Sanders grows lead TRANSCRIPT: 2/10/20, The Rachel Maddow Show

Guests: Lauren Chooljian, Fernando Cutz

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST:  Well done, my friend. Thank you, Chris. Live show Chris is the best Chris. I love it.

All right, thanks at home for joining us. Great to have you here.

Voting due to start in the New Hampshire primary just three hours from now. It will be only three towns that start voting at midnight, but still, that will be actual voting.

And as we race toward that eventuality tonight, there`s a whole bunch of news we`re keeping our eye on. Just within the last couple of hours, for example, the president`s longtime political adviser, Roger Stone, learned what kind of prison sentence he may be facing.

In November, Mr. Stone was found guilty on all counts in a federal criminal indictment that was brought against him for lying to investigators and obstructing the investigation into Russia`s involvement in the 2016 election and a particularly nefarious instance of witness tampering. He was convicted on all counts. Now, there`s the question of what sentence he gets.

Today, in a 26-page filing, the prosecutors in Roger Stone`s case told the court that he should get seven to nine years in federal prison. Now, that is to be clear just what prosecutors are asking for. The judge is the person who does the sentencing. The judge is absolutely free to ignore that request from the prosecutors.

But if the judge does go along with what prosecutors are asking for here, that would put both the president`s longest term political adviser, Mr. Stone, and his presidential campaign chairman Paul Manafort in federal prison for roughly the same amount of time. President Trump`s campaign chairman Paul Manafort is currently serving a federal prison sentence of 7 1/2 years. That is right in the middle of what prosecutors in Roger Stone`s case are asking for him as well.

Meanwhile, the president`s first national security adviser Mike Flynn, who has also pled guilty to a felony, he was awaiting his sentencing, there was a surprise filing in Flynn`s case yesterday. Yes, on a Sunday, weirdly on a Sunday morning this filing came in? That`s an odd thing itself.

In this unexpected Sunday morning filing, the prosecutors in Mike Flynn`s case asked to delay his sentencing. And nobody is quite sure what that is about, but Attorney General William Barr did recently install one of his own close aides to be the new U.S. attorney in that office in D.C. that`s handling both the Flynn and Stone case. So it is worth watching very closely what happens to these prosecutions of all these myriad figures in the president`s orbit who have been convicted or pled guilty now that William Barr has installed his own guy as the top of that prosecutor`s office in D.C. We`ll have a little more coming up later in the show. That is very intriguing.

We`re also going to be speaking with the former senior National Security Council official about the firing of Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, and oddly his brother, as well. Colonel Vindman testified in the impeachment trial after he was subpoenaed to do so. His brother had nothing to do with the impeachment trial whatsoever other than the fact that he`s related to his brother Alexander Vindman. But they both have been fired from the White House now. We`ll be talking about the consequences of that from someone who is very well-placed to know what those consequences are.

So, that`s -- that`s all ahead tonight, along with the bizarre news that the U.S. Department of Justice admits they now -- well, they were advised this was happening -- we were advised it was happening and the Justice Department has confirmed that they have opened up some sort of intake process for Rudy Giuliani to feed the Justice Department anti-Joe Biden stuff that he`s been cooking up in Ukraine.

The president obviously was just impeached for throwing out U.S. policy to Ukraine in favor of a Rudy Giuliani-led extortion effort to pressure that country into trying to hurt Joe Biden`s political chances in the next election. Now that the Republican-led Senate decided that didn`t bother them that much and the president should be left in office despite those things, apparently, he`s just going to keep running the same op.

Except, this time, he`ll run it directly out of the U.S. Department of Justice so he doesn`t have to pressure some poor foreign president. He`ll just have his own people announce them here. Seems legit.

Sure, the former head of counterintelligence at the Justice Department, David Laufman, today reacted to the news by saying, quote, there is nothing normal about the attorney general creating a special intake process in the field for information relating to claims advancing a White House political narrative, particularly from someone reportedly under criminal investigation. Oh, right, Rudy Giuliani is reportedly under federal criminal investigation for the various work he has been doing recently in Ukraine. But apparently, he`s now going to report the results of that work to the U.S. Department of Justice which has set up a special process to receive it from him.

You know, maybe this is -- maybe this is normal. Maybe the process that the Justice Department has set up to receive this information from Rudy Giuliani is actually a hilarious trick in which they`re basically just convincing him to confess everything. Yes, Mr. Mayor, we`ve opened an intake process for you.

Tell us everything else you did. Hmm, can you show us evidence of that? Can we look at your phone for a sec. Want it try on these handcuffs to see if they fit?

I mean, maybe opening up an intake at the Justice Department to receive information from Rudy Giuliani who is reportedly under federal criminal investigation for what he`s been doing in Ukraine, I mean, maybe, it`s one big genius prosecutorial gambit to get him to confess, or maybe President Trump is going to run for reelection in part by having the Justice Department under William Barr give credence to false claims about his political opponents? Which one seems more likely?

So, there`s lots to keep your eyes on at this point. In terms of how this plays in the presidential election contest, which is impossible to avoid because it is New Hampshire eve, terms of how this is all going to play, it`s hard to say. It is unusual thing to have all of these people from the president`s campaign and his administration and his longtime associates and advisers all going to prison.

It is an absolutely unprecedented thing for the president to run for re- election having just been impeached. But in a generic sense, structurally, political science tells us all things being equal, presidents do tend to get re-elected. There is an advantage of incumbency. Almost all of the presidents in the modern era who tried to get re-elected to second term have done so. Presidents as different as Barack Obama and George W. Bush and bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan, even Richard Nixon got re-elected to a second term even though he had to quit not that long after.

So, all things being equal, the expectation broadly speaking is that it`s hard for a party out of power to oust a sitting president who is trying to hold on to the job. That said, I mean that could be overstated. That`s just sort of the structural fact of it in poly-sci terms.

The specifics matter. I mean, who is the president is, how he`s conducted himself as president and how his opponents run against him are things that matter. I thought about this today when we got the president`s budget for the year.

You may remember back in 2012, Mitt Romney was mounting an admittedly uphill battle to try to oust Barack Obama who was then the incumbent president running for a second term, and again, structurally, presidents have the advantage of incumbency. They tend to get re-elected. So, it`s always going to be hard fight for Mr. Romney.

But Mr. Romney made the hill he was climbing a little steeper when he chose this whippersnapper as his vice presidential running mate, and there were reasons for Mitt Romney to pick Paul Ryan. By all account, Mr. Romney and Mr. Ryan really liked each other. Paul Ryan had a lot of support in the Republican Party.

In the context of Romney having just come out of a hotly contested Republican primary that year, probably Paul Ryan seemed like a good fit, which seems to particularly bolster his hard line bona fides. But the reason Paul Ryan had that reputation is because he was the top budget guy for Republicans in the House, and Paul Ryan, if he was known for one thing in national politics at the time Mitt Romney picked him to be his running mate, he was known for one thing, it was his budget that he had drawn up and that was absolutely associated with him more than any other thing about him.

It was a super draconian budget plan which he had introduced in Congress which among other things had gigantic crippling cuts to health care. And that`s what he was trying to do in the House as a member of Congress as the head of the Budget Committee. As a vice presidential running mate, that was not an awesome thing for the campaign to be saddled with. I mean, a vice presidential choice is supposed to be an uncomplicated do no harm boost for the campaign.

But in Romney`s case, he picked Ryan and that meant, yes, everybody likes Paul Ryan, but he had to spend a significant portion defending this totally politically unpalatable budget that was the only thing Paul Ryan was famous for, specifically, he ended up spending a big portion of the general election running against Barack Obama who had as president overseen the largest expansion of health care coverage to Americans in generations. Mitt Romney had to spend his general election campaign running against Romney -- running against Obama saying Obama getting more people health care, that`s terrible. And my running mate, my vice president, is the guy who`s got his name on the gigantic crippling cuts to health care, right?

Those -- the Paul Ryan budget cuts to health care and Social Security -- I mean, that wasn`t Romney`s budget. It was Paul Ryan`s thing from the Congress. But because he picked Paul Ryan to be his vice president, Romney had to spend all that time defending that thing even though wasn`t his own.

Well, that was 2012. Now, eight years later, we are in an election year again and this time the incumbent president is in the Republican Party. And today, the day of the New Hampshire primary, President Trump rolled out his budget for the next year.

And you would think the White House would be acutely aware that this is a year in which the president is trying to get reelected. You would not think they would want to saddle him in his re-election campaign with something that`s going to be very hard to defend, especially for general election voters. But sure enough, they rolled out President Trump`s budget today. It has a trillion dollars in health care cuts.

Vote for me, Donald Trump. I know the first term has been a little rocky, but in the second term, I plan to cut $1 trillion in funding for health care. Also, if you`re a little worried about that coronavirus thing that`s happening, the World Health Organization that`s coordinating the international response to that crisis, my budget today proposes cutting their budget by more than half right now. Who needs it? Vote for me.

I mean, at least when Mitt Romney got saddled with this thing in 2012, it was Paul Ryan`s fault. It was only Mitt Romney`s fault because he picked Paul Ryan not noting this albatross that Ryan was going to drag into the race with him. In this case, it`s the president`s own doing. In this case, this genius political move for the president to be running for re-election proposing a trillion dollar in health care cuts is -- this is the president`s fault alone, this is the fault of the Trump White House.

And, you know, ultimately you never know what`s going to be determinative in a big general election fight. I mean some of this we`ve seen before. Some of this we haven`t. We`ve seen Republican candidates have a hard time running for president when promising to gut American health care, when Americans are very, very concerned about their health care. That`s -- you know, there is a precedent there from 2012.

We`ve have never seen a president, though, run for office with his campaign chairman and deputy campaign chairman both in prison and the president himself impeached and more people from his campaign and his long time circle of friends heading off to the crowbar hotel all the time. That`s a new factor. How do we weight that?

And just in terms of his own behavior on tape -- I mean, the video library the things this president has said and done both when he was a candidate for president and since he has been president, we`ve never had a president run for re-election with this much ready-made oppo just lying around to be shaped into snappy campaign ads against him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, CAMPAIGN AD)

JOHN F. KENNEDY, FORMER PRESIDENT:  Ask not what your country can do for you.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  It was all (EXPLETIVE DELETED).

KENNEDY:  Ask what you can do for your country.

TRUMP:  Knock the crap out of him, would you?

LYNDON B. JOHNSON, FORMER PRESIDENT: Their cause must be our cause too.

TRUMP:  I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn`t lose any voters.

JOHNSON:  And we shall overcome.

TRUMP:  As soon as we left, they knocked the (EXPLETIVE DELETED) out of everybody.

RONALD REAGAN, FORMER PRESIDENT:  Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.

TRUMP:  Build that wall, build that wall.

GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT:  Americans are generous, strong and decent not because we believe in ourselves.

TRUMP:  I`d like to punch him in the face.

BUSH:  But because we hold beliefs beyond ourselves.

TRUMP:  Grab him by the (EXPLETIVE DELETED).

REAGAN:  The future doesn`t belong to the faint-hearted.

TRUMP:  This is the crap we have to put up with.

REAGAN:  It belongs to the brave.

TRUMP:  I never want to be called loser.

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT:  I`m asking you to believe, not in my ability to bring about change but in yours.

TRUMP:  How about if I take his money but in the end I screw him and don`t do anything for him?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  This is an ad being run by mike Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York city, one of the richest men on earth who spent well north of $200 million already. On ads that, yes, promote his own candidacy but also just soften the president up, right? Putting his ad shop and the huge amount of money he has behind his advertising campaigns into making the president more beatable, frankly by anyone on the Democratic side, Mike Bloomberg included but not exclusively him.

And in part because that`s the way he`s running, Bloomberg is another factor in this race that is kind of a black box. Kind of hard to see how it plays out and affects everything else, right? The amount of money he has spent on ads thus far while not competing in the first four contests, Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, that makes these dynamics hard to model. It is hard to predict what the effect will be of that much money.

Quinnipiac has a new national poll out which shows Bloomberg leaping from 8 percent national support a couple of weeks ago, to 15 percent today, which in this new poll puts him this third place nationwide. The Sanders campaign is obviously most excited about this poll because it`s the first one that shows Bernie Sanders holding a national lead of a good size.

But honestly, the amazing thing about this new national poll something how much movement it shows in every direction. Sanders, yes, is on top and that is a big deal for his campaign. He`s up by four since the last of the polls two weeks ago. The reason he got such a big lead over the guy in second, though, is because Joe Biden, the guy in second, dropped by nine points in just two weeks.

Bloomberg, yes, spiked from 8 percent up to 15 percent, almost doubling his standings nationwide. Elizabeth warren says steady in fourth just behind Bloomberg. Buttigieg serves 4 points to get himself out of single digits nationwide in this poll. I mean, these -- these numbers are all over the place right now. We`re having -- we`ve had Iowa already. Basically ends up being a jump ball between Buttigieg and Sanders. We got New Hampshire starting at midnight tonight, looking ahead to Nevada and South Carolina next one of the key issue there is which you`ve been hearing over and over again is African-American support, which is crucial in South Carolina and a very big deal in Nevada.

Look at African-American support again in this new national poll. Over the course of two weeks, Joe Biden drops 22 points among African-Americans. He was at 49 percent support among African-American voters. He`s dropped 22 down to 27.

Still, 27 percent support among African-American is good. But look at Bloomberg surging 15 points with African-Americans specifically.

I mean, the race on the Democratic side is in flux. The numbers are not just moving, they`re moving in big chunks and fast and disruptive ways, and Bloomberg factor and his massive spend is a chaos factor here in terms of anybody`s ability to project what`s going to happen next or how the Democrat also settle on their nominee. But tonight at midnight Eastern Time, less than three hours from now, when voting starts at those first three towns that vote at midnight in New Hampshire, they`re not going to settle any of that particular part of the chaos in this year`s Democratic Party because nobody going to vote at midnight or tomorrow, nobody is going to have Mike Bloomberg on their ballot tomorrow.

That`s interesting in the larger sense because it`s hard to model the dynamics in this primary when you got this guy not competing in the early states while running this huge spending operation nationwide. In the smaller sense, though, it`s also really interesting that Bloomberg isn`t going to be on the ballot in New Hampshire because when you look at the ballot in New Hampshire, it seems like it`s almost impossible for him not to be on that ballot because everybody and their third cousin is on that ballot.

Look at this. This is the Democratic ballot, this one is from Hart`s Location, one of the three towns in New Hampshire that votes tonight at midnight. This is the Democratic ballot in Hart`s Location tonight.

And the order of candidates is different in every town this. This is just a sample of one, right? These are the candidates New Hampshire voters will choose from in the Democratic primary tonight. Ready?

Henry Hewes, Amy Klobuchar, Tom Koos, Lorenz Kraus, Rita Krichevsky, Raymond Michael Moroz, Deval Patrick, Bernie Sanders, Joe Sestak, Sam Sloan, Tom Steyer, David John Thistle, Thomas James Torgesen, Elizabeth Warren, Robby Wells, Marianne Williamson, Andrew Yang, Michael Bennet, Joseph Biden, Cory Booker, Mosie Boyd, Steve Bullock, Steve Burke, Pete Buttigieg, Julian Castro, Roque De La Fuente, John K. Delaney, Jason Evritte Dunlap, Michael A. Ellinger, Tulsi Gabbard, Ben Gleib Gleiberman, Mark Stewart Greenstein, Kamala Harris.

And, yes, some of those names are familiar to you, because they are people who used to be running for president but dropped out, people like Cory Booker, John Delaney, Kamala Harris. Some of them are, in fact, people who are in the race like Tulsi Gabbard and Pete Buttigieg and Deval Patrick, et cetera.

But then there`s like this gigantic overthrow crowd that you have to wade through to find your likely candidate and despite that gigantic list, no Mike Bloomberg there anyway, despite the fact that he spent $280 million, marketing himself nationwide.

The Republican ballot, it`s not just a party thing. The Republican ballot has a slightly smaller version of the same phenomenon. Here`s a sample Republican ballot from Albany, New Hampshire. At the bottom of this there`s President Trump, along with Joe Walsh who just ended his bid and Bill Weld who is still running against President Trump. But then the whole rest of the page is filled up with other names of other people who are also technically in the running in New Hampshire, including one person whose name is already president, which has got to be some kind of advantage.

In terms of the polling heading into the midnight votes and tomorrow`s statewide votes in New Hampshire, we`re going to get the latest from our own Steve Kornacki in just a moment. The bottom line heading into the primary is that Bernie Sanders is favored like he was in Iowa, although again, this late shifting in the polls is making things much more interesting and complex than that simple top line result might indicate.

But again, just a few hours, less than three hours, we are going to get the first votes from Dixville Notch, which gets the most attention. But it`s also Hart`s Location, which is quite bigger than Dixville Notch, also Millsfield, New Hampshire. All of those three towns will be voting tonight at midnight, and then by this time tomorrow, we`ll be looking at real result instead of this anxious, difficult predicting, which is an unavoidable part of our lives and all of our conversations now.

Joining us now at the big board is the great Steve Kornacki.

So, Steve, we`re just hours away from voting in New Hampshire. The race has been moving very quickly this past week, at least that`s what it seems like to me. What can you tell us about how has it changed since the caucuses a week ago.

STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it`s changed, Rachel, pretty dramatically and potentially in two different ways. And so, it`s created some last-minute suspense. Let me show you what I mean.

First, we`re going to take a look here at how the polling in New Hampshire changed from Iowa basically until Friday. Friday of last week, just before the weekend, so check this out and you can see, clearly, there was one candidate who moved basically all of last week after Iowa or really while Iowa was being tabulated, and it was Pete Buttigieg.

And this is tracking poll from "The Boston Globe", Suffolk University. They`ve been releasing it every night now for a week, and saw Buttigieg over the course of the week actually took the lead. This was as of last Friday and move add head the Sanders, Sanders flat, Sanders and Buttigieg basically sharing that win in Iowa but it was Buttigieg who got the bounce from that clearly and you see here, it was Joe Biden who fell back seven points basically all of that loss that Biden had was going into Buttigieg plus some more.

So that`s the first story of the change in New Hampshire. That was the big story all last week is Buttigieg rocketing up to the lead. Is he going to run away from this thing? Then, on Friday night, they had the final debate in New Hampshire, three-hour debate, two and a half hour debate, and over the weekend from the same tracking poll, check out the change.

So, this is where things were basically right before the debate on Friday night. This is where things were two nights later. Note the change.

Amy Klobuchar jumps up eight points. She was buried way in single digits at 6 percent before the debate. Two nights later, to eight points, more than double her support. And, by the way, you can see her in this tracking poll within five points of Pete Buttigieg who dropped six.

So you had a situation where Buttigieg surged and took the lead over Sanders before the debate was up nearly 20 points over Amy Klobuchar and in this tracking poll, over the course of the weekend, Klobuchar closed that gap with Buttigieg to five points. That is the late movement here over the weekend.

And the question, Rachel, when I say that`s last-minute suspense the question, is that a weekend blip? Did she get favorable headlines or a little buzz after that debate that will wear off by primary day or is this something that was playing out over the weekend, playing out today, playing out tomorrow and is there a rise there that we won`t know the full extent of until the results come in tomorrow night?

MADDOW: And this late -- this late -- the latest results that you were just showing there, Steve, showing Sanders still pipping up after the debate. That seems significant given that his lead in New Hampshire has been totally solid for a very long time in the polling, right? We did see Buttigieg pip him in the one tracking poll before the debate but Sanders has been on top. He is the favorite and he still -- looks like he still got room to grow.

KORNACKI:  And that`s the interesting thing. You saw all this movement last week and you mentioned Buttigieg taking the lead briefly. It wasn`t because Sanders was collapsing, it was because Biden was losing and all of it was going to Buttigieg and this is where things start to get complicated.

Notice, by the way, as you say, Sanders up a couple of points from that debate, but his margin over Buttigieg grows to 8 points here. The best thing that could happen to Bernie Sanders is if Klobuchar surges, but not enough to actually threaten for the lead, but enough to eat into Buttigieg`s potential pool of support and to allow Sanders to sort of skate by there. A 33-point combined performance for Buttigieg and Klobuchar, that is good news in this poll for Bernie Sanders.

MADDOW:  Steve Kornacki, thank you, my friend. We`ll be back at midnight as first votes are cast in New Hampshire. It`s going to be a very exciting 24 hours.

All right. Much more ahead. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Midnight voting is not a thing that happens in a lot of places. Polls typically open in the morning on Election Day and voters make their way to the polls over the course of the day and into the evening. But in Dixville Notch, New Hampshire, and a couple of other towns, voters will get the chance to cast some of the first primary ballots of this year`s election at the stroke of midnight, and thanks to a tradition that has been alive since 1960.

There`s a little town calls Millsfield, New Hampshire, and another one called Hart`s Location that will also vote at midnight. But for decades, Dixville Notch has been the most famous place to go spectate at the midnight primary.

And it turns out there`s a very specific reason for that. In 1960, a millionaire plastics mogul named Neil Tillotson who owned a hotel in Dixville Notch, he made a deal with a national poll reporter. The deal was if the poll reporter could basically publicize Dixville Notch`s voting, if the poll reporter could get everyone to come cover the primary in Dixville Notch, then the millionaire local hotel owner would help make it easier for those reporters to get the story out nationwide. They would make it easy for them to have access to phones to call national news bureaus and that was a nice offer.

New Hampshire Public Radio has a new podcast this year about the New Hampshire primary. It`s called "The Stranglehold". In "The Stranglehold," they dig a little bit into the history of Dixville Notch.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

JACK RODOLICO:  Journalism in the 1950s ran on telephones. Newspapers needed pictures and those pictures were sent from the field to newsrooms by phone lines. And the Balsams Resort had its own telephone company, that was huge. It also had its own power plant and space for teams of reporters to set up shop. So, in November 1960, Nixon-Kennedy, when the morning papers were printed on Election Day, all those little town has voted in the middle of night.

LAUREN CHOOLJIAN:  But didn`t get the attention that Dixville did.

PRODUCER:  There are newspapers all across the country that have Neil Tillotson and, you know, eight of his closest friends standing there smiling holding up signs saying they voted for Nixon over Kennedy, 9-0.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Joining us now is Lauren Chooljian. She`s reporter with the New Hampshire Public Radio. She`s co-host of the podcast "The Stranglehold" about New Hampshire`s first in the nation primary status.

Ms. Chooljian, thank you so much for being here. It`s a real pleasure to have you here.

LAURAN CHOOLJIAN, NEW HAMPSHIRE PUBLIC RADIO REPORTER:  Thanks, Rachel. Great to be here.

MADDOW:  So the great thing about "The Stranglehold", is that it takes this thing you think you know everything about and you think that, you know, it`s just your -- you need a four-year reminder of all the kitsch and like folksy stories about the primary but you`ve heard them all before. And you guys have been turning over rocks and finding stuff people broadly do not know about the New Hampshire primary.

I have to ask you, has it made you feel cynical about the primary?

CHOOLJIAN:  Has it made me feel cynical? Oh, that`s hilarious, because, you know, we get so much heat about this podcast because we`re just raising questions. But you know as well as anyone, Rachel, this thing is so beloved, right? It gives New Hampshire so much power. It`s part of our identity.

And once we start asking questions about this thing, we hear from people all over, sometimes it`s other reporters, even the governor told me that he`s disappointed that it`s not just a positive podcast about the primary. Casey McDermott, the reporter who blew open the Dixville story found out not everyone there lived there and even the one who is did live there were employees of the Balsams Resort. I mean, there is a much bigger story here than many of us ever knew, and it`s really opened people`s eyes to the full story of the New Hampshire primary.

But, again, I can`t stress enough how interesting it`s been to see the results of, you know, the response from people in New Hampshire. You know, I can`t believe how many times I`ve had to say it is not my job to protect the first in the nation primary, and it`s not my job to say it should leave. We`re just asking a question and it`s caused a lot of drama.

MADDOW:  Well, I have enough connections with people in New Hampshire through family and other things that I believe a lot of people who live in New Hampshire believe it is their job to protect the first in the nation status of the New Hampshire primary because it does benefit the state in so many ways.

And I wonder if that has -- if what went wrong in Iowa last week has sent a little bit of a shock wave, right, because that`s people criticizing not just Iowa but Iowa and New Hampshire, seeing how things went wrong in Iowa, a lot of Democrats very angry about how that sort of stomped on what should have otherwise been a clear political story out of that race. Has that freaked people in New Hampshire out about the necessity of getting it right and making the case to hold on to the first?

CHOOLJIAN:  Oh, yes, freak people out is the best way to describe it. I went to a Buttigieg rally the next morning and every voter I talked to down the line, the first they wanted to talk about Iowa and their faces said it all. They were just like -- can you believe it? What does it mean for us?

And this is why "The Stranglehold" is such an interesting project right now because we`re in such a interesting moment in New Hampshire primary history. Of course, this thing is always change, traditions are always changes.

But when you see what happened in Iowa. When you use candidates like Julian Castro, someone actually running for president, hoping Iowa and New Hampshire vote for him, criticizing the demographics of these two states. Of course, that`s a criticism that`s been thrown at us before, but, you know, when these things become more tumultuous, when elections can`t be trusted that`s when the criticism really comes in and we`ve certainly seen that.

And so, yes, New Hampshire people are nervous. On the one hand, Rachel, I talked to people who said, oh, we have nothing to worry about. We got ballots. I mean, in another Casey McDermott story, Secretary of State Bill Gardner said you can`t hack a pencil, but on the other side, people say we get tied together with this state. You know, if they go down, what does that mean for us?

And so, it is certainly been on people`s minds and I should say if there was any more attention going to be paid on us -- I mean, we certainly are getting it extra now.

MADDOW:  Lauren, I do want to ask you a pundit, and I know that`s not your job. I just have to ask you from the close look you`ve been making at New Hampshire this year, is there a candidate who you feel like has run a qualitatively better campaign than the others, not necessarily who is going to win but who`s run the best campaign?

CHOOLJIAN: The best campaign, that is a tough one for me, Rachel. Here`s what I`ll say about that. I will say that what I`ve been watching is a changing in the dynamic of how candidates campaign. You cannot just bank on the house parties anymore, right? You cannot compete house party to house party with an Elizabeth Warren who can bring people in at a rally.

And as Pete Buttigieg, as you guys just talked about, and Amy Klobuchar got more energy, what are they doing? Big rallies where they only answer a couple of questions most of the time. So, that style of one on one campaign, that has certainly changed around here. But as far as the best, you`re right. I can`t tell you what I think is the best.

MADDOW:  Fair enough. Lauren Chooljian, political reporter for New Hampshire Public Radio, co-host of "The Stranglehold" podcast, which is excellent, thank you for being with us. Enjoy tomorrow. It`s going to be super fun.

CHOOLJIAN:  Thank you so much. Be will.

MADDOW:  Will do.

All right. We`ve got more ahead. Stay with us. We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  In 74 different agencies of the government, there`s an inspector general at work. An inspector general is basically independent and the job of an inspector general is to look into potential wrongdoing at those agencies.

Well, today the top Democrat in the Senate, Chuck Schumer, called on every inspector general in the whole federal government, all 74 of them, to investigate potential retaliatory act against whistle-blowers, who have reported presidential misconduct during the Trump administration. Schumer sent that request after National Security Council staffer and impeachment witness, Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, and his twin brother, an NSC lawyer, were both escorted off the White House grounds on Friday and fired.

Schumer`s call for the inspectors general comes to look in to any other acts of presidential retaliation comes amid reports that President Trump is reportedly considering firing one of those very same inspector generals, specifically the intelligence community Inspector General Michael Atkinson who first alerted Congress to the whistle-blower complaint that set off much of the initial flurry of attention to the Ukraine scandal when it first broke open in the fall.

"The Washington Post" reporting that President Trump may also want to fire the inspector general of the intelligence community for the grave crime of doing what he was legally required to do when he forwarded that whistle- blower complaint to Congress. It`s just incredible.

Three days after last week`s purge, there has still been no explanation from the White House about why Alexander Vindman`s brother who played no part in the impeachment inquiry, why he too was fired from his White House job and removed from his post. As for Colonel Vindman, Lieutenant Colonel Alex Vindman, his removal from his position came after Defense Secretary Mark Esper promised publicly that Vindman would not be retaliated against, that the Defense Department would protect him.

Esper saying in November, quote, he shouldn`t have any fear of retaliation. That`s DOD`s position. There is no retaliation. It`s that simple.

Thereafter, Secretary of Defense Esper`s deputy, the Deputy Secretary of Defense David Norquist wrote on Esper`s behalf, also making the same commitment in writing. Quote: Let me assure you, the department will not tolerate any act of retaliation or reprisal against them.

Well, Vindman and his brother have both now been fired from their jobs at the National Security Council and marched off the White House grounds. We haven`t heard a peep from the Defense Department despite those promises that they would stand up for Vindman, that he would be protected, that the Defense Department wouldn`t allow anything to happen to him. Not a peep.

It tells you something about how much the men and women of the Defense Department can trust the word of Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and the Deputy Secretary of Defense David Norquist. But we do now have some new reporting about how the White House started targeting Colonel Vindman and his brother even before they got fired on Friday and that story is next.

Stay with us.

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MADDOW:  The Defense Department at the highest levels, the secretary of defense and the deputy secretary of defense, both gave overt assurances that Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman would not face any retaliation for him testifying in the impeachment inquiry after he was subpoenaed to do so. Those defense officials said they would protect Colonel Vindman. They allow no retaliation against him whatsoever.

Those assurances came in November, and in December, after Colonel Vindman did testify in the impeachment inquiry. All those same officials have said nothing in response to Colonel Vindman being marched off the White House grounds on Friday and removed from his National Security Council job along with, oddly, his brother who had nothing whatsoever to do with the impeachment inquiry.

A former senior adviser to National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, Fernando Cutz, told "The Washington Post," quote: Every career official will tell you it is not just chilling but frightening. He also says that the retribution -- that retribution from the White House was exacted on the two Vindmans, on both Alexander Vindman and his brother, well before Friday`s firings.

Quote, White House -- excuse me, on Ukraine policy, Alexander Vindman was sidelined said Cutz who keeps in touch with staffers who are still serving, quote, he hasn`t been playing a key role. He had not been in the room.

As for his brother, quote, White House officials instructed National Security Council staff to bypass Yevgeny Vindman on ethics matters and take questions directly to the White House counsel`s office instead, according to Cutz, who said, quote, you`re seeing things happen in an unprecedented way that even Nixon didn`t do. The broader message to career officials is that you can`t speak up. Even if you see something illegal, something unethical, you can`t speak up. That`s the message the president wants to send.

Joining us now is Fernando Cutz. He was a former National Security Council staffer, former senior adviser to National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster.

Mr. Cutz, I really appreciate you taking the time to be here tonight. Thank you.

FERNANDO CUTZ, FORMER NSC ADVISER:  Thank you very much for having me, Rachel.

MADDOW:  I have to ask, start with a little meta question. Your comments about the chilling effect that recent events have caused among National Security Council current staffers and generally in the field, I have to wonder if that applies to you as well and if you are thinking about potential consequences about speaking out in this way.

CUTZ:  Well, you know, it is a very dangerous thing these days to speak up, but I know that the folks who still work at the White House today, the folks who still work all over the U.S. government right now are career professionals, they have sworn and oath to the Constitution of the United States. And they will uphold that oath. I have no doubt about that no matter what kind of different techniques or intimidation or anything else that might try to fall their way.

And so, while they might not be able to speak right now for themselves because of their position in government, I who have left government am able to try to help them out right now. And so, that`s what I`m trying to do on their behalf. But, again, I have no doubt that the chilling effect and the fear that the president is trying to put on them is not going to work and they will keep doing what they need to do to uphold their oaths to the Constitution and to our laws.

MADDOW:  I have to say that I`m not terribly surprised by the president`s instincts in this regard. I feel like he`s telegraphed for a long time that this type of revenge is sort of what he considers to be among his legitimate tools for exerting power.

In the case of Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, I have to tell you what sticks with me and kept me awake about this case is not just that the president took this action, but that specifically for Lieutenant Colonel Vindman, after he gave that testimony, there was an effort to essentially insulate him from something like this happening. The secretary of defense, deputy defense secretary talking about a serving military officer saying under law, we will allow no retaliation against him, promising in advance they would take action to prevent this, and then it still happened and heard nothing from the Defense Department.

I mean, as a civilian watching this from the outside, that is the part of it that feels most chilling to me, but as somebody would worked at the high levels of the National Security Council, do you feel like that`s an appropriate way to look at it or should I take a different angle?

CUTZ:  Well, absolutely. You know, I think at the end of the day, Lieutenant Colonel Vindman did not go out and decide to speak publicly to the press. He didn`t start tweeting about what he saw or what he disagreed with or agreed with. He followed a lawful subpoena by the United States Congress and he attended that subpoena after he was summoned and he testified under oath about what he said happened at that moment and then he left and went back to work.

That`s all he did to be clear, right? He didn`t write a book. He didn`t write an op-ed. He didn`t go speak to the press. So he has followed the rule of law thoroughly and fully.

He cannot be blamed. Neither can anybody else involved in this situation who was merely following the lawfully issued orders by the United States Congress. And therefore, it`s absurd to have any kind of retaliatory action against these officials.

Now, you know, when you serve at the White House, you serve at the pleasure of the president. And so, the president can certainly remove you from the role because he didn`t like you anymore, doesn`t trust you anymore. And that`s within their right.

From what I`ve heard from reporting today, it sounds like Lieutenant Colonel Vindman himself knew that things were probably not looking good. And he was about to resign. But I think the president wanted to jump the gun and not allow him the graceful exit and actually fire him on Friday.

So, again, it`s really purely vindictive at this point. It`s a sad state of affairs. It sends a very bad message to our men and women who are serving our country both the military uniform but also civilians working 24 hours a day, seven days a week to keep our country safe.

MADDOW:  Fernando Cutz, former National Security Council official, former adviser to the National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, Mr. Cutz, thank you for you service and thanks for joining us tonight.

CUTZ:  Thank you very much.

MADDOW:  All right. More news ahead. Stay with us.

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MADDOW:  The president`s longest serving adviser, Roger Stone, got his sentencing recommendation from federal prosecutors today. They recommended that he get seven to nine years in prison. Roger Stone`s sentencing is set for late next week, ten days from now. The judge can do whatever the judge wants in that case. The judge is under no obligation to follow that recommendation. But that`s a significant recommendation from prosecutors, seven to nine years.

Meanwhile, President Trump`s first national security adviser, Mike Flynn, is still awaiting his sentencing as well. But it doesn`t look like the Mike Flynn movie of the week is going to wrap up anytime soon. And here is something to watch when it comes to Flynn. You will recall that Flynn pled guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russia. Initially after his guilty plea, he cooperated with federal prosecutors and federal prosecutors were very happy with that. They said that he was doing right by them. He was cooperating effectively.

Prosecutors originally recommended that Flynn should get no jail time whatsoever despite him pleading guilty to a felony because they said he had provided them substantial assistance. But then something happened. And Mike Flynn changed his lawyer, changed his whole legal approach, stopped cooperating with prosecutors.

And prosecutors went back to the court and changed their recommendation, telling the court, well, OK, actually, General Flynn deserves up to six months in jail. We revise our earlier statement that he was helping us out and you should be lenient with him.

Well, things have progressed since then. I mean, Flynn is now trying to withdraw his guilty plea altogether. He now says he doesn`t remember if he talked to the Russian government about sanctions when he lied to that -- he lied to FBI investigators about it. I mean, all of this u turns in the Flynn case have meant Flynn`s sentencing date has been kicked down the road and kicked down the road and kicked down the road for more than a year now.

He was initially on track to be sentenced in December of last year. Then he was due to be sentenced last month. And that was pushed back to this month. Then today, Mike Flynn`s sentencing got postponed indefinitely following a surprise filing in his case. It was a surprise because it was filed on a Sunday morning, which is a little bit weird in a face of it.

It was also a surprise, or at least intriguing, because this surprise filing in Flynn`s case asking for a sentencing to be put off indefinitely, it came one week after Attorney General Bill Barr installed one of his very close aides as the new U.S. attorney overseeing that U.S. attorney`s office, including Mike Flynn`s case. Bill Barr`s aide, Timothy Shea, took over as the U.S. attorney in Washington, D.C. last week, on Monday. Less than a week went by, Sunday morning when Shea`s office filed this sort of strange motion, asking more time in the Flynn case, to put off the sentencing yet again.

One other thing that`s weird about this is something that`s not on that filing. Brandon Van Grack is the federal prosecutor who`s been on the Flynn case from the very beginning. He was part of the special counsel`s office. He stayed with the Flynn prosecution when it went from the special counsel investigation to the U.S. attorney in D.C.

He has been signed on as the prosecutor on almost all of the filings, up to and including last month in the Flynn case. But all of a sudden now, with this new turn in the case, Brandon Van Grack`s name has vanished, starting with this weird Sunday morning filing from Bill Barr`s newly minted U.S. attorney asking for more time in the Flynn case, suddenly, Mr. Van Grack is gone.

Something is going on here. When are we going to find out and who is going to tell us the history of what happened here? Because if it`s going to come from Bill Barr`s office, I`m not going to trust what I hear. We`ll figure it out.

Watch this space.

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MADDOW:  Three New Hampshire towns are about to throw open the poles for midnight voting. Hart`s Location has the most voters of those three towns. The chair of the board of selectmen told us today they`ve got 45 voters on their checklist, 18 they expect to vote in person tonight at midnight, 21 who voted absentee, and six who signed an affidavit saying they are exercising their right not to vote.

That accounts for everybody. They also have a plan for moving fast. A local state rep tells us they are expecting to be done with the counting in about five minutes. As soon as every eligible voter in town is accounted for, they will announce the results. We might get three announcements in the midnight hour tonight.

Brian Williams, along with Steve Kornacki is going to have live coverage of the midnight voting in New Hampshire. MSNBC`s Cal Perry will be reporting live from Hart`s Location.

Don`t go to bed. We`ll see you for our special New Hampshire coverage as it rolls on from here on out.

Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL".

Good evening, Lawrence.

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