Justice Department drops leak case TRANSCRIPT: 2/14/20, The Rachel Maddow Show

Guests: Timothy Snyder, Paul Fishman

TRYMAINE LEE, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  You know plan to shrink the wealth gap, the Greenwood Plan, after the Tulsa race massacre, going to those communities and talking about getting black folks in home, and building wealthy home ownership, he has the money to do that.

CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST, "ALL IN":  That`s interesting.

LEE:  It`s appealing.

HAYES:  Trymaine Lee, thank you so much. Great report.

That is "ALL IN" for this evening.

THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right now.

Good evening, Rachel.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Thanks, my friend. Much appreciated.

Thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.

As a general matter, a little thought experiment here, if you commit a bunch of federal crimes, A, that`s very bad. But let`s say you commit a bunch of federal crimes for which the punishment is time in prison and let`s say you get caught committing those crimes and you get indicted for committing those crimes. If you decide at that point that your priority is to try to -- is to try to avoid getting in too much trouble for what you`ve done, for what you`ve just been caught for, right, you really only have one good option. And it`s not surefire, but it`s your best option.

I mean, again, in this thought experiment, you definitely did it, you got caught. You`re now indicted on federal charges.

If your goal is to keep yourself as much as humanly possible out of the crowbar hotel, out of federal prison, probably most lawyers would advise you that the best option you have for doing that is to plead guilty and then you may or may not have the choice of additionally cooperating with prosecutors. You`ll have the choice depending on whether they want you to cooperate, whether you want to cooperate with them, and, frankly, it`s very important, it will depend on whether you actually got something valuable to offer them that they want to hear from you.

If you do have something valuable to offer them, and they do want to hear it, that`s actually the best-case scenario for you to try to avoid prison or limit your prison time as much as possible. If you can plead guilty, agree to cooperate, provide prosecutors with what they will describe in court as substantial assistance, that`s probably the best you can do in terms of trying to alleviate your own potential prison sentence.

Now, the reason we know that`s possibly your best chance at avoiding a long time in prison for the crimes you committed is because here`s the alternative. Again, the scenario here is you did it, you got caught doing it, and they have enough evidence to charge you with doing it. I mean, if you decide that you`re going to plead not guilty and going to go to trial and at that trial in front of a jury, you`re convicted of these federal crimes that you committed, well, here`s what`s going to happen in that case. I mean, barring some late com to Jesus moment when after your conviction you tell prosecutors, OK, OK, I was wrong before, I do actually want to cooperate with you, here`s what I got.

I mean, barring some other late breaking way that you could help prosecutors and give them what they`ll say is substantial assistance, I mean, once you can do something like that, here`s what`s going to happen. When it comes time for the prosecutors to tell the judge in your case how you should be sentenced for these crimes for which you`ve just been convicted, unless you provided substantial assistance, unless you pled guilty and admitted your crimes, prosecutors, what they`re going to do, is they`re going to tell the judge that you should be sentenced in accordance with federal sentencing guidelines. They are going to make that recommendation to the judge every time, because, yes, you had numerous chances to take this a different direction. You had numerous chances to try to get the prosecutors to ask the judge on your behalf to be lenient on you.

But you gave up all those opportunities when you decided to plead not guilty, go to trial, when you were convicted, and when you didn`t provide any cooperation. So in that circumstance, if that`s -- those are the choices that you made, if that`s where you find yourself, you`re going to find yourself in a situation where the prosecutors in your case are going to ask a judge for a guideline sentence for you. That`s the way it goes in U.S. attorneys` offices. That`s how federal prosecutors work all over the country.

And, in fact, during the Trump administration, the Justice Department established new guidance to U.S. attorneys in which the Trump administration directed federal prosecutors that not only should they ask for guideline sentences, but they should specifically ask the judge for the maximum penalty allowed under the guidelines, for a convicted felon in these circumstances. You don`t plead guilty, you plead not guilty, you go to trial, you get convicted, you do not provide any cooperation to prosecutors, the Justice Department policy under the Trump administration is that U.S. attorneys, prosecutors in that circumstance, will ask the judge for guideline sentence and specifically something at the top of the guideline sentence, maximum sentence within the guide lines. That`s Trump administration policy. That`s how they do it all over the country.

In the Roger Stone case, Mr. Stone was charged with multiple federal crimes including a very serious felony which is witness intimidation. He`s also charged with lying to investigators. In the closing argument in his trial before a jury back in November, the prosecutor making his final case to the jury said that Roger Stone committed all the crimes he was charged with for a very specific reason. This is from the transcript of the trial from the closing arguments.

Quote: Mr. Stone obstructed that investigation. He lied in his sworn testimony and he tampered with a witness who could expose his lies. Why did Roger Stone do these things? Because he knew that if the truth came out about what he had been doing in 2016, it would look terrible.

Quote: Roger Stone knew that if this information came out, it would look really bad for his longtime associate Donald Trump and so he lied.

That was the closing argument in this case. Roger Stone was charged with multiple federal felonies. He pled not guilty. He went to trial. He was tried before a jury.

The jury heard the case as laid out by the prosecutors, as rebutted by Roger Stone`s defense attorneys and in the end, the jury found him guilty on all charges, all seven felonies, guilty, guilty, guilty, guilty, guilty, guilty, guilty.

And so then what happens next? What happens next, what happens next in such a circumstance, every single time, is that a defendant who finds himself in such a circumstance, who pled not guilty, went to trial, who was convicted on all counts at trial, who offered no cooperation with prosecutors? What happened in Roger Stone`s case upon his conviction is what happens in all cases like this.

The prosecutors inevitably, like they do in all cases, advised the sentencing judge that he should get sentence in line with federal sentencing guidelines. That`s what they do. That`s how the Justice Department works. That`s what U.S. attorneys are told to do and that`s what they do.

That was on Monday of this week. Judge, please give Roger Stone a sentence? In accord with federal sentencing guidelines. That was Monday.

And now, we`re -- now, we`re in crisis, because after the prosecutors in the Stone case did what prosecutors do, the president criticized that sentence recommendation and the next morning on orders from Attorney General William Barr, and other higher-ups at the Justice Department, they inserted themselves into this case. They rescinded that sentencing recommendation from those federal prosecutors and instead gave the judge a new revised sentencing recommendation which said that Roger Stone should receive a sentence, quote, far less than, far less than what the sentencing guidelines called for.

And I know you`ve heard the basic contours of this story, right? Over the last few days as this crisis has erupted within the Justice Department and more broadly in a country that is now acutely concerned about the rule of law. But there`s one very specific piece of this that I`m not sure anybody has reported on yet, which is kind of a beacon in a dark night here in terms of demonstrating what happened, and demonstrating what the official lie is going to be as they try to make us swallow this.

Today, we spoke with two veteran prosecutors who each spent years in the U.S. attorney`s office where this has all exploded. The D.C. U.S. attorney`s office where the U.S. attorney, herself, has been replaced and then fired, replaced by a close aide to the attorney general, himself, where four prosecutors working on the Stone case took themselves off this case. Had their names removed from this case. One of those prosecutors, the one who incidentally gave that closing argument in Roger Stone`s case, he has resigned from the Justice Department all together.

Today, we talked to two veteran prosecutors who spent years in that specific office, in the U.S. attorney`s office in D.C., between the two sources we spoke to today, collectively, they spent decades in that office. We asked those two veteran prosecutors from the U.S. attorney`s office in D.C. if either of them could ever remember prosecutors in that office ever asking a sentencing judge for a defendant to be given a sentence that`s below the federal sentencing guidelines, without any of these other factors being at play, without the defendant pleading guilty, without the defendant cooperating with prosecutors, without the defendant providing substantial assistance.

In the case of somebody who pled not guilty, who went to trial, who got convicted, who offered prosecutors no help, has there ever been an instance, do you recall ever seeing an instance in that U.S. attorney`s office where prosecutors handled the sentencing phase of that case by asking the judge for a below-guidelines sentence? What just happened to Roger Stone here, have you ever seen that? Do you ever recall seeing that in all your time, your decades between you in that office?

Both of those veterans from the D.C. U.S. attorney`s office told us no, they had never, ever seen it. And, in fact, under the Justice Department`s own new Trump era guidelines, not only should the prosecutors have asked far guideline sentence for Roger Stone, they should have asked for the maximum possible penalty within these guidelines.

But instead, Attorney General William Barr intervened and said, Roger Stone should get far less than the guidelines suggest. Absolutely unprecedented.

And then today, that same attorney general, William Barr, did a gobsmacking interview with ABC News in which he described it as, you know, something that was part of the normal course of events. That the Justice Department should recommend a sentence for Roger Stone that is far less than the sentencing guidelines. He is now making this public case today that it`s a totally normal thing for prosecutors to have asked for a below-guidelines sentence for him, that`s a totally run-of-the-mill, normal course of events kind of thing.

It only looks bad because coincidentally President Trump made these public statements demanding lenience for his friend. William Barr told ABC News tonight that his intervention, his personal intervention as attorney general of the United States into Roger Stone`s sentencing recommendation was a totally normal, just a, you know, Tuesday morning kind of thing. He definitely would have done it, anyway. You know, he does it all the time.

It only looks like he`s running the Justice Department for the benefit of the president`s friends because of some stray totally coincidental remarks by the president that honestly have made things very awkward for William Barr who is, after all, just doing his day job.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL:  I have made a decision that I thought was fair and reasonable in this particular case, and once the tweet occurred, the question is, well, now what do I do? And do you go forward with what you think is the right decision or do you pull back because of the tweet? And that just sort of illustrates how disruptive these tweets can be.

PIERRE THOMAS, ABC NEWS:  So you`re saying you have a problem with the tweets.

BARR:  Yes, well, I have a problem with some of the tweets. I`m happy to say that, in fact, the president has never asked me to do anything in a criminal case.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  And that`s definitely not what any of the tweets are doing, right? The tweets are really their own little characters of I think of them as small, like kind of smurfette types that do -- but that apparently is going to be the official line.

The Justice Department, that U.S. attorney`s office particularly, does not ask for below-guideline sentences in cases like this, in living memory. They do not do that. But the attorney general`s going to say that, yes, it was a totally normal thing for him to have done, to intervene in that case and insist on a below-guidelines sentence. Just a totally Tuesday morning run-of-the-mill kind of thing, and it only looks weird because coincidentally, totally separate and apart from his independent decision- making on that, the president called for lenience for that defendant.

Here, plainly, among us citizens, let us not abandon our powers of reasoning and common sense. I mean, here, plainly, despite the official lie that was rolled out today to try to alleviate this crisis, here, plainly, the attorney general intervened personally to do this most unusual, once in a lifetime thing for the president`s friend, because that guy was the president`s friend. And there is now broadcast on ABC News an official lie about that.

But the truth is evident here. And that`s where we are as a country and so we are in the midst of this crisis or what you may prefer to think of as our new reality as a democracy. I mean, the attorney general today telling ABC News in this interview the president`s tweets, in his words, have made it impossible for him to do his job.

Well, Attorney General Bill Barr has been happily intervening in multiple criminal cases on behalf of the president. It`s clear that him using the Justice Department as a tool to please the president is something that he views as his job. It is only the president bragging about the fact that that is happening that is the thing that`s making it hard for Bill Barr to keep doing it, because as long as the president keeps braying about the fact that the criminal justice system is now his tool to reward his friends and punish his enemies -- well, that, you know, that lays it all bare. It`s causing a little bit of an uproar, causing a lot of criticism.

Frankly, it`s easier to intervene in the justice system to make it exist for the purposes and the pleasure of the president if you`re not getting criticized about it. If you can sort of muddy the waters and make people think it`s at least complex and we`re not sure what happened there.

I mean, it is maybe a glimmer of hope in terms of the rule of law that the backlash to what has happened this week appears to be bothering the attorney general. It has at least caused him to generate the official lie as an explanation for what has happened here. The fact that he at least felt it necessary to do that, maybe that`s good. Maybe that`s a good sign. Maybe protests and complaint and principled resignations have at least caused that little prickle of discomfort.

CNN reported late last night that more federal prosecutors are considering resigning in protest of the political interference in the Justice Department that has been carried out by the president and attorney general. There`s also now incredibly high stakes, almost scary focus, on the actual sentencing hearing for Roger Stone which will be a week from today in D.C.

At that hearing, the judge, of course, will have to make a decision about what Mr. Stone`s sentence will be, but she will also have the option, if she chooses it, to use that hearing to interrogate what happened here in terms of high-level political interference in this criminal case.

I mean, judges don`t tend to take it lightly when there`s inexplicable and unprecedented change in prosecutor`s position. If, in fact, the judge chooses to force the Department of Justice to show their work as to why they reversed themselves on a dime and asked for this unprecedented thing once the president called for it on Twitter, I mean, that could be a potentially very consequential rebuke for what has gone wrong here in terms of the abuse of the legal system.

Because of that high-stakes hearing a week from today, naturally, the president has stepped up his personal attacks on that exact judge, in advance of that high-stakes moment in court. That led the Democratic Senate leader Chuck Schumer today to call for intervention by the chief justice of the Supreme Court to stick up for that judge and to try to brush the president back.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY):  Of course, it was not enough for the president to just lean on the Justice Department to make it easy on his old pal. The president went on publicly to attack the judge who will decide Mr. Stone`s fate, another example of the president`s blatant contempt for the independence of the judiciary.

In the past, Chief Justice Roberts has spoken out in defense of the independence of the judicial branch. Well, President Trump is once again attacking a federal judge -- in this case, Judge Amy Berman Jackson who`s presiding over the Stone case. The nation now looks again to Chief Justice Roberts to make clear to President Trump that these attacks are unacceptable.

Speaking of the independence of the judiciary in broad and general terms is well and good. It`s a good thing to do. But to not speak up now when in the middle of this brouhaha, a judge is being attacked by the president before she makes a sentencing decision, that`s when we really need the chief justice to speak up.

We are starting at a crisis of the rule of law. The institutions designed to check executive power are crumbling before our very eyes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  So far, there hasn`t been any response from Chief Justice John Roberts to the president attacking the sentencing judge in the Stone case. Nobody knows if he will choose to speak up for that judge and speak up for the judiciary in the middle of this crisis.

The chief judge of the district court in D.C., however, which is the district where the stone judge sits, that chief judge of that district is Judge Beryl Howell, she did speak up today. She issued a blunt statement today, seems to stick up for her judge, and push back at the criticism from the President.

Judge Beryl Howell saying in a statement today, quote: The judges of this court base their sentencing decisions on careful consideration of the actual record in the case before them, on the applicable sentencing guidelines and statutory factors, on the submissions of the parties, the probation office and victims, and on their own judgment and experience. Public pressure or criticism is not a factor. This is Chief Judge Beryl Howell of U.S. District Court for D.C.

And while that chief judge in D.C. takes action to try to shield the judge in the Roger Stone case from what the president is directing at her and what the conservative media is, therefore, directing at her, to threaten her, and pressure her, the crisis that has emerged here over the last 72 hours is not one case or even one jurisdiction. It`s all just being revealed now.

I mean, "The New York Times" reporting late last night that even in these supposed sovereign district of New York, the famously independent federal prosecutor`s office in New York City, Attorney General William Barr from the very earliest days of his tenure as attorney general, he has apparently been inserting himself into SDNY cases, specifically into cases affecting the president. The attorney general has been advising SDNY, for example, on the hush money case about paying off women to keep quiet during the president`s campaign. That`s a case you will recall in which the president`s personal lawyer already went to prison, in which prosecutors explicitly implicated the president as individual number one, as in which court filings indicated the president`s business was under serious scrutiny for its role in those felonies.

But where all other prosecutions related to that case, nevertheless, mysteriously dried up, after what we now know is Attorney General William Barr`s personal intervention with the prosecutors trying that case in that U.S. attorney`s office. Same goes for the illegal campaign donations case which did result in indictments of our old friends, Lev and Igor. It reportedly extended to a robust criminal investigation on multiple fronts of the president`s other personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani. Well, Lev and Igor were, in fact, charged but we`ve heard nothing else about the Giuliani charges after, again, what we now know is personal intervention by the attorney general with the prosecutors working on that case, him checking in on those cases, specifically, talking to them specifically about those cases, offering his advice on those cases.

"The New York Times" is clear to say there`s no evidence of Attorney General Barr meddling in these cases, other than the fact that he`s going to the Southern District of New York and demanding information from the prosecutors who are working those cases. And giving them advice about how to, perhaps, pursue them in a way that might not be so harmful to the president.

I mean, we`re here. We are beyond the part of the story where astute observers point out threats to the sanctity of the rule of law in this country. I mean, something is threatened when it looks like it might happen in the future. This is not the future. This is now. And the rule of law is not under threat. It is injured. It is breached.

We are past the time when warning that something bad might happen is sufficient to head off it happening. We are living it now.

And so, what do we do? Warning about it isn`t enough. Last night, I talked a little bit about this little book by Timothy Snyder which was published just after the inauguration which offers 20 lessons from the 20th century from various European countries who lost their status as rule of law countries, who lost their status as democratic countries, slipped from countries that looked something like ours into countries with authoritarian rule.

Snyder`s lessons include simple and profound ideas like, rule number one, do not obey in advance. Rule number 19, be a patriot. Set a good example of what America means for the generations to come. They will need it.

Rule number 18, be calm when the unthinkable arrives.

What do we do when we are past the point of warning that the rule of law might be compromised? When we`re at point of recognizing that it`s happening, when we have prosecutors resigning in protest at how the Justice Department is being turned into something that is used by the president to reward his friends and punish his enemies.

I mean, honestly, couple days ago, day after the New Hampshire primary when you heard that all those prosecutors had resigned one after the other, how long did it take for you to start worrying about what`s going to happen to those prosecutors now, what`s going to happen to their families, now that they have stood up and taken this principled stance and said they will not do what they were told to do, now that they have followed Tim Snyder`s rule number two, defend institutions and rule number five, remember professional ethics?

How much worse does our situation get if everybody who stands up to say, ethically, I cannot do this, I will not do what I`m being told to do, everybody who stands up and tells the truth -- how much worse off are we as a country if everybody who stands up in a principled way that way is destroyed? Gets put on the chopping block, gets their career destroyed, gets destroyed personally as punishment for standing up and that is what is demonstrated to us as a country, as the cost of anybody doing what`s right.

That`s what the president has engineered. The systemic destruction of every single person who`s stuck their neck out, who`s resigned in protest, who has stood up, who has told the truth, who has blown the whistle.

It`s designed to have an effect, right? It`s designed to prevent anybody else from deciding that they are brave enough to be the one, to be the next one to stick their neck out. That`s why it`s been systemic. That`s why nobody can escape. That`s why everybody who speaks up must be crushed.

So how do we countermand that? How do we support the people who resign in protest? The people who obey the subpoenas, the people who agree to testify, the people who agree to fell what they know?

As the president makes examples of all of them and tries to destroy them and gleefully against the wishes of his attorney general broadcast that, yes, the criminal justice system will henceforth be used to punish his enemies and reward his friends. He`s broadcasting that because he`s not embarrassed about it, he wants you to know about it, because he wants you to consider what he`s doing with the ideal criminal justice system. When you think about whether or not you might oppose him.

Once we are beyond just warning about the possibility of this and we are awake to the fact that we`re now living this, what do we do to stop it? We were all prepared to issue the warning and describe the worrying trends. The worrying trends indicated that we were, in fact, heading for the future that we are now in.

We`re here. What options do we have? Tim Snyder joins us next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARIE YOVANOVITCH, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO UKRAINE:  Throwing up our hands is a self-fulfilling prophecy. In these trying times, optimism is no longer a default setting for many of us. It`s a choice.

I think back to Secretary of State Colin Powell telling us that optimism is a force multiplier. You know, we could be pessimistic and sort of give up unilaterally, or we can believe in ourselves and in our country, do the hard work, make our own luck and hopefully prevail. We always have a choice.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, speaking last night after receiving an award at Georgetown University for excellence in diplomacy. Ambassador Yovanovitch was fired from her post in Ukraine and mercilessly and continually attacked for testifying in the impeachment proceedings and since, nevertheless, still offering advice to aspiring diplomats about how to move forward with optimism.

Joining us now is Tim Snyder, bestselling author of "On Tyranny" and another bestseller "The Road to Unfreedom." He`s a professor of history at Yale University.

Professor Snyder, thank you so much for coming in.

TIM SNYDER, AUTHOR, "ON TYRANNY":  So glad.

MADDOW:  I played last night -- I talked about your book last night, sort of rules for staying sane and protecting yourself and protecting your country and amid the rise of authoritarianism. I played a clip of Ambassador Yovanovitch walking to the podium at Georgetown University and getting this huge standing ovation because I`m struggling with the lesson I think the country is learning from the way all the people who stood up to the president have been punished and had their careers destroyed and in some cases their personal lives destroyed.

I was trying to think about how you support those people. How you countermand that example. I wanted to get your perspective on that.

SNYDER:  Yes, there are I think three things. The first is we have to recognize as free people always do that the heroes aren`t always the ones who have all the power, right? We have a long tradition of recognizing the heroes as the people who resist power. We should probably return to that.

Second one that`s in the book is professional ethics. Marie Yovanovitch should be supported by other diplomats and people who respect diplomats. The lawyers who resigned should be defended by other prosecutors, people who respect prosecutors.

The third thing is that a lot of us have to be willing to dissent. When a lot of us dissent, it`s no longer dissent anymore, it`s opposition. And people aren`t so lonely. You can pick on 100 people, but it`s a lot harder to pick on a million people.

MADDOW:  When I saw -- when I was going back through the book and looking at the be patriot rule and stand out, I found myself feeling different about those than I used to.

SNYDER:  Yes.

MADDOW:  Reading this right after the inauguration, I was like, all right, of course, that`s the easy stuff in here. Now it feels like we`re -- I want to know who the people who resigned in protest at the office of management and budget were.

SNYDER:  Yes.

MADDOW:  Who I think did resign in protest and haven`t spoken about it. We believe there are people in other agents of government, indeed, within the Justice Department, who have resigned in principle but have not spoken out about it. I`ve been eager to talk to those people. I also hate myself for wanting to bring them to the public eye. To the extent that I`m sure that their lives will be hurt by it.

So the idea of standing up is something the president has turned into a real sentence.

SNYDER:  Yes. And that`s, I mean, that`s the way it is. If you think you can take freedom for granted, that means you`ve never taken a risk, but if you`ve never taken a risk, if you`ve never felt a little bit of pain, then you don`t really know what it`s like to be a free person. Freedom isn`t a ride that you take. Freedom is something you have to take hold of.

So it`s horrible that these people face consequences. They shouldn`t, but it`s also normal that they are. And that the rest of us should feel solidarity with them and try to make it understood that those consequences are worth something. That we hear them. That we, too, will do something about it.

MADDOW:  What kind of expressions of solidarity to you think would be mean meaningful? Are there examples from European history, for example, people who have been scapegoated and attacked like this, have been sort of rallied around?

SNYDER:  Yes, there are numerous examples in European history, especially in communist history, where the regime would target a single person, and that person`s name would then become a symbol of resistance. It happened numerous times in the communist world.

You take the people who have been marginalized and turn them around and make them your heroes, your emblems. That`s something we can do.

MADDOW:  In terms of the broader position that -- the broader sort of lens on where we are right now, I feel like over the past 72 hours with these resignations at the Justice Department and subsequent revelations of what`s happened at DOJ, and what the attorney general has done to intervene in cases to help the president`s friends, to target the president`s perceived enemies, I feel like my attitude has changed because I`ve been very focused on being able to diagnose -- diagnose the process --

SNYDER:  Right, right.

MADDOW:  -- of that looming on the horizon. I`ve been very focused in terms of reporting, on ferreting out things that indicate something like that might be afoot, and trying to document them, get them well-sourced and get them on television and all that stuff.

Now I feel like, OK, well, yeah, all the warnings were correct. These things are happening. The rule of law is not threatened. The rule of law is compromised. It is breached.

And now, I don`t know what to do because I was focused so much on warning about it happening, I wasn`t focused on what to do once it happened.

SNYDER:  Yes. It`s -- OK, that`s a tough one.

MADDOW:  Yes.

SNYDER:  But one thing is I think we have to glamorize the rule of law, itself. I mean, the whole -- our whole constitutional system, the institutions and the practices and the everyday life, is all based on trust. America works because there`s a lot of trust in this country. Without trust, there`s no law. Without law, there`s no trust.

So we need to emphasize that. We need to explain to people law is not just an abstract thing. Without the rule of law, everyday life becomes unpredictable. And that`s the misery of authoritarian life and misery of failed economies.

Once the rule of law fails, the kind of capitalism people are used to is also going to fail. Going to have crony capitalism where the favorites are the people around the executive branch are going to do well, everyone else is going to have a hard time. These are things that we can explain.

Another thing that`s really important, it`s not just that our rule of law is breaking. It`s that there are other forms of law. It`s not that Mr. Barr or Mr. Trump are hostile to the normal impartial system. It`s that they represent something else. You used the words twice already tonight, friends and enemies. That`s a legal tradition.

It`s represented by someone called Carl Schmitt who was the smartest of the Nazis. There`s a legal tradition which says, yes, impartiality is a joke, it really is all about starting with friends and enemies.

It`s not just that our system is breaking. It`s that something else is seeping in.

MADDOW:  One other aspect of this in terms of what people`s options -- everyday people`s options are right now that I want to ask you about when I come back. Our guest is Timothy Snyder, professor of history at Yale University. He`s author of "On Tyranny" and "The Road to Unfreedom."

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  -- Tim Snyder, he`s the bestselling author of "On Tyranny" and "The Road to Unfreedom."  He`s also stuck in my head. He`s a professor of history at Yale University.

Professor, thank you again.

The last time you were here, I wanted to talk to you about accountability and how that fits into the sort of small "D" democratic foundations that we are. It was right been the impeachment process was just starting.

Now, of course, we`re in the middle of the presidential campaign and I wonder if the Democratic Party going through the motions and going through the very difficult process of picking somebody to run against President Trump while we are in this anti-democratic slide, while we`re in this sort of, I think, authoritarian moment.

Are those two totally different processes, two totally digit conversations or should the twain meet?

SNYDER:  Yes, I think -- I think they have to meet. I mean, I think the people running for office should talk about how they love running for office. I think the people have a chance of having the dignity of elected office should emphasize that this is a dignity and they`re grateful they can go through this because, honestly, it`s not normal in a democratic country. It`s tough to be a democratic country.

And while we still are a democratic country, people should make explicit how great they are to have these kinds of chances. So, in that way, the twain meet. But I think it`s also important that the twain meet in the way the Democrats talk about the future. We have to not be able to say jus that these things are wrong, we have to be able to say this country could be much, much better than it is right now.

In its tone, its surface, in its depth, in every way, this country could be much, much better. We`re not just against something. We`re for something. I think they have to be able to talk like that.

MADDOW:  In terms of trying to stop the slide that it feels like we`re on right now, there was something that you would advise everyday people to do. What sort of options do you think people should think about? I was struck in one of the things you encourage people to do in "On Tyranny" is to make eye contact, to read more, to learn from peers in other countries, to interact with people with different viewpoints.

Like you make some sort of small lifestyle prescriptions basically to avoid people into slinking only hearing one point of view, only hearing from the state and being demoralized. What kind of advice do you think that or what kind of options do you think people should consider?

SNYDER:  Yes, I mean, authoritarianism the last century mostly worked by mobilizing, getting people out on the street. It works mostly this century by demobilizing, by teaching you that it doesn`t really either what you do, doesn`t really matter what you think, it`s just people in power are going to do what they want. That`s Mr. Putin. That`s also Mr. Trump.

And the way to fight that is feel inside your self the depression that mounts and say, no, I`m not going to be like that. I am going to make contact with other people. I`m going to talk at least once in a while with people with whom I disagree. I`m going to read widely because reading makes me unpredictable. And I`m going to join up with other people because that makes the unpredictable as well.

This authoritarianism is based on predictability. We can slice you up into different demographics, we can suppress you, we can demoralize you. The way to fight it is be an unpredictable individual, to get up every morning and do something that`s a little different, political or not political.

But not to accept this -- not to accept this reality. This reality is tepid. It`s boring. It`s awful.

It`s not the kind of thing free people should want. You shouldn`t get up in the morning and say this is OK. It`s not.

MADDOW:  Timothy Snyder, author of "On Tyranny: 20 Lessons from the 20th Century" -- sir, thank you. Really appreciate it.

SNYDER:  Pleasure`s mine.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  I mentioned at the top of the show the complaint as of today from Attorney General William Barr who`s now saying the president`s tweets about the Justice Department are, quote, making it impossible for me to do my job.

A response to the attorney general has just come in from the previous top official at the Justice Department, former Justice Department Inspector General Michael Bromwich saying tonight, quote: There`s only one honorable response if the tweets make it, quote, impossible for Barr to do his job. He should resign.

Joining us now is someone I`m very happy to have here on set. Paul Fishman is the former U.S. attorney for the great state of New Jersey during the Obama administration.

Mr. Fishman, it`s been too long. Thank you for coming on.

PAUL FISHMAN, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY:  Thanks for having me back.

MADDOW:  So this crisis that we`re in right now, first of all, I see it as a crisis. I want to know if you do.

But I specifically wanted to talk to you because this is about a U.S. attorney`s office being compromised by improper political influence from the White House as carried out through the attorney general.

As a U.S. attorney, as somebody who`s been in that top role in these big, important jobs, is this unheard of? Is this something that is as -- seems as scary to you as somebody who`s been there as it does to a layman like me?

FISHMAN: Well, there are so many things about this that make me angry, Rachel. The first is, let`s go back to what Bill Barr just said, what you talked about with Michael Bromwich. What Bill Barr said today was the president`s tweets are keeping me from doing my job.

So, there are two possibilities. Either his job is to be the independent attorney general we all hoped he would be, and it`s stopping him from being that, or he`s trying to be the president`s Roy Cohn, and the tweets are stopping him from being that because it shines light when we don`t want one. What struck me about Barr`s statement was that he didn`t say, it makes it hard for the department to do its job.

MADDOW:  Yes.

FISHMAN:  It`s hard for the men and women of the department to look like they have the integrity that we all need and makes it hard for Bill Barr. That`s not good enough for me.

The second thing that struck me about his statement is that once again, given the opportunity to defend the people who work for him, the career men and women who were my colleagues for so many years, he whiffed, right?

MADDOW:  Yes.

FISHMAN:  So, these four people who resigned, maybe he didn`t like their judgment. Maybe he disagreed with what they wanted to do. They were great public servants who were doing their jobs, and he could have said that. He could have said that about Bob Mueller. He just doesn`t back up his troops in the way they need to be back up.

MADDOW: Including the U.S. attorney in D.C. who appears to have been pushed out amid all of this improper political pressure when she appears to not get along with it at least to the degree they wanted her to.

FISHMAN:  Well, what I have never seen -- I worked at main justice, in the deputy attorney general`s office for three years too in the Clinton administration, what I`ve never seen -- there are lots of U.S. attorneys who get nominated for other jobs, often for judgeships or in a situation like Jessie Liu, the undersecretary of the treasury. That`s fine.

They always stay in their jobs, until they`re confirmed for the new job. Apparently, on January 30th or 31st, February 1st, Bill Barr said to her, you got to go over to Treasury now.

MADDOW:  And installed his own guy.

FISHMAN:  And his own guy signed the first sentencing memorandum, anyway. It`s not like Tim Shea didn`t see it or have his name on it.

But Jessie Liu then goes to Treasury, then Trump pulls her nomination. And so, she`s gone. You know what`s stunning about that, do you know how many women of color there are who are U.S. attorneys in the United States today? She may be the only one.

MADDOW: Well, she was until this all happened. Stay right there.

Paul Fishman is our guest, former U.S. attorney in the great state of New Jersey. We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Joining us is Paul Fishman, the U.S. attorney in New Jersey during the Obama administration.

Paul, I wanted to ask you about the forthcoming sentencing hearing. I`m agitated and worried about the judge in the Roger Stone case coming under the kind of personal pressure and being targeted personally by the president the way she is now. When she comes to make her sentencing decision here, obviously, a lot weird is happening heading into the hearing.

FISHMAN:  Right.

MADDOW:  Would you expect her to use that hearing to try to figure out what happened, to try to figure out whether there was improper political influence in the prosecutors who did this 180 here?

FISHMAN:  So, I`m not sure I expect her to do that. The decision in front of her, right, is what the sentence should be for Roger Stone.

MADDOW:  Yes.

FISHMAN:  Now, what`s interesting is -- I`ve never seen this before. None of us never have. There are two sentencing memorandum from the government. Now, the government directed the first be withdrawn. But she has it.

MADDOW:  Right.

FISHMAN:  It`s in the like she`s -- I`m sure she`s read it. I`m sure she looked at it. If you look at that memorandum, it`s 25 pages. It`s extraordinarily cogent, coherent, articulate argument for why Roger Stone deserves a substantial period of incarceration within the guideline range, seven to nine years. And you talked about what those guidelines mean at the top of your show.

The second memorandum is four pages and is a piece of work that I would have been embarrassed if anyone who worked for me had turned in to a federal judge in the district of New Jersey.

MADDOW: And this is reportedly the product of Attorney General William Barr.

FISHMAN:  Well, it`s a product of somebody. But he signed off on it. And what`s striking is not only is it not a great piece of legal work, it actually takes aim at the memorandum that`s now withdrawn. So, it tries to distinguish the cases the government cited in its first memorandum, which is totally bizarre. That`s the first thing.

The second is, and you sort of talked about this a little bit at the top of the show. You know, this administration, when it took office, criticized the Obama administration, of which I was a proud part, for the sentencing approach it took and for being willing to look at the sentencing guidelines for particular defendants in particular cases, even the kind you were talking about before where a defendant didn`t cooperate, went to trial, got convicted.

And this administration went back to the policy of the Reagan and Bush era and from -- and George W. Bush, that you go with the range that applies if you can. And there are 100,000 defendants more or less prosecuted in the United States every year. Bill Barr decided to change the policy of the Department of Justice this week for Roger Stone.

MADDOW:  Yes.

FISHMAN:  That is an extraordinary thing for me, because now, defense lawyers like me and other people around the country are going to say, look what Bill Barr said you should do in cases where the sentencing guidelines apply. You shouldn`t necessarily apply them, your honor. And it would come from a line assistant in New Jersey, or a line assistant in Idaho, it`s from the attorney general of the United States, that`s stunning.

MADDOW:  He`s undercut prosecutors nationwide by doing this, because now, every defense attorney all across the country can argue for the Roger Stone stamp.

FISHMAN:  Exactly.

MADDOW:  In terms of who is to be blamed here and where the worst behavior is in terms of I think patriotic people doing their duty, it does not freak me out as a citizen that bad people try to do bad things. Crime happens. People make bad decisions. Corrupt people get into office.

The thing that worries me most about what just happened here is I feel like the president putting improper political pressure on prosecutors is something I can imagine this president doing in his sleep. There`s nothing I can imagine that he wouldn`t do if he thought it was to his advantage.

What I expect, though, is for leaders of the Justice Department to shield prosecutors from that pressure. I don`t know that we have any examples of that at all.

FISHMAN:  Well, not just that, but, you know, my understanding is that in every administration, at least in my lifetime that I have been -- for which I have been an adult, there`s been an understanding between the White House and the upper levels of the Justice Department about how and when the White House can communicate with the department, right, because there are civil cases, for example, where the president and White House might have a few about what the position should be of the administration in civil litigation. And there has to be a mechanism.

And typically, that mechanism is White House counsel to the deputy attorney general or the attorney general of the United States. My understanding is there`s no such memo in this administration, no such understanding. Truth is, why should there be?

Because this president since his campaign when he was saying his opponent should be locked up and still asks today, why it is that Hillary Clinton has not been investigated and prosecuted? This president does not -- does (ph) understand why that norm is important. Your previous guest, Professor Snyder, just said exactly that basically, if that`s what tyranny is all about.

MADDOW:  He doesn`t -- he doesn`t -- it`s not that he doesn`t understand that. He wants to defy it.

FISHMAN:  That`s` right.

MADDOW:  Paul Fishman, former U.S. attorney for the great state of New Jersey, sir, it`s great to see you.

FISHMAN:  Nice to see you. Thanks a lot.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Do not go anywhere, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren is just ahead on "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL", which starts right now.

Good evening, Lawrence.

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