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Trump taps Loyalist TRANSCRIPT: 2/21/20, The Rachel Maddow Show

Guests: Barry Berke, Jim Himes

SAHIL KAPUR, NBC NEWS POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT:  -- tens, hundreds of millions of dollars, maybe billions of dollars by Super Tuesday.

JOY REID, MSNBC HOST:  Yes.

KAPUR:  And try to overcompensate for that poor performance and the kind of beating that he took on that debate stage --

REID:  Yes.

KAPUR:  -- I don`t -- I mean, he is building an extraordinary organization. He`s, you know, picking up stoppers all over the place. They`re being compensated pretty generously according to reports.

REID:  Yes.

KAPUR:  So, he`s formidable in that.

REID:  He`s formidable of that, and the question I think also is whether Warren can come back. I mean, she`s raised almost $5 million off that debate performance. It`s where do you spend it. Where do you even spend?

KAPUR:  Nevada is so key for her.

REID:  And Nevada is absolutely key. Sahil Kapur, thank you very much. Dave Weigel, thank you both for being here. That is ALL IN for this evening.

You`ll catch me again on MSNBC tomorrow morning at 10:00 a.m. Eastern on my show, "A.M. JOY."

But don`t go anywhere. THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right now.

Good evening, Rachel.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST:  Good evening, Joy. I`m so happy to see you there in that weirdest milieu of all, of all the places in the world I imagine Joy Reid, that`s not it. But you`re killing it, my friend. It`s going to be a great weekend. Thanks, Joy.

REID:  Thank you so much. Appreciate it. Have a great show. Thank you, Rachel.

MADDOW:  Thanks to you for at joining us at home this hour as well.

It is Friday, which is awesome. All Fridays are awesome. That said, it is a Friday during the Democratic primary and the Nevada caucuses are tomorrow on Saturday. So if you are at all a political animal, the way most all of us are having to become these days, even though it`s Friday, this upcoming weekend doesn`t really feel like a typical weekend, right?

I mean, it is Friday but tonight, Friday night as we speak, as you`ve been seeing all night long in our coverage here on MSNBC, this is, you know, the down to the wire last chance for all the Democratic candidates to finish strong in their get out the vote efforts and in their campaigning before tomorrow`s caucuses.

All eyes on Nevada tomorrow both for the ultimate results to see if the polling front-runner Bernie Sanders can make it three in a row or maybe 2 1/2 in a row after he shared first place with Pete Buttigieg in Iowa. But beyond just the top line result, in addition, the whole country is going to be watching to see what the turn out is in Nevada, because that is key measure of Democratic enthusiasm. Turnout was sort of meh in Iowa. It was pretty good in New Hampshire. Now heading into Nevada the early vote turn out in Nevada, those numbers were really, really good. So we`ll see if that ends up getting matched by big turn out tomorrow as well on caucus day.

The caucuses themselves begin at 10:00 a.m. local time in Nevada. And in addition to all of those things because the Iowa caucuses were such a logistical pig pile this year, such a mess, this is the first caucuses since then. And we`ll be watching to see how well the Nevada Democratic Party does in terms of how well they can pull off the logistics of hosting all their caucuses tomorrow.

The party in Nevada appears to be absolutely dedicated to making sure what happened in Iowa doesn`t happen tomorrow in Nevada. But they also said a couple of days ago that they cannot guarantee tomorrow`s results will actually be released tomorrow. So, we shall see.

And, you know, as the news proceeds, as the Nevada caucuses get ready to start tomorrow morning, there was a curve ball thrown into the late campaign by this front page story in "The Washington Post" tonight. You see the headline there?

"Sanders briefed by U.S. officials that Russia is trying to help his campaign." this, of course, comes on the heels of the news from "The New York Times" yesterday that multiple U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia is running yet another intelligence operation to try to target the 2020 election the same way they did in 2016 to try to benefit President Trump.

The pro-Trump effort from Russia in 2016 at times appeared to be driven as much by Russia`s hostility toward Hillary Clinton as it did by Russia`s positive preference for Trump.

So when the indictment of various Russian entities for carrying out that operation, and when the Senate intelligence report into the Russian attack both came out and documented really granular detail how that Russian operation worked in 2016, both of those -- both of those documents, both the indictment of the Russians and the Senate Intelligence Committee report on what the Russians did, both of those also documented how the Russians did in 2016 boost Bernie Sanders alongside President Trump.

And it sort of made sense, right, tactically? If the Russians are trying to make sure Hillary Clinton was not elected president or if she was elected that she would be in as weak a position as possible as president, I mean, tactically, it makes sense they would want to support her primary opponent, Senator Sanders. They`d also want to stoke resentment among Sanders supporters after Clinton got the nomination so as to deny her the strategic advantage of party unity, to deny her as many Sanders votes as possible in the general election.

It makes sense that the Russians did that in 2016 to the extent they were motivated by just trying to undercut Clinton. And, of course, they tried to promote her general election opponent directly, Trump as well.

In 2020, there`s no Hillary Clinton running. And without getting too deep into what it is that Russia might love about Donald Trump as president, I mean there isn`t a Hillary Clinton factor that helps us understand what the Russian motivation might be this time in them continuing their efforts to boost Senator Sanders campaign.

But this is -- I mean, it is different than Russia boosting Trump, right? I mean, when Russia boosted Trump, Trump became aware of it at least at the time that we all did, and he was positive about it. He kept promoting his positive things to say about Vladimir Putin and about Russia in general. Russia if you`re listening here`s a thing I`d like you to do for me, denying Russia had any culpability in what was going on, trying to cover up for the fact what they were doing. Donald Trump overtly and positively engaged in what Russia was doing on his behalf in 2016.

Russia also benefited -- Russia also intervened to benefit senator Sanders in 2016, but he did none of the things Donald Trump did to try to capitalize on it and encourage it and work in a way that was copasetic with their efforts. This time we do not have the benefit of a special counsel`s investigation and that speaking indictment they did for the Russian entities that they charged in 2016. We don`t have the benefit of a multiyear bipartisan Senate intelligence review of Russian actions in order to figure out why exactly they`re trying to boost Senator Sanders alongside President Trump again in 2020. But we do have the hindsight how this turned out in 2016.

And to Senator Sanders` credit today, he responded to this headline in "The Post", the story in "The Post" by releasing a blunt statement that frankly felt like cold water on a hot day. Senator Sanders saying in response to this news today, quote: My message to Putin is clear, stay out of American elections, and as president, I will make sure that you do.

The reason that feels new, the reason you don`t remember the Trump campaign ever saying like that in 2016 or this year in 2020 as Russia has been intervening again to try to boost Trump`s chances is because no such statement was ever issued by Donald Trump or the Trump campaign to tell Russia to back off and get out of our elections. Indeed, when President Trump learned that multiple U.S. intelligence agencies have once again concluded Russia`s trying to mess in our elections to get him elected again his reaction this week was not to get mad at Russia for them doing that or to even try to brush them back in any way.

Quite the opposite. The president`s reaction this week was to fire the director of national intelligence because U.S. intelligence agencies came to that conclusion and because they told Congress that that`s what Russia is doing. The problem, according to President Trump, is not what Russia`s doing, it`s that the intelligence community is monitoring it and letting us know and letting our elected officials know that this is what Russia`s doing.

The intelligence community is the problem. That`s where the -- that`s where somebody needs to be fired. What Russia`s doing, no reason to complain.

So, we`re going to talk a little bit later on this hour with a senior member of the intelligence committee about what this means for the U.S. stance towards Russia as Russia mounts this operation. I mean, if the president is firing the intelligence chief simply for the crime of American intelligence agencies figuring out what Russia is doing to benefit Trump again, what does that mean for the elements of the U.S. government including the military and our intelligence agencies who are tasked with protecting us from foreign attacks like this?

I mean, is President Trump effectively issuing a stand down order to the U.S. government that this 2020 foreign attack on our democracy has to be allowed? That U.S. intelligence agencies, the U.S. military, the people charged with repelling an attack like this, they can`t talk about it.

He fired the director of national intelligence for warning other elements of the government about it this past week. Does that also mean we are not allowed to do anything to stop it? I mean, let`s say the national security agency or cyber command or the CIA or the defense intelligence agency has a way to block what Russia is doing to try to re-elect Trump? What if elements of the military or the intelligence community have offensive capacity and defensive capacity to block Russia from making this intervention in our election? Is Trump ordering them not to do it?

If they do take action to block what Russia is doing are the national security officials who run those agencies going to get fired for protecting the country? I mean, I wish that were a hyperbolic question, but he did just fire the director of national intelligence for concluding that Russia was trying to help him and telling other parts of the government. I mean, I wish this was a crazy hypothetical designed to prove a point, but I mean it literally.

Is the president effectively issuing a stand down order to the U.S. military and U.S. intelligence agencies to not protect us from this attack from a foreign antagonist? I mean, just the events of this past week or so are so extreme in terms of where we might ever have imagined our democracy would slide to in our lifetimes.

I mean, here`s one little example. Peter Baker, veteran of "The New York Times" White House correspondent you see him a lot on "THE 11TH HOUR" with Brian Williams. Peter Baker, you recognize him, long time "The New York Times" hand. He has circulated a reminder from something he wrote about in a book a bunch of years ago called "Days of Fire." It`s a big 800 page overview of the Bush-Cheney administration, and what things were really like inside the Bush-Cheney White House over their eight years in power.

And one of the things Peter Baker wrote about in that book he has recently reminded us all he wrote about was something that happened right after Barack Obama was elected to be the next president of the United States. It was just before Christmastime, and the presidential transition. George W. Bush`s folks were leaving office, the Obama folks were about to come in, and on the 23rd of December that year, in 2008, President Bush released a list of people he wanted to pardon or commute their sentences, like a Christmas pardon list.

But a remarkable thing happened. After George W. Bush released that list of pardons, you know, press release went out, people who are getting the pardons and commutations were all notified, formal paperwork for the commutations got processed, that was going to all the right lawyers` offices that you need to do these things, right? That goes out on December 23rd. On December 24th, the very next day after all these pardons had been announced and all been set in motion, President George W. Bush took one of his pardons back, which is not something that seemed to have ever happened before then and I don`t think it`s ever happened since.

This was the headline in "The New York Times" that day. Quote, pardon lasts one day for man in fraud case. Quote, President Bush changed his mind on Christmas eve, pulling back a pardon he had extended a day earlier to a Brooklyn developer at a center of real estate fraud case, adding a bizarre twist to the episode. The developer, Isaac Toussie, was listed yesterday as one of the beneficiaries of the president`s constitutional power to wipe away criminal records. But he`s not being pardoned after all.

Quote: Based on information that has subsequently come to light, the White House said late today, the terse White House statement did not elaborate, but officials familiar with the case said that presidential aides and perhaps President Bush himself became concerned about appearances when they learned that Mr. Toussie`s father had donated $28,000 to the Republican Party last April.

Then the following day, so it`s 23rd they announce the pardon. The 24th they`re like oh, no, we didn`t mean to announce that one. We`re taking it back.

The next day is Christmas Day and "The Times" had yet another follow up story what it happened, this time with a more detailed message from the White House spokesperson at the time, saying, quote, given that no one advising the president knew of the donation by Toussie`s father, and because of the possibility of an appearance of impropriety, the counsel to the president withdrew his recommendation for this pardon.

Now, it turns out in the big picture, there were other things wrong with this guy getting a pardon. He had another criminal case pending against him. We were also in the middle of the catastrophic meltdown of the 2008 financial crash, this guy`s crimes were directly related to people getting cheated out of their housing and tricked into predatory mortgages, all the stuff that was that the center of the crisis.

Clearly, there was something wrong with the pardon process, the vetting process, that only after the pardon was issued that the president and his staff found out this guy`s dad had been giving tens of thousands of dollars to the Democratic Party just months before. Whether or not they would have factored that into their decision, that`s an unwelcome surprise after you`ve already given the pardon out.

But just -- I mean look at this from a long lens, right? Think about how far we have come. This little mini scandal on Christmas 2008, it`s not long ago, this is 11-1/2 years ago and the George W. Bush administration was not that ethical. The Bush-Cheney White House, their "Days of Fire", which is a title of the Peter Baker book, a lot of that fire was self-inflicted because they did have a lot of ethical scandals in that administration. But even for them, even while George W. Bush was already on his way out of office, they were so stunned and horrified by the appearance that this Brooklyn real estate developer might have gotten a pardon because of a political donation from his dad that they literally clawed it back.

The White House chief of staff sent the deputy White House counsel on Christmas to go sit on the doorstep of the pardon attorney to grab this guy`s pardon paperwork out of the outbox on the pardon attorney`s desk so it wouldn`t technically go out so they could claw it back.

This is from Peter Baker`s book. Quote: Figure out some way to undo this. Quote, find out when a pardon is effective. Has the president signed the orders? Yes. Have they been notified? Yes. Have we announced it? Yes.

Josh Bolton told the deputy counsel to research the matter. The lawyer came back and said the pardon would not be effective until it was delivered to the recipient. Well, where is it, he asked? Quote, it`s in the pardon attorney`s office. He`s gone home for the weekend.

OK, you call him up, you stand outside his office until he shows up and you don`t let anybody in and out until you retrieve that pardon grant. Deputy White House counsel then goes to the Justice Department and does as he`s told. He physically retrieves the pardon. He door-stops the guy and won`t let anybody in the office until he gets that piece of paper and get out of there with him.

The Justice Department lawyer who handed him the documents that day told him according to Peter Baker`s book, quote, this is good decision because I don`t know if anybody could survive this.

Yes. I don`t know if any president could survive the disastrous ethical scandal of being perceived to have given a pardon to somebody who they didn`t even know the guy`s dad had given $28,000 earlier to the Republican Party. That used to be how we felt about presidential corruption not that long ago, again in an administration that was not awesome and had lots of its own problems. How far we`ve come.

This week, President Trump issued his own list of pardons and commutations including one to a man whose family started making huge political donations to president Trump`s re-election campaign and to the RNC in recent months, once they started seeking a pardon for one of their family members. They`d never given before, but the family dumped hundreds of thousands of dollars on the president`s re-election campaign and the RNC, and wouldn`t you know it, bingo, guy gets his pardon.

President Trump also attended the richest fund-raiser of his entire re- election effort this past weekend. He raised $10 million in one night, the most expensive fund raiser of his re-election campaign. A typical high dollar fund-raiser is like $50,000 a couple. This was over $500,000 a couple.

The fund-raiser was held at the home of a billionaire named Nelson Peltz. How did Nelson Peltz become a billionaire? Well, he made a lot of his money thanks to a convicted felon named Michael Milken, a financier who`s indicted for racketeering and securities fraud in 1989, banned from trading for life, and ultimately sent to 10 years in prison.

So the fund-raiser was held by this billionaire, the fund-raiser was hosted by this billionaire who made all his money with Michael Milken. That was Saturday night. On Tuesday, President Trump announced that he was pardoning Michael Milken and he explicitly said in the pardon announcement that the reason he was doing so is because this guy who just hosted the most expensive fundraiser for his reelection campaign had to ask him to please pardon Michael Milken because again Michael Milken is how he made all his money and just setup Donald Trump with millions of dollars for his re- election campaign, literally three nights before the pardon.

And I know a lot of stuff has happened this week and there were other people on the list of pardons and commutations who deserve their own after school special in terms of the wild corruption of their crime and the wild corruption of their being pardoned by this president and the way he did it. But just -- just think about that moment in 2008 that Peter Baker documented in his book.

Just think about how far we have slid down the slippery slope of it mountain in just a handful of years, right? From the desperate Christmas Eve all hands on deck freak out take it back panic moment in the George W. Bush administration where they door stopped the pardon attorney and took the thing off the guy`s desk because they were so worried they might look like they were doing a pardon in exchange for a donation to now the full- blown advertisement that, yeah, we`re giving you the pardon because of the money you gave us, because you`re a donor or because your friends are donors. And they asked after they gave us the money.

I mean, it`s not like something they`re trying to hide. This is what their advertising they`re doing. One of the prosecutors in the Michael Milken case actually wrote an op-ed about the Milken pardon this week in which he described the listing of the campaign donors as the sponsors of specific pardons as, quote, as guileless an admission I have ever seen of rich man`s justice.

And so I feel like where we got this week between the New Hampshire primary and the Nevada caucuses tomorrow as the intelligence community lets us know Russia is trying to elect him again and the president fired the head of the intelligence community for saying so, as the president told the Justice Department overtly they needed to let his friend off the hook despite his seven felony conviction and the attorney general tried to make it so, I mean there`s all of this stuff just poured down on us this week. I feel like at the very least, I think it calls -- actually, I think it calls -- it calls for a lot from us as citizens.

But it calls for one little thing. It calls for us as a country, it calls for us as citizens to grow up and get real in one specific way, which is that we need to stop talking about threats to the rule of law or the appearance of impropriety, or concerns about the compromise of our democratic foundations or suspicions that our small D democratic constitutional protections might be undermined or our foundations might potentially be eroding. We need to stop pretending like this is Christmas 2008 and there are concerns about anybody knew about the real estate fraud guys dad making a donation.

This is not that time anymore, this is not that country anymore, this is not the same government. This is not even the same bad government, right? This is not the fear of the appearance of potential impropriety. What we have now is the advertisement, the broadcast, the insistence of impropriety without consequence.

Do you want a presidential pardon? You need connections to me for that. You need to make donations to me or otherwise be recognized as a Trump supporter or somebody who`s connected to people who matter to me. That`s how you get a pardon. There`s no other process other than that.

This is not a behind the scenes dynamic they`re ashamed of and trying to cover-up, this is out loud on purpose to attract more donations and ostentatious displays of loyalty. It`s designed to make everybody think twice about displaying any visible opposition to this president as well. I mean, people who were against him get the law. People who are his friends or can help him out, merry Christmas.

And that is the thread that is tying this all together, right? This out loud, unabashed, braying broadcast of it all. And it`s being enforced at all levels of the government, on all levers of power within the government, and the Justice Department. If you are a Trump ally or you were involved in his campaign or you have helped cover up bad behavior by the president, that may have helped get him into office, the president will loudly insist your prosecution is a witch hunt and that he will protect you.

If you`re a member a jury, a private citizen who gets called to jury duty and your jury votes to convict somebody who the president has decided to protect, well, you as a private citizen, you as somebody who will sit on a jury, you`ll end up villain of the week on FOX News and denounced by the president repeatedly at rallies and online. Think about that when you go into your jury deliberations.

If you`re a judge overseeing a case that touches on the president`s interests or implications of the president`s criminal or otherwise bad behavior, well, judge, you`re about to get famous too. You`re about to get attacked by the president. You`ll be attacked on Fox News. You will be threatened to do what the president wants. Think about that when you`re deciding on your rulings, judge.

If you`re law enforcement, if you`re in the FBI or in the Justice Department and you end up somehow connected to an investigation of this president or his campaign, or you`ve otherwise been witness to something he has done wrong, well, the weight of the Justice Department will be brought to bear on you.

The president will insist on criminal charges against you. Andrew McCabe, former FBI director. You, James Comey, former FBI director, Lisa Page, Peter Strzok, Bruce Orr, and any other official that had anything to do into an investigation of the president`s bad behavior, never mind you`re in law enforcement, you`re on the Justice Department, you`ll find your careers destroyed.

Maybe you`ll end up being defendants, too because he can make Bill Barr do that. Watch, he`ll say it publicly and Bill Barr will do it. I mean, Bill Barr doesn`t like the president talking about that out loud but the president likes talking about that out loud, because the threat, the promise is the point and it applies everywhere. If you`re in the military, same deal.

Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, not the whistle-blower, not somebody who went to the press. He`s active duty military, decorated wounded combat veteran, he reported up the chain of command exactly as he was told to do when he saw something that needed to be reported up the chain of command. He testified truthfully in a response to a lawful subpoena once and only once has he ever otherwise spoken. He was frog marched out of the White House along with his brother, too, for good measure, who had nothing to do with it.

The under-secretary of defense for policy, John Rood, fired this week. This is very senior Pentagon official. His crime was he was the official who certified that Ukraine had met all it`s anti-corruption bench marks and they should get their military aid. Well, that doesn`t match the White House line. That doesn`t match the defense of the president. So under- secretary of defense John Rood, you`re fired, too.

Even the National Security Council, this week, the deputy national security advisor was fired. There`s so much else going on it barely made a ripple but this is big deal job. You know, Ben Rhodes from the Obama administration? That`s the job he had, deputy national security adviser.

Well, the Trump deputy national security adviser was fired this week because she was falsely accused of being the person who wrote that anonymous op-ed that criticized President Trump more than a year ago. And by all accounts, it really seems to have not been her. She`s not anonymous.

And White House officials who won`t put their name to the quote are telling reporters that the White House has not actually -- doesn`t actually subscribe to the rumors that it`s her. But nevertheless, the suspicion that it might be her, that was enough this week to get her fired as deputy national security advisor. She now works in the Energy Department as an advisor instead. How nice.

But think about that message. They don`t believe it was her, but the suspicion is enough. It`s not enough that you can`t ever criticize the president or, you know, notice that he`s done something wrong in the course of your duties. You can`t even fall under suspicion of seeming like the kind of person who might criticize the president. That`s enough to get you fired even if you didn`t actually criticize him.

Also, do you have a sister or brother? If so, they`ll be fired too presumably. Look at them. They kind of look like you.

And now, of course, it`s the intelligence community as well. The president is not mad apparently at the intelligence community`s assessment that Russia is intervening in this next election again to try to re-elect him. At least he`s not mad at Russia about it. He`s mad at the intelligence community about it.

He`s mad at the intelligence community for warning other elements of the government about the fact that it is happening. The director of national intelligence really was just fired this week because somebody in his office had the temerity to tell Congress what Russia is doing this time to get him elected again.

The principal deputy to the director to the national intelligence, a 30- year CIA veteran, also ousted. I don`t know if you`ve ever met anybody or if you know anybody who works in U.S. intelligence in any capacity, but think about what their jobs are like today. The president has just broadcast out loud, not hinting, no implication here, no worries, no qualms, there`s no hiding it. The president has now broadcast here if you work in the U.S. intelligence community and you in the course of your job protecting this country discover an attack on our country, an attack on our democracy by a foreign adversary, you will be fired if you say that is what you have found.

The director of national intelligence was just fired because U.S. intelligence agencies have found that and because someone in his office warned Congress. And, again, I think this turn of events just in the last week or so in our country calls on us as citizens to do any number of things. You tell me, right? These are very dark turns the country has taken very quickly.

But if nothing else literally the thing we can do at this point is stop talking about concerns, worries, a potential chilling effect, the appearance of impropriety, the appearance of conflict of interest, the appearance of improper political influence, concerns, distress, worries, right?

This is not a warning. The dark days are not coming. The dark days are here. And so, those of us who have imagined times like this for our country, you know, who might have thought that heroic thing for us to do as citizens if our country ever took these turns would be to sound the alarm, to articulate what`s wrong with the direction our country is taking and to warn people about where it`s heading, for those of us who thought that would be the kind of heroism called for, we were wrong because at least now, that`s no longer the form of heroism that we need. That time is past.

These guys are not sneaking around trying to get away with stuff, and the heroism is catching them and telling people what they`re doing. They are proclaiming openly that the rules are gone, they will do what they want, the government will be turned against you if you stand against this president.

That is not a warning. That is where we are. And so what do we do?

Hold that thought.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLPI)

BARRY BERKE, HOUSE JUDICIARY LAWYER:  Sir, is it your testimony before this committee that when you said you did not remember the president ever asking you to get involved with Jeff Sessions or the Department of Justice, you were saying you were being truthful?

I`m sorry, I don`t believe there`s any reason to consult with your counsel.

You see where this as you were asked about it, the special counsel has concluded that taken together, the president`s campaign, the purpose of the message was to have you tell the attorney general to move forward with investigating election meddling for future elections.

Do you have any basis to dispute that conclusion by the special counsel in his report, sir, about your conduct?

COREY LEWANDOWSKI, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN MANAGER:  Again, I`ve answered this question. Asked and answered.

BERKE:  I would ask you to answer it, sir.

REP. JERRY NADLER (D-NY):  Gentleman will answer the question whether he`s answered it before or not.

LEWANDOWSKI:  I have stated to the best of my knowledge most of the information in the Mueller report is accurate.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  That was September, a few weeks before the impeachment investigation was opened into President Trump`s behavior toward Ukraine. That was the special oversight counsel from the Judiciary Committee. A lawyer named Barry Berke cross-examining a very hostile witness in the form of former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski. Mr. Lewandowski had spent the whole first half of the hearing that day sneering at members of the committee talking about how fake the whole Russia hoax is.

But by the end of his time being cross-examined by Barry Berke he was admitting to his own lies about what he did in the Russia investigation, the fact he pled the Fifth and asked for immunity in order to testify against the president and he also as you saw had to spit out this chewy little bit of gristle.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LEWANDOWSKI:  To the best of my knowledge, most of the information in the Mueller report is accurate.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Barry Berke, the lawyer who conducted that cross-examination and extracted that from Mr. Lewandowski, he joined the Judiciary Committee staff about a year ago to help the committee conduct oversight of the Justice Department during the Mueller investigation. He ultimately served through the impeachment of President Trump.

This week, Mr. Burke announced he`s going back to his old job as a lawyer in private practice.

Joining us now for his interview is Barry Berke, former special counsel to the House Judiciary Committee for the impeachment of President Trump.

Mr. Berke, a pleasure to meet you.

BERKE:  Great to meet you, too. Thanks for having me.

MADDOW:  How was your year on the Judiciary Committee, and how do you feel about it in terms of how things have gone since?

BERKE:  You know, I feel great about it on many levels but you won`t be surprised here not on every level. I feel great through the great work of the committee members, Chairman Nadler, the Intelligence Committee, the House Managers what we were able to do was expose the president`s conduct, expose the pattern of conduct and predict exactly what`s happening.

Now, while ultimately the jury of the senators did not do what we thought the facts and the Constitution required and that is to remove the president, a couple of things happened. There`s another jury and that`s the jury of the American people. They were able to see the facts.

Also, the senators themselves they went from saying this is hoax, we agree the call is perfect as the president claimed and nothing bad happened here to having to admit the facts because the facts do matter when they rise to the surface. So they had to admit that he did in fact leverage his powers in office to hold back vital military aid to a key ally, key to our security in order to further his political interest by having them investigate a political rival. They had to admit that, and they had to say but he learned his lesson, he won`t do it again.

And I think it`s so important because we in our article of impeachment in the House Judiciary focused on two things in addition to the conduct. We focused on the pattern of wrongdoing and the risk of future harm, right? Because if you look at it the pattern in the campaign as you`ve mentioned, he invited -- he welcomed Russian interference in the election. Then when he`s elected president he used the power of the office to try to cover up and obstruct that investigation, including telling his White House counsel to lie about it and create false documents. Then when he thought he finally got off and was not going to be held accountable after Bob Mueller testified.

The next day he called the Ukrainian president to pressure him to investigate his rival, to interfere with the 2020 election. And then he proceeded to try to cover it up again.

When I gave the opening statement in the House impeachment hearings, I said in support of what the committee was saying that if the president was not held accountable for this blatant disregard of all constitutional norms, the only limit to what he might do next is our imagination. And then sure enough, right after the Senate voted not to convict, they said he`s learned his lesson, he won`t do it again, he proceeds to again attack the rule of law and take action that you`d expect from a mob boss as opposed to the president of the United States.

Punishing people, telling people that if they reveal his misconduct, his future misconduct they will be fired, they will be hauled off, telling people that if they report on Russia`s efforts to interfere and help him in the 2020 election, they will be taken out. They won`t get positions, and then trying to help the people who cover it up.

This is not sequel to a movie. This is one movie, right? Because if you remember, Roger Stone, he was convicted for lying about the Mueller investigation to Congress. Lying to say he did not have these contacts to WikiLeaks. These were the same lies that the president said.

The president said publicly, he never talk to Roger Stone about WikiLeaks. He said in written answers he didn`t recall doing that to the special counsel. The president couldn`t be prosecuted and go to jail, Roger Stone could. So, he`s telling people, if you help me, if you cover up now or in the future, I`ll try to help you, dangling a pardon and other things. He did the same to Paul Manafort.

MADDOW:  When we see the behavior go from something the president is trying to cover up, to something that he is braying about out loud, to make it even more threatening, that`s the sort of -- I feel like that`s the sort of hill that we have just started descending down since the end of the impeachment trial.

I want to talk to you about the sort of way our options changed in that setting.

We`re going to take a quick break. We`ll be right back with Barry Berke, who was special counsel of the Judiciary Committee until about five minutes ago.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  We`re back with Barry Berke, who`s the special counsel to the House Judiciary Committee during the impeachment of President Trump.

Mr. Berke, thanks again for doing this.

Since the impeachment trial end asked the Senate voted to acquit the president, I feel like anything that the president might have been doing before that he tried to cover-up, the difference now is that he doesn`t try to cover it up. He believes no matter what he does or whatever he gets caught for, he`s not going to get in trouble for it anyway and so, why not be as out loud about it as possible? It`s all the more threat took anybody who might stand up against him, which feels disheartening in terms of the effect of the impeachment.

How do you see that?

BERKE:  Well, I think you`re right and this is exactly what we warned about. I don`t get any joy to say, we told you so because that doesn`t mean much. What I like to think is we helped to both conditioned the American people to better understand what`s happening and also we`ve taken it to a point where there`s very little runway left for his supporters to offer the same kind of excuses, right?

We were at the point where we warned throughout the judiciary hearings with past recommendations of impeachment through the House, through the Senate trial that there has to be action because otherwise the risk is too great for how the president will continue to put his personal and political interests over the interests of the country, its national security, the integrity of its elections and the things most dear to us and sought to be protected by the Constitution. We made that case again and again and I think we presented the facts so clearly.

The supporters` defenses were he learned his lesson, he won`t do it again.

MADDOW:  Yes.

BERKE:  If the president thinks his re-election is in the interest of the country, then he can do anything he wants. It`s not so bad. So, that`s where we stand.

Now, when he continues to engage in this conduct that in many ways keeps getting worse when he`s not held accountable, he can`t be prosecuted for crimes while he`s sitting as president under DOJ policy. The Senate and his supporters showed they were not prepared to remove him for clear constitutional violations. So --

MADDOW:  He`s openly retaliated against witnesses who stood up to him, thus cowing anybody who might do so in the future.

BERKE:  Exactly.

So the hope is that Congress will continue to do the extraordinary job it does in protecting oversight, bringing to light the extent of the conduct and the American people will understand it. Well, one of the things that`s most odious about this is the president`s cover up is obstructing people from coming forward to talk about it -- 

MADDOW:  Yes.

BERKE:  -- makes it harder for people to hear about it. The reason the president didn`t want to hear a Don McGahn, his White House counsel, tell the story is because then the American people could hear, with all its gory details what it`s like when your boss, the president, comes into your office and tells you, you need to lie, you need to create a false document, you need to do it even though it`s a crime, so it will get me out of trouble. People would understand that.

You know, John Bolton testified to Fiona Hill that John Bolton told her, I don`t want to be part of whatever drug deal Sondland and Mulvaney, the president`s chief of staff, are cooking up.

The reference to drug deal could only mean one thing, something illegal. And he said I`m not a part of it, go tell the lawyers. But the president knows if Bolton comes in and tells it again, Bolton is no friend of Democrats. When he`s there telling a story that`s harmful to the president and what the president said to him, they know that`s something the American people would understand and see as a story.

So the challenge today is for everyone to keep working to get it facts out, how bad this conduct really was, how harmful, and to see that it`s not only continuing but it`s getting worse. Every time the president is not held accountable, this conduct gets ratcheted up, and we could only imagine what might happen if he gets reelected after doing this, and again continues to refuse to act to block the foreign interference that we see happening before our eyes.

MADDOW:  Yes. And we to have faith that exposing this and telling the story and making people understand what`s happening is something that won`t engender a response.

BERKE:  Absolutely.

MADDOW:  Barry Berke, thank you so much for doing this interview and thanks to your service at the Judiciary Committee. It`s really nice to meet you.

BERKE:  Thank you so much, Rachel.

MADDOW:  Thanks a lot.

We`ll be right back. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  On the day of the midterm elections 2018, the National Security Agency launched its only known offensive cyber operation against Russia to date. The NSA knocked out the power at the Russian troll farm that was known to have spread disinformation online to affect our elections in 2016. On the day of the 2018 midterm elections, they knocked out the power at that place to Russia to stop Russia from interfering in our elections that day.

"The Washington Post" later reported that U.S. intelligence agencies have developed further offensive cyber capacities to target Russian leadership if -- if Moscow tried to meddle in our 2020 election as well.

Well, now we know that Russia`s trying to meddle in our 2020 election as well, interfering again to help Donald Trump. Multiple U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that, and lawmakers have been briefed about it. The officials in our government who hold the plans for a counterattack against Russia now face the question of whether or not they get to use those tactics, they get to use those capacities.

I mean, if, in fact, U.S. intelligence, U.S. military believes that Russia is attacking us in this way again and the United States government has the capacity to stop it, to retaliate, or to block it, will they be allowed to do so? I mean, President Trump himself has already declared that the intelligence community finding this about what Russia is doing in 2020, he already is saying that`s a hoax. He literally fired the director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire once somebody in Maguire`s office briefed Congress about these findings.

Maguire`s last day as DNI was today. His deputy, Andrew Hallman, a 30-year veteran, was also shown the door.

Now one former official tells NBC tonight that the Office of the Director of National Intelligence is, quote, nearing a meltdown.

What does that mean for the intelligence officials and military officials in our government who are responsible for potentially deploying our own offensive capacities to counter Russian efforts? To defend the U.S. election, to defend the American people.

Are they effectively ordered to stand down here? Does that machinery still work as intended under circumstances like these?

A member of the Intelligence Committee joins us next. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Joining us now is Congressman Jim Himes, Democrat of Connecticut. He`s on the Intelligence Committee.

Sir, thanks for being with us on a Friday night. I appreciate it.

REP. JIM HIMES (D-CT):  Hi, Rachel.

MADDOW:  So, the intelligence director is fired by the president apparently because U.S. intelligence agencies have figured out that Russia is intervening in our election again and they told your committee so.

Number two man in the agency, a 30-year veteran, also canned. Don`t even get me started with who they have replaced them with.

But you`ve been on the Intelligence Committee for seven years now. How bad is this?

HIMES:  It`s pretty bad. And it didn`t just start this week, right?

Of course, the dismissal of Dan Coats who is widely regarded as a guy who is fair, old school Republican. The dismissal or resignation of Sue Gordon, who was Dan Coats` deputy, probably one of the most respected figures in intelligence -- of course, for whatever reason, and I think we know the reason, didn`t feel comfortable sticking around.

So, this is pretty bad. I mean, if there`s a silver lining here, Rachel, it is that the director of national intelligence sits atop the intelligence community. But the real action happens within CIA, happens within NSA. And inside those organizations, you have literally thousands of people who could be doing other things, making a lot more money than doing what they do.

These are patriots. These are people like Marie Yovanovitch. These are people like Lieutenant Colonel Vindman who are really at the controls.

And so, when you have Ambassador Grenell or -- you know, who has zero intelligence community experience, and his main qualification is his dogged loyalty to the president, there is not a lot that individual can do without the assistance of some very patriotic people who live in the hierarchy below somebody like that.

MADDOW:  One of the things that is I think a little hard to grasp for those of us who are on the intelligence committee, who aren`t serving in these kind of positions, but we read spy novels and so we heard about it, is the fact that the intelligence agencies like the military have offensive capacity. They have the ability to carry out covert actions. They -- it`s been reported publicly that the United States developed specific cyber capacities to try to have recourse in case Russia tried on interfere in our election again.

Are you concerned that essentially, there will be a stand down order from President Trump, that the military and intelligence agencies who have the capability to protect us from something like this will be told not to?

HIMES:  Well, you know, in this administration, you`re concerned about everything, right? There is nothing too fantastical that is off the table, particularly as to your previous conversation when this president feels completely unchained and able to do whatever he wants.

But I`ll go back to what I just said. You know, were there to be an order to stand down from defensive action or defensive against election meddling, hundreds of people would know that. And I know that there are a lot of Lieutenant Colonel Vindmans out there who would raise their hand and say this is not right.

What I worry a lot more about, and you`re absolutely right, I can`t get into specifics, but we have both an awful lot more information than we had going into 2016 about how meddling happens. And yes, our offensive capabilities are the very best in the world.

What I worry a lot more about is that Congress and the public may be prevented from getting information, right? And that was the message that was sent, if it happened -- I wasn`t in the Oval Office -- but by Donald Trump, you know, apparently berating an admiral, Admiral Joe Maguire, who gave his life to this country, in service of this country`s national security, berating Admiral Maguire and I guess ultimately replacing him sooner than expected because he wasn`t happy about a briefing.

You know, if Congress isn`t getting information, there`s no way for us to look over the shoulder of the Intelligence Committee to know the answer to your question, which is, is there political interference? Are things going in the way that is inconsistent with our national security?

MADDOW:  Congressman Jim Himes, member of the Intelligence Committee -- sir, thanks for being with us. Much appreciated.

HIMES:  Thank you, Rachel.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  It is Nevada caucuses` eve. Get a good night sleep. You have to get up early tomorrow. It`s all very exciting.

That does it for us at least for right now.

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

Good evening, Lawrence.

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