Trump properties TRANSCRIPT: 2/7/20, The Rachel Maddow Show

Guests: Seth Moulton, David Fahrenthold

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST, "THE 11TH HOUR": A warning from James Carville to take us off the air. That is our broadcast for this Friday night. Thank you for being here with us.

And here`s the part where I would normally bring the night shift to a close and wish you goodnight from NBC News headquarters in New York. Tonight, though, I have the pleasure of saying, THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW begins right now.

My friend, Rachel, good evening.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: It`s both so nice and so weird.

WILLIAMS: Oh, tell me about it. I called Rick Wilson "Rick Warren", I`m so off my game. I`m in the wrong studio, the wrong timeslot.

I am so happy to hand it over to you. I`ll see you Tuesday from New Hampshire.

MADDOW: Indeed.

WILLIAMS: The evening is yours.

MADDOW: Thank you very much, Brian, have a wonderful weekend.

WILLIAMS: Thank you.

MADDOW: And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour, on what has been a remarkable day and night of news.

This night, the president is apparently taking his revenge. Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman who testified in the impeachment inquiry into President Trump was test -- excuse me, was fired from his White House job and marched off the White House grounds today. As was oddly his twin brother who was also a National Security Council official, but one who had absolutely nothing to do with the impeachment inquiry.

He did apparently commit the crime of being born a few seconds after Alexander Vindman, as his twin brother. Apparently, that is enough.

Within hours of Colonel Vindman and his brother being marched off the White House grounds, there was word that Gordon Sondland, the president`s appointed ambassador to the E.U., was also fired. Sondland gave incredibly damaging testimony about the president`s behavior during the impeachment inquiry. As of tonight, he has also suddenly been recalled from his post.

His lawyer, Robert Luskin, confirming to NBC News tonight that Gordon Sondland was not just reassigned to some other job inside the government, or within the State Department, he was summarily fired.

And we don`t know if this is the full list tonight or if there are more long knives out for people who testified in the impeachment inquiry or are related to that scandal or literally are familial related to anyone who did so.

But despite what feels like a historical parallel to Nixon at the height of the Watergate impeachment crisis, I think it is not fair to say that this is a modern day Saturday Night Massacre.

The Saturday Night Massacre was the night in October 1973 when Nixon decided to order the firing of the Watergate special counsel. The reason we remember that night 40 years later is not just because Nixon ordered the firing of Archibald Cox, the Watergate special prosecutor. We called it the Saturday night massacre because when Nixon ordered the firing of Archibald Cox out of, you know, anger, and rage, and frustration at the Watergate scandal, when he ordered that firing, there were resignations at the Justice Department from officials who felt they couldn`t carry out that order.

Attorney General Elliot Richardson resigned rather than carry out Nixon`s order to fire Archibald Cox. When Attorney General Elliot Richardson resigned, then the deputy attorney general became the acting head of the Justice Department. His name was William Ruckelshaus, he too resigned rather than carry out the president`s order to fire Archibald Cox.

So, control of the Justice Department then fell to the number three official at Justice. Teh Solicitor general, a man named Robert Bork. Only Bork was willing to do it, and that`s how Archibald Cox got fired. That`s what it took.

But those senior officials refusing to go along with what President Nixon was doing, those officials standing up and saying, I will not do this, you will have my resignation instead, that`s why we remember that night from back in 1970 -- from that night from the Watergate scandal as the Saturday Night Massacre.

That is not what is happening here because there is, as yet, no Elliot Richardson in this story. There is no Bill Ruckelshaus. And, you know, there have been protest resignations in the Trump administration, including over the handling of the Ukraine scandal. In early October, a 40-year veteran serving at the highest levels of the State Department, Michael McKinley, resigned his position in part over the pressure that the Trump administration was putting on Ukraine to try to get that government to help President Trump in his re-election bid, but also because of how Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the administration more broadly had really thrown to the wolves, totally abandoned career, nonpartisan, professional State Department personnel who had been caught up in the impeachment inquiry because of their jobs and who were therefore bearing the wrath of the president and the conservative media and the president`s supporters because of it.

Michael McKinley resigned in early October as the impeachment inquiry was getting under way into the Ukraine scandal. McKinley later testified behind closed doors in the investigation, saying, quote, the timing of my resignation was the result of two overriding concerns. What appears to be the utilization of our ambassadors overseas to advance domestic political objectives and the failure in my view of the State Department to offer support to Foreign Service employees caught up in the impeachment inquiry on Ukraine.

He said, quote: Since I began my career in 1982, I have served my country and every president loyally. Under current circumstances, however, I could no longer look the other way as colleagues were denied the professional support and respect that they deserve from us all.

And, thus, Michael McKinley resigned in protest of the administration and in protest of the actions of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, specifically him abandoning State Department employees to the wolves as they were caught up in the impeachment investigation and not lifting a finger to protect them as they were targeted and their lives and careers were in some cases basically destroyed by virtue of the fact that as part of their job responsibilities, they had witnessed something relevant to the inquiry, and they had responded and testified truthfully about it when called to do so and subpoenaed to do so.

McKinley resigned. And McKinley is not the only one. There have been other protest resignations of high-level Trump appointees for various reasons.

Defense Secretary James Mattis resigned in December 2018 when he felt that the president made an unconscionable and irresponsible decision about Syria. He was followed out the door soon thereafter by Brett McGurk, who was leading the U.S. effort against ISIS in Iraq and Syria at the time.

This past November, it was the navy secretary who resigned, Richard Spencer. He resigned in protest when President Trump personally intervened and interfered in the military justice system to mess with some specific criminal cases that he wanted to try to turn to his political advantage.

Navy Secretary Richard Spencer`s resignation statement was rip-roaring. He said, quote: The rule of law is what sets us apart from our adversaries. Good order and discipline is what has enabled our victory against foreign tyranny time and time again. The Constitution and the Uniform Code of Military Justice are shields that set us apart and beacons that protect us all.

Unfortunately, it`s become apparent that in this respect, I no longer share the same understanding with the commander-in-chief who appointed me in regards to the key principle of good order and discipline. I cannot in good conscience obey an order that I believe violates the sacred oath I took in the presence of my family, my flag, and my faith to support and defend the Constitution of the United States.

Richard Spencer resigned as secretary of the navy on November 24th. Remarkably today, he became the first Trump appointee to endorse one of President Trump`s opponents for the November election. We`ll have more on that a little bit later on.

But there have been principled, high-level resignations from the Trump administration. There have been a few.

Because we know the president does not like to fire anyone directly, he likes to have other people do that for him, we can surmise based on that past practice that there are probably other people in the chain of command who were called upon today and tonight to start firing the witnesses who testified against President Trump in the impeachment inquiry. So far, whoever those people are, they appear to be carrying out those orders and not resigning in protest. We haven`t seen any resignations, at least that we know of.

That`s notable not only because history is sort of focused intently on our behavior as a country right now, I truly believe, but also because at least within the military, when it comes to the specific case of Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, we have had some very pious assertions from the people who would be in an Elliot Richardson, Bill Ruckelshaus kind of role in this firing, that, of course, they would never let anything like this happen. Of course, they`d never let anything like what happened tonight -- of course, they`d never let that happen.

In November, when Lieutenant Colonel Vindman emerged as a witness in the impeachment inquiry, you might remember that the Army moved in prepared to move his family to a secret location. They developed a secret -- excuse me -- a special security detail for him and his family to keep them safe in the face of an incredible number of threats against him and his family after he was demonized by not just the White House but by the conservative media and by the president`s supporters in Congress and around the country.

At the time, Defense Secretary Mark Esper was asked about Colonel Vindman during a gaggle with reporters. A reporter from "Defense One", Marcus Weisgerber, actually posted online the full transcript of that exchange, and it is worth looking at tonight. Tonight of all nights, it is worth getting this re-upped in the public record. You should see this.

Here`s the question to Defense Secretary Mark Esper. Question, Alexander Vindman is in the news. Remember, this is from November. This is the time that Alexander Vindman is becoming national news.

Question, Alexander Vindman is in the news. A lot of service members are going to be wondering is his career toast after testifying and should I take the risk of whistle-blowing. What do you tell them as the defense secretary? Answer from Defense Secretary Mark Esper: The Department of Defense has protections for whistle-blowers. They are guaranteed in law, and he should not have any fear of retaliation. That is the department`s position.

Question: he meaning Vindman? Answer: he and any other whistle-blower, all right?

Question: are you going to reinforce that message periodically? Answer: I`ve already spoken to the secretary of the army about that.

Question: what was the message to him? Answer: no retaliation. That`s law.

Question: there`s the law, but there`s also ways to screw somebody. Answer: there`s no retaliation. It`s that simple.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper in November personally guaranteeing that there would be no retaliation against Alexander Vindman for him testifying in the impeachment inquiry. No retaliation under the law in terms of him being, you know, criminally prosecuted or something, but also no other way to, in the reporter`s words, quote, screw him as revenge for him testifying.

And there`s the guarantee, right? No, there`s no retaliation. It`s that simple. He shouldn`t have any fear of retaliation. No retaliation. That`s the law, so says Defense Secretary Mark Esper, November.

Shortly thereafter, the top Democrat in the Senate, Chuck Schumer, wrote to Defense Secretary Mark Esper asking him in writing for him to confirm that Lieutenant Colonel Vindman would be protected from any retaliation, any revenge for his testimony. Schumer wrote to Defense Secretary Mark Esper on November 18th, took the Defense Department almost a full month to write him back. When they did, the letter this time didn`t come from Defense Secretary Mark Esper. It came from the deputy secretary of defense, a man named David Norquist.

Do you remember Grover Norquist, the anti-tax, like long time conservative activist guy who famously said he wanted to get government down to the size where he could drown it in a bathtub? Grover Norquist has a little brother, whose name is David Norquist, who Trump named deputy secretary of defense. That`s who sent this letter back to Chuck Schumer, when Senator Schumer inquired as to whether or not the defense department would protect Colonel Vindman from retaliation for his impeachment inquiry testimony.

Here`s what David Norquist pledged in writing on Pentagon letterhead on December 16. Quote: Dear Senator Schumer, thank you for your letter to Secretary Esper dated November 18th, regarding recent testimony by Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman and Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Laura Cooper. I`m replying on Secretary Esper`s behalf. Let me assure you the department will not tolerate any act of retaliation or reprisal against them. Further, we`re committed to taking whatever steps are necessary to secure the security of Colonel Vindman and Ms. Cooper. We continue to monitor their security situation and will make available any appropriate resources necessary to ensure their safety and that of their families.

Again, please know we take our responsibility to protect our people very seriously. I appreciate your continued support of the men and women of the Defense Department and will keep you apprised of any developments as appropriate.

Let me assure you the department will not tolerate any act of retaliation or reprisal against him. We will keep you apprised of any developments as appropriate. No word as to whether or not David Norquist, deputy secretary of defense, in fact, kept the Senate Democratic leader apprised over the last 24 hours when reports first started surfacing that President Trump indeed was planning on taking revenge against Colonel Vindman for his testimony.

Bloomberg News was first to report late last night that president Trump might be seeking to take his revenge, to retaliate against Colonel Vindman for having been a witness. Defense Secretary Esper was again asked about this matter at a press conference today despite his earlier assurances, his earlier pious guarantee that he wouldn`t allow any retaliation against Vindman whatsoever, despite him saying that himself in November, and the deputy secretary of defense saying that on his behalf in writing in December, today, Defense Secretary Mark Esper was not exactly a profile in courage when he was asked about that matter in light of Bloomberg News` report that Vindman might be in the president`s crosshairs.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARK ESPER, DEFENSE SECRETARY: I would refer you to the Army for any more detail on that. And as I said, we protect all of our persons, service members from retribution or anything, anything like that. So we`ve already addressed that in policy and other means.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: We protect all of our service members from retribution or anything -- anything like that.

So it was less than four hours later that Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman was not only fired from his White House job but marched off the White House grounds as was his brother. What exactly did his brother do who had no role whatsoever in the impeachment inquiry? Well, he`s Alex Vindman`s brother, and maybe that`s enough.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LT. COL. ALEXANDER VINDMAN, FORMER DIRECTOR FOR EUROPEAN AFFARIS, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL: I`m humbled to come before you today as one of many who serve in the most distinguished and able military in the world. The Army is the only profession I have ever known. For the last 20 years it has been an honor to represent and protect this great country. Next month will mark 40 years since my family arrived in the United States as refugees.

When my father was 47 years old, he left behind his entire life and the only home he had ever known to start over in the United States so his three sons could have better and safer lives. His courageous decision inspired a deep sense of gratitude in my brothers and myself and instilled in us a sense of duty and service. All three of us have served or are currently serving in the military. My little brother sits hundred me here today.

Our collective military service is a special part of our family`s history and story in America. I also recognize that my simple act of appearing here today just like the courage of my colleagues who have also truthfully testified before this committee would not be tolerated in many places around the world. In Russia, my act of expressing concern to the chain of command in an official and private channel would have severe personal and professional repercussions and offering public testimony involving the president would surely cost me my life.

I`m grateful to my father`s -- for my father`s brave act of hope 40 years ago and for the privilege of being an American citizen and public servant where I can live free, free of fear for mine and my family`s safety.

Dad, I`m sitting here today in the U.S. Capitol talking to our elected professionals, talking to our elected professionals is proof that you made the right decision 40 years ago to leave the Soviet Union and come here to the United States of America in search of a better life for our family. Do not worry. I will be fine for telling the truth.

Thank you again for your consideration. I`ll be happy to answer your questions.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: Colonel Vindman did, in fact, have his life threatened for giving testimony involving the president in the impeachment inquiry. That`s why the Army prepared at one point to move him and his family to a secret location and provided them ongoing security in the wake of his testimony in the face of threats.

Well, now as of tonight, he and his brother have both been fired from their White House jobs as active duty military officers in what is clear retaliation for him having testified during the impeachment proceedings.

The fate of the witnesses who testified in the impeachment inquiry and other government officials who were involved in it and know what happened is a pretty daunting list at this point in terms of where are they now.

Kurt Volker was the U.S. envoy to Ukraine. He resigned right before his impeachment testimony. Not only is he out of a job, but the U.S. no longer has an envoy to Ukraine at all. They got rid of the whole job.

Fiona Hill left her job as the top Russia official at the National Security Council just before the scandal burst into view. Her successor in that job, Tim Morrison, who also testified, quit that job at the National Security Council literally the night before he testified in the impeachment inquiry.

Energy Secretary Rick Perry quit his job as a cabinet official as soon as the scandal became public.

National security adviser John Bolton either quit or was fired as national security adviser, just as the held up Ukraine military aid was released. We still don`t know the full story of John Bolton in this scandal, but the president is now reportedly trying to block his book from being published. And according to one report, the president is reportedly exploring the possibility of ginning up some sort of criminal prosecution against John Bolton.

Marie Yovanovitch, of course, was recalled and fired as U.S. ambassador to Ukraine at the height of the scandal and as part of it. During the impeachment trial, she officially retired from government service altogether.

The veteran U.S. ambassador who was sent to replace her at the Ukraine embassy, Bill Taylor, was also suddenly removed from his post in Ukraine in the middle of the impeachment investigation. He`s now returned to retirement.

Even Jennifer Williams, who worked in vice president Mike Pence`s office and testified about his role in the scandal, she`s now gone from the White House, departing in the middle of the impeachment trial and suddenly going to work at CentCom instead.

Alexander Vindman and his brother, who worked as an ethics lawyer at the National Security Council, they were both frog marched out of the White House today and fired from their White House positions, followed soon thereafter by E.U. Ambassador Gordon Sondland, today fired as well.

Anybody else want to speak up? Anybody else want to testify truthfully under oath as to what they saw or what they know?

On October 20th, 1973, Richard Nixon actually did succeed in firing the Watergate special counsel. But the reason we remember that night as the Saturday Night Massacre and not just the night that Nixon fired Archibald Cox is because high-ranking presidential appointees in the chain of command who were told to carry out the president`s orders said no. They said they wouldn`t do it, and they resigned themselves on principle instead.

And so, instead of one man being killed off that night, one man who was an aggravation to the president, which was an act that Nixon knew would create some blowback but nothing he figured he couldn`t handle. Instead of that, instead of him skipping some little rock across a pond and being willing to withstand the ripples, with those principled resignations of his own appointees who refused to help him do it, Nixon ended up setting off a depth charge in that pond, and the country rose up about it in outrage because of the moral example set by his own appointees who would not go along.

This time, who will stand up and do the same? Anyone?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VINDMAN: His courageous decision inspired a deep sense of gratitude in my brothers and myself and instilled in us a sense of duty and service. All three of us have served or are currently serving in the military. My little brother sits behind me here today. Our collective military service is a special part of our family`s history and story in America. I also recognize that my simple act of appearing here today just like the courage of my colleagues, who have also truthfully testified before this committee, would not be tolerated in many places around the world.

In Russia, my act of expressing concern to the chain of command in an official and private channel would have severe personal and professional repercussions.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: Yes, in Russia it certainly would. After Lieutenant Colonel Vindman was fired and marched off the White House grounds today, his lawyer released a statement that said, today, Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman was escorted out of the White House where he has dutifully served his country and his president. He does so having spoken publicly once and only pursuant to a subpoena from the United States Congress.

There`s no question in the mind of any American why this man`s job is over. Lieutenant Colonel Vindman was asked to leave for telling the truth. He came into the public eye only when subpoenaed to testify before Congress, and he did what the law demanded.

In recent months, many entrusted with power in our political system have cowered out of fear. And yet a handful of men and women not endowed with prestige or power but equipped only with a sense of right borne out of years of quiet service to their country, made different choices. They courageously chose to honor their duty with integrity, to trust the truth and to put their faith in country ahead of fear. And they have paid a price.

The truth has cost Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman his job, his career, and his privacy. He did what any member of our military is charged with doing every day. He followed orders. He obeyed his oath and he served his country even when doing so was fraught with danger or personal peril.

And for that, the most powerful man in the world -- buoyed by the silent, the pliable, and the complicit -- has decided to exact revenge.

In this country, right matters and so does truth. Truth is not partisan. If we allow truthful voices to be silenced, if we ignore their warnings, eventually, there will be no one left to warn us.

Congressman Seth Moulton of Massachusetts was serving as a U.S. marine in Iraq in the year 2004, which is the same year that Colonel Vindman was there and the same year that he was awarded the Purple Heart when he was wounded by an IED in Iraq.

Today, Congressman Moulton said of his fellow combat veteran, quote, Lieutenant Colonel Vindman is a patriot and a profile in courage, the opposite of President Trump. Republicans who claim Trump has learned his lesson were so naive.

Joining us now live is Congressman Seth Moulton, Democrat of Massachusetts.

Sir, I thank you for taking time to join us tonight. Thanks for being here.

REP. SETH MOULTON (D-MA): Yes, it`s good to be back, Rachel.

MADDOW: So, let me just get your response. I`ve seen a little bit of it in terms of what you posted online. I`m not sure this is a surprise. It was telegraphed the last 24 hours.

There were a lot of people who said they`d make sure this didn`t happen, and it has nevertheless happened tonight.

MOULTON: You know, you pointed out that Donald Trump has the most powerful position in the world, but he`s not a powerful person. He`s a weak person, and he`s someone who can`t handle the truth.

And that`s very clear with what he`s done throughout his administration. He`s trying to create a cult where the only requirement, the only requirement to be part of his administration frankly now part of the Republican Party is loyalty to Donald Trump.

And the reason why this is dangerous is because it puts -- it puts lives at risk. The reason why this is dangerous is because it was back in the George W. Bush administration when people did not have the courage to question Colin Powell at the U.N. People did not have to question, the courage to question George Tenet when he came with this supposedly perfect intelligence about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

And as a result, people like Lieutenant Colonel Vindman and I went to Iraq. We saw our friends wounded and killed because people weren`t willing to find the truth.

And if you have an administration where there is no dissent, where there are no conflicting opinions, where there is not any interest in finding the truth, there`s only interest in doing what the president wants, then mistakes like Iraq will happen again, and Americans will lose their lives. That`s why the stakes are so high with what`s going on tonight.

MADDOW: Let me ask you about the role of the Defense Department here. Defense Secretary Mark Esper previously committed, publicly committed to protecting Colonel Vindman from any political retaliation. In his name, the deputy defense secretary even put that assurance in writing.

What do you make of the Defense Department being mum tonight about the firing of Colonel Vindman, whoever had to carry out these orders from the president to fire him and drag him off the White House grounds tonight? Nobody appears to have peeked (ph) in protests. Certainly, nobody has resigned in protest and let it be known.

MOULTON: When Mark Esper was appointed secretary of defense, he came before the House Armed Services Committee and we had a quiet meeting with him. And I told him, I said, Mr. Secretary, you`ve got big shoes to fill following James Mattis. And the most important thing you have to do is you have to be willing to tell the truth. You have to be willing to stand up to this president when you disagree. That`s the most important thing that General Mattis did.

And he assured me -- Esper did -- that he would, but he`s not doing that tonight. And he had to know what he was getting into. You know, Rachel, I have a few friends who served on the NSC. One of them left a great job in the army to come to the White House because he said it was such an honor to be appointed to work in the White House even under this president, who he had many disagreements with.

When he got there, he said that what struck him most is that everybody spent a lot of time talking about when they would resign. It was like the most popular topic of conversation. What is your red line? And two weeks after he was there, he called his father and he said, this feels like Germany 1939.

MADDOW: Wow.

MOULTON: That`s what we`re dealing with here. And Esper knows that.

I want to know what his red line is, when he`s going to resign, when he`s going to stand up for what`s right over what`s convenient for this president.

MADDOW: Congressman Seth Moulton of Massachusetts, thanks for taking time to be with us this Friday night. I really appreciate it, sir.

MOULTON: Thanks, Rachel.

MADDOW: All right. We`ve got much more ahead of us tonight. Do stay with us. Big night.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: There is a document that sat in the U.S. Senate throughout the impeachment trial that we, the public, were never allowed to see. It was a piece of testimony submitted by Jennifer Williams, who worked until this week in Vice President Mike Pence`s office. She submitted that testimony because she said it was pertinent to the impeachment investigation and to what the House was asking her about.

House impeachment managers agreed that that part of her testimony was pertinent to what they were investigating, but the White House decided to call that bit of her testimony classified. So senators were allowed to look at it, but they could only go look at it in a secure room and the public couldn`t know about it at all.

It turns out a lot of senators who did go and look at that piece of testimony came out saying, why on earth is this classified? Why can`t we share this with the public?

For example, Democratic Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut said, quote, there was absolutely nothing in that document that should have been classified. Quote, it was only classified because it was politically hurtful to the president in the middle of the impeachment proceeding. You are not allowed as president of the United States to keep information from the public simply because it`s going to hurt you politically.

And so, today, Senator Murphy asked the Government Accountability Office to review whether the Trump administration is abusing the classification process, whether they`re improperly classifying documents specifically to protect the president and vice president from scrutiny.

So we`ll see what the GAO does with that. He`s made a formal request to GAO to look at it.

But this worry that the White House might be misusing the power of classification to serve the president`s personal interests, this is part of something that is becoming an increasingly apparent pattern right now. For one, it comes alongside increasingly urgent expressions of concern about something that appears to be going on at the National Security Agency, the NSA. The Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff told us this week on this show that as far as he can tell, there`s something going wrong at NSA, and potentially at the CIA as well.

In his words, he said there were, quote, bodies of intelligence that the NSA collected about Ukraine and the Ukraine scandal that his committee requested because they believed it might be pertinent information to the president`s impeachment trial. But the NSA withheld that material, he says, on orders from above.

The intelligence committees have the right to see anything the intelligence community collects. That is material that the NSA is required to hand over to Congress when they request it, but they are withholding it, and Chairman Schiff says it`s on orders from the White House. That`s a very big deal.

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer last night expressing grave concerns about that in an interview here on this show. The grave concerns and increase increasingly sort of dire warnings about what this might mean in terms of the NSA, I think that`s -- I mean they can`t tell us what the information is, right? It`s classified. In some cases if they can`t get it in the first place, they can`t even describe what exactly it is other than the general field of stuff that they asked for and had their request turned down. I mean, they can`t be specific about what it is that`s being withheld, but there`s this kind of freak-out about the fact that the NSA might be withholding this stuff.

And I think that`s in part because honestly you talk to people in Washington, the NSA is seen as an agency that has not been totally captured by President Trump and, you know, recently refurbished over these past three years to instead just promote the president`s personal interests instead of doing what they`re supposed to do as an agency. The NSA is still broadly viewed as an agency that is doing what it`s supposed to do and not serving the president instead.

If that changes, if the NSA, the national security administration of all agencies, becomes that, I mean, that`s a particularly scary agency to be put to that kind of use. If a president is able to use the powers of the NSA just to serve himself, that`s a whole different kind of country.

Now, that`s what`s going on with the NSA. I said this is part of an emerging pattern. I am - I am less scared about the powers of the General Services Administration than I am about the powers of the NSA. But it does still fit the pattern. The General Services Administration is essentially a landlord for federal properties around the country. So, again, them being used and abused and turned to the president`s interest is not quite as scary as the world`s largest surveillance system.

But, again, it does seem like with the GSA, there`s another government agency that`s being remade to serve President Trump`s personal interest. For example, didn`t get a lot of attention this past week because of all the high drama in Washington. But the head of the GSA just testified in Congress about Mr. Trump`s D.C. hotel. This is the hotel property that is actually owned by the federal government and the president`s company leases it and operates it as one of the Trump-branded hotels.

So the GSA, the federal government, is his landlord, which is awkward because he`s the head of the federal government. But now that the Trump Organization is in the market to sell their lease on that building, they want to sell it for like a half billion dollars. Well, the landlord for the building, the actual owner of the building, the GSA, is going to have to approve that sale.

So within this past week, lawmakers asked the head of the GSA if she would rule out allowing President Trump to sell that hotel lease to a foreign entity since that would clearly violate the Constitution`s prohibition on the president accepting payments from a foreign government. The head of the GSA was asked, would you rule out him selling it to a foreign government, right? She would not rule it out. She would not rule out allowing some foreign government somewhere around the world to give the president a half billion dollars. I don`t really see it as my role.

At the same hearing, she said she had no idea how much money the president has taken from foreign governments at his hotel right now. She said she has never asked. So, of course, she doesn`t have that information.

So the president turning the powers of the presidency and the powers of the U.S. government to instead benefit himself, to benefit himself politically, to benefit his business, to put money in his own pocket, we are used to the president wanting to do that. That`s no longer a threat in the abstract. That`s something we document on a day to day basis. That`s called the news now.

But the agencies of government, whether it`s the GSA or the NSA or any of the other agencies who are being sort of implicated in stopping doing their real work for the American people and instead serving the president, agencies allowing themselves to be used in that way, that is starting to feel like the story of this part of the Trump presidency. And importantly, the United States Secret Service putting itself in that role, that is the new scoop from "The Washington Post`s" David Fahrenthold, who joins us next.

Stay with us.

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MADDOW: I don`t think anybody is surprised anymore to hear that President Trump takes lots and lots of days off, and he golfs a lot, and he goes to his own properties all the time. He`s spent like a third of his presidency at one of his own for profit or private properties and we know there`s public money expended at his own properties whenever he does that.

So when "The Washington Post`s" David Fahrenthold drop the this scoop today, that President Trump charges his own Secret Service agents as much as $650 a night per room when he stays at one of his properties, that he`s charged the Secret Service $17,000 a month for a cottage on one of his properties, a rate that appears to be at least double the highest comparable rental rate nearby, that the Trump administration has lied about these charges, saying publicly that they`re actually charging the Secret Service nothing or almost nothing to stay on their properties when they`re in fact charging them what appears to be the rack rate. Well, all that reporting, I mean that is quite a scoop.

But it`s the kind of scoop that isn`t necessarily surprising given what we know about how the president likes to butter his own cup at taxpayer expense. Here`s the part, though, of David Fahrenthold`s latest scoop that knocks me back a little bit.

Quote, Trump`s company says it charges only minimal fees, but Secret Service records do not show that. The Secret Service is required to tell Congress twice a year about what it spends to protect Trump at his properties, but since 2016, it has only filed two of the required six reports according to congressional offices. Even in those two reports, the lines for Bedminster and Mar-a-Lago were blank.

Donald Trump sticking his hand in the public till this way, right? Donald Trump trying to get taxpayer money for himself this way, monetizing the president, got it. We`re kind of used to that by now.

Trump`s company lying about that, got it. It`s a day that ends in "y." But the Secret Service helping cover that up, that feels like something about us, not them. That feels unsettling.

For the record, the Secret Service tells us in a statement tonight that it, quote, balances operational security with judicious allocation of resources. OK. Good to know. Thank you for the statement. Not relevant to this inquiry.

But here`s the thing. The president`s business is not just lying about this. They have tried to turn that lie into a political asset. They have been publicly telling the country that they`re saving taxpayers money by charging the Secret Service nothing or next to nothing to stay at all of these properties.

That is a lie. And frankly I`m not surprised by them lying. But according to this new reporting from David Fahrenthold, the Secret Service is helping them perpetuate that lie, and that`s on the Secret Service.

It is one thing for you to be a corrupting influence in politics. It`s another thing for you to be a government agency that is allowing yourself to be used for a corrupt purpose and is helping covering it up.

Joining us now is David Fahrenthold, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter with "The Washington Post". He and his colleagues Jonathan O`Connell, Carol Leonnig and Josh Dawsey broke this story today.

David, thank you for being here. I really appreciate it.

DAVID FAHRENTHOLD, REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Great to be here.

MADDOW: So this is -- I basically tweeted your entire story line by line today. I`m just getting more and more upset as I worked through all the paragraphs. I apologize for that.

But let me -- let me just ask first of all about the reporting process here, how you were able to put the pieces of this puzzle together given the fact that the Secret Service hasn`t been reporting this information in public federal databases.

FAHRENTHOLD: Well, for me, it kind of began last year with Doral. Even when Donald Trump said he was going to put the entire G7 summit at Doral and put all of that federal money into his own pocket. That fell apart after a few days but it made us realize, oh, gosh, that`s -- he`s willing to do that. Like that doesn`t bother him at all.

So what`s he been doing all along that we haven`t noticed. And so, we started looking around to see what we know about the Secret Service. They go to his properties all the time. What`s he charging them?

And the only thing we could find was this really cryptic, very truncated release they had given out that only showed the first six months of 2017. It showed two things, one, a lot of money, $250,000 in spending in just six months but almost no details. The details they released made it impossible to know whether these were reasonable rates or not.

And you look at that and go, this is something we ought to know. This is the president`s business getting money from the government. How do we know so little?

And so, we started to try to dig in and figure out what those things are and go looking for other information about the same topic.

MADDOW: And then when you asked the Secret Service about skipping these mandated updates that they`re supposed to file, I guess, twice yearly, explaining the kind of spending they do at these facilities, what was their explanation for why they haven`t been filing these mandated reports? I mean, this is something they`re required to do.

FAHRENTHOLD: Their explanation was that they basically sometime in 2016, the people that knew about these reports or knew how to do them left, and they basically just forgot. As an agency they forgot to do it and didn`t remember they weren`t doing it until the beginning of 2019 when the Government Accountability Office did a report on Mar-a-Lago`s spending, and said, hey, look, these things are due and you didn`t do them. So since thin they`ve done a couple but there`s still a lot of backlog.

And as you said, even the ones they`ve done, the lines for Bedminster and Mar-a-Lago are blank. They tell you how much they spend on Don Jr.`s hunting cabin, they tell you how much they spend on Eric Trump`s weekend house, and yet they say they don`t spend a dollar on Bedminster and Mar-a- Lago, which is not credible. They spend lots and lots of money in these places.

So, we haven`t figured out from them why they`re leaving those lines blank. We still need to figure that out.

MADDOW: This is obviously both a big picture and sort of a more focused picture story. Big picture, the president appearing to monetize the presidency to put public taxpayer money in his own pocket in a pretty big way and as yet unquantifiable way because the records don`t exist. It`s also a story about a government agency allowing itself to be used for this purpose and not telling the public what`s going on.

In terms of oversight of the Secret Service, are they subject to FOIA requests? Are they subject to congressional oversight in a way that should make them have to answer for what they`ve done here and also fill in the blanks?

FAHRENTHOLD: Well, they are subject to FOIA requests, and that`s the little bit that we know has come from FOIA requests and more specifically people putting in FOIA requests, being denied and suing the Secret Service to get records they should have gotten anyway. So the little bit we know about 2017 and the start of 2018 comes from these nonprofit groups suing the Secret Service to get public records.

And yes, also they are subject to congressional oversight, and Congress has asked for more detail but they haven`t gotten it. We wrote a story about how we were asking for more detail as part of a big bill the Secret Service wants, and the Secret Service says, yes, I will give it to you after the 2020 election.

MADDOW: Wow, convenient.

David Fahrenthold, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter at "The Washington Post" -- congratulations on this reporting you and your colleagues. Thanks for being here.

FAHRENTHOLD: Thank you.

MADDOW: All right. We`ll be right back.

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MADDOW: Ii mentioned at the top of the show we got a first today, something we had yet to see before today in this presidency. Former Navy Secretary Richard Spencer, who quit his job in protest in November, today he became the first Trump political appointee to endorse one of the president`s political opponents in the election. He announced his support for former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg.

Secretary Spencer explained his logic to NBC`s Courtney Kube.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARD SPENCER, FORMER TRUMP NAVY SECRETARY: When I took this job, I came in as a grown-up. Every morning I put my resignation paper in my pocket so I could speak true.

To be frank with you, what happened happened. I took my stand. The president took his. It`s all over. We`re done.

This decision here is for the good of the country.

COURTNEY KUBE, NBC NEWS REPORTER: This decision being --

SPENCER: To endorse Mike Bloomberg, yes. It`s for the good of the country. Loyalty is to the country, not to a person.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: Richard Spencer, lifelong Republican, not endorsing the incumbent Republican president is one thing. But he`s the first Trump appointee to explicitly endorse somebody from the other party who he wants to beat Trump.

He resigned from the Navy in protest. Now this. Former Navy Secretary Richard Spencer writing his name in history.

More ahead. Stay with us.

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MADDOW: A normal week takes a long time to get to a Friday. This week took 47 days to get to a Friday. But we finally got here. You made it.

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

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

Good evening, Ali.

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