Interview with Geoffrey Berman, the U.S. attorney Trump fired at SDNY. Senate Judiciary Committee has announced that it is launching this investigation; Senator Durbin has told the Justice Department to hand over to the Judiciary Committee all documents and communications between DOJ and the Southern District of New York related to the Michael Cohen case, the John Kerry case, and the Gregory Craig case as detailed in Geoffrey Berman`s brand-new book.
CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: That is "ALL IN" on this Monday.
THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right now. Good evening, Rachel.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Thanks, my friend. Much appreciate it.
HAYES: You bet.
MADDOW: And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. Very happy to have you here.
We`ve got it. We`ve got it -- it comes out tomorrow, but we`ve got it.
Here`s how it starts: My lead deputy, Robert Khuzami, received an urgent phone call from a top official at the U.S. Department of Justice. The midterm elections were less than two months away. The results would determine not just which party would control the House and Senate, but also if the next two years of the Trump presidency would be dogged by congressional investigations.
Khuzami spoke with Edward O`Callaghan, a high level Trump political appointee at the Justice Department. O`Callaghan`s message to Khuzami was unambiguous. It was time for me, Geoffrey Berman, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York and lifelong Republican, it was time for me to take one for the home team.
Khuzami came in to my office and closed the door. Quote, you`re not going to believe the conversation I just had with O`Callaghan, he said, before sharing the details. The top leadership at DOJ wanted me to bring criminal charges against Gregory Craig, a private attorney who had once been President Barack Obama`s White House counsel and they wanted me to bring those charges before Election Day. I said, you`ve got to be f`ing kidding me. I wish, he said, but no.
DOJ`s rationale for this demand had nothing to do with evidence or law. O`Callaghan kept reminding Khuzami that our office had just prosecuted two high profile Trump loyalists, Republican Congressman Chris Collins and Trump`s private attorney, Michael Cohen. Khuzami related that O`Callaghan told him bluntly, quote, it`s time for you guys to even things out.
I ignored the edict. But this episode was not a one-off. It was part of a pattern. Throughout my tenure as U.S. attorney, Trump`s Justice Department kept demanding that I use my office to aid them politically, and I kept declining in ways just tactful enough to keep me from being fired. I walked this tightrope for 2 1/2 years. Eventually, the rope snapped.
That`s how it starts. That`s the very beginning.
This was written by Geoffrey Berman who ran SDNY. He was the U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York for more than half of Trump`s time in office. Geoffrey Berman was fired from that job at SDNY. He was fired loudly and in a way that made a difference. We`ll have more on that in a second. That`s important.
But now, since he is the former U.S. attorney, he has written this book to put it in the public record how Trump and his administration tried to force federal prosecutors to go after Trump`s political enemies, to go after Democrats, to help Trump`s allies, regardless of the law, regardless of the crimes committed or lack thereof.
Geoff Berman says, in fact, one of the things he was told to do as U.S. attorney was prosecute President Obama`s White House counsel, explicitly told to bring the prosecution before the midterm elections, told to do so because some Republicans had been prosecuted and so now it was time to prosecute a Democrat. He was told to even things out.
Berman refused to do it. He didn`t bring that prosecution, so yay, rule of law? For a second.
What happened after Geoff Berman refused to do it at SDNY is they found someone else who would.
Geoff Berman`s office did investigate these allegations against Greg Craig, the Obama lawyer. They said he investigated them thoroughly. Berman says based on that investigation, he believed Greg Craig bluntly was innocent of what Trump wanted him charged with. He says at four separate times in his new book, innocent.
So Berman said, no, I think he`s innocent of what you want me to charge him with. I`m not bringing -- prosecute against him. He didn`t do it, so I`m not going bring charges.
After he said that, Trump Justice Department officials then decided they would lean on a different federal prosecutor. They would take it to another prosecutor`s office. They took it to Washington, D.C. where that U.S. attorney went along and said, okay, I`ll do it.
So because Trump apparently wanted it, despite a thorough investigation by federal prosecutors that found that Greg Craig was factually innocent, nevertheless, that U.S. attorney`s office in D.C. was told by Trump`s appointees that she needed to bring a prosecution of President Obama`s White House counsel and she did. And it was a fiasco.
Federal prosecutors win almost all their cases. Ninety percent of the time, they get either a plea or a conviction.
As a general rule of thumb, they just don`t bring cases they can`t win.
In the Greg Craig trial, though, it was ridiculous. This was an indictment that another prosecutor`s office had refused to bring because they said he didn`t do it.
They brought it in D.C. anyway. They held a 2 1/2-long week trial. The jury got the case at the end of the trial and instant verdict from the jury -- no. Craig was immediately acquitted. There really was no case.
And this is a problem, right? This is not, oh, there was a problem with the Greg Craig prosecution. Yes, there was. This is a bigger problem, right?
This is the Justice Department had a serious problem under the presidency of Donald Trump. Stuff that should not have happened happened. And the Greg Craig case that we now know about from Geoffrey Berman because of his book, that is just the start.
And, of course, this book arrives at sort of an important moment, right? If you step back here for a second, think about what`s going on, the Justice Department right now under President Biden is under this hot, hot spotlight because of what we now know are multiple active federal investigations that involve former President Trump.
Just tonight, "The New York Times" is reporting and NBC has confirmed that at least 40 Trump advisers and campaign staff were served with subpoenas last week from a federal grand jury. At least two of them had their cell phones seized by the FBI. But 40 of them got subpoenas.
And you know, we have to guess, like musical chairs style, which of the many, many, many active federal criminal investigations surrounding Trump might have given rise to these 40 new subpoenas. I mean, take a number, right?
But in the midst of this investigative maelstrom surrounding former President Trump, right now, the current attorney general, Merrick Garland, who is the world`s least likely target for partisan attacks, right? Honestly, nothing against the man, never met him, but he really is the man with the most milquetoast, most agreeable, most moderate reputation of any human being in Washington.
That said, because federal prosecutors at DOJ are investigating all these possible crimes by former President Trump, Merrick Garland of all people is getting these slings and arrows. Republicans coming after him like he`s running some sort of DOJ gone wild, where under Merrick Garland of all people, they`re going after Trump for political sport now, for partisan reasons.
That`s the criticism from Republicans and from the conservative media. If you actually look at the substance of the allegations that are being investigated against Trump, that critique is plainly wrong. I mean, those really are reams of classified documents that he`s not allowed to have that he nevertheless stole and stuffed in his closet in Florida.
I mean, they really did officially try to get Trump electors into the Electoral College count from states Trump didn`t win. He really did summon an armed mob to Washington and then told them to physically go to the building where Congress was counting the votes to try to stop Congress from counting the votes.
He really does appear to have taken people`s money for something he called his election defense fund when there was actually no election defense fund and he just kept the money. The substance of these cases, what`s public about them at least, it plainly disproves this criticism from the right that these federal investigations involving Trump are baseless, right? That prosecutors aren`t pursuing real crimes, that they`re just hounding him for some political reason.
But at the same time, we have this increasing public record evidence that when Trump was in charge, when he was president, when his appointees were running the Justice Department, they really did have a DOJ gone wild. They really did do everything they could to use federal prosecutors, to use federal law enforcement to help the president`s friends and try to punish his enemies.
And right there, they`re accusing everybody else of it now when it`s not happening, but when they were in charge, they truly actually really did it. As a tactic, that`s called projection. I know you are but what am I? I`m rubber, you`re glue.
It`s just as frustrating when it comes from three fighting 7-year-olds on a playground with their fingers jammed up each other`s noses as it is when it comes from a political movement led by a 76-year-old man, right? Projection is very annoying. But if you can get past the political impact and the argumentative tactic there, this is a really serious thing.
As a rule of law question, on the basic question of whether we are a country governed by a Constitution and the rule of law, versus just force and power wielded by mean vindictive men, using the U.S. Justice Department the way that Trump did, to go after your enemies and to reward your friends, using the Justice Department that way, that is really high up there on the list of bad things that can happen in the government.
And what is now on the public record about what Trump did with the rule of law, with DOJ when he was president, it`s worse than anything of the kind ever done by any other U.S. president, including Richard Nixon, and he was bad on this front.
And we know a lot more new details of this now from Geoffrey Berman, from a lifelong Republican, Trump appointee, a man who had worked on the Trump campaign and the Trump transition. In 2017, he was named at the U.S. attorney in the nation`s most prominent federal prosecutor`s office. He was named at U.S. attorney for SDNY. And he`s now telling what he knows and what he experienced.
Here`s more that we the American people now know thanks to this new book from Geoffrey Berman. Quote: While Michael Cohen pled guilty, our office continued to pursue investigations related to other possible campaign finance violations. When Bill Barr took over as U.S. attorney general, in February 2019, six months after Cohen`s guilty plea, he not only tried to kill the ongoing investigations we were engaged in, but incredibly, he suggested that Cohen`s conviction on campaign finance charges should be reversed.
Barr summoned my deputy Rob Khuzami who was overseeing the Cohen case, in late February to challenge the basis of Cohen`s plea as well as the reasoning behind pursuing similar campaign finance charges against other individuals. Khuzami was told to cease all investigative work on the campaign finance allegations until main Justice determined there was a legal basis for the campaign finance charges to which Cohen pled guilty and until Barr determined there was a sufficient federal interest in pursuing charges against others.
The directive Bill Barr gave my deputy, Rob Khuzami, which was amplified that same day by a follow-up call from Edward O`Callaghan, that directive was explicit. Not a single investigative step could be taken, not a single document in our possession could be reviewed.
And if Main Justice decided in the end that there was no legal basis for the charges -- well, the attorney general of the United States would then direct us to dismiss the campaign finance guilty pleas of Michael Cohen, the man who implicated the attorney general`s boss, the president.
Barr`s posture here raises obvious questions, Berman writes. Did he think dropping the campaign finance charges would bolster Trump`s defense against impeachment charges? Was he trying to insure that no other Trump associates or employees would be charged with making hush money payments or perhaps flip on the president? Was the goal to insure that the president could not be charged after leaving office? Was it part of an effort to undo the entire series of investigations and prosecutions over the past two years of those in the president`s orbit? Michael Cohen, Roger Stone, Michael Flynn?
As U.S. attorney at SDNY, Geoff Berman says he was told by Trump appointees to bring a prosecution against President Obama`s White House counsel, despite the fact that that man had committed no crime. Trump`s attorney general also told Berman`s office to stop investigating anybody else who was involved in the campaign finance felonies that put the president`s lawyer in prison, campaign finance felonies that directly involved the president himself and were committed for his benefit.
They also tried to undo Michael Cohen`s guilty plea. They did not succeed in that, but they did delay by months any further investigation into other people involved in Cohen`s crimes.
And that`s not it. Look at this from Berman`s new book. Trump`s Justice Department tells SDNY not only that they want to evaluate the basis of Cohen`s plea and they want SDNY to stop investigating anybody else who might have been involved in those crimes committed by the Trump campaign to try to cover up evidence of alleged affairs. SDNY also contacted -- was also contacted by Trump`s Justice Department, senior officials, and they were told that they needed to get rid of all mentions of "individual one" in the Michael Cohen indictment.
SDNY said no to that, they resisted. But SDNY officials did take out of the Michael Cohen related court filings the most direct language they had in those filings saying what role Trump played in those crimes.
Here`s how Berman describes it. Main Justice interfered when the information was being finalized, after Michael Cohen agreed to plead guilty, the charging instrument for him became information rather than an indictment. Berman says, quote, it was about 40 pages long, and it referenced a person identified as individual one, as having acted in concert with Cohen.
There was zero doubt as to the identity of individual one, it was Donald Trump.
After SDNY sent the indictment, the information to main justice, quote, the next day, Robert Khuzami, my deputy who was overseeing the case, received a call from Edward O`Callaghan. O`Callaghan was aggressive. Why the length, he wanted to know? He argued that now that Cohen was pleading guilty, we don`t need all this description.
Khuzami responded, what exactly are you concerned about? O`Callaghan proceeded to identify specific allegations he wanted removed, almost all of which referenced individual one, Donald Trump.
It quickly became apparent to Khuzami that contrary to what O`Callaghan professed, it wasn`t the overall length or the detail of the document that concerned him. It was any mention of individual one. Khuzami and O`Callaghan went through a handful of these allegations, some of which Khuzami agreed to strike, others he did not.
Sensing that this was going to be a long and adversarial process, Khuzami told O`Callaghan he was now aware of O`Callaghan`s concerns, and the team would redraft the information and remove certain nonessential details. The team was tasked with the rewrite. They stayed up most of the night. The revised information in Cohen`s case was now 21 pages, down from 40. It removed certain allegations, including allegations that individual one acted in concert with and coordinated with Cohen on the illegal campaign contributions.
The information now alleged that Cohen acted in concert and coordinated with, quote, one or more members of the campaign.
So individual one, Donald Trump, he did this stuff with Donald Trump, becomes he did this stuff with someone from the campaign. The specific mentions of Cohen committing this crime, this federal felony in concert with and coordinating with Trump in the commission of the crime, those specific references were taken out of this court filing to not mention Trump specifically.
And the investigators on that case were also directed by main justice that they needed to stop investigating anybody other than Michael Cohen for these crimes. And that delay lasted for months.
So, now, we know, right? Michael Cohen kept saying in public, why am I the only person getting in trouble for this? It`s not like I did it for myself. It`s not like I did it alone. Now we know what happened.
Geoffrey Berman is understandably getting some shade right now from people who are criticizing him for holding all these new revelations about what he saw and what happened to his office until he could publish this new book. Why wait until you could write a book? Why not tell us when it happened?
I will tell you, I`m generally sympathetic to that critique, particularly because we have seen so many books by people who were in the Trump administration, saw horrible things, and waited until they were paid to write about until they wrote about it.
In this case, though, Geoffrey Berman I think does get some credit on his side of a ledger for squawking at the time, for squawking when the bad things were happening. Here`s what I mean by that. In 2020, five months before the election, Attorney General Bill Barr told Geoff Berman he needed to resign because Barr said he wanted to put someone else at the U.S. attorney`s job at SDNY.
Berman refused to do that. And as he explains in the book, part of what was going on in his mind when he refused to do that is that he had seen this same play happen just months earlier in Washington, D.C. The U.S. attorney in Washington, D.C., that one who was willing to bring the non-case against Greg Craig, she nevertheless, despite going along with that, she nevertheless was pushed out by Bill Barr, and immediately after getting her out of there, Barr then mounted what he calls a hostile takeover of that U.S. attorney`s office.
In the U.S. attorney`s office in D.C., the sort of second most preeminent prosecutor`s office in the country after SDNY, what Barr did after he got the U.S. attorney out, he put his own guy in, and like lightening, they moved to drop the charges and undo the guilty plea by Trump national security adviser Mike Flynn. They moved to undo the recommended sentence for Trump adviser Roger Stone, who had just been convicted on multiple felonies. There were also reports that they kyboshed active investigations of people who had not yet been charged.
Now, in the Flynn and Stone cases, prosecutors who had worked on those cases, who got those convictions and those guilty pleas, they withdrew from those cases in protest. One prosecutor resigned from the Justice Department altogether. It was gross.
The U.S. attorney`s office in Washington, D.C. was corrupted, when Bill Barr took out the U.S. attorney there and put in his operatives and took it over for Trump, and then started doing favors for Trump allies.
That`s what he did in D.C. and Geoff Berman believed that`s what he was going to do at SDNY. And Geoff Berman stopped that from happening when he refused to resign, refused to go along when Barr said he must resign. When Barr in fact said he had resigned, Geoff Berman publicly pushed back on what Barr was doing, and he publicly pushed back on anyone interfering in SDNY`s ongoing cases. He insisted explicitly and publicly literally in a press release that he was not resigning, that they would have to fire him to get out of there, and in so doing, Geoffrey Berman insured that Barr wouldn`t be able to take over SDNY the way he did that D.C. U.S. attorney`s office.
Berman made it so Barr was basically forced to put SDNY not in the hands of some patsy but instead in the hands of Berman`s own deputy who was a career prosecutor, not somebody who would start prosecuting anybody the president tweeted about. So, Berman, yes, he`s written a book. We`ll ask him about that and talking about these things now, but credit for squawking.
I mean, if heaven forbid you ever find yourself workings for a corrupt would-be autocrat, you`ll have to choose your own adventure at the time as well. If you`re concerned with having to live with yourself for the rest of your days, may I recommend the resign or get fired option. Resign and tell everybody why when it happens.
That is what Geoffrey Berman did. He went out on principled grounds, squawking loudly about why and what for and stopping worse harm by doing so. And now, yes, he`s got a book to tell us the rest of it. But it turns out not just the story of how he left, but the rest of it, the rest of what they did that was wrong is a lot.
And he wants to talk about all of it, and his book is out tomorrow, and he`s here live exclusively next.
MADDOW: In former U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman`s new book which is called, "Holding the Line", it`s out tomorrow, he details how the Justice Department under Donald Trump tried to strong-arm his office, the U.S. attorney`s office in SDNY, into pursuing politically motivated investigations that would please or benefit the president. It was the demand that he prosecute Greg Craig, this Obama lawyer, and do it right before the midterm election since Greg Craig is a Democrat, even though there`s no real case there.
We have Geoff Berman`s word for that in his new book. I also need to tell you that today, in preparation for having Mr. Berman on the show tonight, we were today able to confirm the accuracy of his account of that improper pressure in the Gregory Craig case. We were able to confirm that with another person who is in a position to know what happened there. So we have ourselves to our satisfaction confirmed with another source that that improper pressure about the Gregory Craig case was brought on SDNY.
Berman also says in this book that there was also a repeated demand that Berman and SDNY bring criminal charges against John Kerry of all people. Obama`s secretary of state, now Biden`s climate envoy, Trump said on Twitter that John Kerry should be prosecuted for something.
Trump Justice Department officials then told Geoffrey Berman and SDNY officials to do it. Berman refused saying there was no case there. Trump Justice Department officials shopped it to another U.S. attorney, trying to get another prosecutor to bring it. That prosecutor refused to bring the case as well.
When the campaign finance hush money case was according to Berman purposely stalled out after Michael Cohen pled guilty in that case, when it was then being investigated by state prosecutors, Berman describes the Trump guys at the Justice Department also trying to force Berman and SDNY into telling federal court in New York that a sitting president not only couldn`t be charged with any crimes, a sitting president couldn`t be investigated for any crimes. Berman did not believe that was true, and he refused that insistent demand from DOJ. Just goes on and on and on.
And then there`s this. There`s just one more piece that I want to -- I want to read you. Berman says this, he says, quote: I never speculated about the specific reasons Bill Barr wanted me out. As an attorney, I avoid allegations that do not yet have the facts to support -- that I do not yet have the facts to support. But it was no secret to me much of what we did at SDNY and much of what we did not do displeased Trump.
If it displeased the president, it would have displeased Barr. That`s how it worked. It was remarkable how many times Barr intervened in the Southern District over the course of less than a year in a half in ways that would benefit or please Trump. At the time, I was fired in mid-June 2020, the presidential election was less than five months away. I`m sure that Barr was tired of the Southern District`s independence, but it`s also fair to assume there was a political component in his move to oust me.
Barr did the president`s bidding no matter how he may try to deny that now. He no doubt believed by removing me, he could eliminate a threat to Trump`s re-election.
Geoffrey Berman never gave a single interview while he was serving as U.S. attorney. Now he`s a former U.S. attorney and in his new book he says that Bill Barr and Jeffrey Rosen and Rich Donoghue and Edward O`Callaghan all participated in these sustained, very improper efforts by the Justice Department to corrupt federal law enforcement and to corrupt the power of federal prosecution, to help President Trump and respond to his whims and hurt his enemies.
Berman also says he was removed from his office because something about his work as U.S. attorney threatened the re-election of the president in 2020.
First of all, what was that? But second of all, what -- what do we do here? What do we do with this?
I mean, it is a problem for us as a country that we elected a president who wanted to use the Justice Department like this. We know that`s a problem, I think. One could argue, though, that it`s an even bigger problem that there were all these senior Justice Department officials who were happy to do it, who did it, who perverted not just investigations but prosecutions and pleadings and sentences. They actually did it.
A corrupt man, a corrupt leader, is a tragedy. A law enforcement agency that has proven itself to be corruptible, that needs to be fixed. This has to be fixed.
I will tell you, tonight, since we have been on the air, the Senate Judiciary Committee has just confirmed to us that they are launching an investigation into the claims made in Mr. Berman`s book.
In a letter sent to Attorney General Merrick Garland tonight, Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, the number two Senate Democrat, said, quote: These reported claims indicate astonishing and unacceptable deviations from the department`s mission to pursue impartial justice which requires that its prosecutorial decisions be free from political influence.
Senate Judiciary Committee has announced that it is launching this investigation. Senator Durbin has told the Justice Department to hand over to the Judiciary Committee all documents and communications between DOJ and the Southern District of New York related to the Michael Cohen case, the John Kerry case, and the Gregory Craig case as detailed in Geoffrey Berman`s brand-new book.
Joining us now is Geoffrey Berman, former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York from 2018 to 2020 when he was forced out by former Attorney General Bill Barr, and he refused to resign. His new book is "Holding the Line: Inside the Nation`s Preeminent U.S. Attorney`s Office and Its Battle with the Trump Justice Department."
Mr. Berman, the book comes out tomorrow. I really appreciate you being here tonight to talk with us about it. This is a lot.
GEOFFREY BERMAN, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY, SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK: Thank you for having me.
MADDOW: First, let me just ask you. I`ve read the book closely, backwards and forwards, as have members of my staff in helping me prepare for talking with you. But I readily admit that I may have gotten some of these things wrong as I tried to sum them up.
Is there anything that I said that struck you as wrong or misguided?
BERMAN: No, no, it was great. You know, all of it very accurate.
MADDOW: I have to ask you about this breaking news first. Senator Dick Durbin, the chair of Senate Judiciary Committee, he`s the number two senator, he`s written to the Justice Department tonight and announced that the Judiciary Committee is launching a formal investigation. He`s asked the department to hand over its documents and communications around these episodes that you described.
Do you believe that there will be documentation that these communications will be noted in some way that the department can provide to the Judiciary Committee so they can investigate these allegations?
BERMAN: Oh, I`m sure there are documents that are going to be available.
You know, Rachel, my book, as you know, is all about transparency. You know, I wanted people to understand the full scope of the outrageous and improper political interference by Trump`s Justice Department in the cases of the Southern District of New York. It demonstrates what Trump is capable of and what he`s likely to do. And it also provides a front line view of just how vulnerable our justice system is.
And so, the book is about transparency and I welcome this investigation, this congressional investigation because I think a light has to be thrown on this kind of outrageous conduct that really corrupted the Department of Justice and turned it into a political instrument for the president.
MADDOW: Some of this conduct you are describing for the first time in this book, but some of this you -- for lack of a better phrase -- squawked about at the time that they forced you out as U.S. attorney.
You put out this remarkable press release at the time. You insisted that you would not resign. That when Bill Barr said you had resigned, that he was lying about that.
It was a remarkable confrontation and sort of stand-up moment on your part. I remember it unfolding late at night one Friday night, the summer of 2020, and I was just agog watching it happen in real time.
But you said --
BERMAN: Well, I knew --
MADDOW: Sorry, go ahead.
BERMAN: I knew at the time that if Barr got me out, the way he wanted to, he would put an outsider in that office who he trusted, and our sensitive investigations that were going on would have been jeopardized.
And so, you know, I was very noisy. I told the entire country what I thought Barr was doing and how he crossed the line. And I think because of that very noisy exit, as you said, Audrey Strauss took over as acting U.S. attorney, and she`s a person of the highest integrity and an icon of the New York Bar.
MADDOW: When you put out that press release, when you pushed back in that noisy way, you said, I`m quoting from it here: our investigations will move forward without delay or interruption. I intend to insure that this office`s important cases continue unimpeded.
And you explain in the book that you chose those words carefully because they referenced the actual language of the criminal statute on obstruction of justice. I have to ask, the implication of that explanation in your book is that it`s possible that you believed it was sort of a crime what happened to your office, that what Trump appointees were trying to do to SDNY was criminal obstruction of justice.
Is that the implication that you are raising here?
BERMAN: Well, I haven`t focused on whether it`s a crime or not, but I can tell you, it violated all the norms and traditions of the Department of Justice, which is supposed to be independent from politics. And Trump turned the department into his own personal law firm. He put in people who would do his bidding.
And they would, you know, target Trump`s political enemies and assist Trump`s friends. And it was a disgrace. And that`s what I kind of detail in the book, several instances of that.
MADDOW: You say throughout the book how you tried to stay and fight, to keep SDNY from being corrupted, from the kind of hostile takeover you describe having taken place in another very eminent U.S. attorney`s office. You have a few different times you say variations of I didn`t want to get fired and replaced by somebody who would be completely compliant, as you just -- as you just mentioned.
But I do have to ask you why -- when they made you take the individual one language out of the Cohen information, when they told you to prosecute John Kerry or they told you to prosecute Greg Craig and do it before the election -- why didn`t we hear this from you then? Or if you couldn`t do it then while you were still holding the job, why didn`t we hear it from you when you were fired?
BERMAN: Well, there -- there are rules, laws, and statutes and regulations that prohibit DOJ employees and former employees from talking about ongoing cases and investigations as well as conversations, internal conversations relating to those cases. And you know, we are bound by that.
And so, for example, when I gave congressional testimony after I got fired, and I went to the ethics office of the Southern District of New York, and the ethics office of Main Justice and I said, what can I talk about? Because there were ongoing investigations that were politically sensitive at the time I got fired. And Barr knew about them. And, you know, can I talk about it?
And the ruling that came down, and I respected it, is that, you know, you can`t talk about any ongoing investigations because they might be jeopardized. You can`t talk about any other cases that went on. You can`t even talk about the conversations that you had with other Department of Justice employees except for two days before you got fired, you can talk about Bill Barr. That`s the authority I had when I went into my congressional testimony.
And quite frankly, it was frustrating because I couldn`t tell the whole story. And the whole story needed to be told. And that`s the reason I wrote the book. And the book was put through prepublication review by the Department of Justice.
I followed all of the rules still. I have never violated an internal DOJ rule or statute to this day. I`m in compliance with every rule and statute. The book has been entirely vetted by the Department of Justice and I`ve gotten permission to publish it.
And that`s I think why you don`t hear more Department of Justice people talking about the cases they`re working on, the investigations, conversations with other people, because they`re restricted from doing so. If they`re to behave in a -- you know, in ethical manner, they can`t do so.
MADDOW: You do say towards the very end of the book something that has -- that resonates very loudly. You say that you believe the reason you were forced out was based in politics, the timing five months before the election, was not an accident. And you say that you believe Barr forced you out of that job at SDNY because he no doubt believed that by removing me, he could eliminate a threat to Trump`s re-election.
How was your work as U.S. attorney a threat to Trump`s re-election?
BERMAN: Well, at the time I was fired, the Southern District of New York was working on a couple politically sensitive cases. One of those cases is the Steve Bannon "We Build the Wall" case. And we were very close to indicting that case around the time I got fired. And Barr knew about the case.
And as you know, that case was indicted by the Southern District of New York, by Audrey Strauss, who took over as acting U.S. attorney after I was fired. And she brought that prosecution. And then, you know, President Trump pardoned Steve Bannon, which was an outrageous pardon. But that`s one of the cases that we were investigating, and we were very close to indicting.
And the other case was the Ukraine investigation arising out of the Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman indictments. And that was something that we had been investigating for quite a while, and we continued to investigate for quite a while. And both of them were very sensitive.
MADDOW: Geoffrey Berman, former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, author of the very, very newsy new book, "Holding the Line: Inside the Nation`s Preeminent U.S. Attorney`s Office and Its Battle with the Trump Justice Department" -- sir, thank you for being noisy when it counted. Thank you for relaying what you have done now.
I imagine we`re about to start a whole new chapter in terms of accountability here at the Justice Department, which you served.
Thank you. Appreciate it. Good luck.
BERMAN: Thank you.
MADDOW: All right. Much more ahead here tonight. Stay with us.
MADDOW: This weekend, the war in Ukraine changed a lot. Ukrainian forces raised the Ukrainian flag in town after town after town. They recaptured tons of territory back from Russian forces.
This entire section of this map that`s marked in blue up at the top of the map, Ukrainian forces took that all back in a weekend, this weekend. One Ukrainian presidential adviser said so many Russian troops were captured in this Ukrainian advance that Ukraine is now running out of space to keep all of their Russian prisoners. In response to this weekend`s advance, Russia has been bombing civilian infrastructure in Ukraine.
This heat and power plant powers the Kharkiv region. As Ukraine took that region back, Russia bombed its power supply. Ukraine`s president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, posted a video of the plant on fire last night. Along with a statement that he directed right at Russian president Vladimir Putin.
Zelenskyy said, quote Read my lips. Without gas or without you? Without you. Without light or without you? Without you. Without water or without you? Without you. Without food or without you? Without you.
Cold, hunger, darkness, thirst are not as frightens or deadly for us as your friendship and brotherhood. History will put everything in its place. We will be without gas, without light, without water, and without food. But we will be without you.
Joining us now is retired Lieutenant General Ben Hodges. He`s currently a senior adviser at the nonprofit organization Human Rights First.
General Hodges, it`s great to see you, my friend. Thank you very much for joining us tonight.
LT. GEN. BEN HODGES (RET), U.S. ARMY EUROPE, FORMER COMMANDING GENERAL: Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: Do you think this could be a sustained change in the war or is it possible that these advances by Ukraine are fleeting?
HODGES: Well, it`s too early to be planning a victory parade, but the significance of what`s happening psychologically as well as physically -- I mean, we`re all watching the video of abandoned equipment, of Ukrainian forces moving these villages being liberated. It`s impressive.
And then just earlier, we saw that Ukrainian forces hit a major Russian air field which is northeast of Mariupol. If they are already in position to strike targets like that, it`s just a matter of time before they start hitting daily targets inside Crimea, and then it`s just a matter of time.
MADDOW: In terms of the capabilities of the Ukrainian forces, we saw some remarkable reporting today that in some places where the Ukrainians mounted this counteroffensive over the weekend, they outnumbered the Russian troops on the ground something like 8 to 1. They have clearly put a lot of manpower into this.
How much of this is just good strategic movement of forces? There was some disinformation from the Ukrainian side in terms of where exactly this counteroffensive might happen. How much of this is made possible by the kinds of advanced weaponry they have been able to get from the West, including the United States?
HODGES: Well, you touch on a really important point. What matters when it comes to numbers is getting the miracle superiority at the point where you want to make your attack, to get a penetration, for example, and this is what Ukrainians have done. They have grown the size of their army significantly in the last six months. But getting the miracle superiority at the decisive point is what`s key, and you`re talking about that.
This is possible for three things. Number one, the growing professionalism of the Ukrainian general staff to maintain operational security so that we know more about what the Russians are doing than we know what the Ukrainians are doing.
Secondly, the provision of weapons, like long-range precision fires, have given the Ukrainians the ability to destroy Russian command and control and Russian logistics.
And then finally, Russian forces themselves. They`re exhausted. Their logistics are exhausted, and they just could not resist effectively at the point of attack.
MADDOW: Retired Lieutenant General Ben Hodges, former commanding general for the United States Army Europe -- sir, thank you. I was really, really hoping we would be able to get you tonight. I know you had to stay up until 0 dark 30 with your time difference tonight to be with us. I appreciate it, sir.
HODGES: It is my privilege. Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: We`ll be right back.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: Headline out of Michigan today. Look at this. Prominent Republicans join coalition to support Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer for re-election. Republicans supporting the Democratic governor.
Here`s the rhyming couplet for that story from Kansas. Well-known former Republican governor of Kansas has just endorsed the incumbent Democratic governor in that state`s race for governor as well.
And oh, it`s not a couplet, it`s a trifecta. In Pennsylvania, since July, we have seen headline after headline about prominent Republicans in Pennsylvania breaking ranks with their party to support the Democratic governor candidate in that state as well, Josh Shapiro.
So, Michigan, Kansas, Pennsylvania, all current headlines about Republicans noisily proclaiming they will not support their own party`s Republican candidate. They`re going to cross party lines and support the Democrat instead. That is because Republicans in each of those states, in Michigan, in Kansas, in Pennsylvania, they have nominated some legitimately out there candidates for governor. All of whom, of course, are endorsed by Trump. All of whom are parroting some version of the claim that the elections don`t count anymore.
On that point, I spent a bunch of time tonight, first half of the show tonight, talking about this bombshell new book coming out tomorrow from Geoffrey Berman, the U.S. attorney Trump fired at SDNY. I know that comes out tomorrow.
But the other book that comes out tomorrow is one that I have been dying to read since I heard it was coming out. It`s from David Corn. It`s called "American Psychosis", and it`s basically a modern history of the right, particularly how the right and the Republican Party have dealt with extremists in their midst over the time leading up to the Trump era.
And as much as we feel like what`s going on right now is all unprecedented and things have never been this nuts, what David Corn is writing about in his, you know, his irreducible, ineffable David Corn way, is this cautionary tale for what`s happened today and also a reminder that we have dealt with some of these dynamics before. For example, he writes in his new book about the role the far right conspiracy organization, the John Birch Society, how instrument that organization was in pushing the Republican Party to the right in the mid-20th century, also specifically in helping make far right Senator Barry Goldwater the Republican nominee for president in 1964.
And when we talk about that era in history, the popular sort of history of this era, typically congratulates mainstream conservative leaders of the time for pushing kooks like the John Birch Society out of the Republican Party, sort of out of the respectable conservative movement tent. In our modern history, our popular history of this time, people love to congratulate one leading conservative voice, William F. Buckley, editor of "The National Review", which of course, was as influential as the Fox News of its day.
David Corn`s book, though, sets this history right in a way that I think is really helpful. Let me read you some of what he wrote. He says, quote: In January 1962, William F. Buckley and other conservative luminaries met with Barry Goldwater at a Florida hotel and they further discussed what to do about the Birchers. Goldwater insisted the group contained kooks and decent conservatives and he was opposed to slamming the group.
Others in the room wanted to excommunicate the Birchers from the conservative movement. They cooked up a compromise: denounce the leader of the John Birch Society but not the society itself. A month later, "The National Review" blasted the leader`s views as far removed from common sense but the magazine hailed the John Birch Society itself as being a home of dedicated anti-communists.
The fundamental mission of the Birchers was to promote crazy conspiracy theories. They were allowing lunacy to spread on the right, even encouraging it. When Goldwater ran for president in 1964, Birchers enthusiastically donated and volunteered for him. With all this assistance from Birchers and other front-right extremists, Goldwater secured the nomination in `64. In his acceptance speech at the convention that year, he famously thundered that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. LBJ used Goldwater`s embrace of extremism to thrash him in the general election.
Republicans struggling with the strategic question about how to embrace the crazy in their party, trying to keep the conspiracy theorists inside their base happy because they don`t want to risk alienating them and losing their support -- that`s what allowed the Democratic president in 1964 to make that election a referendum on Republican extremism, which led to a landslide victory for Democrats that year.
History doesn`t ever repeat itself exactly. It only ever rhymes, but this is the time when the history of political parties self-policing the kooks among them feels really prescient, and the sort of easy elevator length history about the way we remember these things, isn`t always subtle enough to get us to the truth of the hard decisions that were and weren`t make back in the day, which can be a lesson (ph) to where we are today.
All this to, say I`m really excited David Corn`s new book is coming out tomorrow. Again, it`s called "American Psychosis". He`s going to be on Chris Hayes` show tomorrow night to talk about that new book when it comes out. We`re going to have him on a couple of weeks to talk about it.
But again, history is here to help. A lot that`s good out right now, very excited to see that.
That`s going to do it for us for right now. Alex Wagner, of course, will be here tomorrow.
Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL".
Good evening, Lawrence.