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Shrinking Democratic Presidential Field. TRANSCRIPT: 1/10/20, The Rachel Maddow Show.

Guests: Guest:

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Amazing show as always. Great week. Well done, my friend.

CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST, "ALL IN": Thank you. You too.

MADDOW: Thanks.

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

The impeachment trial of President Donald Trump is set to begin in the United States Senate maybe as soon as next week, but if not very soon thereafter. It has happened. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announcing today she`s asked the Judiciary Committee in the House to prepare a resolution for next week that the House will vote on the floor, that resolution will name the impeachment managers who essentially will be the prosecutors who make the case against the president in his Senate trial.

We expect that list of impeachment managers to include people like Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff who himself is a former federal prosecutor and who of course led the fact finding part of the impeachment inquiry in the House. It`ll be interesting to see who else makes the impeachment manager`s list. And indeed whether the House decides to appoint any of its staff, its staff attorneys or any sort of wild card picks in addition to members of Congress for those very important impeachment manager jobs.

The same resolution that names the impeachment managers which we`re now expecting within a few days, we also think that resolution will formally approve the conveying of the articles of impeachment from the House over to the Senate. And that will give the Senate the ability to start their process.

So, again, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announcing today that she`s asked the judiciary committee to pull together that resolution next week. Nancy Pelosi tends to run things in the House with a pretty iron fist. So when she says something`s going to happen in the House, you can usually bet on it happening. You can preclude any possibility of it not happening.

If this process in the House rolls out next week along the time line that she laid out today, that would mean that at least by the end of next week, the Senate will have received the articles of impeachment, they will know who the impeachment managers are going to be, they can then start the process of the Senate trial. Once they get all of that, once they decide to start the Senate trial, we`re guessing that it might take a few days for them to get geared up to actually start. And that`s because, for example, all the senators will need to be sworn in. They will all have to swear their oath to do impartial justice in this matter, which will be a particularly fraught oath in the case of this impeachment given what some senators including the top Republican in the Senate has said about their willingness to be impartial on this matter.

We expect that both sides, the impeachment managers as the prosecution and the president`s defense team as well, we assume both sides will need at least some amount of time to get their briefs together in terms of how they`re going to present their case. That could take a few days.

I mean, be humble here. To be honest there`s been so few impeachments ever, there`s very little presidents to go on here. We don`t know how it`s going to rollout over the next few days, over the next week or so, but we do know as of tonight the process is starting, that it is happening.

When Nancy Pelosi made this announcement today that she wants the Judiciary Committee to prepare that resolution to convey the articles of impeachment she then faced lots of reporters questions. She was asked by reporters about her expectations for what would come next in the Senate. Nancy Pelosi was asked if she believed the Senate would conduct a fair trial. She gave a one-word answer to that question. She said no, like no with 17 O`s, no she does not expect a fair trial.

But whether or not what they conduct in the Senate is fair by anyone`s estimation, they are going to have to conduct something. We know this isn`t going to be like the Bill Clinton impeachment trial in which 100 U.S. senators voted unanimously 100-0 on the set of rules that govern the conduct of that trial. I mean, both sides collectively agreed to those rules in 1999 without dissent in the U.S. Senate. That will not happen this time.

This time, Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, says he`s happy to run a Senate trial in which only Republican senators are onboard voting for the rules by which it will be conducted. And so, you can expect what you will over those rules when McConnell finally rolls them out.

However, this is going to go it is now finally getting under way. I should mention on the crucial issue of witnesses and whether or not any witness testimony will be taken as part of this Senate trial, even though Mitch McConnell and most Republican senators have made clear they don`t want there to be any witnesses at this trial, they want this thing done and over with as soon as possible with as little substantive, factual discussions as they can get away with, despite that it would take only four Republican senators to join with all the Democrats to vote for witness testimony to be included in this trial.

We assume the Democrats would hang together on this. That would mean only four Republicans would have to vote with them on individual witnesses or on in general the question of whether witness testimony will be allowed or invited. Maine`s Republican Senator Susan Collins said today she is talking with some of her Republican colleagues about the possibility they could cobble together the four Republican votes so that witnesses could be a part of the Senate impeachment trial. Because of those comments today from Susan Collins, yes, I suppose it is theoretically possible that that could happen.

But honestly in the Trump era, a lot of people have turned blue and hurt themselves holding their breath waiting for Republican Senator Susan Collins to do something interesting in principle when she has raised the prospect that she might do so. She raises that prospect a lot. She very rarely actually does so.

I don`t think anybody is truly counting on the prospect that four Republican senators will actually vote to hear witness testimony in this trial. But theoretically, the possibility is there. Now that the articles are being conveyed from the House to the Senate, this, of course, is a big next step, right, in only the third presidential impeachment in U.S. history.

We had one in the 1800s, one in the 1900s, and now we`re having one in the 2000s. They`re not very many of these. It`s a big step in that history.

It`s also a big step in the Trump presidency. Just in this moment in American history that we`re all living through. But can I just be petty about this for just a second? It`s Friday, it`s been a long week. Allow me to be petty.

Let me just note a small, ad admittedly small detail about this that will definitely not make the history books but right now means a great deal to me. If in fact what we learned today from Nancy Pelosi about how this is going to go in the next few days, if in fact this is the timetable in which the impeachment trial in the Senate is now set to start, if some time in the middle of next week, a resolution will go from the Judiciary Committee to the floor of the House. The floor of the House will vote on it. That will include convening the articles in the Senate. That will start the process of the Senate swearing in all the senators and getting ready to conduct their trial. If that is the time line, yes, it`s a big deal historically speaking. But in small terms, it also means that they`re not going to have to reschedule the Democratic candidates debate next week.

I know this isn`t the biggest deal, but it`s kind of the most pressing deal right now in terms of all of our schedules. The next Democratic presidential primary debate is Tuesday night at Drake University in the great state of Iowa. Democratic Party Chairman Tom Perez said on MSNBC this week that the party would acknowledge and would happily admit that it was necessary to reschedule that candidates` debate if it turned out the debate would conflict with the impeachment trial of President Trump in the Senate.

And I mean that makes sense. Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, they`re all qualified to participate in that Iowa presidential debate on Tuesday night. They all, of course, would also need to be present in the Senate if and when the Senate impeachment trial is under way. They will be jurors in that trial effectively, along with all the rest of the U.S. senators who are not running for president. So, you can`t have a debate requires their president while simultaneously the constitutional imperative of impeachment also requires their presence thousands of miles away. So -- or hundreds of miles away.

It`s not the most important thing about the impeachment process at this point I know. But if in fact at some point next week, the Judiciary Committee is going to put forward that resolution to convey the articles and name the impeachment managers and all that, if that`s going to happen, you know, next week some time, it is very unlikely that the Senate impeachment trial will have started in earnest by Tuesday night.

So just in terms of the calendar, it means the candidates debate is probably on. We`ll see. Anything can happen, but it`s probably on. So you don`t need to change your plans and I don`t either.

Now, as I mention that Democratic debate on Tuesday night is in Iowa. Iowa, of course, is the first contest in the Democratic presidential primary. The hugely well respected sort of definitive poll in Iowa is called the Iowa poll. It`s sponsored by "The Des Moines Register" and CNN and Mediacom right now, but everyone calls it the Iowa poll.

Tonight, that poll for the first time shows that Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders is in the lead in Iowa. This is the first time he`s been in the lead in this poll in Iowa in this cycle. As you can see there, this is the results of that poll on-screen in total. Bernie Sanders in the lead in Iowa, with 20 percent support. Elizabeth Warren in second with 17 percent. But she`s narrowly bunch would the third and fourth place finishers. Pete Buttigieg in third place with 16 percent, Joe Biden one point behind Buttigieg with 15 percent.

So they`re the top four. Sanders, Warren, Buttigieg, Biden, and you have -- and then there`s the big jump. You have to drop down 9 points before you get to the fifth place candidate Amy Klobuchar. She`s one point ahead of Andrew Yang, who is at 5 percent.

Cory Booker is 3 percent, Tulsi Gabbard at 2 percent, Tom Steyer at 2 percent, Michael Bloomberg at 2 percent. Nobody else in this poll registered in 1 percent or more in the Iowa poll.

And, obviously, this poll is great for Senator Bernie Sanders and his campaign and their supporters, right? This is the time where you want to be peaking, right? We don`t know if this is the last Iowa poll that`s going to be in the field before the actual caucuses take place next month, but we`re less than a month out from the caucuses. This is the first time he`s been in the lead. It makes it seem like his campaign is surging in Iowa at just the right time for him so you can understand why they`d be very excited.

But I want to point out one unusual thing on what`s about to happen in Iowa, because you look at these standings in the Iowa poll as of tonight, and it turns out these results map kind of oddly onto the list of who`s going to be in that next Democratic debate in Iowa on Tuesday night. Tuesday was the cut off for qualifying to be in that debate, so unless something crazy happens between now and midnight, we pretty much know who is definitely going to be on that debate stage.

And remember, it`s these dual criteria that the DNC has put forward. It`s fund-raising and polling. Based on that dual criteria, we know there are six Democrats qualified to be on the debate stage Tuesday night.

And the unsurprising part of it is the first five. The first five candidates qualified for the debate on Tuesday night, in fact its the first five in this most recent gold standard Iowa poll. The top five, they`re Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg, Joe Biden, Amy Klobuchar, they`re one, two, three, four, five in the Iowa poll. They were also the first five to qualify for this debate.

But late last night, we got news a sixth candidate would qualify for the debate stage in Iowa on Tuesday night. And it turns out you have to take a big leap down the standings to get to him, because it`s not Andrew Yang who`s in sixth place or Cory Booker or Tulsi Gabbard. You have to skip over all of them, and it is Tom Steyer who has earned the sixth podium on the debate stage.

So this result is according to the rules, there`s transparent criteria, you can do the math and figure out why these are the candidates who will be on the debate stage Tuesday night.

But in terms of Tom Steyer making the debate stage and making it at the last minute with polls that just came out last night, how did he get up there along with the other five candidates who are the top five contenders in Iowa? It turns out funny answer. It`s a very specific answer and kind of a funny story. We`ve got a great report on that coming up in just a few minutes. It will blow your mind. It will change your ideas about how these candidates are actually competing in this primary, stunning story that is coming up in just a couple of minutes.

I do want to point out, though, in the big picture of the Democratic primary, today, we have crossed a notable threshold. I mean, there`s still a bazillion people running in the Democratic race. That`s how you can have Bernie Sanders with a commanding first place lead heading into the Iowa caucuses even though he only has 20 percent support. Twenty percent isn`t a gigantic number. It only makes sense that you can be in the lead with 20 percent because there`s still so many other people in the field dividing up the overall vote.

The field is still huge for the Democrats, but the original size of their field was like death defying, record breaking. It was stadium seating. This was the original field in the Democratic primary as of last spring and summer. And there were a couple of late additions like Deval Patrick and Michael Bloomberg. But for the most part, this gigantic field was already in place from the earliest days.

Since then it`s been a story of attrition. The first candidates to drop out of the field, to poof off our list of contenders dropped out as of July of last year. It was Eric Swalwell who was the first to drop out. Three, two, one, poof. Goodbye, Congressman Swalwell.

Then the following month in August, we lost four more contenders. August last year, we lost John Hickenlooper, Jay Inslee, Seth Moulton and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. Ready? Poof, poof, poof, poof, all four of them gone in August.

Following month, in September, it was say good-bye to three, two, one, Bill de Blasio. Poof.

The month after that in October, the candidate who dropped out was Congressman Tim Ryan of Ohio. Ready, get set, can you find him? Poof.

In November, there was one candidate who dropped out, former Texas Congressman Beto O`Rourke. Duck, duck, goose, gone.

And then in early December, we said good-bye to former Congressman Joe Sestak and to Montana Governor Steve Bullock. Three, two, one, poof, poof.

Those are the last two candidates we officially took off the roster and transformed into these tiny cartoon clouds. I had neglected before tonight to formally say poof to California Senator Kamala Harris and former Housing Secretary Julian Castro. So this is your last time to find them on this board. Tonight we say good-bye to Senator Harris and Secretary Castro from the Democratic field. Three, two, one, good-bye.

And now, today, you may have seen the latest Democratic candidate to slough off the burdens of this campaign and get on with her life is self-help guru and author Marianne Williamson. Can you find her? She`s next to Andrew Yang.

Not a shock that Marianne Williamson dropped out of the race today. She laid off her entire campaign staff a week ago yesterday. So, that was a hint. We had been expecting this moment, but today she made it official. Three, two, one, good-bye Marianne Williamson.

Now, as I mentioned, there is a threshold that has just been crossed here. Today in terms of the balance of the field, we crossed a mathematical threshold because, again, remember this is what the board looked like when it was full. This is what the board looked like when it was full when we started.

Now this is what the full slate of candidates looks like as of tonight. If you can absorb visual information quickly or if you can count really fast, you will note as of tonight with Marianne Williamson dropping out of the race, officially, half of the Democratic field is gone. As many candidates have now dropped out of the race as are still in the race. We are on the fulcrum. The seesaw is perfectly balanced. The Democratic field will eventually reduce itself to one, but the half-life decay metaphor is in effect in round numbers. As of tonight, half of the Democratic field is officially out.

Now, last night, the incumbent president held his first campaign rally of the election year of 2020. And whatever he thinks about his would-be Democratic rivals in 2020, he is plainly still quite focused on the last Democrat who he ran against.


CROWD: Lock her up! Lock her up!

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So crooked Hillary -- wait. You should lock her up, I`ll tell you.


MADDOW: Lock her up. The crowds at Trump events do this reflectively. He talks about himself, he then immediately very quickly usually starts talking about his Democratic presidential opponent in 2016, Hillary Clinton. The crowds instantly respond that she should be incarcerated. Now somebody should go arrest her and she should be put in prison for some reason.

And this, of course, is part of what Republicans will have to explain to their kids and grandkids and what ultimately we`ll all have to try to explain to historians about what Republicans were like in this time in America, right? The Trump era is when Republicans started insisting political opponents of their party`s president should be locked up, which is departure from small "D" democratic norms in our history before now.

But the Trump era Republican Party has been doing this for so long now, it really is like a reflex. You know, hit the knee with a little pointy hammer and they just do it. Somebody says Hillary Clinton and they instantly say, lock her up.


MIKE FLYNN, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: I have called on Hillary Clinton to drop out of the race because she -- she put our nation`s security at extremely high risk with her careless use of a private e-mail server. Lock her up, lock her up.

CROWD: Lock her up! Lock her up! Lock her up!

FLYNN: You guys are good. Damn right. Exactly right. There`s nothing wrong with that.


MADDOW: Yes, about that -- that gentleman leading and praising the damn right "lock her up" chants at the Republican national convention, that is Mike Flynn who is now facing the very real prospect of himself being locked up in federal prison after pleading guilty to a felony charge of lying to the FBI.

Federal prosecutors had initially told the judge he`ll be sentencing Mike Flynn, that they thought he should just get probation because he had been such helpful with prosecutors after he pled guilty. Thereafter, however, he stopped cooperating with prosecutors and now in a remarkable turn of events, prosecutors have withdrawn their previous recommendation that he should get probation, and they`re now calling on him to do some prison time.

That is just one of the remarkable things that`s happened this week in what has been an incredible news week. It was a strange new twist in what has been a strange criminal case around Trump`s national security advisor Mike Flynn. And we`ll talk about that later on this hour.

But in terms of him leading the charge that Hillary Clinton should be locked up, right, from the earliest days of the Trump campaign, to something the president is still continuing with tonight or as of last night, "The Washington Post" just broke the news last night that a Justice Department review of Hillary Clinton`s e-mails, as well as the supposed Uranium One scandal which single-handedly kept the lights on at Fox News in prime time for months at a time, the Justice Department review of those "lock her up" Hillary Clinton scandals, a review that had been ordered by Attorney General Jeff Sessions under intense pressure from the Fox News Channel and from Trump supporting Republicans in Congress and from the president directly and from then conservative gadflies like William Barr who`d ultimately go onto become Trump`s attorney general. That Justice Department review of Hillary Clinton`s e-mails and supposed uranium scandal, that Justice Department review it`s been wrapped up, having found nothing of consequence.

As I mentioned, "The Washington Post" was first to report this last night this review has wound down while finding nothing of consequence. CNN tonight has now matched that reporting. Quote, a Justice Department review of business dealings tied to Hillary Clinton, a review championed by the president and his allies has wound down with officials not finding enough evidence to recommend the formal opening of any criminal investigation.

I mean, this follows the FBI, of course, deciding that there should be no charges related to this supposed scandal about the e-mails. It also follows the Justice Department inspector general finding that was the correct conclusion by the FBI. There shouldn`t have been any charges. The only real wrongdoing related to this e-mail thing was the FBI director deciding to make public statements about that investigation during the campaign because he felt like he was under so much pressure to look tough on Hillary Clinton, that he felt like he had to say something about Hillary Clinton in the middle of this investigation, even though it probably influenced the election, and even though the FBI itself concluded there was never any reason to bring charges in this case.

After that, the State Department inspector general did yet another review of this matter and found that in fact there had been nothing wrong in the supposed Hillary Clinton e-mail scandal, no reason to take any action here at all, let alone put Hillary Clinton in prison for it.

I`ll tell you as a matter of my opinion, I believe that "The New York Times" is one of the great wonders of the world, and we are a better country and a better world for having "The New York Times" in it. But "The New York Times" has something wrong with it when it comes to reporting on Hillary Clinton. They`ve got some sort of unresolved internal issues when it comes to their reporting on Hillary Clinton. I don`t know if they`ll ever resolve it, but "The Times" more than any other mainstream print publication has hammered away at the Hillary Clinton e-mail thing as if it really was as big a scandal as people like Mike Flynn and Donald Trump were saying it was.

"The New York Times" front paging it countless times, building it up, eviscerating the scandal and then dissecting the resulting entrails and looking for every little piece of it they could get into the mainstream campaign coverage throughout the course of the election, right up until the week of the election. When the State Department inspector general ultimately conclusively decided there really was no crime here, no great scandal, no systematic wrongdoing whatsoever, really nothing to see, "The New York Times" put that story on page A-16 of the Saturday print edition of their paper under a headline that called it a quiet ending.

See the headline. A quiet ending into inquiry for e-mails and server. Yes, it was a quiet ending. Yes, "The New York Times" you gave it quite a quiet ending especially compare today how big an opening you gave it on the front page for months.

Similarly, it was "The New York Times" that put the supposed Uranium One scandal on its front page in the heart of the campaign in April 2015, in a sort of reporting partnership with a right wing author who appears to have invented that scandal, who was working with Trump campaign chief Steve Bannon at the time. "The New York Times" did a reporting partnership with that guy, put that nonsense, that made up non-scandal above the fold on the front page in the heart of the campaign, made it look like it was mainstream news instead of a Steve Bannon joint cooked up in a caldron.

They then went back to the story again, ran more headlines about it in November of 2017 which is when FOX News and the Trump folks had heated up that story again and when Attorney General Jeff Sessions decided he needed to appoint this new Justice Department review to go back over the uranium one thing and e-mails thing again to see if there could possibly be any charges there.

"The New York Times" had front-paged it during the campaign. They went back and put it in their news again in partnership with this Steve Bannon connected right wing author. When they want today go back to it, when the Trump administration insisted that scandal was live again in the fall of 2017, which is how we got that Justice Department review.

Well, now that Justice Department review has apparently concluded that there`s nothing there. And, in fact, the review wound down months ago and found nothing and no reason to charge anybody or even open a formal investigation and, oops, never mind, guess there was nothing there. Thus far at least, "The New York Times" has not reported on the conclusion of that review at all. It`s been reported in "The Washington Post" and CNN thus far, but we haven`t seen "The Times" touch it.

I bet they will. I look forward to seeing their story and how they contend with the fact they were more than anybody else in the mainstream media promoted that story. I also look forward to seeing whether the "lock her up" chant about Hillary Clinton will nevertheless live forever even after Mike Flynn`s sentencing.

We got more ahead. Stay with us.



FLYNN: Lock her up, that`s right. Yes, that`s right, lock her up.


MADDOW: Mike Flynn, the president`s first national security advisor is now on the brink of potential federal prison time himself. General Flynn due to be sentenced later this month for lying to investigators about his secret contacts with the Russian government during the Trump transition. He`ll be finding out his fate. He`ll be sentenced by the judge in his case January 28th.

But on the way to that, this week, prosecutors in this case got sort of a do over in terms of telling that judge what they think Flynn ought to get for his punishment. The first time they weighed in more than a year ago, Flynn was cooperating with prosecutors as part of his guilty plea and cooperation deal, because prosecutors were happy with the assistance he was giving them, they initially told the judge in his case although his crimes were very serious, they were open to the prospect of no prison time at all for Flynn because of his, quote, substantial assistance to the government.

Since then, however, prosecutors say that Flynn is not only no longer cooperating but they told the judge in his case this week that Flynn actively tried to sabotage one of their cases. They`re withdrawing the assertion that he provided them substantial assistance. As such, they`ve now changed their mind whether or not Mike Flynn ought to serve time in prison.

According from their sentencing memo this week, far from accepting the consequences of his unlawful actions, Flynn has sought to blame almost every other person and entity involved in his case. The defendant`s conduct was more than a series of lies. It was an abuse of trust. The defendant monetized his power and influence over our government, and lied to mask it. Tasked with protecting our national security, instead he compromised it. It is clear that the defendant has not learned his lesson. He`s behaved as though the law does not apply to him and if there are no consequences for his action. The government is not aware of any case where such a high ranking official failed to accept responsibility for his conduct, continued to lie to the government and took steps to impair a criminal prosecution.

Here`s the thing I want to ask about, though. After raking him over the coals like that, when it came down to making an actual sentencing recommendation to the judge, the prosecutors in this new filing this week suggested that Flynn ought to get a sentence within the applicable guidelines range of zero to six months of incarceration, which is prison time maybe but not that much. When Mike Flynn broke his cooperation deal, presumably prosecutors could have decided to rip up their side of the deal entirely. They could have decided to charge General Flynn with all the things he confessed to, all the things he told them he did as part of his plea.

If he did as prosecutors say try to impair, try to interfere with another prosecution, presumably that also meant they thought he was obstructing justice which might be additional criminal charges. They`re not trying to give him additional charges and they`re only asking for zero to six months.

Nevertheless they weren`t asking for prison time at all before. This is sort of another hairpin turn in the saga of this criminal case against Trump`s national security advisor. But does even this late turn in the Flynn case still have some intrigue in it?

Joining us now is Chuck Rosenberg, former U.S. official at the Justice Department and the FBI, former U.S. attorney in the eastern district of Virginia.

Chuck, it`s great to see you.

CHUCK ROSENBERG, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: Oh, it`s nice to see you.

MADDOW: Let me -- I am not a lawyer. I read these things because it`s my job and for fun. Is there -- is there intrigue? Are there unanswered questions in terms of how this is resolving as Flynn has started getting sense?

ROSENBERG: Well, the biggest question is what the judge is going to do with this. Right? I mean what the prosecutors are signaling to the judge is that this guy deserves something more than a term of probation. How much more, how long would he serve in jail?

Completely up to the judge. He has plenary authority here. But they`re telling the judge in no uncertain terms, he did not accept responsibility. He did not help our case, our investigation, and you ought to know about that, your honor.

MADDOW: And the way that plea agreements and cooperation deals work is that you pledge to completely cooperate with prosecutors. If in the judgment of prosecutors, alone you don`t completely cooperate or you lie to them or you otherwise breach the terms of the deal, it`s within their discretion alone to rip up the deal and charge you with all the things that they agreed not to charge you with.

ROSENBERG: Some defendants don`t want to cooperate at all. Let`s put them to the side. Among those that do, the overwhelming majority would love to try and cooperate. They have to cooperate completely and fully, that`s typically the language of the plea agreement. And you`re absolutely right, whether or not they met that threshold, whether or not their cooperation was completely full is wholly within the discretion of the prosecutors.

But remember, once you get to sentencing, whatever it is the prosecutors recommend, the judge still decides. In this case, he, Emmet Sullivan, imposes the sentence. Recommendations by prosecutors and I know this because I was one are just recommendations.

MADDOW: In terms of the prosecutor`s options here, though, if they are saying not only did Flynn break the terms of his agreement, we believe he actively tried to impair this other prosecution. We thought he was going to be a star witness, he testified one way to the ground jury, they in fact made public his grand jury testimony now so we can see the difference between what he claimed before the grand jury, and then what he later claimed when he apparently tried to screw up that prosecution. They`re also describing him as essentially being culpable for the things he admitted to when he signed onto this plea.

He pled to one charge of false statements, but he admitted that he made multiple false statements and that his FARA filings were wrong and other things like that. Wouldn`t we expecting them to be charging him with those things now, too?

ROSENBERG: Well, maybe not and here`s why. Under the federal sentencing guidelines and that`s a pretty cumbersome document. So I`m not recommending necessarily you run out and read it. What your sentence should be, ought to be is determined by a whole bunch of sort of math equations.

How much money did the offense cost, let`s say, your victims? Was there more than minimum planning? Did you abuse the position of trust? Did your obstruct justice? Those things add points.

Points are bad here, by the way. Unlike a basketball game, points are bad.

On the other hand, did you accept responsibility? Did you do so early? That subtracts points.

Regardless of whether they had charged him with a violation of Foreign Agent Registration Act, or of lying to the FBI, the guidelines would still come out about the same zero to six months. And you have to go through this long convoluted math equation to get that, but that`s what the guidelines generally dictate for a nonviolent offender who has no criminal record.

MADDOW: Chuck Rosenberg, former senior official at the Justice Department and the FBI, former U.S. attorney -- sir, thank you for being here. You always make things more clear.

ROSENBERG: My pleasure.

MADDOW: Thanks. We`ll be right back. Stay with us.


MADDOW: This is interesting.

All right, we got new numbers today in terms of how much money the Democratic candidates running for president have spent thus far in their campaigns on TV and radio ads. This is data from NBC News and Ad Analytics. We did this last night and you might remember we had to wrap the graphic around the studio walls so you could see everybody in -- with everything in proper proportion.

But if you remember what this looks like with the entire field, this is just the field minus the billionaires. If we need to fit the two billionaires in terms of their ad spending on this chart, you have to change the scale. You have to shrink everybody else down because between them, the two billionaires running the Democratic primary are spending hundreds of millions of dollars on TV and radio ads and they make everyone look microscopic.

Last night, Tom Steyer officially qualified for the Democratic debate which will be in Iowa next week. The deadline to qualify is today, and he has made it. In the days leading up to today`s deadline, it really didn`t seem like Tom Steyer was going to make it onto that debate stage. He was in low single digits in most national and statewide polls. He needed better numbers in at least two polls.

But then last night, last minute, almost out of nowhere, he came in really close to the top of the polls in two early states. Polling third, tied with Elizabeth Warren for third in Nevada at a whopping 12 percent. Double digits, right, 12 percent tied for third.

And look at this, second place in South Carolina. Joe Biden`s way out in front. But look who`s in second? Tom Steyer, 15 percent in South Carolina. Frankly, a surprise for politics geeks, right, for those of us who pour over each new poll, a surprise.

But if you are a TV watcher in the great state of South Carolina or the great state of Nevada, it was probably less surprising to you because check this out, a lot with the fresh members we got today on total ad spending from all the candidates, we also got a break down what the candidates are spending by state, and it makes the puzzle kind of easy to solve.

All right. So far ,the candidates combined have spent $17 million on political ads just in the state of South Carolina. OK, $17 million in TV and radio ads, South Carolina alone.

Here`s how you solve the puzzle. Of that $17 million spent in South Carolina, $14 million of it was spent by Tom Steyer. Oh, that`s how it works. Tom Steyer has spent more on ads in South Carolina than Pete Buttigieg or Bernie Sanders have spent on ads nationwide for their entire campaign.

Same thing in Nevada, the other state that helped deliver Tom Steyer, a surprise spot on the debate stage. So far, there have been $11.6 million in total spent on political ads in Nevada by everybody. Of that $11.6 million total spent on Nevada ads, $10.4 million of that spent by Tom Steyer.

His Nevada-only ad spending is more than all of the ad spending by Biden, Warren and Klobuchar combined nationwide. So I guess it must be nice to know he got his moneys worth, that spending tens of millions of dollars in these two states worked.

We`ve got more news than that. Today, Mayor Bloomberg announced even if he does not himself win the Democratic presidential nomination, he says he will throw the weight of his campaign by which I mean the gazillions of dollars that come along with it, he says he will throw his money behind whoever is the Democratic nominee running against Donald Trump, again even if it is not him.

Today, my colleague Andrea Mitchell asked Tom Steyer if he too would pledge to keep his money in the race in support of the eventual Democratic nominee even if the eventual nominee is not named Tom Steyer, Mr. Steyer said in response, quote, the question about whether I will continue to support progressive causes, progressive candidates and the Democratic Party is something I`ve always said I will do, which I think is a yes. Maybe.

But that leaves us with a wild and baffling dynamic in the Democratic primary right now. Two billionaires pouring what seems like endless amounts of money into the race, sounding like they`ll keep the money flowing for whoever is in this right through November. But at least in the case of Tom Steyer in this next debate, it seems pretty clear the reason he`s going to be on the debate stage is just because he spent all of the money anybody was spending in both Nevada and South Carolina.

Those are early states that are supposed to get tons of attention from everybody. His disproportionate spending there appears to have vaulted him not only to the debate stage but into the next phase of the campaign. There`s one person I turn to help me make sense of these things. He joins here next on set.

Stay with us.


MADDOW: Joining us now here on set is MSNBC national political correspondent Steve Kornacki.

I feel like it`s becoming, Steve, that Steve Kornacki time of year is watching over. I woke up -- I woke up on New Year`s Day in 2020 and I was like I wonder where Steve is right now. I`ve seen a lot of him this year.

Let me ask you about these numbers. Obviously, the Democrats have two billionaires in the field who are spending in a qualitatively different type of way than all the other candidates are. Tom Steyer didn`t like he was going to be making the debate stage on Tuesday until these Fox News polls came out in Nevada and South Carolina yesterday showing him with huge numbers, double digits, second and third place in those states, and that means he`s on the debate stage.

He is absolutely dominating the ad spending in those two states. Can we directly we directly trace the ad spending to the poll results? Have there been enough polls in Nevada and South Carolina that we could see what he was like before he started spending and after?

STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT:  Yes, so, there really -- there haven`t been a lot of polls. I mean, I think this is legit. You can quibble on is it 15, is it 10. I think he`s getting a bounce in these states. But we haven`t had a lot of polls in any early states this year. 

They`re a lot more expensive. They`re a lot harder to do these days.


KORNACKI:  Folks -- when`s the last time your phone rang, you saw a number, didn`t recognize it, and you answered it.


KORNACKI:  That`s -- there it is. So, folks are finding new ways to get these things on online. I don`t think anything is fully realized yet, but that`s the future. In the meantime, everybody is living in this hybrid world. That`s part of it.

But I think the numbers you put up there, that`s the story. It`s the numbers he`s putting in in terms of money and it`s the fact that nobody else is spending anything. He`s got the run of the place.

So, fascinating example here is you can look at Nevada, you can look at South Carolina, it`s all Steyer and nobody else. He`s popping a little. He`s getting in double digits.


KORNACKI:  Look at Iowa, he`s the top spender in Iowa as well. He`s turned 11 bucks into Iowa, but the other candidates have also spent in the millions there. The other candidates are campaigning there and the media in Iowa has been covering this for months, every visit from Klobuchar, every visit from whoever, Steyer is at 2 percent in Iowa.

MADDOW:  Right.

KORNACKI:  So, I think it`s simultaneously less than money can still buy you something in politics. Money -- it can buy you on the debate stage with Steyer and when you got no competition, it can get you into double digits. But the Iowa example is telling me, when you`ve got competition, there might be limits on it.

MADDOW:  Yes.  And so, when -- if you can spend enough and your rivals in the race cooperate with you so that you can get 83 percent of the ad spending to yourself which is what he`s got in South Carolina, 90 percent of the ad spending to himself in Nevada, yes, that`s going to make a difference.

The question is, Steve, what you think about wisdom of how these various candidates and campaigns are spending the money. Obviously, as you were describing, lots of people competing in Iowa. I would expect they would all have hard decisions to make about how many of the Super Tuesday states to spend in. Those include expensive states like California. But it surprises me in early states like South Carolina and Nevada, the other campaigns that aren`t run by billionaires aren`t really putting ads on TV.

KORNACKI:  They have not.  But I think there`s a much broader debate that`s playing out in sort of campaign politics right now about the value of spending money on television, spending money on media when free media kind of -- you know, free media being getting on to news programs, talked about on cable news, on the radio, that sort of thing, the Internet. That carries you a lot further than it used to.

I think there`s a sense with these candidates that break out in Iowa or break out in New Hampshire and the money will start coming in then.

MADDOW:  Wow. 

Steve Kornacki, MSNBC national political correspondent, Like I said, it feels like the dawn of a new Steve Kornacki age. It`s great to have you here, my friend. 

KORNACKI: Thanks, Rachel.

MADDOW:  Looking forward.

All right.  More to come. Stay with us.


MADDOW:  I was just talking with Steve Kornacki here and I mentioned at the top of the show the new gold standard Iowa poll is just out tonight and it shows a tight race ahead of the Iowa Democratic caucuses, sort of tight cluster of the top four candidates -- Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg, Joe Biden. Bernie Sanders is at the top of that poll for the first time with 20 percent of the polling.

But I wanted to look at one other thing that you should know about from this same poll which is quite unique. Iowa voters are asked in this poll whether they have made up their minds ahead of the caucuses or whether they have an open mind, whether they could still be persuaded to support another candidate who right now isn`t their first choice.

And the number of likely Iowa caucus goers who say they`ve made up their minds and know for sure who they`re voting for is only 40 percent. The number of them who could still be persuaded is another 45 percent. And that`s interesting in its own terms.

But compare that to four years ago when nearly 60 percent of caucus-goers knew who they were supporting. It has flipped this year. The same proportion who knew who they were supporting then is saying the opposite now. And so, this is incredibly fluid and the Iowa caucuses are three weeks from Monday. Anyway, wanted to make sure you see that.

We`ll be right back.  Stay with us.


MADDOW:  One quick heads up before we go tonight, couple of months ago in October, Facebook took down a network of what they said were Russian-backed accounts that were consistently praising President Trump and disparaging former Vice President Joe Biden.

Soon after, in November, NBC News reported on new research that found that of all the 2020 candidates, Joe Biden was generation by far the most negative coverage in Russian state sponsored media.

Well, now, today, a new report from "Bloomberg News" says this dynamic is on the radar of U.S. law enforcement and U.S. intelligence officials. Quote: U.S. intelligence and law enforcement officials are assessing whether Russia is trying to undermine Joe Biden in its ongoing disinformation efforts, according to two officials familiar with the matter. It isn`t clear how far along intelligence and law enforcement officials are in proving a possible Russian disinformation drive against Biden and how formal the effort is. The FBI is declining to comment.

Again, unclear if a formal investigation has been launched, but Bloomberg News says that U.S. intelligence and law enforcement officials are assessing whether there is an active Russian disinformation effort to try to scuttle Joe Biden`s presidential chances for 2020. History rhymes.

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

Now it`s time for "THE LAST WORD" where Ali Velshi is filling in for Lawrence tonight.

Good evening, Ali.

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