act. It`s in the regs. Yes, it`s it says plainly.
I`m thinking I know I`m a federal employee but I retain my First Amendment rights. So, I`m really not all that worried about it.
But then starts a series of events that are still somewhat mysterious today, and they`re now the subject of a lawsuit that Lisa Page has just filed against the Justice Department and the FBI. And as a result of this mysterious subsequent series of events, Lisa Page`s world gets absolutely turned upside down in a way that hasn`t recovered.
Quote: A very small number of people at the FBI know about the investigation, and it stays a secret for six months. And it remains a secret for six months until the day after Michael Flynn pleads guilty. Then in early December 2017, the day after Flynn`s plea, a report comes out, a public report comes out about Page being under investigation for political bias. And it includes mention of the affair.
The affair was not part of the I.G.`s investigation and not part of their review of her text messages. The inspector general`s office had guaranteed Page and Peter Strzok that their affair would not be made public. But then, "Washington Post" included the affair in their story.
The affair that Lisa Page was so horrified might become known to her colleagues was an affair with the senior counterintelligence official at the FBI, Peter Strzok, who had also been involved in the Clinton e-mail investigation and in the Russia investigation. They had been advised that the affair was not the subject of this inspector general`s investigation and that it would not be disclosed, it would not be made public. But then there is it is in the press. Where did that come from?
Then a few days later, the night before then Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein was due to testify to Congress, the Justice Department literally invited reporters to come to the department to view personal text messages between Lisa Page and Peter Strzok, 375 of those personal text messages. I mean, this is the Justice Department`s own employees. And the Justice Department is supposedly in the middle of an investigation into whether these text messages or anything else implicated any wrongdoing. In the middle of that ongoing investigation, without any finding whether there had been any wrongdoing here, the Justice Department spokesperson invited reporters to come to the Justice Department to look at them.
The Justice Department just shoveled these texts of their own employees to reporters without context, and, of course, without that sender`s permission, which is ultimately how Lisa Page came not to be not just on the list of people the president wants tried and convicted for treason, but also the one he calls over and over Peter Strzok`s FBI lover, the lovely Lisa Page, his lover. He mocks her at campaign rallies in graphic language and occasionally in graphic, guttural noises to the delight of Fox News.
Look at the start of their headline there. Watch, Trump mockingly imitates Strzok and Page during raucous rally. Watch, click here. Wait until you get to the part he starts grunting.
And so, that`s one way to counter-program your own impeachment. Attack and threaten and try to humiliate anybody`s involved in the investigation against you that has brought you to this point. Here`s another, though. The day the House Judiciary Committee formally took up the articles for the House impeachment inquiry, they had testimony all day long that day from the director of the Justice Department, Michael Horowitz, and you may not have known this, but this is amazing.
Tomorrow, when the full House formally takes up the articles of impeachment on impeachment day in the House, what`s the Senate going to be doing tomorrow? Oh, at the same time, they`re going to be taking more testimony from Inspector General Horowitz. Ah, to give Fox News something to cover.
Horowitz is fresh off the release of his report on the Russia investigation, which conservative media and Republican members of Congress and the White House had desperately hoped would be damning and terrible for the Russia investigation and for the people involved in it. It is weird and history will reflect this oddity that Republicans have been working double duty during these impeachment proceedings, trying to fend off impeachment but also actively at the same time and with the same energy trying to discredit the Russia investigation, right now, during the impeachment as a way of both distracting from and trying to discredit the impeachment.
It has not worked that way, though. Inspector General Horowitz did find that there were problems in the process of applying for one specific kind of warrant that was used against one person in the Russia investigation. But bottom line, he also found the Russia investigation was proper, that it was properly predicated.
And as for the behavior of all these individual people who were involved in the investigation who the president has attacked one by one, destroying their careers one by one, the inspector general found no evidence any political bias of any kind played in part in the conduct of investigation. And that tracks with an earlier inspector general report into the Clinton e-mail investigation. In that one, the I.G. found no documentary or testimonial evidence that improper considerations, including political bias, affected specific investigative decisions.
In this -- the new I.G. report, the one on the Russia investigation, the one they`re going to take more testimony on tomorrow in the Republican- controlled Senate during the impeachment of the president, the I.G. found that neither Peter Strzok nor Lisa Page was in a position to singlehandedly make any decisions about that investigation and that Lisa Page did not work with a team on a regular basis or make any decisions that affected the investigation.
I mean, two years later, Lisa Page says she is still going through the fallout from this. Only now she`s decided to start speaking for herself. She did that remarkable interview with Molly Jong-Fast earlier this month. Also for the first time she has opened a Twitter account so she can publicly say things like this online when the I.G.`s report finally came out.
She said, quote: The sum total of findings by I.G. Horowitz that my personal opinions had any bearing on the course of either the Clinton or Russia investigations, zero and zero. And then she concludes, cool, cool.
Lisa Page is now suing the FBI and the Justice Department for what she calls a breach of privacy with them distributing her personal text messages to reporters in the middle of an open investigation. She`s also suing them for the suffering that has followed.
Even though Page has effectively been vindicated by the process, by two different inspector general investigations, she really is still going through this. She`s still a target. Still a target, including specifically and personally of the president, even as that same president is finally being impeached for what he did.
Lisa Page joins us here on set next.
MADDOW: Joining us here on set for the interview is Lisa Page. She`s a former FBI lawyer, special counsel to Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe. Lisa Page has been the target of unrelenting attacks from President Trump and his allies ever since the Justice Department published her personal text messages two years ago.
This is her first television interview since leaving the FBI last year.
Ms. Page, thanks very much for being here.
LISA PAGE, FORMER FBI LAWYER: Thanks so much for having me.
MADDOW: First, I want to talk to you about a million different things, but let me just ask you if I got anything wrong in terms of sketching what I understand is the broad outlines of your career there?
PAGE: No, not particularly. I wasn`t -- I wouldn`t want to take credit for Boston or Snowden. I -- it`s really how I met Andy McCabe through the Boston bombing and then through the work post-Snowden and assisting the White House in the post-intelligence reforms. But I can`t say that I played an investigative role in any one of those.
MADDOW: So you were involved in the response in those instances (ph) --
PAGE: Exactly right.
MADDOW: -- but you are not -- you don`t want to take more credit than you deserve for having been involved in those investigations?
PAGE: That`s right.
MADDOW: OK. Let me start at the sort of beginning given that in particular. Can you tell me how you ended up at the FBI? Let`s start at the beginning in terms of how your career started and why you ended up in the position you`re in?
PAGE: Sure. I have always wanted to be in public service as young as 14. I kind of knew this is where I was going, and I was lucky enough to join the Justice Department through the attorney general`s honors program.
So I was a federal prosecutor for six years, but those jobs at Main Justice had me on the road a lot. And so, I was tired of it after six years of kind of constant travel, and I knew somebody at the FBI who said come join the general counsel`s office. And so I did.
MADDOW: And in terms of the general counsel`s office, the kind of responsibilities that you had there ultimately becoming special counsel to Andy McCabe when he was deputy director. How did that sort of trajectory go?
PAGE: You know, it`s kind of like all good news stories. It`s part good hard work and part serendipity. Post-Snowden, there were so many reforms coming out of the Obama White House that I became the point person for that effort for the FBI.
Andy at the time was head of the national security program, so anything that the White House would be proposing would be different in term of the authorities and how we conducted our business would have affected his work. And so, we started working very closely together. He found me trustworthy and reliable and hopefully smart, and so he asked me to join his staff.
MADDOW: By 2016, by the early months of 2016 in that role in the FBI, you found yourself working on the Clinton e-mail investigation.
Can you talk us through what your role was on that and what that work is like?
PAGER: Sure. So, I was special counsel to the deputy director. He, of course, runs the FBI. He`s like the COO.
And so, with respect to both the Clinton investigation but also the other responsibilities of running the bureau, I tried to serve as his sort of good counsel, his eyes and ears. So I tried to keep both a macro view of all the various things that were happening at the FBI, but also keep my ear to the ground with respect to various investigative steps and what was coming next.
MADDOW: One of the things that you described in the interview you did this month with "The Daily Beast" was that you were aware in the context of that investigation that everything everybody did that had anything to do with that investigation was going to be very closely scrutinized and was going to be something that was going to be obviously inherently controversial.
When it came to the decision to make public disclosures about the status of that investigation, Director Comey criticizing Secretary Clinton even as he was announcing there weren`t going to be prosecutions, did you have any role in that or did you have strong feelings about that at the time?
PAGE: I did. I did. I was definitely part of the group of people who Director Comey was consulting in terms of what to do, and ultimately, I largely supported his decision.
This was not a typical investigation. This was not an investigation where the subject was secret and nobody knew this investigation was underway. Everyone knew that she was under investigation. Candidate Trump was ceaselessly, you know, asking to lock her up at his rallies.
So, the notion we would say nothing with respect to choosing not to charge her, even though every person on the team uniformly agreed that there was no prosecutable case, that was true at the Justice Department, that was true at the FBI. So, we all agreed that we needed to say something. There may have been varying differences into how much, and how much detail to get into, but there wasn`t largely disagreement with respect to whether to say something at all.
MADDOW: And you ultimately ended up working on the Russia investigation deeper into 2016. Obviously, you were one of the people who was involved in the Justice Department and the FBI in such a way that you knew a lot about both of those cases.
Did you and the other people involved in those two cases struggle at all with this discontinuity that the Clinton investigation, for the reasons that you just described, was very public and various steps of that investigation were disclosed to the public, had a huge political impact, whereas there was a live, very provocative, very disturbing investigation into President Trump and his campaign as well and that was kept from the public? Did you struggle with that discontinuity or the fact that there wasn`t a parallel there?
PAGE: Not at all. Not at all. The two investigations couldn`t be less similar.
In the Clinton investigation, you`re talking about historical events three years prior, her use of a private e-mail server that was public investigation everybody knew about.
With respect to the Russia investigation, we`re talking about trying to investigate what an incredibly hostile foreign government may be doing to interfere in our election. We didn`t know what the answer was, and it would have been deeply prejudicial and incredibly unfair to candidate Trump for us to have said anything before we knew what had had happened.
MADDOW: In terms of the way this played out ultimately, you become a poster child, along with several of your colleagues, for these claims from the president, and now increasingly from the current attorney general that the Trump-Russia investigation was cooked up on the basis of false allegations or even some conspiracy specifically to hurt his chances of getting elected.
Now, of course, the problem there is no one in the country knew about that investigation before people had the chance to vote on him. And I just -- I mean, as an observer, I find that flabbergasting.
How does that strike you and how does that comport with your understanding of that process given what you just described?
PAGE: There is no one on this set of facts who has any experience in counterintelligence who would not have made the exact same decision. This is a question about whether Russia is working with a United States person to interfere in our election. We were obligated to figure out whether that was true or not, and to figure out who might be in a position to provide that assistance.
MADDOW: In terms of the critique that I just implicitly made that if there had been some sort of conspiracy against candidate Trump, that could have just easily been leaked to the public so people would know about that when they went to the polls, is that a fair critique?
PAGE: It is a fair critique, but we were extraordinarily careful not to do anything that would allow this information to get out before we knew what we had.
MADDOW: You described as I mentioned the sort of self-consciousness around the Clinton investigation, that everybody involved was very conscious that everything that was done was going to be scrutinized, that anticipatory sense of scrutiny, as I`ve talked to James Comey about, seemed to drive some of the decisions in terms of public disclosure, in terms of what kind of blowback the FBI would get.
Given what has happened ultimately to everybody who was involved in that Russia investigation, do you look back now and recognize any of the same self-consciousness about that? Was that the same sense that this sort of scrutiny or blowback was going to be brought to bear on all of you?
PAGE: I wouldn`t characterize it that way because this was a counterintelligence investigation, first and foremost. You know, the FBI conducts counterintelligence investigation every day and no one ever hears about them, and no one will.
So, it`s entirely possible that this investigation could have ended that way had nothing been found, that there been no relationship between people on the Trump campaign and people in Russia. It`s entirely possible this could have remained a secret investigation for the very reason that you wouldn`t want to unfairly prejudice if you found -- if, in fact, you didn`t find specific connections between the Russian Federation and members of the Trump campaign.
That`s obviously not what Mueller ultimately found, but you shouldn`t assume that a counterintelligence investigation will be made public because the vast majority of them are not.
MADDOW: I have so many questions to ask you about that. We`re going to take a quick break.
We`ll be right with Lisa Page, former FBI lawyer, right after this.
Stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: FBI lawyer Lisa Page.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Peter Strzok and Lisa Page.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: FBI lawyerly love bird Lisa Page.
SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY (R-IA): Peter Strzok, Lisa Page.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): Lisa Page, you may have heard of her. Who is she?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The lead FBI agent and the lead FBI lawyer were both biased against Donald Trump.
SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS HOST: Lisa Page is neither innocent nor a victim.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Suddenly, we have a new victim in all of this.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She`s not really a victim. She brought what she got on herself.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: This has been going on for two years now. The president and his allies in Congress and in particular the conservative media invoking the name Lisa Page as though the name itself is an epithet.
Lisa Page is real life person who built a career as a lawyer at the FBI and the Justice Department before she became this kind of target for the president and his allies. She`s my guest tonight for her first TV interview since leaving the FBI last year.
Thank you again for being here and doing this.
PAGE: You`re welcome.
MADDOW: Let me ask you about your decision to do this. Given what you`ve been through over the past couple of years, why speak now in your own terms?
PAGE: Honestly, I just wasn`t planning to and I didn`t want to. I`ve lived an entirely unanimous life, and hoped to return to one. And when the president, you know, finally did that vile, sort of, simulated sex act in a, you know, rally in Minneapolis, I just finally had to accept it`s not getting better and being quiet isn`t making this go away. And this wasn`t working for me anymore.
MADDOW: Since you did the interview with "The Daily Beast" and since you opened your public Twitter account and were able to make public statements in that forum, the president has not slowed down. He last week at a rally, I believe, intimated or said that he didn`t know if it was true or not, but he heard that you`d have to get a restraining order against Peter Strzok now, and that`s how it all worked out.
You have said on -- publicly on Twitter that that`s a lie, nothing like that ever happened.
PAGE: Of course not.
MADDOW: But -- if this doesn`t slow down the president attacking you, is this still the right thing to do?
PAGE: I mean, it hasn`t changed. So I don`t see why we continue doing the same thing.
PAGE: At least I have my voice out there. At least if you want to respond, respond to me, instead of this caricature that you`ve drawn up about me.
MADDOW: You talked about what it was like and sort of how you found out and what your thought process was when you learned that these text messages that had been investigated by the inspector general had not just made their way into public consumption but had actually been given to reporters by the Justice Department who told reporters that they shouldn`t source them to the Justice Department and explain where they got them, but it was in fact the DOJ who gave them out.
PAGE: That`s correct.
MADDOW: Tell me how that felt?
PAGE: I mean, it`s really one of the more painful aspects of these entire two years. I mean, the president`s attacks and insults are one thing, but this is my institution, this is my Justice Department betraying us. And, you know, there`s an element of -- or at least there`s a claim this is congressional oversight and we had to do it.
I have been a part of both of these institutions for a long time, and I know what it looks like when you`re trying -- when the department is trying to protect people and protect information. And I know what it looks like when they`re not. There were plenty of ways to fulfill their congressionally mandated oversight responsibility without politicizing our messages, without shoveling them out in the way that they did.
MADDOW: Why do you think they did it?
PAGE: Well, my speculation is because this was not a great time for the Justice Department. You had Attorney General Sessions constantly beleaguered and being lambasted by the president for failing to sufficiently protect him. You had Rod Rosenstein going to the Hill early the next morning. I think it served a useful foil.
MADDOW: One of the things that`s happened over the course of these past couple of years is that you`ve been sort of apogee point in terms of the way the president and his supporters in conservative media have gone after you. But we`ve also seen different iterations of it against other civil servants and career -- career public servants, people like Marie Yovanovitch and Fiona Hill and Ambassador -- Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman and others who have popped up in the impeachment investigation as fact witnesses.
I wonder if that, too, has sort of inflected your feeling about any of this or if you have anything you`d like to say in terms of how they`ve been treated?
PAGE: I mean, it`s deeply unfair. We are all public servants. This is simply not the way even with wrongdoing, even if you think that my text messages were a mistake, this is not how public servants should be treated. And moreover, those institutions should be coming to their defense.
You know, we can`t control what the president says but sure as the day is long, Attorney General Barr could say something about whether this was appropriate or not. Secretary Pompeo could say something about whether these people deserved the lambasting that they`ve gotten.
MADDOW: In terms of the text messages and allegations that have been made against you, you`ve sort of explained yourself in putting those text messages in greater context in terms of what they meant and the way they were used against you.
Can you explain to us tonight what was meant by, for example, the insurance policy text message? So, this is you and Peter Strzok texting about the prospect that President Trump is going to be elected, the unlikely process.
PAGE: Right. I mean, it`s an analogy. First of all, it`s not my text, so I`m sort of interpreting what I believed he meant back three years ago.
But we`re using an analogy. We`re talking about whether or not we should take certain investigative steps or not based on the likelihood that he`s going to be president or not, right?
You have to keep in mind, if President Trump doesn`t become president, the national security risks if there is somebody in his campaign associated with Russia plummets. You`re not so worried about what Russia`s doing vis- a-vis a member of his campaign if he`s not president because you`re not going to have access to classified information, you`re not going to have access to sources and methods in our national security apparatus.
So, the insurance policy was an analogy. It`s like an insurance policy when you`re 40. You don`t expect to die when you`re 40, yet you still have an insurance policy.
MADDOW: So don`t just hope that he`s not going be elected and therefore not press forward with the investigation hoping, but rather press forward with the investigation just in case he does get in there.
MADDOW: What about the text messages that -- in which you and Strzok were talking about, your sort of fear that Trump would be elected and he said, no, we won`t let it happen?
PAGE: I mean, by we, he`s talking about the collective we, like-minded, thoughtful, sensible people who were not going to vote this person into office.
You know, obviously in retrospect, do I wish he hadn`t sent it? Yes. It`s been mutilated to death and it`s been used to bludgeon an institution I love. And it`s meant that I disappointed countless people.
But this is -- this is a snapshot in time carrying on a conversation that had happened earlier in the day that reflected a broad sense of he`s not going to be president. We, the democratic people of this country, are not going to let it happen.
MADDOW: And in terms of the litigation of this issue, the question about whether or not this, as the president and his supporters claimed, reflected some inherent political bias by you and Mr. Strzok and that you had key roles to play in these investigations and therefore the investigations are biased. I mean, the inspector general has looked at that, been critical of these expressions of strong political views, but also said that there was no indication that political bias affected any decisions in either these investigations, full stop.
You responded to that on Twitter by saying: cool, cool. Like basically good to know but it won`t make a difference?
PAGE: It won`t make a difference and it`s two years too late, right? It`s been three straight years of investigation by the inspector general. Dozens of lawyers and investigators poring over every investigative step that I took, every text and every email, and I realized what I`ve known from the beginning which is that my personal views had no impact on the course of either investigation.
But to my "cool, cool" point, two days later, you see Lindsey Graham in the Senate spend 40 minutes reading text messages again. These are three years old. They`re -- they`ve been described as immaterial ultimately by the inspector general and yet we`re still talking about them.
MADDOW: We`re still talking about them on the eve the president is being impeached. We can`t ignore that context.
If you could stay with us, we`ll be right back with Lisa Page, former FBI lawyer.
We`ll be right back. Stay with us.
MADDOW: We`re back with Lisa Page, former FBI lawyer who has been a favorite target of President Trump and his allies for two years now. Ever since the Justice Department sort of inexplicably publicly released her personal text messages, including messages critical of then candidate Trump and honestly of other -- other political figures as well.
Lisa, I`m going to ask you this in part because I don`t have very many other people I can ask this and you can tell me if I`m off base.
But in May 2017, the Russia investigation gets taken over by Mueller. You`re involved at that point. You served briefly on Mueller`s team. That`s how I first came to know your name.
Should we, the public, understand that the special counsel investigation looked that this core, scary question of whether the president was subject to leverage or influence by Russia or any other foreign force? Or was that the kind of counterintelligence investigation that you`re talking about before, which is secret, which we`ll never know about, which might, in fact, be ongoing?
PAGE: So, it`s really the former. My understanding and what the Mueller report describes is that they were looking for criminal activity, right?
PAGE: So, they were trying to determine whether there was a criminal conspiracy to engage in crimes against the United States. They did not look at the counterintelligence sort of relationships between members of the Trump campaign.
MADDOW: Because that was a different investigation?
PAGE: Well, it was the same investigation at the FBI. I think this was a prosecutorial choice made by the special counsel`s office.
PAGE: But while it was still at the FBI, the two were essentially one in the same. We were looking at both simultaneously. The special counsel`s office, as best as I understand, chooses to focus on the criminal aspects of that investigation.
MADDOW: When you -- what were the circumstances of which you left the Mueller investigation?
PAGE: I actually asked to just do 45 days. I had been out of the first briefing for Bob Mueller when he was first appointed. And he asked me to join the team, and Andy was the deputy director -- or the director at the time and I said, no way, I`m not leaving. And Andy said, well, you don`t say no to Bob Mueller.
But I had young kids at home and had already gone through, you know, two years of extraordinary circumstances and very long hours and days. And I knew what a Bob Mueller operation looked like and so, I asked to do a 45- day detail in return.
MADDOW: Well, it has turned into a -- a hell of a change in your life.
Thank you for being willing to talk to us about it tonight. This is your first TV interview. I appreciate the trust that it takes to be willing to be here. Thanks.
PAGE: Thank you.
MADDOW: All right, Lisa Page.
We`ll be right back. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Get your rest. Big day coming. Tomorrow, the House is expected to vote on articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump.
Just since we`ve been on the air this hour, the House Rules Committee has decided there will be six hours of debate on the House floor before the vote. We don`t know exactly what that will look like or if that will change, but our coverage here on this historic day tomorrow will start at 9:00 a.m. Eastern Time. I`ll see you there.
Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL".
Good evening, Lawrence.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END