RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Thanks, my friend. Much appreciated.
CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: You bet.
MADDOW: Thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.
Exactly one year from right now, on January 20th, 2021, whoever wins the next presidential election will be sworn in as president of the United States. President Trump was sworn in three years ago today, either he or somebody else will be sworn in one year from right now.
In what better way to celebrate the occasion than by kicking off the Senate impeachment trial of President Trump tomorrow. Kind of the numerology and the coincidence of dates here is remarkable.
Regardless of what happens here in the impeachment proceedings, I mean, if the president is not removed from office through this impeachment process, if the Senate doesn`t convict him on one or more articles of impeachment and thereby remove him from the presidency, if he manages to stay president through 2020, you know, through the election on November 3rd, it will still always be true for the history of this presidency that day one of his fourth year in office started with day one of the trial in which U.S. senators will decide whether or not he should be convicted and removed from his post. I mean, that is how this is going to look from a wide-angle lens in history. This is how we are starting year four of the Trump presidency. That`s the wide-angle lens.
If you look through the narrow lens of this particular news cycle, though, it`s a little bit crazy, it`s at least remarkable, that it wasn`t until after the close of business tonight, it wasn`t until roughly 6:00 Eastern Time tonight, the night before the trial is due to start that the Republican leadership of the Senate finally released their proposed rules for how the trial`s going to be conducted. I mean, you kind of think that all of this time since the president had the articles of impeachment passed against him in the House more than a month ago, you think that the senators would have been preparing, the House impeachment managers would have been preparing for how they`re all going to handle their individual, specific roles in this all-important trial that`s due to start tomorrow. I mean, I`m sure they`ve all been preparing in general, but none have been preparing in specific detail on what each of them individually is going to do because before just tonight, nobody has known how the trial was going to be conducted because it was only tonight when for the first time Mitch McConnell released this four-page resolution laying out how he`s proposing the trial should go.
And it turns out, now that we can finally see his proposed rules that the way he wants it to go is that he wants a significant proportion of the trial of the president to happen after midnight on week nights. Oh. We`re going to get some expert advice on this in just a moment.
But just from a layman`s point of view, just from a president`s point of view reading this stuff, I mean, looking how the Republican leadership of the Senate is saying they want to conduct this trial -- I mean, it`s almost hard to believe that what they`re doing is something that they want to be called a trial. First of all, at least as I read it, there are no guarantees that the Senate will hear from any witnesses at all. We`ll have more on that in just a moment.
There`s also appears to be no guarantee that they will accept any new evidence that`s been obtained or made public since the impeachment investigation wrapped up in the House and the articles of impeachment were passed against the president. So, no new evidence guarantee either. We`ll have more on that in a moment as well.
But what is surprising to me, maybe even shocking to me, is that this resolution explaining how the trial is going to go, it appears at least to me to not even allow that the evidence from the House impeachment investigation will be admitted in the Senate either, by which I mean they may not even consider the evidence that produced the articles of impeachment. They may not even consider as evidence the formal evidence as compiled by the House, just the stuff they`re going to get from the House that is the results of their investigation that led to the articles of impeachment.
I mean, we had known there were going to try to make a stink to block new evidence from being introduced, but the existing evidence? They might not allow the existing evidence from the House? I mean, what they`re laying out here, what the Republicans in the Senate are planning on is a trial potentially with no witnesses and no documentary, evidentiary record at all.
So it will be, like, I don`t know, charades? Abstract arguments about the theory of the case, I guess, but you`re not actually allowed to try to prove the case or document its existence in any way? Again, not a lawyer and this is how it appears to me. We will get expert advice on this in just a moment.
But as remarkable as that is in terms of what they don`t necessarily plan on considering as part of this trial, the proposed time line is even more impressive in terms of what they`re trying to do here. You remember that the House impeachment managers, this group of Democratic members of Congress appointed by Speaker Pelosi, remember they function essentially as prosecutors in the Senate trial. They`re the ones who are supposed to lay out the case for the jury for the full Senate, the case against President Trump.
It is hard enough to imagine how they`re going to do that if they`re not allowed to refer to any evidence at all potentially. But McConnell`s resolution tonight also says that the full 24 hours that those prosecutors have been given to lay out their arguments to make their case against the president, those 24 hours of argument they`re being given must be delivered over the course of no more than two actual days. So that means 24 hours in two days, that`s 12 hours a day for two days.
And remember that these proceedings don`t start until the afternoon. They don`t start until 1:00 p.m. at the earliest because Chief Justice John Roberts, who`s overseeing the Senate trial, still has to do his day job over at the Supreme Court. He does that in the mornings. He can`t be at the Capitol until 1:00. So, that means the prosecutors are being given a full 24 hours in which to make their case, but they have to use those 24 hours over two days, and the clock doesn`t start on each of those days until well into the afternoon.
So, they basically want to lay out the case against the president in this trial significantly after midnight likely on Wednesday and Thursday night with no guarantee that any evidence whatsoever can be cited by the prosecutors or referred to during the trial at all. And only after that, after the president`s defense counsel is also allowed their midnight run, same deal, 24 hours over two days maximum not starting until the afternoon, either of those two days, only after that amazing display will anybody will allowed to even bring up the question of whether there should be witnesses.
But that apparently is the plan. For it to be sort of a dead of night, marathon, fact-free, testimony-free cram session designed to repel public interest.
When the trial formally convenes tomorrow at 1:00 p.m. eastern once chief justice is done at the Supreme Court for the day, they are expected to take up this proposed resolution laying out Mitch McConnell`s plans for the trial that will essentially be the first order of business. Senator McConnell has asserted he can pass this resolution with Republican votes only and he appears happy to do so.
That said, we expect that the Democratic leader in the Senate, Chuck Schumer, will also offer proposed amendments to the resolution. We shall see. But again, Mitch McConnell has been essentially crowing about the fact that he doesn`t need or necessarily want any Democratic votes for what he`s doing and he thinks he`s got all his Republicans in line.
If you remember the Clinton impeachment from 1999, or if you`ve studied it in school, you`ll remember that this equivalent moment then on the eve of the first day of Senate trial for President Clinton, the equivalent of this was not passed on anything like a partisan party line vote. In 1999, the equivalent to this resolution that we just got tonight was worked out on a fully bipartisan basis and was passed by the Senate unanimously, a vote of 100-0.
Mitch McConnell in contrast appears to be happy to do this vote with the Republican votes alone for 2020. Obviously, though, we`ll be watching closely tomorrow at 1:00 p.m. to see what happens to the Democratic amendments and then to the resolution as a whole. And as I said, we`re going to have some expert advice in terms of assessing what this means we should expect in terms of the overall process.
I would just point out just a couple things before we get to that discussion, though. One of them is about the evidence. I mean, the headline tonight is yes, they`re not guaranteeing they want to hear any new evidence, they might not even accept the existing evidence from the House. But it is also worth noting that new evidence has not just been piling up since the articles of impeachment were passed in the House.
New evidence -- I think it`s fair to note here, is going to keep coming out throughout the trial, including on day one tomorrow. I mean, this is just one piece of it. Look at this announcement from American Oversight, which is one of the watchdog groups that brought a big Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the presumption to pry loose documents about the Ukraine scheme. Look at the timeline by which they are expecting court-ordered releases of documents from the Trump administration about the Ukraine scandal, right?
Today is January 20th, look, documents are expected tomorrow by court order on January 21st. Tomorrow, day one of the trial, documents from OBM, the Office of Management and Budget, which we learned broke the law when they withheld U.S. aid from Ukraine on the president`s orders. New, OMB documents about the Ukraine scheme are due to be released tomorrow.
And thereafter, presumably when the trial is still going on, they`re also expecting new document releases about the Ukraine scheme from the Energy Department and the State Department and on and on, on a basically weekly basis.
So if the Senate decides they`re just going to pretend that new evidence is not being revealed, is not being shown to the public, that`s going to become more and more difficult each passing day as the trial coincides with new evidence being provided to the public by court order, new evidence that potentially she does not light on what the president did. While the Republican-controlled Senate pretends they don`t know anything about it. Don`t talk to me, I`m pretending it doesn`t exist.
So the not looking at evidence thing is remarkable on a few different levels, but it is going to continue to be remarkable and I think difficult and awkward and hard to explain to the public throughout each day of the trial if they really are going to try to wall themselves off from the evidence.
Also, on the point of witnesses, "Washington Post" is reporting tonight that the White House is so freaked out about John Bolton, they`re so freaked out about the prospect of Trump national security adviser John Bolton testifying to the impeachment trial that even though they`re trying to do everything they can to get the Republican Senate to block witnesses overall, even though they`re going to try to make sure that every Republican senator toes the party line and doesn`t vote for any individual witnesses, including John Bolton, in Bolton`s case specifically, they`re so worry about the prospect of him testifying and what he might say that they`re also, according to "The Post" tonight, considering a sort of doomsday contingency plan.
Quote: One option being discussed, according to a senior administration official, would be to move John Bolton`s testimony to a classified setting because of national security concerns, ensuring that it is not public. Quote: That proposal discussed by Senate Republicans is seen as a final tool against Bolton becoming an explosive figure in the trial.
Oh, so that`s what classification procedures are for. So you can call something a national security concern that must be classified because it might show the potential to incriminate the president at trial. Is that the national security you`re worried about? Is that what the classification process is for? That seems pretty desperate.
I will also just note for the record that "The Wall Street Journal" reported earlier today that the White House also appears to be freaked out about the prospect of Senate testimony from Lev Parnas, who I was able to interview last week and who was a sort of right-hand man and fixer for the president`s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, throughout the Ukraine scheme.
According to "The Wall Street Journal," Trump`s team aims to block any attempt from House managers to include in the Senate trial testimony, include in the Senate trial, testimony from Lev Parnas.
Given the claims that Mr. Parnas has made about the president`s alleged direct involvement and supervisory role in the Ukraine scheme, including, according to Mr. Parnas, the president directly employing Vice President Mike Pence as a tool of pressure against the Ukrainian government. Because of all that and all of the other assertions and documents Mr. Parnas has made public, you can understand why they don`t want him to testify at the trial. The question is why the power -- why the White House believes they have the power to block him from testifying, right?
I mean, technically, it`s the Senate that runs this trial under the guidance of the chief justice. The White House may not want Lev Parnas to testify, but in the end, it won`t be their call either way, right? It will be the Senate`s call, even though the Trump White House appears to believe they could block him?
Here we go. I mean, it`s starting. Year four of the Trump presidency, one year to go exactly until the next presidential inauguration, and day one of the president`s trial. Here we go.
Joining us now is Neal Katyal, former acting solicitor general under President Obama.
Mr. Katyal, it is great to see you. Thank you for being here tonight.
NEAL KATYAL, FORMER ACTING SOLICITOR GENERAL UNDER PRESIDENT OBAMA: Thank you.
MADDOW: So I`m not a lawyer. I don`t even purport to play one on television. As I just laid out what I understand is being --
KATYAL: And I agree (ph) with Dershowitz, so don`t worry about it.
MADDOW: Well, that`s your assessment. Did I get anything wrong in terms of how I explained what`s been revealed tonight by the Senate majority leader?
KATYAL: No, I think you got it exactly right despite not having a law degree. And, you know, basically, here we are. we`re on the eve of one of the most important trials not just in our lifetimes but in American history. And these rules have just been dropped on us on the 11th hour. And like every one of my students who drops a paper at me in the 11th hour, it`s fairly shoddy.
And this isn`t -- I think you`re -- Rachel, you`re right to say, you used the phrase from a citizen`s point of view, let`s evaluate this. I think that`s exactly right because I don`t think this is about the Republicans winning in these rules or the Democrats losing. I think ultimately, it`s the American people who are profound victims if these are the rules that are allowed to take place, because what they`ll do is force the trial to occur, parts of it at midnight over the next week, when nobody`s watching.
And we know why that is. I mean, you know, the only things that happen at midnight are trash collection and the execution of prisoners. I mean, those are the kinds of things that happen. Government -- major government decisions and certainly government trials don`t happen at that time.
But all these rules are united by the McConnell rules announced tonight have the same basic theme, which is how do we hide as much information as possible from the American people, and that`s the travesty of these rules.
MADDOW: The -- one thing that truly surprised me, I mean, I didn`t know exactly what to expect overall, but I was very surprised to see what appears to be no commitment to even review the evidence collected by the House when they conducted their investigation of this scandal and when they passed the articles of impeachment.
It made me wonder, if they`re not committing at the outset to accept that evidence from the House, the way, for example, they did in the with Clinton impeachment, as far as I remember, does that open up to a situation in which Senator McConnell could try to sort of cherry-pick specific pieces of evidence from the House investigation. So, like when Ambassador Gordon Sondland said he got a call from the president, where the president said there`s no quid pro quo. They accept that, but then they wouldn`t accept as evidence the part where Gordon Sondland said he didn`t believe the president on that phone call and he believes there was a quid pro quo.
I mean, could they actually try to engineer their own facts by cherry- picking?
KATYAL: Totally. You got, Rachel, at this point, my juris doctorate degree. I mean, that`s exactly right.
So, what would happen -- you know, into the Clinton rules, the evidence from the House was admitted to the Senate. Here, this allows a case-by-case adjudication of all the evidence that was already generated in the House. Remember, these are Trump`s own administration people. It`s not like these are, you know, people, you know, wide-eyed, you know, people who are anti- Trump people or something like that from outside the government. These are, you know, very respected folks and there was a process there.
And look, I understand that there are a bunch of people, Republicans, who say Trump did nothing wrong and so on. That`s exactly what trials are all about. Get that evidence admitted, have some new evidence if you have any that exculpates and points to Trump being innocent. The problem is, they can`t point to anything that shows Trump`s innocence, and so, what they`re doing is they`re saying, well, let`s try to have a really fast trial all at midnight, no witnesses, no documents, and maybe we`ll just get it through the American people that way.
MADDOW: Yes, let me ask you one last thing and feel free to not answer this if it makes you uncomfortable. But if you were advising the Senate Democrats tonight, looking at what`s been proposed by Mitch McConnell in terms of how he wants to run this thing, and you know the political dynamics at work here as well as the law.
Is there anything that you would advise them to do to try to make sure this trial is as fair as possible and as complete as possible given that Mitch McConnell is proposing as a framework?
KATYAL: Yes, two things. One, the Republicans are claiming these are the same rules as Clinton. They`re not for exactly the reasons you identified. So, just hit control F, call up the document in the Clinton impeachment and the rules, hit control F and swap Trump for Clinton, play by those rules. That`s number one.
And number two, there is a difference between Clinton and here, and one that requires witnesses. Here, remember in Clinton, there were already a bunch of witnesses that came before an in earlier stages of the investigation. Here, Trump has gagged them all. And McConnell, I think, and the Senate Republicans have shown they want to hide the truth from the American people.
At that point, I think the Democrats have one really good option left. It`s the one our Founders gave them in the Constitution, which is the chief justice presides over the impeachment proceedings. Under the existing rules, Rule 7 and 16, I think it`s the chief justice`s call as to whether witnesses should testify.
John Bolton has said he wants to testify. This is the president`s own guy, the national security adviser. Let him testify. Mick Mulvaney is the president`s chief of staff. If what the president did is so beautiful and perfect, let`s hear from him and, indeed, let`s hear from Trump himself.
I mean, if he`s afraid to come and testify, that tells you all you need to know about whether that call was perfect and beautiful.
MADDOW: Neal Katyal, former acting solicitor general -- thank you so much for being here on the eve of the trial, Neal. It`s good to see you. Thanks for being here.
All right. We`ve got much more ahead tonight on the eve of President Trump`s impeachment trial. There is a very important new book that is going to be a huge best seller that comes out tomorrow, with lots of previously unreported news about the Trump administration and specifically the behavior of the president. We`re going to be speaking with those authors tonight. I got an excerpt from that book coming up.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: OK. The timeframe here is August 2018. President Trump has just announced he`s going to strip the security clearance from former CIA Director John Brennan. Well, here is part of the response to that in detail that we have never known before this. Quote, too many professionals in the national security community, this extraordinary action crossed a red line.
Among those shocked was William McRaven, former Navy admiral who`d been a commander of the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command and had led the 2011 raid on a Pakistani compound that killed Osama bin Laden, the al Qaeda terrorist mastermind of 9/11.
McRaven had considered Brennan a trusted friend and critical partner in that unique mission. Now, McRaven was enjoying his semi-retirement, visiting a friend in the Colorado Mountains, when he heard the news that Trump was revoking Brennan`s security clearance.
The next day, August 16th, McRaven has plans to go fly fishing in a beautiful river valley, but felt an urge, a duty even to speak out on Brennan`s defense. McRaven had spotty cell reception and no wireless connection, so sending an email was not an option. He asked his host if he could use the landline at his home.
First, he gathered his thoughts and scribbled a few phrases on a piece of paper. Then he called the cellphone of a reporter he knew and trusted.
As a child growing up in San Antonio, McRaven had been in the same fifth grade class as Karen Tumulty, who had been a distinguished political correspondent for "The Washington Post" and had recently moved to the opinion section as a columnist. McRaven figured he would give her an on the record quote she could share with whichever "Post" colleague was writing about the Brennan controversy.
Tumulty was heading to a doctor`s appointment when the admiral dialed. She didn`t recognize the Colorado number, so she let the call go to voicemail. Not sure when he could call her back, McRaven decided to speak aloud into the voicemail message saying what he would tell Trump directly if he had the chance.
Here was what I`ve come up with, he said, do whatever you want to with it, Karen. Then he dictated his comment verbatim.
Former CIA Director John Brennan, whose clearance you revoked on Wednesday, is one of the finest public servants I`ve ever known. Few Americans have done more to protect this country than John. He`s a man of unparallel integrity, whose honesty and character have never been in question, except by those who don`t know him. Therefore, I would consider it if you would revoke my security clearance as well, so I can add my name to the list of men and women who have spoken up against your presidency.
Like most Americans, I had hoped that when you became president, you would rise to the occasion and become the leader this great nation needs. A good leader tries to embody the best qualities of his organization, a good leader sets the example for others to follow, a good leader always puts the welfare of others before himself or herself.
Your leadership however has shown little of these qualities. Through your actions, you have embarrassed us in the eyes of our children, humiliated us in the world stage, and worst of all, divided us as a nation.
If you think for a moment that your McCarthy-era tactics will suppress the voices of criticism, you are sadly mistaken. The criticism will continue until you become the leader we prayed you would be.
Waiting in the representation area to see her doctor, Tumulty played the mystery caller`s voicemail. She was stunned by what she heard. She called McRaven back but only talked briefly because he was finally heading out to go fish. She told him she felt sure "The Post" would publish some of his reaction. McRaven said he would be you have to pocket for a while but he trusted she would handle it. They hung up.
As Tumulty sat in the waiting room, transcribing McRaven`s voicemail recording, she felt certain more than a few quotes and a new story. A national military hero had called the president a national embarrassment and a poor role model for America`s children.
She consulted with her editors and they agreed they should publish McRaven`s impromptu speech word for word as an opinion piece.
McRaven`s essay went viral. It drew notice deep in the bowels of the country`s national security apparatus, where public servants working many rungs below McRaven had been silently disgusted watching Trump disrespect them and their brethren. They took private comfort reading McRaven`s words. As one of those low level cogs described it, finally somebody revered a bold faced name was declaring in essence, no more.
Before Trump, this government aide had always felt the presidency had a kind of magic. No matter which party the president came from, he bore the weight of history on his shoulders with the seriousness it deserved. But not anymore.
This aide said of President Trump, quote, he ruined that magic. The disdain he shows for our country`s foundation and its principles, the disregard he has for right and wrong. Your fist clenches. Your teeth grate. The hair goes up on the back of your neck.
I have to remind my self a said an oath to a document in the National Archives. I swore to the Constitution. I didn`t swear an oath to this jackass.
This aide saw Trump`s move against Brennan as one of the first steps of undercutting America`s democratic system of government and the believe system upon which it was founded. Quote, if he wanted to, how far could he push this, the aide asked? Look back. Did people in the 1930s in Germany know when the government started to turn on them?
Most Americans are more worried about who`s going to win on "America`s Got Talent" and what the traffic is going to be like on I-95. They aren`t watching this closely. I like to believe Trump is too self-engrossed, too incompetent to get us to 1930. This aide added. But he has moved the bar and another president that comes after him can move it a little farther.
The time is coming. Our nation will be tested. Every nation is. Rome fell, remember. He is opening up vulnerabilities for this to happen. That is my fear.
That is from "A Very Stable Genius: Donald J. Trump`s Testing of America" written by Philip Rucker and Carol Leonnig who are both Pulitzer Prize- winning reporters at "The Washington Post".
This book comes out tomorrow, and I have to say, the number of scoops and previously unreported behind the scenes detail here is really remarkable. Just as an example, they go from that story I just excerpted there, to what happened later on that same week when on the same day, the president`s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, pled guilty, and the president`s campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, was convicted of multiple felonies. And on that same day, President Trump nevertheless spent the day on the phone calling Japan, trying to get the Japanese prime minister to nominate him for the Nobel Peace Prize, the same day Cohen pled guilty and Manafort was convicted.
Now, of course, Philip Rucker and Carol Leonnig`s book is being published tomorrow. It is, they couldn`t have known, the first day of President Trump`s impeachment trial. I will say one of the only defenses the White House and Republicans in Congress have mounted against the factual record of the case against the president was that President Trump maybe wasn`t pressuring Ukraine to help himself politically or to hurt his political rival. One of the arguments the White House and Republicans in Congress have advanced is that the president was only pressuring Ukraine because he`s just very concerned about foreign corruption. That really bothers him. It`s very heartfelt concern for him.
One of the other things that Philip Rucker and Carol Leonnig document for the first time in this book is that President Trump explicitly proposed and tried to get rid of the U.S. law that bans Americans from paying bribes to foreign officials in foreign countries, right? I mean, for a president very concerned about foreign corruption, that`s a strange thing to have a president literally try to legalize American participation in foreign corruption. But for that reporting to be published on the day he`s going on trial -- Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker join us live here on set, next.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: Ahem. In the spring of 2017, as aides gathered in the Oval Office one day to brief President Trump on upcoming meetings with foreign leaders, they made a passing reference to some government foreign officials who were under scrutiny for corruption for taking bribes. Trump perked up at the mention of bribes and got rather agitated. He then told Secretary of State Rex Tillerson he wanted him to help get rid of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.
Quote: It is just so unfair that American companies are not allowed to pay bribes to get business overseas, Trump told the group. We`re going to change that.
Looking at Tillerson, Trump said, I need you to get rid of that law, as if the secretary of state had the power to magically repeal an act of Congress. Surprised at Trump`s request, Tillerson first paused, then found his words. Mr. President, he said, I`m not the guy to do that.
In a somber kind of Schoolhouse Rock episode that had become a regular feature of the Oval Office education of this president, Tillerson then said that Congress would have to be involved in any such repeal of the law. Trump didn`t miss a beat. He was unmoved by Tillerson`s explanation and turned instead to Stephen Miller, the White House`s senior policy adviser who had long before proved that he could be relied upon to dutifully execute almost all of the president`s wishes.
Stephen, I want you to draft an executive order and repeal that law, Trump decreed. Evidently still unaware or unconvinced that he alone did not have the power to repeal the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.
Remarkable timing, right? For Philip Rucker and Carol Leonnig`s new book, including that reporting to be released tomorrow on the actual day the president is going on trial in the United States Senate for his own alleged shakedown of a foreign leader, the defense to which is that he was trying to kibosh foreign corruption, and that`s all he meant.
Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker are Pulitzer Prize-winning reporters at "The Washington Post". The new book is called "A Very Stable Genius: Donald J. Trump`s Testing of America".
Carol, Philip, congratulations.
CAROL LEONNIG, CO-AUTHOR, "A VERY STABLE GENIUS": Thank you.
MADDOW: It`s really, really good to have you here.
PHILIP RUCKER, CO-AUTHOR, "A VERY STABLE GENIUS": Thank you very much, Rachel.
MADDOW: It`s a big deal to have you guys here the night before this comes out. The president appears to be quite enraged at both of you and with the reporting in the book. Has he taken substantive issue with what you have reported, or is he just insulting you?
LEONNIG: He`s largely saying that we`re low-profile, low-rate reporters, and it`s part of the fake news that he has to battle with all the time.
And, of course, as you know, Phil and I both put a ton of vetting and rigorous reporting into this book, and we`re confident that it`s accurate, and we stand by it.
MADDOW: So there`s no factual rebuttal that you feel like you had to contend with. It`s just his anger?
RUCKER: It`s his anger and reaction to the book itself, to the title perhaps. We don`t know what motivates him. But we know what motivated the more than 200 Trump administration officials and other advisers of the president who spoke to us, some of them for the first time.
MADDOW: So, three years of reporting, more than 200 sources. As you say, some sources speaking to you for the first time.
Tell me about the range of motivation for these sources. Obviously, with that many people, there`s a lot of different human stories behind what they`re doing. Some of what people told you, though, is -- I mean, stuck with me. Having read 400 pages of the book, I`m still stuck at some stuff that was said on page 5.
A senior national security official told us, I`ve served the man for two years. I think he`s a long-term and immediate danger to the country.
Another senior administration official said the guy is completely crazy. The story of Trump, colon, a president with horrible instincts and a senior level cabinet playing whack-a-mole.
I mean, that stuff isn`t funny. That sticks with me. People were telling you very grave, fire alarm kind of things.
LEONNIG: Absolutely. It stunned us too.
As reporters for "The Washington Post," Phil and I were in the business of getting this information and putting it in the newspaper. But at the time, a lot of these people wouldn`t come forward and speak.
And you asked the perfect question about motivations. There`s a range of motivations, but one of them was people wanted history to be accurate. There are a lot of national security people here who don`t talk to reporters as a part of their business, but they wanted this truth to be told about their experience with Donald Trump.
There are others who came to us and didn`t want to give their names obviously. There are a lot of anonymous sources in this book, and they were afraid of the treatment and the belittlement that the president has shown he`s capable of on Twitter, using that platform to retaliate against anybody who speaks the truth.
MADDOW: That was part of the long excerpt that I read just a few minutes ago, part of the reason I wanted to tell that is because I do feel like it`s not faded into the background. It`s just become part of the context of this administration that people who have spoken out against the president or who have spoken truth to power in a way that has proved detrimental to him have -- it`s not an idol threat. They have had their careers destroyed. They have been personally targeted. They have found themselves feeling like they`re in physical danger from the president`s supporters.
That over the course of the three years that it took you to write this, and you guys have been reporting, has that had a chilling effect in terms of people being willing to talk with or without their names attached to their comments?
RUCKER: It certainly has, Rachel. That`s why you don`t see very many of these officials talking on the record in newspaper stories. They`re not coming on TV. They`re not talking to a lot of reporters, except for the ones they trust.
And it`s because the president is so fixated on perpetuating his own power, on brandishing his own self-image, on establishing loyal not to the country, but to himself -- loyalty to himself throughout the federal government. Those have been the main themes of this presidency, according to the people who have worked for him, who talked to us for this book. And it`s one of the reasons we`ve seen this chilling effect in the government.
MADDOW: I would also put, again, just from reading the book, maybe even a starker cast on it. It just feels like revenge has become a number one -- a top tier priority. That even when the destruction of a critic isn`t going to be of additional benefit to the president, somebody`s life getting that much worse, somebody`s career being that much foreshortened, isn`t going to cause him additional material benefit.
There is a -- it would appear there`s an affirmative value placed on the idea of revenge and on making an example of the harm you can cause one`s enemies. Is that fair?
LEONNIG: I feel like Phil and I are journalists. We can`t get inside someone`s head and tell you what Donald Trump`s motivations are.
But the one thing we can tell you is what the more than 200 people told us --
LEONNIG: -- a large portion of them at least, which is that the perpetuation of his power and his ego, the perpetuation of a glorious self- image is paramount to Donald Trump. So, everything he does is about making sure he looks good and that it is often the first thing on the order of business in the White House above a lot of national security interests, above a lot of the -- just basic interests of what`s best for the country.
MADDOW: I want to take a quick break here. When we come back, we`ll have to talk about what is obviously the grand conspiracy here, the way that you guys arranged for the impeachment trial to start on the day the book was published.
Obviously, I`m kidding. But the timing is remarkable. I want to talk about some of that when we come back.
Philip Rucker and Carol Leonnig, again, both Pulitzer Prize-winning reporters. They are the authors of "A Very Stable Genius", which comes out tomorrow.
We`ll be right back with them after this. Stay with us.
MADDOW: We`re back once again with Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker from "The Washington Post," both Pulitzer prize winners. They`re the co-authors of a new book called "A Very Stable Genius: Donald TJ. Trump`s Testing of America," which is out tomorrow.
There`s a number of instances in the book, some of which have had a lot of attention already in reviews of the book about the president having demonstrated ignorance about important and embarrassing things, not knowing that China borders India and then suggesting as much to the Indian prime minister, for example. Not understanding the basics of the Pearl Harbor attack, like the very basics of the Pearl Harbor attack. And some other things that are just very hard to imagine from anybody in national life, let alone the presidency.
But I want to ask about something that is maybe a little more specific and related to the impeachment. You do document that the president was trying to get rid of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. That`s the law passed in 1977 which says that Americans can`t bribe foreign officials in other countries in order to get stuff done.
When he suggested that to a roomful of people, including Rex Tillerson and Stephen Miller, he obviously didn`t get what he wanted. They didn`t try to get rid of it. Why is that not surfacing until now? Who sat on that for a couple of years until you guys could publish it now?
I mean, I`m not asking for your source, but that`s a remarkable thing for nobody to have said anything about.
LEONNIG: Well, one of the amazing things about this reporting again, Rachel, is from my perspective, we were working our tails off as reporters at "The Post", and people started to basically crack, if you will, when they knew we were going to be digging deep into some of these scenes and also when they knew it was going to be a tome for history and they wanted to share this.
And there are a lot of flies on the wall. There are a lot of people briefed after the fact. You know, we don`t want to identify any sources but there were people who were afraid to tell us and then ultimately did.
MADDOW: The title is an allusion -- is a quote of the president, calling himself a very stable genius. It`s also -- it`s also a feat of irony because the portrait that you portray of the president is neither genius nor stable.
I wondered if in all the sources that you talked to and when you went to the White House for comment, I know at one point you might get President Trump to do an interview.
RUCKER: He agreed to initially.
MADDOW: And then withdrew on what grounds?
RUCKER: He initially agreed early in the reporting of this book to do an interview with us. And then as we were finishing the project, we kept trying to get it scheduled and we were told through his aides that he decided not to talk to us. He didn`t want to share his memories of these events. We wish we could have included his perspective, but he didn`t offer that to us.
MADDOW: When you were seeking his comment, when you were seeking White House comment on all of these -- all of these vignettes that you describe, did you ever get effectively exculpatory evidence about the president`s stability or genius? Was there anybody who works closely with him and is in a position to know who could tell you a more reassuring portrait about his mental state?
LEONNIG: Absolutely. There were people we interviewed who give Donald Trump immense credit, and we do in the book as well. We`re not trying to mock him with this title by the way. We`re trying to hold it up as a mirror.
It`s his word choice, his definition of himself, and we wanted to sort of stress test his definition of himself with all the people around him. But to your point, there is a small subset of people who say, this guy is a master at messaging. I watched him connect with working white working class people who were elated to see this man fighting for them, who see him as their champion.
MADDOW: In terms of the sum total of all this work, your ongoing reporting at the post, the fact that this is now about to hit the public on the same day the president`s impeachment trial is starting, what`s your sense at this point of what the president`s mindset is and how well equipped he is both personally and in terms of his advisers to deal with what`s coming up over these next few days?
RUCKER: Yes. Our reporting shows but also the president`s Twitter feed shows he feels very much understand siege right now. He feels like this is a scarlet letter against him, having been impeached only the third in history, and he feels like this is unfair, that the Democrats are doing something they have no right to be doing.
He does not acknowledge that he did anything wrong in that call with Ukraine, in withholding the foreign aid. He doesn`t see why that`s wrong, and he thinks this is a political witch hunt, much as he saw the Russia investigation for two years as a political witch hunt. And he`s just digging in and trying to fight back.
MADDOW: But given that sense, that diagnosis of him about what`s wrong with the situation, what did you learn from your performing about what we should expect about how he will therefore act in these contacts under this pressure which each of these days going to like to present evidence that things are as bad as he thinks they are.
LEONNIG: You know, I think the president has shown us in this reporting for the last three years what we show in the book. Phil and I found source after source who said this is a presidency of one. There`s one guy who thinks he`s his own best lawyer, his own best general, his own best communicator in chief, and I think in the halls of the West Wing, but as well at Mar-a-Lago at some table or in another room where he`s with his aides, he`s the person barking out the orders. He`s the person saying, we`re going after every single person who questions me and who tries to share something that I find embarrassing.
MADDOW: Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker of "The Washington Post," congratulations on this book. I`m sorry about the opprobrium you`ve had to deal with from the president himself, reacting to this and going after you for it. You don`t deserve it. It`s an honor to have you both here.
LEONNIG: Thanks, Rachel.
MADDOW: Thank you so much.
RUCKER: Thank you very much. Thank you.
MADDOW: Good luck.
All right. We`ll be right back. Stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DANIEL GOLDMAN, DEMOCRATIC COUNSEL: Did Ambassador Sondland say who his agreement on this White House meeting was with?
FIONA HILL, FORMER RUSSIA EXPERT AT NSC: Later, he said that he had an agreement with chief of staff Mulvaney, that in return for investigations, this meeting would get scheduled.
GOLDMAN: And was he specific at that point later about the investigations that he was referring to?
HILL: He said the investigations in Burisma.
GOLDMAN: After both meeting when you spoke to him and relayed to him what Ambassador Sondland said, what did Ambassador Bolton say to you?
HILL: Specific instruction was that I had to go to the lawyers, to John Eisenberg, our senior counsel for the National Security Council, to basically say, you tell Eisenberg Ambassador Bolton told me that I am not part of this whatever drug deal that Mulvaney and Sondland are cooking up.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Fiona Hill, former top Russia official on the National Security Council, giving explosive testimony in the impeachment inquiry in November, testifying that she was essentially witness to the quid pro quo at the center of the scandal for which President Trump`s now been impeached in the House. That testimony put former national security adviser John Bolton at the top of Democrats` wish list for witnesses for the Senate trial of President Trump.
Fiona Hill interacted with all the players at the center of the Ukraine scandal. She was there for many of the meetings at the center of the scandal because her position, top Russia official at the White House, just put her at the center of the drama, she ended up being at the center of the inquiry.
So, here`s something to watch for now. When Fiona Hill left her job as the top Russia official in the National Security Council last summer, she was replaced in that job by Tim Morrison, seen here also giving critical testimony in the impeachment inquiry. Tim Morrison lasted less than four months at that job. He quit literally the night before he gave his first closed-door impeachment testimony. He walked into that deposition and announced, surprise, he had resigned from the White House the previous night.
Well, after that in November, that job, the top Russia job on the National Security Council at the White House, went to a new guy, this guy. His name is Andrew Peek. Mr. Peek at been at the State Department before moving over to the White House. He has been in this job less than three months after Morrison was there for less than four months.
But on Friday, this weekend, he was reportedly escorted off the White House grounds according to Bloomberg News. "Axios" was first to report. NBC News has since confirmed that Peek was, quote, put on indefinite administrative leave amid a security-related investigation. He was expected to travel with President Trump to Davos this week, but not anymore, not after getting frog marched off the White House grounds.
We don`t have details yet as to what this is all about, but I mean this job of all jobs, right? This is the top Russia post at the White House. It is now vacant for the third time in less than a year since Fiona Hill left.
Watch this space. If past is prologue, we`ll find out soon enough what is going on here. We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: Get a good night`s sleep, you guys. Your country needs you, and we don`t know how long this is going to go on.
Special coverage of the president`s impeachment trial in the United States Senate starts tomorrow here on MSNBC at 9:00 a.m. Eastern, with coverage hosted by Chuck Todd. Ari Melber will take over coverage from 10:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. Eastern. And then starting at 11:00 a.m. Eastern, we will be in rolling special coverage over the course of the day, hosted by Brian Williams and Nicolle Wallace, and they will hold on to it for the duration as the Senate rolls into day one.
We are not exactly sure what they are going to get through tomorrow, but we know it`s going to start with a fight over how the trial is going to be conducted.
Deep breath, everybody. Here we go.
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