Show: THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL Date: January 31, 2018 Guest: Eric Columbus, Barbara McQuaid, John Heilemann, Frank Montoya, Sam Stein
LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Rachel.
And, you know, when we talk about TV talking heads, most of us expect to see the talking side of the head when we`re looking at our TVs. Instead we get that beautiful thick head of hair back there.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST, "TRMS": We have this list. I got to make sure --
O`DONNELL: I get it. I get it completely. Made perfect sense.
Rachel, we have Matt Apuzzo joining us as our first guest, a "New York Times" reporter who`s breaking this story tonight, which is a very, very big development in the obstruction of justice case. One of the witnesses is going to be quoting Hope Hicks to the special prosecutor, saying that the emails, her words, will never get out, meaning the emails that set up that meeting at Trump Tower.
And the question is, was she intending to obstruct justice by participating in a scheme to make sure those e-mails would never get out? And if she was, she was doing it with the president of the United States who was on the phone with her.
MADDOW: And what is particularly important I think in an ongoing way for this story is once again you`ve got this strong statement from Hope Hicks`s lawyer saying no, no, this didn`t happen, but Mark Corallo`s side of this comes bolstered, right? The way that "The New York Times" got this story and reported it out is that Mark Corallo told three people contemporaneously at the time it happened what happened. Those people have now given their reports to the "New York Times," Mr. Corallo is not disputing those reports.
And now we have further evidence that after this happened which he says alarmed him, and we have now a very fulsome explanation of why it alarmed him, we know that he quit. We didn`t have an explanation at the time as to why he was quitting, this now gives us the explanation.
So, we`ve got actions, his contemporaneous reporting to other witnesses at the time, the fact that those witness are coming forward and going on the record and he is attesting to the truth of what they`re saying, I mean, that`s a lot of weight. That`s not he said, she said, that`s he said and these folks can back it up.
O`DONNELL: Yes, it is a gigantic development in the obstruction of justice investigation. I try to find an adjective that will make a moment like this land because we get so many of these bombshells and these explosive developments. This one really is an even more important development I think of what we already knew about the president being on the phone trying to come up with lies to tell the "New York Times" because as everyone pointed out, that was just lying to the "New York Times." That wasn`t lying in any legal procedure.
And it`s left a sort of mystery of why is the special prosecutor so interested in Hope Hicks and these Air Force One phone calls, and if it was a discussion about more than lying to the "New York Times," if there was a discussion about getting rid of the e-mails, knowing that the prosecutor investigating it, that is a crime.
MADDOW: Right, that last point you made there is super important, because this is not just something that randomly happened during the campaign and they were lying and who cares they`re lying. This is something that happened during the administration, well into the administration after when he knew there was an ongoing investigation. This happened in June when this was first reported, right? This past summer, at which point the FBI had already publicly confirmed that this investigation was ongoing.
So if the content of their discussion was about either occluding from view, for the public, or blocking from the prosecutor somehow the existence of this evidence about this matter, that`s a -- that`s a legal concern. That`s not just you`re a bad person for lying. That is you`re potentially liable for having tried to impede that investigation by keeping that information away from them. A super important story.
O`DONNELL: It`s another great example of what the special prosecutor knows that we don`t know until we discovery it long after the special prosecutor has. I mean, we can get the feeling through Michael Wolff`s book, through all the leaks that we`re getting, that we have a kind of minute by minute understanding of some of these days, some of these scenes, we don`t. A lot can happen in a minute and the special prosecutor is trying to find out about each one of those minutes.
MADDOW: We should have learned that lesson on indictment day when George Papadopoulos is the guy who is pleading guilty and cooperating and like, who had him in their story line. Clearly, they`re proceeding on their terms, the Mueller investigation doesn`t leak. They`re under incredible pressure in terms of this political pressure on the FBI and even the Justice Department now. That`s going to get even hotter tomorrow. But they proceed at pace.
O`DONNELL: Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: Thank you, Lawrence.
O`DONNELL: Well, we`re going to get straight to that "New York Times" report, but we have to remember that it`s already, before this "New York Times" report, it`s already been a day of constant breaking news on the special prosecutor`s investigation, including a report that President Trump in what is his now customary gangster style that we`re all used to, asked Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein if he was, quote, on my team. That was a report earlier today.
We also got an FBI statement today saying that the memo written by the Republican staff of the House Intelligence Committee that might be released as early as tomorrow is filled with misinformation and falsehoods. We`ll get to all of that later in this hour.
But first, we will begin with the late breaking news from the "New York Times" on the obstruction of justice investigation of the president of the United States and his staff, including the 29-year-old White House communications director Hope Hicks, who reportedly said something on Air Force one that could indicate that she and the president were conspiring to obstruct justice.
We`ll be joined by one of the reporters who broke this story for the "New York Times" tonight.
"The Times" is reporting what Mark Corallo is planning to tell the special prosecutor when he`s interviewed. He`s agreed to be interviewed. And Mark Corallo was the spokesperson for the Trump legal defense team before he abruptly resigned in July, shortly after the incident that`s described in the "New York Times" report tonight. Mr. Corallo intends to tell the special prosecutor about a conference call that has not previously been reported.
We`ve known about a conference call from Air Force One involving the president and Hope Hicks in which the president was directing the false answers that should be given to the "New York Times" for what became the first report of the meeting at Trump Tower in the middle of the presidential campaign with a group of Russians, that meeting was attended by Donald Trump Jr., campaign chairman Paul Manafort, and the president`s son-in-law Jared Kushner.
Tonight, "The New York Times" is reporting on another conference call about the evidence that could reveal that the Trump Tower meeting was really about getting dirt on Hillary Clinton. The "New York Times" obtained the e-mails that set up that meeting. They indicated that the Russians were promising dirt on Hillary Clinton, to which Donald Trump Jr. replied, I love it! That`s all in the e-mails. The e-mails are very important in this case.
Tonight, "The Times" is reporting, quote, Mr. Corallo is planning to tell Mr. Mueller about a previously undisclosed conference call with Mr. Trump and Hope Hicks, the White House communications director, according to three people. Mr. Corallo plans to tell investigators that Ms. Hicks said during the call that e-mails written by Donald Trump Jr. before the Trump Tower meeting in which the younger Mr. Trump said he was eager to receive political dirt about Mrs. Clinton from the Russians, quote, will never get out. That left Mr. Corallo with concerns that Ms. Hicks could be contemplating obstructing justice, the people said.
Joining us now by phone is Matt Apuzzo, investigative reporter for "The New York Times," and an MSNBC contributor, and one of the co-authors of this report tonight.
Matt, the significance of Mark Corallo interpreting in as possible obstruction of justice, what did he see in this that he thought could be obstruction of justice?
MATT APUZZO, INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES (via telephone): So, what he told -- what he told people in real time was that either Hope Hicks was being naive in Washington everything ultimately sees the light of day. Or that she was indicating some sort of effort to keep those e-mails from seeing the light of day.
Now, we should say that the actual practicality of that was very low. At that point, we know the lawyers had already gotten those e-mails, stamped those e-mails, prepared them to be given to Congress and to Bob Mueller. But if you`re on that conference call, our understanding of what Corallo is going to tell Bob Mueller, is that I believe that was some sort of indication to keep those e-mails from coming out.
Remember, I was the one dealing with the White House on this in real time at the moment. And we were dealing with dueling statements. So, we got a statement that was misleading that said, the purpose of this was mostly we talked about Russian adoption and then our story comes out and an hour later, there`s another story out there that suggests not only did they not talk about dirt on Hillary Clinton but maybe this was all a Democratic setup.
So, we were getting kind of like dueling statements to trying to make sense of this. Neither of which addressed the truth. So, the conference call you just mentioned is Mark Corallo and Hope Hicks on the line on who`s dealing with this better.
It just goes to show kind of the circular firing squad that was happening.
O`DONNELL: And, Matt, just to clarify -- this conference call you`re reporting tonight, did that occur on Air Force One prior to or after the other conference call.
APUZZO: No. My understanding that would have been the day after the initial -- our initial story came out. This would have been post-Air Force One trip as the administration tried to deal with the fallout of this. And Hope Hicks is saying, Mark Corallo, how could you give this rival statement that was really dumb? And Mark Corallo turns around and says, Hope Hicks, are you kidding me? Your statement was misleading.
And they kind of go at it and the implication that Corallo left with was she was trying to cover something up. Now, I think it`s worth mentioning not only does Hope Hicks`s lawyer, who typically does not talk to reporters and not give statements to reporters, vehemently denying the conversation happened that way. But we also have contemporaneous reporting that says that there are other discussions in which Hope Hicks is actually advocating trying to get ahead of the story by putting the e-mails out.
So, you know, again this is a theme of these -- these fights inside the administration of, you know, who`s right and who`s wrong, who`s on the side of good and who`s not. And this is the kind of thing that Bob Mueller is going to have to sort out.
O`DONNELL: Any indication of what Mark Corallo is going to say about what the president said about those e-mails never getting out?
APUZZO: So, our understanding was that the president, for the most part, was in listening mode there. It`s not even clear to us to what degree the president knew exactly what was in the e-mails. Obviously, he had direct involvement in helping craft that statement to us that was misleading, but to the -- it`s not clear to us what extent he knew was in the e-mails.
So, our knowledge of what Mark Corallo will say is, Mr. President, this is not a smart decision and we shouldn`t be talking about this, you know, without lawyers present. This is no longer a privileged conversation because this is not a conversation between you and your lawyers.
O`DONNELL: Yes, and Mark Corallo`s not a lawyer. He was a spokesperson, a PR person, handling the reporters who wanted to talk to the legal team. And so, there`s no attorney-client privilege in this discussion that the president is participating in with Hope Hicks talking about those e-mails will never get out and Mark Corallo being apparently horrified by what he`s hearing.
And he apparently knows enough about legal process and has dealt with lawyers enough certainly on the team that he was representing that he knew this was edging into, if not stepping straight into, obstruction of justice territory.
APUZZO: It was certainly a concern that he shared with people in real time. And then, when we spoke to him today, we said, look, this is what we`re going to report. He said, I don`t dispute any of that, but I don`t have anything to add. Obviously, he`s going to talk to Mueller, so there`s constraint there is of what he wants to say ahead of that interview.
But, I mean, again, I just think the circular firing squad analogy is apt here. People have gone in -- from the White House have gone in and spoken to Mueller under the penalty of, obviously, you know, not giving false statements and have said that this is not the way this went down. And that is an awfully strong denial from -- this is not a non-denial denial from Hope Hicks` lawyer.
So you have a differing accounts of what happened, you know, after -- around that statement than what was given to the "New York Times" back in July.
MATTHEWS: And, Matt, let me stay on Mark Corallo for a moment. Characterize him for us because he wasn`t working on the White House staff. He was not a government employee. He was privately employed by the outside privately hired lawyers who are running the criminal defense for the president in this investigation. This has nothing to do with White House counsel, nothing to do with White House personnel.
APUZZO: Right. And he was -- I mean, Mark Corallo is a former John Ashcroft spokesman at the Department of Justice. You know, he is a political communications consultant. He runs his own communication shop in northern Virginia. He`s certainly well known in D.C circles.
And his departure from the legal team has only been a little nebulous, right? Some people said he quit. Some people said, no, he was fired. And nobody has come out and really put a fine point on exactly why he left. And his departure was shortly before the president removed Marc Kasowitz from his legal team, his long-time lawyer, and decided to stick with a different legal team, John Dowd, who is leading the discussions right now about what the president is going to -- you know, may or may not tell Bob Mueller.
Now, I think it`s very important that this -- the Air Force One statement that was given to us back in July is something that Mueller has told the president that he -- the president`s lawyers that he wants to talk about in the interview. And that is very much front and center in the debate over, the negotiations over whether the president is going to sit down and talk to Mueller because there are some people who say the president doesn`t need to talk about to Bob Mueller about whether he was totally forthcoming with the "New York times" because I`m sorry, lying to the "New York Times" isn`t a crime or being misleading to the "New York Times" isn`t a crime.
And so, if you don`t have an underlying crime to investigate, the president doesn`t need to answer your question. And that`s a fascinating -- I mean, as a legal dork, that`s a fascinating question. But it goes to show this is front and center. This is very much of interest to Bob Mueller.
O`DONNELL: That is obviously why Mark Corallo`s input here changes what was going on on Air Force One from being a story lying to the "New York Times" to something much more important that goes right to the center of the investigation.
Matt Apuzzo, please stay with us if you can because you might -- there might be some questions here from our other guests.
We`re joined now, joining the discussion, John Heilemann, national affairs analyst for NBC News and MSNBC. Also with us, Barbara McQuade, former U.S. attorney to the eastern district of Michigan and a law professor now at the University of Michigan. She`s also an NBC News and MSNBC legal contributor.
Also with us, Frank Montoya, Jr. He`s a retired FBI senior executive who also served as the national counterintelligence executive during his 26- year career in the FBI.
And, John, I just want to get in one more word buy graphically here about Mark Corallo. Here`s a former spokesperson for the attorney general. This is someone -- a Republican attorney general.
He knows his way around this arena. And he develops concerns of the people he`s dealing with and what he hears in this conference call that Hope Hicks could be leading the president into obstruction of justice or herself into obstruction of justice, and it sounds like this is the kind of thing that made him get out of there.
JOHN HEILEMANN, NBC NEWS AND MSNBC NATIONAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: So, Mark Corallo is a familiar figure if you covered Washington scandals and politics for a long time. He basically made his name at first working for Dan Burton`s committee back when that committee was on the House side was investigating Bill Clinton, in a Bill Clinton impeachment matter.
He did work for John Ashcroft in the Justice Department. He then left the Justice Department and worked for both Scooter Libby and Karl Rove in the Valerie Plame case when they had to go in front of a grand jury.
So this is a guy who has a lot of time at the nexus of law -- not a lawyer but someone who knows a lot about the law for a non-lawyer and knows about the political implications and political jeopardy and the trouble you can get yourself into if you tell lies to people or try to cover things up. This is a sharp guy. It`s clear from -- now the "New York Times`" very detailed and compelling account tonight, the tick-tock, which has -- got sources right and center, some contemporaneous, some now. And then you have the Michael Wolff account.
You have some other reporting out there, too, but you take those things together. The suggestion that Mark Corallo saw the issues here, saw the trouble the president was wading into, immediately radar went off. Sharp political operator, knows the law, knows what Mueller might want to look out, knows what it means the lies that tumble out of other lies. And also knows that when Hope Hicks said this thing that he said she said, and told people contemporaneous that she said it, that she was either at "The Times" suggests either naive, which is possible.
Hope Hicks is not a stupid person but the kind of person who might very well have thought, hey, this is a small number of people on the e-mail chain, it`s not going to get out. Not realizing that these e-mails have been dragged into the investigation, they were on their way to Capitol Hill. She may not have been suggesting, we`re going to destroy these emails, but just hey, we can keep this close. But in either case, he sees that jeopardy and there is a strong suggestion that as he looked back on this quickly thereafter, he`s like, I`m out of here and left the White House.
O`DONNELL: Barb McQuade, as a former prosecutor, your reaction to everything you`ve heard about this, what "The New York Times" is repoting tonight?
BARBARA MCQUADE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: Well, I think Robert Mueller will be interested in the comment allegedly made by Hope Hicks about no one seeing the e-mails. I think a couple of things are important here. Of course, her intent is going to matter, we talked about obstruction of an justice, a corrupt really intent matters. So, asking questions about the context and trying to understand her meaning will be very important.
But I think that Mark Corallo did a smart thing. You`re right. He`s got a lot of experience in the Justice Department. He`s very savvy, by immediately reporting what he observed and heard to three people contemporaneously. It won`t just be a battle of what did she say and what did he say, but these three other witnesses could testify later and it would be an exception of the hearsay rule if they`re called to rebut an allegation of a fabrication.
So, their testimony could bolster the testimony of Mark Corallo on this obstruction of justice allegation.
HEILEMANN: I believe Mark Corallo took contemporaneous notes of his own, in addition to recording to people. So, I believe there`s a paper trail. He went and said, I`ve got to write this down. So, there`s another piece of evidence that could be introduced in this cases.
O`DONNELL: Frank Montoya, there`s a dynamic that I`m seeing developed in this investigative package in many ways is a dream for FBI investigators. One is extremely experienced people finding themselves in scenes like this who know when you`re stepping toward obstruction of justice, that would be the Mark Corallo character who himself has worked at the Justice Department. And so, he becomes available as a witness to the investigators.
But also, there are these completely inexperienced people like Hope Hicks who find themselves in these very important scenes, she described in no uncertain terms in many accounts, including Michael Wolff`s book as being completely ill equipped to be in any of the rooms that she`s in. And she`s the kind of person who doesn`t know what she should or shouldn`t say in certain situations.
And that`s a different kind of person for investigators to deal with. How do investigators deal with someone like Hope Hicks?
FRANK MONTOYA, JR., FORMER FBI SENIOR EXECUTIVE: Well, I mean, I think what Matt said about circular firing squad is absolutely spot on. It`s a target rich environment. We`re looking at subjects from a vast range of experiences.
You know, someone like her, they`re going to treat her just like they`re going to treat anyone else. They`re not going to cut any slack. I mean, we`re talking about a major league investigation here with some first-rate prosecutors and investigators who are shoulder to shoulder and engaged in ferret out the facts of the case to make the case in chief.
But the reality of the situation is she`s going to have to face it like everyone else. I think that`s part of the reason her lawyer came out so forcefully today. I mean, that was to try to defend her because this is damning information and where does it lead from here?
So, it`s -- they`re going to be looking at all of these people directly, they`re not going to cut any slack for any of them and it`s going to be precise and by the book because it`s got -- they have to defend what they`re doing in the face of these other outside -- these spurious and baseless but outside attacks against their credibility.
O`DONNELL: Matt Apuzzo, I just want to go back to you on the reporting end of this because one of the things that the lawyers for everyone involved in this case would normally say to everyone involved in the case, for example, Hope Hicks` lawyers in a normal world would say to her, do not have any conversations with any of the other participants in this case. In other words, don`t have any more conversations with Donald Trump, for example. That would be the most protective way to approach how you handle yourself in this situation. That`s something that Mark Corallo, for example, must have thought about for a bit and decided the only way I can protect myself is to quit and get away from these people and not have any employment need to speak to them.
APUZZO: Well, I mean, if that is indeed what happened. Again, his exit from this is still very much a question as far as I`m concerned.
Look, let me just make -- let me make this one point which I think is really important. Bob Mueller is not going to give -- you know, he`s not going to give a care what Mark Corallo thinks may have been obstruction, right? He is going to take his cue very much from the facts. And the facts as we know it, right, are that these -- there was no way that Hope Hicks was going to actually just keep these e-mails from becoming known to the special counsel because the White House knew at that moment they were all going to be turned over to Congress and to bob Mueller.
So to throw cold water on what Mark Corallo is going to say is, great, he thought this was evidence of corruption but big deal. You don`t indict based on Mark Corallo`s theory of what obstruction is. You indict if there`s also evidence of obstruction. And so, that would be the counter argument to this. I think that`s important to keep in mind.
O`DONNELL: I want to go to Barbara McQuade on that. This scene when it`s fully told by Hope Hicks as she will be compelled to tell the story under oath or to cooperate with FBI investigator or these, which is still in effect under oath, we`re going to get her version of the dialogue, we`re going to have Mark Corallo`s version of the dialogue. Eventually, we will attempt to get the president`s version of the dialogue in that room.
And it may be there are elements in there that the special prosecutor can extract in effect and use as part of the overall intent of what the president has been doing day in and day out in his reaction to being investigated.
MCQUADE: Yes, I agree with you, Lawrence, because I think what Robert Mueller is going to try to do is show was there a pattern of conduct to try to cover up and obstruct justice here. Every one of these little episodes, the request for loyalty from James Comey and asking to let it go with Michael Flynn, every one of those standing alone may not amount to obstruction of justice, but the jury instruction on corrupt intent tells you to look at the totality of the circumstances, everything the person did and everything the person said.
So, this episode is telling to add to the totality of the circumstances. So maybe alone it doesn`t add to obstruction of justice, but when you look at the pattern of behavior, it`s building up to something that`s becoming very strong.
O`DONNELL: Joining the conversation is Sam Stein, and I just wanted to get another set of eyes on this story tonight.
And, Sam, this is one of those reminders that the special prosecutor knows a lot of more than we do and we are at the tip of the iceberg of information here.
SAM STEIN, THE DAILY BEAST POLITICAL EDITOR: Yes, and it`s also a reminder that people in Trump`s corner have been anticipating that this process will have been over at various points long before now, and we still have ways to go. I mean, there was predictions that this would be brought to an end by Thanksgiving, then Christmas, then the end of the year. And now it seems we`re getting something new every five hours every night.
What struck me about this story is that it illuminated, at least to me, a suspicion that a lot of us have which is that there are sort of two universes of Trump people -- the people who are on the campaign and the people who joined the administration after it started. It and seems like the people who joined the administration after it started were somewhat caught in the dark about the extent to which there were, in fact, ties to Russia. That this meeting did happen and it wasn`t about adoption policy.
And I think they also struck, it seems, reading between the lines here, by how personally Trump`s family, in this case, Don Jr., but also the president himself, reacted to news reports of these meetings. So I`m fascinating to see how many people are actually leaking and talking, part of it is because they have lawyers and they want to get ahead of the story. But part of it, it seems to me, is that you have two camps and these camps are diametrically at odds together in terms of the knowledge they have. So, that`s what`s feeding this frenzy and it`s just fascinating to watch.
O`DONNELL: Matt Apuzzo, we`re going to go to break quickly. But I just want to get -- do we know when Mark Corallo is going to be interviewed by the special prosecutor?
APUZZO: I don`t have an exact date but to add one thing, Hope Hicks has already spoken to Bob Mueller`s team. She spoke with him over the course of two days, and there are contemporaneous text messages between her and other participants in this that Bob Mueller has. So her version of this, in which this conversation is not -- you know, she takes a very different view of this conversation, has already happened. So, this is not something she`s going to be able to come back around and add to later.
O`DONNELL: We`re going to have to take a break here. When we come back, major breaking news on the memo that the House Intelligence Committee intends to release. Very important statement about it by Congressman Adam Schiff revealed just moments ago.
LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC ANCHOR: We have breaking news tonight on memo- eve. The night before the release of what is the most discredited secret memo ever to be debated before being released. This a tweet from Adam Schiff tonight the Senior Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee he says breaking discovered late tonight that Chairman Nunes made material changes to the memo he sent to Whitehouse, changes not approved by the committee. Whitehouse, therefore reviewing a document the committee has not approved for release.
Joining the rest of us in the discussion now, Eric Columbus, a former Senior Counsel to the Deputy Attorney General in the Department of Justice during the Obama Administration. And Eric Columbus I want to get your reaction to what Adam Schiff is saying tonight. We first of all have seen a standoff over this memo like nothing we`ve seen before.
The FBI issuing a statement saying it is not true in material facts. And now you have Adam Schiff saying that Devin Nunes changed the memo when he sent it to the Whitehouse and it is not, therefore, word for word the memo that the committee approved to be released after being sent to the Whitehouse.
ERIC COLUMBUS, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Well, he`s essentially accusing Chairman Nunes of playing dirty pool. He had the committee vote on something in order to release a document that is otherwise classified. And then he sent to the Whitehouse apparently a somewhat different document.
Now it`s interesting. We don`t know in what ways the document has changed. It`s possible that it`s making claims that are less inflammatory or the opposite more inflammatory. But if Congressman Schiff Is correct and it does seem what he is saying is what happened because he has details in the letter, then it`s a bad look for Chairman Nunes.
O`DONNELL: Well he does say that these are material changes. So that means they are significant. It means they are important. It doesn`t mean that there`s some small item here or there that doesn`t matter. Barbara McQuaid, I want to get your reaction to that.
BARBARA MCQUAID, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Well you know as a matter of process it seems inappropriate to have the committee vote on one memo and submit a different one to the Whitehouse, especially if it has material differences. The whole release of the memo itself is what the Justice Department has referred to as extraordinarily reckless.
The FBI said it has material omissions that make it misleading. And what`s difficult about it is the FBI`s hands will be tied from responding to it because they will abide by the classification rules and not be able to rebut what`s out there. So the release in whatever form seems incredibly damaging.
O`DONNELL: And John Heilemann when you study the transcript of the meeting yesterday. It was a close door meeting but the transcript was released today you see the Democrats and Republicans talking about releasing this. And one asks Devin Nunes, did he consult with the Whitehouse at all. Did he get any help from the Whitehouse at all in putting this memo together and he does not give a clear answer to that.
You see Nunes under tremendous pressure from the Democrats in the meeting yesterday. And now you have the FBI with a statement discredited this memo Devin Nunes apparently feeling the heat of those criticisms and according to Adam Schiff going to the point of making material changes in the memo.
JOHN HEILEMANN, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Yes. And we do not know what those changes are. Schiff has suggested they were done, they were made, they were made secretly. It`s not clear how the minority, that is to say Schiff`s party, the Democratic Party, found out about these changes. But he says -- he alleges that they were made in secret.
He says they were substantive. They were meaningful. They reviewed the difference of documents. He said he did not approve the memo according to Schiff. He said it`s still on the material factual problems. There`s still all the misleading of it.
all the things that Schiff and Democrats object to about this memo are still in there but there have been other changes so yes, as a matter of -- the notion that this is a procedural foot fault. I mean that yes, of course, this is a deviation from all standard practice but this higher process related to this memo has been a deviation from all standard process, all norms, all standards. The thing has been a parade of depredations on which is this the kind of the cherry on top of the Sunday.
And the thing with the FBI today, Christopher Wray, Donald Trump`s hand picked FBI Director, someone who was chosen by Trump. Someone who has treaded lightly when the Trump attacked the FBI, Wray has tried to send signals to people inside the FBI in a subtle that he`s with them. And he doesn`t stand with Trump when Trump attacks the FBI.
Today you have Christopher Wray and Rod Rosenstein, who`s on the thinnest ice of anyone officials has all of the Republicans and presumably Donald Trump are to find ways to justify firing him at some point in order to eventually potentially fire Mueller. Christopher Wray and Rosenstein go to the Whitehouse and say you can`t do this. This memo is bogus.
They don`t say it in those words because of the FBI. But they go and say basically this memo is a pack of lies. And yet we are on track to have it released. The President yesterday is the last I`ll say one of the most extraordinary things of all.
The President of United States yesterday walking out of the house chamber said 100% percent I`m doing to release this memo, 100 percent. Earlier in the day, Sarah Huckabee-Sanders had said, the President hadn`t read the memo. And yet the President of going to release a memo full of classified material he`s a 100 percent he`s going to release it, having not read it.
O`DONNELL: And that`s before any Whitehouse lawyers could have read it
HEILEMANN: I mean I can`t give you -- there`s a part of him to a point at which of these things of what is the most outrageous -
O`DONNELL: Frank Montoya is a former member of the FBI, I want you to address this point that came up in that closed door meeting yesterday revealed only in the transcript that we got today, the Democrats were pressing Devin Nunes to allow the FBI, to allow Director Wray to come into the meeting and actually tell them his concerns about releasing this memo, to which Chairman Nunes said, we are not going to be briefed by people that are under investigation by this committee.
That was a stunning development for the Democrats in the Committee, according to Adam Schiff, the top Democrat in the Committee. He then said in response to that, we have now learned that the rather momentous fact that I guess the FBI is under investigation by this committee and so is the Department of Justice. Frank, your reaction to that moment?
FRANK MONTOYA, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Well as an FBI guy, I will say it. They are throwing down the BS flag today with that statement. I think that that`s -- it reflects exactly the point that you`re making right there about this allegation or this stipulation that the FBI is now under investigation for essentially doing its job. I mean first and foremost, this is about chasing shiny objects. And beyond the outrage, beyond the frustration is the fact that it`s an investigative technique that they`re poking their finger at.
It`s an investigation that`s ongoing. It`s a legitimate investigation that`s ongoing. It`s using information from a lot of sources. And for them to cherry pick and I think really do believe they`re cherry picking because the fact of the matter is you know they`ve looked at hundreds if not thousands of documents pertaining to this investigations or these investigations. And they`ve come up with a 3 1/2 page summary. But the fact they`re doing it it`s intended to do one thing even if they`re saying that there`s an investigation it`s to discredit what is going on in a legitimate investigation.
As we are seeing every day, and I agree absolutely with you guys that you know we`re days, even months, behind where the Special Counsel is in terms of information developed. But what we see every single day is strong indicators that the special counsel is moving to some pretty, I think, decisive conclusions.
O`DONNELL: Sam Stein, Devin Nunes, the Chairman of the Committee does not want to hear from the FBI Director because he says the Director of the FBI is under investigation by Denvi Nunes and his committee.
SAM STEIN, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: it`s a remarkable thing to say. Although more remarkable that apparently the Democrats were caught completely by surprise by this. But you know it gets to something that John was talking about, which is that this is a charade. This is a show. This is done to obscure and muddy an investigation into Donald Trump And it is done on behalf of the Trump administration.
And the most remarkable thing to me, But I guess it shouldn`t be remarkable because people get second acts in this town I supposed. But Devin Nunes is someone who burned his credibility tremendously in what I thought would have been irrevocably already during this administration when he tried to engineer what is known as the unmasking scandal where he basically went to the Whitehouse, got information from the Whitehouse about requests for unmasking and then presented it to the Whitehouse as if the Whitehouse had not been a part of it.
And after that it facilitated and forced his recusal from the investigation after that we assumed that Devin Nunes was done for, his credibility was shot and he wouldn`t be a player in any of this political drama going guard. But he`s managed to claw his way back into this and suddenly we`re spending every night obsessing over what kind of act he`s going to do next and what kind of irresponsible revelation he`ll put forward. And it`s remarkable to see someone who burned his credibility so badly become a key player once more.
O`DONNELL: And Barbara McQuaid we have the Chairman of the committee saying that the Director of the FBI is under investigation for the issuance of a FISA warrant the year before he became the Director of the FBI.
MCQUAID: Yes. You know that`s sort of an overstatement that Christopher Wray would be responsible for that. But I suppose he could be speaking about the agency as a whole. I think that Frank makes a good point that he`s undermining the agency.
And this can have such a harmful effect going forward, not only as it relates to the Mueller Investigation and the goal there is to cast doubt on any charges that are ultimately filed in this investigation. But the ripple effect this is going to have across the country by Trump supporters. The FBI is out there every day interviewing witnesses in cases about bank robbery and kidnapping and is a person to think when the President and Devan Nunes has poisoned the community about the FBI. When people are sitting juries and trying to asses the credibility of an FBI agent whose is testifying. This is serious and possible long term damage to our nation`s top law enforcement agency.
O`DONNELL: Were going to squeeze in a break here. And when we come back you will all be heard on more of this issue of Devin Nunes and the Rod Rosenstein and why the President asked Rod Rosenstein if he is on the President`s Team and what Rod Rosenstein said in response to that question.
O`DONNELL: For President Trump it all comes down to Rod Rosenstein. Today we learned that the President recently asked Rod Rosenstein, are you on my team? And that is, of course, just a slight variation on the question he asked acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, who did you vote for? And each of those questions are a slight refinement on the loyalty pledge that the President tried to get from FBI Director James Comey before firing him.
It was obvious to Donald Trump that James Comey was not on his team and that Andrew McCabe was not on his team and they are both gone. Is Rod Rosenstein next? Eric Columbus, you`ve been considering Rod Rosenstein`s position in this, you wrote a piece about it in the Washington Post" yesterday. Why is the President obsessed with Rod Rosenstein?
COLUMBUS: Rod Rosenstein is Robert Mueller`s boss. And any decision that Robert Mueller makes can be overturned by Rosenstein in his capacity as the acting Attorney General, given that Jeff Sessions is recused from everything. So anything that Mueller does can be overturned by Rosenstein. And if Rosenstein were gone and someone more compliant were shifted into his position we could see a different path for the Mueller investigation.
O`DONNELL: Barbara McQuaid, how do you get someone more compliant? Let`s suppose that somehow Rod Rosenstein is forced out, goes the Andrew McCabe route, can`t take it anymore and quits, who then becomes the Deputy Attorney General, and, in effect, acting Attorney General in this matter.
MCQUAID: Well I think next is line is the associate Attorney General, Rachel Brand. I don`t know her but what I know about her is she`s a career professional. So I don`t know that President Trump would fair better in the absence of Rod Rosenstein with Rachel Brand in charge. Now I suppose he could keep going until he gets someone in the chain succession he does like --
O`DONNELL: Which excuse me Barbara by keep going do you mean keep firing people?
MCQUAID: Yes, you know Saturday Night Massacre style if he doesn`t like the way Rachel Brand handles it maybe he moves on the next one until he finds someone whose handling of the case suits him.
O`DONNELL: And (INAUDIBLE) the reason we look at it that way is of course if he just fires Rod Rosenstein then waits until he gets another confirmed by the Senate Deputy Attorney General, well, you know, who knows how much ground Robert Mueller could cover, then how long would it take to confirm someone to that position and what would that confirmation process be like?
STEIN: It will be messy, obviously because its obviously sensitive matter. You know, the appetite on The hill is bizarrely deferential to Trump on these things considering all the amazing warning signs that we`ve had about his dissatisfaction with the people who are overseeing the case. And of course his reported decision to try to fire Bob Mueller and then backing away when Don McGahn told him not to do so. You talk to Senators on the Hill and they seem utterly convinced at least the Republicans seem utterly convinced that Trump will never make a Saturday Night Massacre-like move that he wouldn`t dare to attempt to fire Mueller because he knows it would backfire on his presidency.
And I just don`t really understand why they feel so confident about that, given all the evidence. So there are two pieces of legislation, there is about Rosenstein. It`s about Mueller. There are two pieces of legislation to protect Bob Mueller. They`re looking. They`re trying to make them the way through the Judiciary Committee.
There`s no evidence that their going to make their way through the judiciary committee. But Democrats are trying to think of aggressive ways to push them forward even if they don`t get a hearing in committee, one of which is to tie them into this government funding fight set to happen in early February.
O`DONNELL: And John Heilemann can you explain the politics of this to me? Can you explain to me why Republicans in the House and in the Senate are watching the President do this? And doing, as far as we can tell, everything they can to help him?
HEILEMANN: They`re not just watching it. This week again, when the history of this is written, one of the great revelations of this week is the total supineness of Paul Ryan.
O`DONNELL: Because everything that Devin Nunes is doing is Paul Ryan sanctioned.
HEILEMANN: Yes and not just sanctioned. He came out openly yesterday and basically said, we should be investigating the FBI, effectively. he basically said, to the extent the House Intelligence Committee has now shifted its focus under Devin Nunes` leadership from Investigating Russian Interference in the 2016 election to investigating the FBI and DOJ, that`s just fine with me, Paul Ryan said yesterday, to the cameras. So he`s on team Nunes. and that means --
HEILEMANN: He`s on team Trump. I have asked. You know I`ve known Paul Ryan for a long time. This a guy who in 2012 stood up on a ticket with Mitt Romney and said that Russia was America`s greatest geopolitical foe. The left laughed at him in 2012 but he said that. And now four years later doesn`t seem to care about Russia.
Back in 2016 when the Obama Administration went to Capitol Hill and sat with Ryan and McConnell and said you know what the Russians are invading our elections right now. We got to do something. Ryan and McConnell said, we`re not going to do anything about that. It started then.
I don`t understand what`s happened to Paul Ryan. I`ve asked a lot of people who know him really well. Many people who know him well and used to respect him are profoundly troubled by his behavior through the campaign, now through the administration. But whatever the source of it is, the implications of it are profound because I had thought naively, and I`ve rarely considered myself naive about politics, I would have said six months ago that firing Rod Rosenstein, firing Bob Mueller, were red lines over which Donald Trump could not go.
Watching the behavior of Paul Ryan and the totality of the House Republicans, and looking increasingly at the sort of softness, the jell-o- like shaking of some of the Republicans who said this is a red line before on the senate side, I`m not convinced now that if Donald Trump moved on Mueller either through Rosenstein or moving on Mueller directly, I`m not convinced it would be a red line for Republicans on Capitol Hill.
And that would really bring to a head what I think already we`re in the middle of a rolling constitutional crisis. But bringing to the head of it would be that moment, if he did that and the Republican leadership on Capitol Hill said, fine by us.
O`DONNELL: A rolling constitutional crisis. Frank Montoya, talk about what this feels like inside the FBI. what does it do to the rank and file when they hear the Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee says the FBI is under investigation, he will not accept any testimony from the director of the FBI because he is investigating him personally, that`s who is barred from the meeting, the director of the FBI.
Devin Nunes said he is under investigation. What does it do to the investigators, the FBI Investigators who are working on the Trump case, on the Russia case? How do they maintain their objectivity?
MONTOYA: It`s a great question. I mean, depends on the day, maybe even the hour, it vacillates between frustration and outrage. The good news is that these are really outstanding men and women who are focused on the mission, who are every single day coming to work did do the jobs that -- to uphold the oaths that they swore, to uphold the rule of law, to defend the constitution. I think the farther you get away from Washington, D.C., it`s a little bit easier for these folks.
But it`s also becoming something that`s harder and harder to ignore because it`s not just what they`re hearing on TV. It`s also their neighbors coming up to them, people at church. The challenge is getting more difficult to avoid. And yeah, there is frustration, there is outrage in how you deal with it. But at the same time, you take solace in your professionalism and keep doing the job.
O`DONNELL: Quick break. Stay with us. Tonight`s Last Word is next.
O`DONNELL : Tonight`s Last Word is thank you. A big thank you to our guests tonight beginning with (INAUDIBLE) with his breaking news from the New York Times joined us at the beginning of the show. And also of course John Heilemann, Barbara McQuaid, Frank Montoya, Sam Stein, Eric Columbus, Thanks to all of you, really appreciate it. That is tonight`s Last Word.
Please stay with our breaking news coverage of tonight`s developments. I had to throw out everything that was scripted for this show as the news was breaking on us. I know that`s exactly what Brian Williams has had to do too. And that`s why we have another hour of coverage of all of this and more. The 11th hour with Brian Williams starts now.
BRIAN WILLIAMS, 11TH HOUR ANCHOR: A breaking story from the New York Times tonight. Robert Mueller now digging into the cover story about that Trump Tower meeting and the role Whitehouse aide Hope Hicks might have played. Also Washington counting down to the release of that controversial memo even
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