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Impeachment trial TRANSCRIPT: 1/17/20, The Rachel Maddow Show

Guests: John Yarmuth, Mazie Hirono

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST:  Yes, fair enough, you know me well. Thank you, my friend. Thanks a lot.


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

Yet another day in our living history as American citizens where the front pages of our local newspapers kind of feel like things you might want to save. This is "The Dallas Morning News" today: Impeachment trial begins. With ritual and rancor, senators sworn in and allegations read.

This is "The San Diego Union Tribune": Senate begins historic trial. "Chicago Tribune" sort of went with the dramatic picture lead over the big headline.

Do we have that "Chicago Tribune"? Well -- I`ll show you that one in a minute. Probably, we don`t have it yet.

Do we have "The Washington Post"? "The Washington Post", three, two, one, thank you. Five columns atop page one: Senate trial of Trump begins.

"Wall Street Journal"? Yes. Senate opens historic trial of president.

"The Portland Press Herald" in Portland, Maine: Historic trial of Trump begins.

In Hawaii, "Honolulu Star Advertiser": Trial set in motion. "Philadelphia Inquirer", very dramatic: The trial begins.

"St. Louis Post Dispatch" often has very, very good front page headlines for all big occasions. This time they went with I think a very good one. Trump on trial.

But I will say, as much as I love "The St. Louis Post Dispatch" headline writers, I think they have a run for their money today in terms of the best headline nationwide.

Check out "The Parkersburg News and Sentinel" from Parkersburg, West Virginia. Their headline is perfect. Look: Jury duty. Get it? Jury duty, as in you are the jurors, senators, do your duty.

It`s so good. Jury duty. Trump`s trial begins, senators vowing impartial justice.

This is "The New York Times," all six columns, the full width of the front page. Trump`s trial opens as new evidence emerges.

This is "The Birmingham News", Birmingham, Alabama. Trial begins with pomp and bombshell.

Today, the formal summons of the president notifying him that he is on trial arrived at the White House. The White House is expected to make a reply to that in writing by tomorrow evening.

Also by tomorrow evening, the House, essentially, the prosecutors, are expected to file their first trial brief for the president`s impeachment trial. The president`s side, in effect the defense, will have their first brief due on Monday.

So this is joined now. This is on. And as noted by those last two front pages we just showed from Birmingham, Alabama and New York City, there is this very unusual dynamic at work in this impeachment, which is that the impeachment trial is opening as new evidence emerges, as "The Times" puts it, or as proverbial bombshells continue to drop, which is the way "The Birmingham News" put it.

You know, the fact that new evidence is coming out, new witnesses are coming forward, everybody has noted that puts pressure on the Senate in terms of whether they`re going to consider witness testimony and documentary evidence as new and potentially important witnesses continue to present themselves, as that new documentary evidence just continues to pile up. Will the Senate pretend none of that happening? Or will they actually look at that stuff as part of considering the scandal, considering the record of the president`s behavior they`ve got before them?

We`re going to speak with a key U.S. senator tonight about how that is playing inside the Senate and how that may ultimately be resolved.

But the fact that new evidence is still coming out right now in real time, new witnesses are coming forward and saying stuff that is potentially very consequential for the case against the president, I think somewhat unusually, it also means that the politics of this impeachment are very much in flux as the trial gets underway. I mean, not trying to be naive about this or Pollyannaish about this, but what the public knows about what the president did is an evolving beast, right?

I mean, as more evidence comes forward, as the public learns new things about what the president did, that`s very much going to affect the public`s expectations for now they want and expect senators to judge the president. It will affect how the public views senators in terms of the seriousness with which they are approaching this solemn jury duty. Thank you, "Parkersburg News and Sentinel".

It will also affect the public`s perception of the president`s alleged high crimes and misdemeanors and whether or not he should be held accountable for those things.

So, this is a live thing. Impeachments are always unpredictable. They`re so rare. But the fact this one still has more evidence, sometimes very compelling evidence coming to the surface, being surfaced by Freedom of Information Act lawsuits, being surfaced by witnesses coming forward who have tales to tell, it matters in terms of how humble we should be about our expectations for this impeachment as it goes forward.

And I should mention -- can we go back to "The Birmingham News" front page? Thank you. One of the things "The Birmingham News" is highlighting as sort of a late breaking development that is important in terms of the Senate trial starting right now is that as the trial is kicking off, the nonpartisan investigative body, called the Government Accountability Office, a government agency, has just determined that when the president withheld aid from Ukraine as part of this scheme for which he`s being impeached, it was against the law for him to do that, it was illegal for him to do that.

There has been a talking point from the White House and among Republican supporters of the president and the Congress that this impeachment is a scandal for which there was no technical crime. There was a crime, it turns out. And that official determination that the president acted illegally in withholding those funds from Ukraine, that official determination by the GAO right as the trial starts, I know that`s something that has been a little bit swamped by other developments this week, but that may also end up being really important as this goes forward.

That is one of the late breaking bombshells still coming to fore, coming to public notice as the trial starts. We`re going to speak with somebody very close to that story about the GAO ruling in just a moment tonight as well. So, we`ve got a lot to come.

But I have to tell you even just tonight, the House has released still more evidence that pertains to the impeachment scandal, more texts and call records and communications, even a voicemail they received from Lev Parnas, the same Lev Parnas who I interviewed this week in New York and who had a key role in the Ukraine scheme as essentially Rudy Giuliani`s right hand man for the duration of this pressure campaign.

The things Mr. Parnas told me in this interview this week are explosive on a lot of different levels. He bluntly implicated not only the president, but also a number of other senior administration officials, including cabinet officials in the way he told the story about how that Ukraine scheme worked.

And I know that the White House and conservative media in particular have tried to discount his assertions and his allegations by saying that Mr. Parnas is under federal criminal indictment and that is absolutely true. Nobody is hiding the ball about that whatsoever.

The problem with that politically is that it cuts both ways. Yes, Lev Parnas is facing federal felony charges, but that puts him in pretty good company in Trump world. I mean, why is it that so many people connected to this president are in prison or have plead guilty to felonies or have been convicted or felonies or are otherwise up on felony counts.

I mean, the president`s campaign chairman, prison. The president`s deputy campaign chairman, prison. The president`s foreign policy adviser from the campaign, prison.

The president`s national security advisor, awaiting maybe prison. The president`s personal lawyer, no not that one, the other one, prison. And now the guy who was with Rudy Giuliani running this Ukraine scheme for the president, yes, he is facing prison.

But like I said, that`s a big team. You know, it`s easy to take shots at him for his legal problems. But at some point, don`t you look around and wonder how come this president has so many people around him who we recognize from their mug shots?

It`s like, there`s a glass houses problem with people like, don`t trust this guy in the Trump orbit, he`s facing felony charges. Yes, dude, who isn`t?

But the other problem with this effort to dismiss these allegations and these assertions made by Mr. Parnas is that it turns out, I learned in speaking with him this week and reviewing very carefully everything that has been released by the House Intelligence Committee that he handed over to them, what we`ve learned about him as a witness to this scandal is that he is that remarkable thing that prosecutors and investigators look for, which is the person who not only was involved at all levels of the scheme that`s being investigated, he is the person who did that while keeping all the receipts.

He kept everything, it turns out. He has provided reams of documentary evidence, text messages, letters, photos, WhatsApp messages, I mean, you name it. He has handed it all over to the House impeachment investigators who bit by bit have been making it public over the course of this week.

And it turns out those materials can be used to corroborate his story, to corroborate some of the assertions that he made to me in any interview this week.

For example, "The Washington Post" today took a close look at what I think is actually the most explosive claim that Lev Parnas made in my whole interview with him and I know Mr. Parnas made a lot of very explosive claims. But I just want to focus in on one of them that I think might end up being the most consequential, and it`s the basis of this "Washington Post" report today sort of checking out as best they can from the public record Mr. Parnas` assertions.

I`m not going to reply this whole section of the interview in which Mr. Parnas made these claims that are about the vice president. I`ve cut it down a little bit to pare it down to his essence. But you should see it one more time to refresh your memory. Here it is.


MADDOW:  Did you meet with a Ukrainian official named Sergei Sheyfir?


MADDOW:  Sergei Sheyfir is a very senior aide to President Zelensky?

PARNAS:  Correct.

MADDOW:  It has been reported as far as we understand from public reporting that you conveyed to Mr. Sheyfir the exact quid pro quo, that you wanted Zelensky to announce investigations into Joe Biden or military aid would not be released to Ukraine. Is that accurate?

PARNAS:  There`s a little bit more to that. Basically the message that I was supposed -- that I gave Sergei Sheyfir was a very harsh message that was told to me to give it to him in a very harsh way, not in a pleasant way.

MADDOW:  Who told you to give it to him in a harsh way?

PARNAS:  Mayor Giuliani, Rudy, told me after meeting at the president, the White House, he told me he called him in there and he doesn`t want him flying out. All of Ukraine was already buzzing by the time we woke up that Rudy Giuliani came on TV and said that Zelensky is surrounded by enemies of the president.

They got became very concerned, they didn`t know what to do because they understand that relationships are getting -- that something is going to be bad. Everybody started getting the 911 (ph) up that something`s going on.

And then I got a call from Lutsenko, a text message saying here`s Sheyfir`s number, he`s waiting for your call.

MADDOW:  Sheyfir, at this point, a very senior member of the incoming administration.

PARNAS:  He`s the most senior. He was --

MADDOW:  The Ukrainian government is freaking out because Mr. Giuliani had thought he personally was coming to Ukraine to meet with President Zelensky to make these demands. The meeting was cancelled. He`s upset that the meeting is cancelled. He`s making public statements about how Zelensky is surrounded by bad people and enemies of the president.


MADDOW:  Everybody`s upset. In the midst of that upset, you in Kiev are told you should talk to Sheyfir?

PARNAS:  Give him one last chance.


PARNAS:  And the last chance, the message was it wasn`t just military aid, it was all aid. Basically the relationships would be sour, that we would stop giving him any kind of aid that -- 

MADDOW:  Unless --

PARNAS:  Unless there was an announcement made. In the conversation I told him that if -- he doesn`t -- the announcement was the key at that time because of the inauguration, that Pence would not show up, nobody would show up to his inauguration.

MADDOW:  Unless he announced an investigation into Joe Biden, no U.S. officials, particularly Vice President Mike Pence would not come.

PARNAS:  Particularly Vice President Mike Pence.

MADDOW:  So the day after that meeting that you had with Mr. Sheyfir --

PARNAS:  This was Sunday the 12th.

MADDOW:  I believe it was the following day that, in fact, Vice President Pence`s visit to the inauguration was cancelled.

PARNAS:  It was after my phone call.


MADDOW:  Lev Parnas, in my interview with him this week, made explosive claims about the president, about Attorney General William Barr, about Energy Secretary Rick Perry, Congressman Devin Nunes, Rudy Giuliani and, and, and.

But for my claim, for my money, the claim that he laid out about Vice President Mike Pence is sort of stunning. I mean, in the biggest picture sense, it is stunning because senators are being convened in this trial right now to decide whether or not President Trump`s behavior in this Ukraine scheme is sufficiently bad, sufficient illegal, sufficiently violative of his responsibilities under the Constitution, that senators should remove the president from office.

If they remove the president from office, they would de facto elevate Vice President Mike Pence into the Oval Office. So in that circumstance, it would be good to know if Vice President Pence was also involved or indeed knowingly complicit in the core scheme for which the president has been impeached.

I mean, there`s the possibility here that you are like arresting Bonnie but promoting Clyde, right? If they were doing this together and Vice President Pence was knowingly complicit in the heart of this scheme, you know, demanding that Ukraine announce investigations into Joe Biden or you get your aid cut off, if he was knowingly complicit in that scheme, if he was part of it, that`s a big deal for senators who are now solemnly weighing the prospect of removing President Trump from office for his role in that scheme if Vice President Pence also had an overt and knowing role in the same thing.

But Lev Parnas` assertions about Vice President Pence, explosive as they are, as fascinating as they are, they don`t just live out there in space on their own. They are bolstered, as the "Washington Post" lays out point by point, they are bolstered at every turn by documentary evidence that supports the timeline of what Mr. Parnas is describing.

Quote: Text messages and oh documents released by the how is this week as well as congressional testimony during the impeachment inquiry corroborate the timeline that Parnas detailed in interviews about the episode.

Mr. Parnas explained to me that he was in contact with a very senior Ukrainian government official named Sergei Sheyfir, that in fact is bolstered by the string of text messages between Lev Parnas and Sergei Sheyfir that have now been made public by the impeachment investigators. I mean, Mr. Parnas told me that he was given Mr. Sheyfir`s number and he first got in touch with him when he was in Ukraine on May 11th.

Well, it turns out that checks out. Here`s that text message written May 11th from Lev Parnas to Sergei Sheyfir. It`s written in Russian.

The Intelligence Committee has translated it as: Good evening, Sergei. My name is Lev Parnas. I`m a friend of Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Please call me back. Thank you.

Nine minutes later to prove who he was and the connections he was bragging about, Lev sent along a copy o a letter that Giuliani had sent the previous day to President-elect Zelensky. It`s not a public letter. This is something that only somebody actually connected to Rudy Giuliani would have. Lev sends over that letter basically to establish his bona fides. Mr. Sheyfir responds 10 minutes later. Understood. Thanks.

Later that night, in a couple of hours, Sheyfir sends Lev Parnas by text the name of a fancy restaurant in Kiev where he apparently wants to meet Mr. Parnas. He`s going to get that meeting.

Following morning, we know Lev is on his way. Good morning, Sergei. I`m on my way but I`m running late. About 15 minutes, I`ll be there about 10:15 or 10:20. Thanks.

Sergei responds and we don`t need to translate this. OK is Ok in any language.

Now, at that meeting, at that restaurant, that is what Lev Parnas described in his interview with me. That`s where he said he was harsh, that he made this harsh demand of that senior aide to the Ukraine president that if they didn`t announce investigations into Joe Biden, not only were they not going to get military aid, they would get no aid, it would be the end of their relationship with the United States and they would definitely get no Mike Pence at the inauguration of President Zelensky. Pence would cancel his inaugural visit.

And just as Mr. Parnas said, after that meeting happened, which did not go well, it was very heated. He said he was very harsh. He said Sheyfir made no commitment on behalf of the Ukrainian government to announce the Biden investigation, which is what Lev was demanding in no uncertain times on behalf of Giuliani, on behalf of the president of the United States. I mean, just as Lev said, after that meeting which did not go well, he told me in this interview that he didn`t hear back from Mr. Sheyfir after that meeting.

And so, later that night -- it had been a breakfast meeting in Kiev. Later that night, Lev Parnas started texting the guy to find out if he was going to give him an answer. That`s what he told me in the interview. In fact, it checks out.

Here in these texts, we`ve got Lev Parnas the night of the 12th texting Mr. Sheyfir. Sergei, good evening, is there any news?

Sergei does not write back. We can see from the complete string of text messages that a couple of weeks later, Lev tries again. Hello, Sergei, hello? That`s a couple of weeks later.

A couple of months later, question mark, hello, are you blocking me? In fact, Sergei Sheyfir never writes back to Lev again, just as Lev said. He said he cut me off from that conversation.

And then what happened next after he didn`t hear back from Sergei Sheyfir on the night of the 12th, according to Lev, the way he tells it, he relayed back to Rudy Giuliani in Washington or in the United States that it was in Lev`s words a no-go. Remember the threat was that Vice President Pence would cancel his plans to attend Zelensky`s inauguration unless they agreed to announce those investigations.

The way Lev told the story, he relayed home to Washington it`s a no-go, they`re not going to do it. Rudy told him, they will see. And in fact, by the next morning, the 13th, Mike Pence would cancel his trip to Zelensky`s inauguration. That`s what Lev had threatened on behalf of the White House.

The White House made good on that threat. The way that Lev explained it, the way that Lev laid out this bombshell assertion about Vice President Pence and his involvement in this scheme, in this pressure campaign on Ukraine to make a visit and all these other things the Ukrainian government wanted and needed from the U.S. government, make it contingent on them announcing that investigation, which on the 12th they would not do.

I mean, the way Lev explains it, that meeting happened on the 12th. He reported home about it the night of the 12th. And the cancellation of Pence`s visit in fact happened on the 13th.

That is what Lev Parnas alleges, as explosive as it is. It turns out that last part of it checks out as well.


JENNIFER WILLIAMS, VP PENCE`S AIDE:   We had already stopped the trip planning by that point.

STEVE CASTOR, GOP COUNSEL:  When did that happen?

WILLIAMS:  Stopping the trip planning?


WILLIAMS:  On May 13th.

CASTOR:  OK. And how did you hear about that?

WILLIAMS:  I was called by a colleague in the vice president`s chief of staff`s office and told to stop the trip planning.

CASTOR:  And did you have any knowledge of the reasoning for stopping the trip?

WILLIAMS:  I asked my colleague why we should stop trip planning and why the vice president would not be attending, and I was informed that the president had decided the vice president would not attend the inauguration.



MADDOW:  Kind of seems like Lev Parnas was speaking for President Trump after all.

President Trump contacted Vice President Mike Pence and told him he wouldn`t be going to that inauguration.

This dramatic story that Lev Parnas tells about Vice President Mike Pence`s trip being cancelled to Ukraine, to make good on the White House threat, that that visit would be cancelled unless they announced the Biden investigations, it is bolstered -- I mean, as shocking as that claim is and as potentially important as that claim is about the involvement of the vice president, you may doubt Lev Parnas because of who he is, but what he said is explicitly and exactly bolstered by corroborating documentation and testimony from disinterested witnesses.

Now, a senior administration official talking to the "Washington Post" about this chain of events even with the protection of anonymity would, quote, not share what reason president Trump gave vice president pence for cancelling that trip.

Well, somebody should maybe ask President Trump what reason he gave Vice President Pence to cancel his trip to Zelensky`s inauguration. Somebody should ask Vice President Mike Pence what reason President Trump gave him for cancelling his trip to President Zelensky`s inauguration.

Or did he really just, you know, cancel his planned trip to Zelensky`s inauguration on direct orders from the president of the United States by saying yes, sir, please don`t tell me why, sir? I mean, maybe that`s how things operate at the highest levels of the Trump administration, but somebody should ask.

I will also say that in the materials just released by the House tonight, Mr. Parnas` claims that Rudy Giuliani arranged for Mr. Parnas to have John Dowd, the president`s one-time lawyer, represent him when he was summoned to speak to the impeachment investigation, that claim about Giuliani setting him up with John Dowd, that is also bolstered by these text messages released tonight by the House.

Also, when Mr. Parnas told me in the interview that he was shocked that California Republican Congressman Devin Nunes was taking a leading role in the supposed investigation of the scandal. He said he was shocked by that because he, Lev Parnas, had arranged for a Devin Nunes staffer to actually participate in this scheme by trying to dig up dirt on Joe Biden from corrupt Ukrainian officials. That too is bolstered in these many text messages released tonight showing Lev Parnas doing just that with a top staffer to Congressman Devin Nunes setting up interviews between that staffer and Ukrainian officials who were making these claims against Joe Biden.

What Lev said to me is bolstered by the documentation that you would go to look for if you were trying to prove it. And I understand they want to attack Lev Parnas as an accused criminal. And point taken, he is an accused criminal and one of many around this president and this administration.

But whatever Mr. Parnas` own situation in his own criminal case, the guy does seem to have kept everything, every photo, every text, every WhatsApp message, every attachment so his claims, in fact, can be checked. The White House has denied all documents from the entire federal government to the impeachment investigation. Turns out Lev has a bunch, though, and he`s handed them over.

Turns out even the most -- what I believe to have been the most explosive claim he made in my interview with him in very important ways it turns out by the documentary evidence we can corroborate it by, it checks out.

More ahead. Stay with us.


MADDOW:  It was a signal moment when White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney stood up in the briefing room last year and admitted out loud in front of the whole world, that yes, there was a quid pro quo involving the withholding of aid to Ukraine in exchange for them announcing investigations that the White House was demanding. But it`s easy to forget because of how large that claim looms.

In that same press conference Mick Mulvaney also admitted to something else. He admitted in that press conference as well that there were concerns inside the White House inside the Office of Management and Budget over the legality or the potential illegality of the hold on the aid to Ukraine.


MICK MULVANEY, ACTING WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF:  We were concerned about over at OMB about an impoundment. I know I just put half you folks to bed, but the Budget Control Act, Impoundment --Budget Control and Impoundment Act of 1974 says that if Congress appropriates money, you have to spend it. We knew that money had to go out the door by the end of September, or we had to have a really, really good reason not to do it. And that was the legality of the issue.


MADDOW:  That was the legality of the issue. There`s legal constraint on us, that we were -- that presser is remembered for Mick Mulvaney admitting to the quid pro quo, but he also admitted that there were concerns inside the White House, inside OMB about the legality of that part of the quid pro quo, that part of the quid pro quo that was withholding the U.S. aid from Ukraine.

So that press conference was in October, the following month in November, there was a career official from OMB testifying to the impeachment investigation that, in fact, he was among the people who had raised questions about whether withholding those funds from Ukraine was illegal.

More explosively, that official Mark Sandy testified that two other officials at OMB had not only shared those concerns that this was potentially illegal, he told the impeachment investigation that two OMB officials had actually resigned, at least in part due to their concerns over the legality of the hold.

Well, we now know those officials who resigned, they were not alone in their concerns and it would seem to be proven now that their concerns were well-founded. The White House has refused to hand over any documents that could shed light on these matters. But just before Christmas, heavily redacted documents did start spilling into the open, thanks to Freedom of Information Act lawsuits filed by watchdog groups.

Those documents showed that senior political appointees within OMB knew that the hold might be in violation of the law and they activity took steps to try and keep it as quiet as possible. Earlier this month, reporting by Just Security revealed that Department of Defense officials also expressed explicit and urgent concern about the potential illegality of the hold.

The president and his allies have insisted consistently, right, that no crime was committed in relation to any part of this impeachment inquiry. It`s not true. And the officials who were concerned early on that what was going on around them might be illegal, they were right.

Yesterday, the GAO, the independent nonpartisan congressional agency that`s tasked with investigations, that`s tasked with reviewing this matter, concluded that, yes, the Trump administration did in fact break the law when they withheld that money. That decision said House Budget Chairman John Yarmuth confirmed that President Trump broke the law by withholding critical security assistance for Ukraine. He said, quote: This is only the latest proof that he brazenly and knowingly abused his power.

Joining us is the chairman of the House Budget Committee, Kentucky Congressman John Yarmuth.

Congressman Yarmuth, Mr. Chairman, thank you so much for making time to be here tonight. I really appreciate it.

REP. JOHN YARMUTH (D-KY):  Good to be with you, Rachel.

MADDOW:  So, I ran down a little bit of the history of this part of the scandal. Let me ask you if I got any of that wrong or events have overtaken me and I left out something important.

YARMUTH:  No. You got it exactly right. The Impoundment Act of 1974 prohibits the administration from withholding funds unless there`s some kind of programmatic program. For instance, if there were a grant program that Congress established and nobody applied for the grant, then obviously they couldn`t disperse the funds.

But other than that, the government is obligated, the administration to spend the money Congress appropriates pursuant to our Article I powers. And if they don`t, they have to come to Congress in advance and explain why they want to withhold the funding. Of course, they did none of that.

What GAO said was that you cannot, definitely cannot withhold funds based on policy. You can under certain circumstances, again the programmatic technicalities, you might. But when it`s policy, you can`t do that.

The administration came back in response to the GAO report and said we believe we have the right to withhold funds based on the president`s priorities which is policy. So, basically, they`re saying they don`t agree with the law. Well, they cannot agree with the law, but they have to abide by it.

The problem we have is there`s really no enforcement mechanism. We can impeach him, which we`re doing. And, obviously, this is part of the entire scheme, which is part of the Article I charge that he abused his power. In this case, he actually broke the law in abusing his power.

So, we`re going to -- we`re going to be looking at ways to tighten down the Impoundment Act so that there actually are some consequences if the administration does something that`s against the law.

MADDOW:  Let me ask you about one of the sort of intriguing human dynamics behind this part of the story, which is that it does appear from the documents we`ve been able to see, from the testimony we got from people like Mark Sandy, that there were people at OMB working in the White House, there were people at the Defense Department certainly who seemed pretty convinced or seemed very worried that this was illegal, that this hold on this aid was not in compliance with the law and that there would be consequences when it became known. And those people raced concerns, explicitly committed them to writing, seemed to run those concerns up the chain as far as they could.

And then we also see other Trump administration officials, political appointees, seeming to try to keep this quiet, seeming to try to keep this as something that wasn`t getting widely circulated and wasn`t being widely discussed after they had been warned that it was illegal. That sort of perceived culpability, for people who knew that they might have been furthering a criminal act, it just seems like -- it just seems like people other than the president did stuff that was wrong here.

YARMUTH:  Yes, exactly. And there`s another piece of evidence here in that, normally, what we call the apportionment letters which actually has to go out when you dispense money or when you`re delaying the dispense of money, are signed by career officials, career employees at the OMB.

That was done to a certain point and then they took it out of their hands and put it in the hands of a political appointee at OMB. They took it out of the normal process. And this was part of their, I think, again, response to the fact they knew they were something -- they knew they were doing something wrong. They didn`t want the career officials to have a hand in it.

And we know there were wide reports that Mick Mulvaney also had asked OMB lawyers to see if they could come up with a legal justification for what they were doing. So, they all knew they were doing something wrong. There was never any question about that.

And they had -- that was on the technical side, the legal side. On the policy side, there were people within the administration, very high up in the military and the diplomatic sphere who were arguing against it, saying it was bad policy, that we needed to actually put this money out so Ukrainian -- the Ukrainians could defend themselves.

MADDOW:  Congressman John Yarmuth, chairman of the House Budget Committee - - thanks for helping us understand this. It is a dramatic thing that the president acted illegally in this scheme as his trial is beginning. But it`s helpful to have clarify for us, sir. Thank you very much.

YARMUTH:  Well, when Mick Mulvaney said he put half the people to sleep, maybe we put the other half to sleep, a very important event.

MADDOW:  Also putting people to sleep is an important skill. America needs to sleep better.

YARMUTH:  Absolutely.

MADDOW:  Thank you, sir. Much appreciated.


MADDOW:  All right. We`ve got much more to get to tonight. Stay with us.


MADDOW:  In 2016, the very first member of Congress to endorse Donald Trump for president was a Republican congressman from Buffalo, New York, named Chris Collins. Once Trump, in fact, became president, Chris Collins became one of Trump`s most vocal and ardent defenders on Capitol Hill, right up until the point in 2018 when Chris Collins was arrested on felony charges related to an insider trading scheme.

Congressman Collins fought those charges in court for over a year. He was actually reelected in 2018 -- go Buffalo -- despite being under indictment for federal crimes. It was not until late last year, 2019 when Congressman Collins finally resigned from Congress after he decided that, OK, after all he was going to plead guilty.

Well, now with the impeachment trial of Donald Trump officially under way with senators and the chief justice being sworn in yesterday, today, we got a stark and sobering reminder of where the Donald Trump era in politics really began, because today, the first congressman who endorsed his presidential bid, Chris Collins, he was sentenced to 2-1/2 years in federal prison for his role in that insider trading scheme.

I should note that the second member of Congress who endorsed Donald Trump for president is a gentleman named Duncan Hunter. He just submitted his official resignation to Congress last week after also pleading guilty to felony charges. He`s set to be sentenced in March.

More to come in every possible way, I`m sure of it.

Stay with us.


MADDOW:  Earlier tonight, I showed you a bunch of newspaper front pages today from this historic time, this historic date in our history. I want to focus for one minute on this one. This "New York Times" headline: Trump`s trial opens as new evidence emerges.

I mean, it`s -- we`re living this and so, we know what this feels like but it`s a remarkable thing. I mean, as the articles of impeachment moved from the House to the Senate this week, as the Senate convened its trial, nearly every day this week has brought forth significant new information related to the factual record of this impeachment scandal. How does all this new information affect how the Senate trial is likely to be conducted, and are senators talking about this amongst themselves or changing their minds based on the new information they`re getting that may be sort of affecting the way they otherwise thought they would approach these things?

Senator Mazie Hirono, Democrat of Hawaii, she was sworn in yesterday as one of the 100 jurors in this historic trial. She joins us live tonight.

Senator, thank you so much for being with us.

SEN. MAZIE HIRONO (D-HI):  Good evening.

MADDOW:  Let me ask you if I`m right to focus in on this as a notable -- as a notable factor heading into this trial. The new information that`s coming out every day, is it affecting what your expectations are for how the trial will run?

HIRONO:  It certainly adds to the corroboration of what we know President Trump already did, which was the shakedown of the Ukraine president for his political purposes and using almost $400 million in taxpayer money as a bribe. So, all of this corroborating evidence is emerging, thanks so much to you.

But if these were more normal times, somebody like Lev Parnas would already have testified in the House impeachment inquiry, because he was subpoenaed to testify and he was prevented from doing so. All the evidence that was requested, 71 subpoena requests for documents, which the White House said no way.

So they`ve been stonewalling the impeachment inquiry all the way. This is one of the reasons, Rachel, that I think you`ve done a great service to let people understand that there`s more evidence out there.

And Mitch McConnell is doing everything he can to prevent the senators and the American people from hearing this evidence. Thankfully, though, in this age of social media, all of the Parnas evidence -- and there`s a lot of it -- is on the website, the House website.

MADDOW:  In terms of the information that has been conveyed forward for the investigation.


MADDOW:  You know, I wonder how sensitive you think the Senate is as a body, how Mitch McConnell, I guess, is as its leader, its majority leader, to public perceptions on this stuff. Because, I mean, part of what`s weird and interesting about the fact that this information is coming out through Freedom of Information Act lawsuits and through public interviews with people like me on TV -- 


MADDOW:  -- is that the public knows all this stuff. The public gets to see all this stuff and that changes public expectations for what the president is actually going to be on trial for.

How sensitive do you think McConnell is to what the public knows and what the public is going to want answers to?

HIRONO:  I don`t think Mitch McConnell is very sensitive at all. This is the same person who prevented Merrick Garland from getting on the Supreme Court. And he didn`t prevent the government shutdown that hurt 800,000 government workers. So he`s not sensitive at all.

The only thing Mitch McConnell cares about is retaining control over the Senate, just as the president is totally interested in his own retention of the presidency. These are the kind of people we`re talking about.

But, thankfully, the American people want evidence and witnesses at the trial. The majority of people understand that that is what a fair trial looks like.

MADDOW:  In a conference call with reporters in your home state of Hawaii today, you said the president is trying to rig this trial -- 


MADDOW:  -- by not producing any documents and forbidding his people from testifying. What do you mean by using the word "rig" there?

HIRONO:  Just as he tried to rig his reelection by getting the Ukrainian president to do his political bidding and using $400 million as a bribe, he`s trying to rig this trial using Mitch McConnell to prevent any witnesses or documents from being produced. This is for the -- I think rigging is the right word. Another word is cheating. He`s cheating the American people.

MADDOW:  Senator Mazie Hirono, Democrat of Hawaii, thank you so much for your time tonight.

HIRONO:  Aloha.

MADDOW:  I know next week is going to be a huge week. Thanks for being with us.

HIRONO:  Yes. Thank you.

MADDOW:  All right. More to come. Stay with us.


MADDOW:  All right. We`re going to have to warm up the chart.

All right. You remember this? This was the state of play the last time we checked in. This is something we have been tracking and trying very hard to keep to accurate scale. This is what the presidential contenders have spent on TV and radio ads thus far. This was their spending to date when we last checked in on them a week or so ago.

But now, as of tonight, we have an update. With the new numbers we got in today, boop. Cha-ching. There is a little movement across the board. But the dynamic in this race remains wholly unchanged.

The billionaires running in the Democratic primary, Michael Bloomberg and Tom Steyer, are just playing a qualitatively different game when it comes to how much they are spending on ads.

Everyone else is on a bicycle, somehow faster, bicycles or slow as bicycles, but they`re like in a spaceship, right? A different thing. It`s almost impossible to fit that kind of difference on your screen, let alone in your brain.

But here is something also mind bending in the new numbers, which tells a whole different story.

Obviously, you know, Iowa is first in the primary and then New Hampshire. But then the next two states are Nevada and South Carolina. It turns out, something fascinating is going on with the spending in those two states in particular.

I want to show you Nevada. When you add it up, the 2020 candidates have spent almost $12 million on advertising, TV and radio ads, in Nevada. But when you look at how that $12 million is spread out across the candidates, you realize, though, wow, it`s not really spread out at all.

Tom Steyer has spent more than $10 million on ads in South Carolina, 91 percent of the ad buys in South Carolina are Tom Steyer. Sorry, in Nevada. Sorry.

And it`s the same thing in South Carolina, $17.5 million have been spent on 2020 ads in South Carolina. Of that $17 million, Tom Steyer spent almost $15 million of it all by himself. Eighty-five percent of the money spent on ads in that state, spent by that one candidate.

Now, we already know Tom Steyer has translated millions of dollars` worth of TV time in a huge boost in the polls in those states specifically. That bottom to last minute spot at the debate this past week.

But with him dominating the ad spending, not in some states down the road but in the states that go third and fourth, Nevada and South Carolina, with those contests, and they are now fast approaching, will that money, that dominant money in the ad world be translated into votes, as well? We shall see.

We`ll be right back. Stay with us.


MADDOW:  How about a best new thing in the world? Ready for one? Here we go.

Exactly 100 years ago today, alcohol became illegal in this country. It was the start of prohibition. On that first day, more than 1,500 federal agents spread out across the country conducting anti-alcohol raids with local authorities. Barrels of wine were poured into the streets. Bottles of booze were unceremoniously smashed.

In New York City, the police commissioner himself personally dumped $100,000 worth of liquor into the East River. Come on. In Chicago, barrels of Milwaukee lager were tossed into Lake Michigan. Authorities were zealous.

The government began employing, specifically, female agents to go undercover to facilitate the raids. The most famous of whom went by the nickname Lady Hooch Hunter. Weirdly, that`s my drag name now.

I`m not lying when I tell you that the actual Lady Hooch Hunter quit the second she was assigned a desk job. She was a hooch hunter. You got to lock her up in the desk?

Despite all those efforts, prohibition, of course was a massive failure. People still drank. Bathtub gin, speakeasies, bootlegging, booze cruises took passengers beyond our territorial waters as a way to bypass the law.

Organized crime flourished. Gangsters had a massive new revenue stream after all, thanks to smuggling alcohol and the huge demand for it. Prohibition was ineffective at achieving its stated aims. It was also a huge strain on the economy. And it bred a huge and malevolent new species of gangsterism.

Federal, state, and local governments lost billions of dollars in tax revenue. It was an engine of misery and failure.

When the Great Depression hit, there was a massive push to finally be done with it and have prohibition overturned, in part, because it might provide an economic boost. Protestors took to the streets with signs that said we want beer. And I`m no camel. I want beer.

It took almost 14 years, but prohibition was finally gotten rid of, finally overturned in 1933. That leads me to the best new thing in the world.

The anniversary, the centennial of prohibition, I feel is a timely reminder that sometimes our country makes terrible, terrible decisions. Decisions that cause terrible harm to this country and to our -- to its inhabitants.

But when we do that, we should remember that we can change our minds. We can undo those things. We can get smarter and resolve to never do those things again. We are capable of growth and learning as a country. And that is the best new thing in the world today. Cheers.

That does it for us tonight. I will see you again very soon. Actually, see you tomorrow morning when I will be a guest on "A.M. JOY" at 10:00 Eastern Time. That`s tomorrow morning.

I will also tell you, on Sunday night, starting at 10:00 p.m. Eastern, MSNBC is going to re-air both of the parts of my interview with Lev Parnas again Sunday night 10:00 p.m. See you there.

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

Good evening, Ali.


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