THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL March 16, 2018 Guest: Barry McCaffrey, Harry Litman, Ned Price, David Cay Johnston, Ruth Marcus, Benjamin Wittes, Jill Wine-Banks; Michael Avenatti
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Now, it`s time for THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL. Good evening, Lawrence.
LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Rachel. So if you get a standing ovation for pleading guilty, what do you get for pleading not guilty?
O`DONNELL: I mean, that`s -- you get a car or something? You must get a prize.
MADDOW: If Paul Manafort was able -- well, despite the ankle bracelets, if Paul Manafort was able to walk into that room, I imagine they would have like -- they would have declared him a saint. I don`t know.
O`DONNELL: Rachel, we got this extraordinary news tonight about the President trying to move the Stormy Daniels lawsuit into federal court, which, of course, is the place where he appoints the judges.
Stormy Daniels` lawyer is actually on an airplane at this moment. We hope to hear from him as soon as he lands, but I want to bring you something else which is what Barry McCaffrey -- General Barry McCaffrey said tonight. General Barry McCaffrey is going to be our first guest.
Now, I just want to get your reaction to what he said before I go to the General. He tweeted, reluctantly, I have concluded that President Trump is a serious threat to U.S. national security. He is refusing to protect vital U.S. interests from active Russian attacks. It is apparent that he is, for some unknown reason, under the sway of Mr. Putin.
MADDOW: Wow. I mean, that`s remarkable because of who is saying it. To have General McCaffrey -- I mean, General McCaffrey is a four-star general, right?
O`DONNELL: Yes. That`s correct, yes.
MADDOW: There aren`t that many four-star generals in American history, let alone in America. And to have him saying something that serious, talking about it being under the sway of Pentagon and being a national security threat, that`s -- that is -- that`s very grave.
I`m glad you`re going to have him on. I would love to hear him explain why he has come to a conclusion that serious.
O`DONNELL: And we all remember the White House Press Secretary saying you must never question or doubt the generals. I suspect that this particular general might run into a little something from this White House.
MADDOW: Yes, exactly. Well, well done for him.
O`DONNELL: Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: Thanks, Lawrence.
O`DONNELL: Thank you. And now joining us by phone is General Barry McCaffrey. He`s a retired four-star general, decorated combat veteran of Vietnam. He`s also an MSNBC military analyst.
General McCaffrey, thank you very much for joining us tonight. And I`m wondering, why tonight? What was it that brought you to this point of seeing this president as a serious threat to U.S. national security? I know you didn`t choose those words lightly.
GEN. BARRY MCCAFFREY (RET.), MSNBC MILITARY ANALYST (via telephone): No, not at all. You know, I`ve been fairly critical of the President for a variety of reasons. But what really, I think -- the turning point in my mind was his reluctance to personally stand with the Brits over what has been a documented series of essentially Russian intelligence murders in London.
And the latest one being really a signature-attempted assassination of the former Russian intelligence officer and his daughter using a chemical agent that was clearly only available to former Soviet operatives. So I -- you know, it was clear that --
O`DONNELL: General McCaffrey, I`m going to have to interrupt you with some breaking news now from the Justice Department. Jeff -- Attorney General Jeff Sessions has just fired Andrew McCabe, who was, briefly, the acting director of the FBI.
McCabe, who had stepped down from his post earlier this year but remained an FBI employee, had been accused by the Justice Department`s Inspector General of authorizing the disclosure of sensitive information to a reporter and misleading investigators when asked about it.
McCabe had been a lightning rod in the political battles surrounding the investigation into Hillary Clinton`s use of a private e-mail server and Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III`s probe into whether any Trump associates coordinated with Russian agents to interfere in the 2016 presidential race.
And we are now joined by phone by Pete Williams, NBC News` Justice Department correspondent.
Pete, what can you tell us about this?
PETE WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Well, what the Attorney General says in a statement that just came out a few seconds ago is that he has accepted the recommendation from both the Justice Department`s Inspector General and the FBI`s Office of Personnel Responsibility, the OPR -- the Professional Responsibility.
Both had recommended that Andrew McCabe be fired for two reasons according to Jeff Sessions` statement. First, they say he authorized the unauthorized disclosure of information about the Clinton investigation while the investigation was going on. And what the Inspector General had said is that violates FBI policy not to discuss investigations while they`re going on.
But secondly, and perhaps more importantly, what the statement from the Attorney General says is that when McCabe was asked about this on more than one occasion, including while he was under oath, his answers, they believe, were not truthful. And on -- for that reason, the Attorney General says he concluded that it was right to accept the recommendation, so Andy McCabe has been fired.
Now, what this means for his pension, which, of course, is an important question. He was -- he`s actual retirement date, Lawrence, was two days from now, Sunday, his birthday. That`s the day he put -- he actually stepped down as Deputy FBI Director in late January presumably at the urging of the FBI Director, Chris Wray, who was aware of these recommendations.
But McCabe had said his retirement date would be this coming Sunday. So this puts his pension in jeopardy, but it doesn`t necessarily mean that he`ll lose it according to government personnel experts that I talked to earlier today. He has some options. He can pursue -- that he can pursue that, perhaps, will preserve part of his pension.
But the bottom line here is that the Attorney General has accepted the recommendation and emphasizes in his statement that this is what the Justice Department`s Inspector General and the FBI recommended. Obviously attempting to say that this was not politically motivated, Lawrence.
O`DONNELL: Pete, let me just get those distinctions clear. So it`s a recommendation not just from the Inspector General but also a recommendation from the FBI?
WILLIAMS (via telephone): Right. So here`s the sequence. As you were saying, the Inspector General, right after the inauguration, launched -- said he was launching an investigation into how the FBI handled the entire Clinton e-mail investigation.
As part of that, he became aware that, in October of 2016, the FBI -- "The Wall Street Journal" was working on a story about the status of the Clinton investigation and had picked up suggestions that the FBI was dragging its feet on part of that, which is an investigation of the Clinton Foundation.
And what apparently happened here is that Andrew McCabe authorized someone in the FBI to talk to "The Wall Street Journal" reporter and basically say, no, that`s not the case. You know, we believe there`s still reasons to keep that going.
So that is what got the Inspector General`s attention. And then when -- according to the I.G., when he was questioned about it, he wasn`t fully forthcoming, Andrew McCabe. So the I.G. made a recommendation to the FBI`s Office of Professional Responsibility that he be fired.
OPR looked into it, concurred, and then, in essence, that would have been the end of it, except that McCabe appealed this to the Justice Department, which is his right. And now, the Attorney General says he`s reviewed it and thinks the recommendations are correct.
O`DONNELL: And, Pete, I just want to clarify for the audience, the Inspector General is not a Trump appointee. This Inspector General is a long-time Justice Department employee, isn`t he?
WILLIAMS (via telephone): Right. He was -- he`s been there -- he served under the Obama administration as well, Michael Horowitz.
O`DONNELL: And "The Wall Street Journal" article in question actually cites sources at certain points that are labeled as sources close to McCabe, and so it was pretty obvious that -- where "The Journal" was getting that help.
But the information that was coming from the McCabe sources actually read as not -- as somewhat anti-Clinton information. It was information that pushed the investigation further in the direction of looking at what Hillary Clinton was doing.
WILLIAMS (via telephone): Well, that`s right. I mean, two points about that, Lawrence. One is, the article itself says that the FBI officials that talked to "The Journal" reporter, who, by the way, is named Devlin Barrett. He is now at "The Washington Post." You know, he has covered the Justice Department for many years and is a very smart guy.
The story said that the FBI pushed back at that suggestion, that they were dragging their feet, that they thought there was something to the Clinton Foundation investigation.
So it`s not -- you know, McCabe has come under a lot of criticism from the President, from Republicans in Congress who thought he was too favorable to Hillary Clinton in the e-mail investigation, but the statement that was given to "The Wall Street Journal" is definitely not favorable to Clinton.
O`DONNELL: Pete, why 10:00 p.m. on a Friday night? What happened between, say, 4:00 this afternoon and 10:00 p.m. tonight? What prevented the Attorney General from doing this during normal business hours?
WILLIAMS (via telephone): Well, only yesterday did Andrew McCabe meet with the staff of the Deputy Attorney General. So the Deputy Attorney General had to take his time with this and then pass it along to the Attorney General, who was out of town yesterday. He was meeting with the International Association of Chiefs of Police in Nashville and then had another meeting in Louisville and didn`t get back until late today.
So Jeff Sessions didn`t have a chance to look at this -- and we were told earlier today that this process was moving very slowly. I think, you know, to be quite candid here, Jeff Sessions was in, politically, for himself, a no-win situation. This is somebody who had been -- Andrew McCabe had been criticized repeatedly by name by the President.
So if -- no matter what happened -- and also, people were well aware of Jeff Sessions` own desire to please the President. So no matter what he did, if he said McCabe should be fired as he has done, they`ll be people criticizing him for that. If he said McCabe shouldn`t be fired, that would not please the White House. I mean, it took -- put him in a tough position, but that`s the job.
O`DONNELL: Pete Williams, thank you very much for joining us tonight with this breaking news.
WILLIAMS (via telephone): Yes, sir.
O`DONNELL: Attorney General Jeff Sessions firing the former acting director of the FBI, Andrew McCabe, just two days before Andrew McCabe`s retirement date was to become official.
We`re now joined by Harry Litman, former U.S. attorney and a deputy assistant attorney general under President Clinton. Also Ned Price, former senior director and spokesperson for the National Security Council and a former CIA analyst.
Ruth Marcus, deputy editorial page editor and columnist at "The Washington Post." As well as David Cay Johnston, Pulitzer Price-winning journalist and author of "It`s Even Worse than You Think: What the Trump Administration Is Doing to America."
We have a panel who has seen everything.
Harry Litman, I want to go to you first. You`ve worked in the Justice Department. What`s your reading of this?
HARRY LITMAN, FORMER DEPUTY ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL, UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE: My reading is it`s a grave injustice, Lawrence. There`s -- Pete`s reporting is accurate, and there is a serious mark on McCabe`s record. The record overall, though, is of 21 years of exemplary service and respect by everyone within the Department.
What really stinks about this one is the rush to get this done by Friday, which could -- was only motivated to, in a petty way, take his pension away from him.
Compare this with John Yoo, the author of the Torture Memos. The same thing happened to him. OPR recommended a certain discipline. It then went to the Attorney General. Yoo was given six months to write a long brief, state his case to the Attorney General, which -- who, in fact, did reduce the sentence.
The fact that McCabe was rushed into this presentation yesterday and Sessions turns it around today, I think, is completely abnormal and was done only in order to be sure they could take away his pension before Sunday.
O`DONNELL: Harry, let me stay with you on this distinction because the case you just mentioned was not a member of the FBI. Is there, within the Justice Department, a different, a higher standard for members of the FBI in situations like this which, in the reports, indicates did not tell the truth when he was questioned?
LITMAN: The short answer is no. McCabe was of a certain level that the Attorney General himself needed to decide the issue, but the overall procedural path from the I.G. -- the same I.G. -- to OPR to the Attorney General is the same. It just happens that the OPR, in one instance, is with the FBI and the other instance, Department of Justice.
No reason at all to do it on this timeline except to maliciously take away this guy`s pension, something that FBI agents really think about, know about, and are going to be shaken up about.
O`DONNELL: Ned Price, your reaction to this?
NED PRICE, FORMER ANALYST, CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY: Well, Lawrence, I would agree with Harry. Something about this smells very fishy. And it`s more than just the timing.
It`s more than the fact that this comes just 48 hours or so before his retirement would kick in. It`s more than the fact that this takes place on a Friday night at 10:00 p.m. Eastern Time. It`s also the fact that this takes place separate and apart from the release of the Inspector General Report.
The Inspector General Report on Andrew McCabe in the broader Hillary Clinton matter, as I understand it, has been completed for a while now. It`s been undergoing review.
So why rush this? Why has it aggregated to pull out the Andy McCabe information, fire him well before, it seems, the I.G. Report is going to be released?
We also have to remember the point you raised before. The information Andy McCabe is accused of giving to "The Wall Street Journal" was very damning, was very troubling for the Clinton campaign. It did not look good.
There were previous instances of top Trump officials giving information to news outlets that is exculpatory for the Trump people, that looks good for them. They have never taken fire from that.
Mike Pompeo, it has been well-documented on at least one occasion -- and I highly suspect there have been more -- have reached out early on in the administration to news outlets to tamp down these rumors at the time that there may have been rampant connections between the Trump campaign and the Russians. We now know that to be true.
Mike Pompeo was not disciplined. In fact, Mike Pompeo was just nominated to be the Secretary of State. So I suspect that if what Andy McCabe had done was give information that was exculpatory towards the Trump campaign, we would be seeing a very different outcome here. As it stands, this looks more like anything than a purge.
O`DONNELL: Andy McCabe has given just a couple of comments to "The New York Times" tonight, and he is saying that he believes his firing by Jeff Sessions tonight was -- is intended to affect the Special Prosecutor`s investigation and particularly Andrew McCabe`s credibility in that conversation -- in that investigation.
He said, the idea that I was dishonest is just wrong. This is part of an effort to discredit me as a witness.
And, of course, he means as a witness in the Mueller investigation.
He went on to say -- Andrew McCabe did -- it`s incredibly unfair to my reputation after a 21-year career. The real damage is being done to the FBI, law enforcement, and the Special Counsel.
David Cay Johnston, your reaction to this breaking news?
DAVID CAY JOHNSTON, AUTHOR, "IT`S EVEN WORSE THAN YOU THINK: WHAT THE TRUMP ADMINISTRATION IS DOING TO AMERICA": Well, first of all, I agree with both the lawyers that this is extraordinary. There is a long history of people in the FBI doing things they shouldn`t do and getting full official reports that sort of take care of them. But Donald has a long history of going on the attack.
If he is accused of anything, he learned from Roy Cohn you go on the attack. And so he needs to try and discredit and suppress the Mueller investigation. And one of the things that will help him do that is to try and make Andrew McCabe appear to be less credible. That`s exactly what this is about exactly.
And it sends a secondary signal from this White House, which is you do your job as a law enforcement agent and it`s going to cause me trouble as president, we`ll get you.
O`DONNELL: Harry Litman, there`s another striking coincidence in this breaking news tonight. There is a -- there`s what would have been the massive breaking news of the night which is the President of the United States actively engaging in trying to move a lawsuit by Stormy Daniels out of a state court in California into a federal court, the court where the President appoints the judges.
That story now is competing with this new breaking news story. The President has not tweeted about his legal move tonight, that he is a part of, to try to move the Stormy Daniels case into federal court, but he has just tweeted about Andrew McCabe.
I think we know which one of these stories he wants us to concentrate on. He just tweeted FBI Director Andrew McCabe is racing the clock to retire with full benefits.
This is actually a tweet that he did previously about this because the President was eager to get this done before this retirement date. But it`s so striking that with the Stormy Daniels story breaking -- in less than an hour after it broke, that the President was trying to move that into federal court. Within the hour of that news breaking, Jeff Sessions executes this firing.
LITMAN: Yes. We`ve gotten pretty used to nasty business coming on Friday afternoon or evening. And here you`re right, we have a double dose of it.
I think he is going to want to tout the McCabe point which, again, serves only as a kind of petty gesture to -- in favor of opponents of McCabe just stripping him of his pension for no good reason. And he is going to want to dampen the fact that this motion requires him to acknowledge his role in the Stormy Daniels controversy.
He is -- he has moved to take this case from state court to federal court. In brief, he has the right to do it. And the whole idea here, 100 percent, is to try to use the arbitration clause in the hush money contract to keep her from talking.
And his prospects are going to be a little bit better in federal court because federal judges, he not only appoints them but they`re well known to be more well-disposed to the sort of arbitration clause that he wants to use as a sword here.
O`DONNELL: Ruth Marcus is joining us, "The Washington Post" columnist.
Ruth, the Stormy Daniels lawsuit, we just got the filing on it just before we were going on the air tonight. And then minutes later, we get this firing by Jeff Sessions.
The Stormy Daniels lawsuit that the President is now actively engaged in threatens Stormy Daniels with $20 million in damages. That`s specified by the President and the President`s Lawyer in the filing that they issued tonight. And then Jeff Sessions comes along right after that with this firing.
RUTH MARCUS, DEPUTY EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR, THE WASHINGTON POST: So if I were Stormy Daniels` lawyer, I would tell her to sit tight and don`t worry what number the President and his lawyers are coming up with to threaten her with.
If she wants to talk, they`re not going to be able to stop her from talking. We do not have prior restraint in this country for porn actresses talking about their relationships with a President. If he wants to sue her and she can then go and depose him and have a lawsuit and have discovery, let them go ahead and do that.
I actually really don`t understand the President`s legal strategy, which seems to be bringing maximum attention to Stormy Daniels rather -- which he insists she has no credible story to tell. He has just guaranteed that everybody is going to be tuning in to a certain other network to see her talk.
So on that, I want to descend slightly, just a little bit, on Andrew McCabe`s story just for this reason. It`s totally clear and it`s really upsetting and very disturbing that the President has been gunning for Andrew McCabe since the campaign. He`s been gunning to get his pension taken away from him.
This kind of Friday night massacre is a little concerning. On the other hand, I do know the Inspector General at the Justice Department. If it is true that he concluded that Andrew McCabe`s conduct was serious enough to warrant firing, you can`t fire the guy, well, after he retires.
I just want to know a little bit more about the underlying conduct before I go sort of whole hog with the rest of the crew in completely decrying this. I am concerned by it. I don`t like to see somebody who`s worked for the government his entire life stripped of his pension.
And there`s this magnificent Shakespearean quality to all of this, right? Because if Andrew McCabe is fired and -- as he was fired and if he loses his pension as a result, it will be because he leaked something that was harmful to Hillary Clinton. The guy who the President kept describing as a pro-Clinton schill. So there`s just a certain magnificence to it.
O`DONNELL: Harry Litman --
MARCUS: Ironic magnificence.
O`DONNELL: Thank you, Ruth. I want to go to Harry Litman on this, as a former Justice Department employee. The Inspector General who made this recommendation is a career employee. He is not a Trump appointee.
He served in the Obama administration, served in -- under the Bush administration before that. He has served both Democrat and Republican administrations. So this is not someone who was -- had any apparent bias on the Trump side.
LITMAN: Look, I agree. Michael Horwitz is his name. He is -- he has a well-earned reputation for professionalism and thoroughness, and he put his finger on. McCabe disputes whether -- McCabe was candid but Horwitz judged otherwise.
My push back against Ruth, I take her point, just has to do with the timing of this, notwithstanding when his retirement would have been. It`s just 100 percent clear this was driven by political pressure from the White House for the petty reason of stripping him of his pension. That`s wrong. That`s not the way it`s supposed to work.
O`DONNELL: I just want to repeat what Andrew McCabe said to "The New York Times" tonight. He said, the idea that I was dishonest is just wrong. He said, this is part of an effort to discredit me as a witness.
And, David Cay Johnston, he means as a witness in the Special Prosecutor`s investigation. He is a witness to, among other things we know he`s a witness to, the Comey firing.
In that, we know that James Comey spoke to him about what the President said to him. And so when James Comey is presented as a witness describing what the President said and did to him, Andrew McCabe is part of that.
JOHNSTON: Yes, and Comey did exactly what you should do in that situation. He immediately went and wrote a note, memorializing the conversation. And courts tend to get give a lot of credence to immediately memorialized observations.
And then he brought in his top people, including McCabe, to discuss this and the significance of it, partly to make a record with them, but also partly to make sure that he had correctly interpreted and thought about his options in dealing with this.
So it`s important to Trump, in his effort to discredit Mueller, to try and knock off witnesses wherever he can and take away their legitimacy.
O`DONNELL: Joining us now --
LITMAN: By the way, Lawrence, if I can just quickly say, the Horowitz that is not finished, the bigger topic of it is what Comey did with respect to the Clinton investigation when he came out and said it was extremely careless of her. It may well be that Horowitz will yet also impugn Comey in his broader report.
O`DONNELL: Joining the discussion now by phone is Ben Wittes. He`s the editor-in-chief of "Lawfare." He also knows some of the players involved in this controversy, including James Comey.
Ben Wittes, your reaction to Attorney General Jeff Sessions tonight firing former Acting Director of the FBI Andrew McCabe two days before his official retirement date?
BENJAMIN WITTES, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, LAWFARE (via telephone): I`m very saddened by it. And I wish very much that the resolution of this had been otherwise for the sake of everybody involved, particularly for Andy McCabe who, you know, I still don`t understand and have not seen a factual record that would justify this.
I understand that there is an Inspector General report that has, you know, suggested that he engaged in, you know, conduct that justifies this action. But the nature of precisely what he was supposed to have done and what the evidence of that remains entirely opaque to the public.
And, you know, as far as I can tell, Andy McCabe is somebody who served with a lot of honor and dignity under exceptionally difficult circumstances. And so until I see -- excuse me. Until I see a record that would justify this action taken two days before he was due to retire by -- you know, in the face of presidential tweets demanding his scalp, I will, you know, regard it as an action that may be very difficult to justify.
And that said, I will reserve judgment until I see what the Inspector General has said and what I see when -- what I -- whatever I see Andy has responded to that and so that I understand what the parameters of the dispute really are.
O`DONNELL: The only response we have from Andrew McCabe at this point is a comment he made to "The New York Times" tonight. And he said, the idea that I was dishonest is just wrong. This is part of an effort to discredit me as a witness.
And, Ben Wittes, he -- obviously, he means as a witness in the Mueller investigation. What is your reaction to that?
WITTES (via telephone): Well, I mean, he is a witness in that investigation at least on the question of corroborating Jim Comey`s claims about his interactions with Donald Trump.
And so to the extent that the FBI has concluded -- or the Inspector General has concluded that he was not honest with their investigation, that would have a discrediting effect in the context of a different investigation. Whether it`s justifiable or not, of course, depends on the evidence that the public doesn`t have access to right now.
O`DONNELL: Andrew McCabe has apparently just released a statement tonight. It`s a rather lengthy one. I will try to read some of it -- actually, I`m going to start reading it.
Ned Price, as you start -- give us your reaction again to this, to the possibility that this is actually, the timing of this, is related to the Mueller investigation because Andrew McCabe is obviously a witness in that investigation. As Ben Wittes just said, a corroborating witness to James Comey. And if you can get him fired from his job for being untruthful, that would have an effect on his credibility as a witness.
PRICE: Well, I think that`s exactly right, Lawrence. We know from what Director Comey has said, what he has written, that he shared his encounters, those encounters where President Trump may well have at least attempted to obstruct justice. That he shared those encounters with a very small group of people, all of whom have now been either sidelined or fired.
And in the case of Andy McCabe, he, of course, was sidelined weeks ago. And now his firing, I suspect, as Andy McCabe himself is saying, was to undermine his credibility as a fact witness, as Ben was alluding to.
The other point I think we have to remember here, though, Lawrence, is that we haven`t heard from Michael Horowitz, the Inspector General. We have heard from Jeff Sessions, the Attorney General, someone who, of course, is not unbiased.
And we don`t have to go that far back in history. In fact, only to this week, to recall what happened to Rex Tillerson and the account -- the differing accounts that we heard from the White House and what we heard from the State Department.
The White House put out a statement leading all of us to believe that Rex Tillerson knew this was coming, that he knew that his time was up, but the State Department, it seems in a bit of candor that actually led to an individual`s firing, said that this took him completely by surprise.
So I`m not sure we can give this full credence and credibility, knowing that Jeff Sessions has squandered a lot of his credibility. And I, frankly, want to hear from Michael Horowitz.
JOHNSTON: Lawrence, there`s also an issue here of proportionality. We`re not talking about Andrew McCabe having paid somebody off not to tell a story. We`re not talking about him having screwed up cases of the FBI`s.
We`re talking about how he handled an effort to deal with a journalist who had a story they thought was wrong. So the punishment here is totally out of proportion to the action, even if he was not fully candid.
O`DONNELL: Let`s hear from Andrew McCabe. This is his written statement that has just been released. I will read portions of it.
He says, for the last year and a half, my family and I have been the targets of an unrelenting assault on our reputation and my service to this country. Articles too numerous to count have leveled every sort of false, defamatory, and degrading allegations against us.
The President`s tweets have amplified and exacerbated it all. He called for my firing. He called for me to be stripped of my pension after more than 20 years of service.
And all along, we have said nothing, never wanting to distract from the mission of the FBI by addressing the lies told and repeated about us.
No more. The investigation by the Justice Department`s Office of Inspector General has to be understood in the context of the attacks on my credibility. The investigation flows from my attempt to explain the FBI`s involvement and my supervision of investigations involving Hillary Clinton.
I was being portrayed in the media, over and over, as a political partisan, accused of closing down investigations under political pressure. The FBI was portrayed as caving under that pressure and making decisions for political rather than law enforcement purposes.
Nothing was further from the truth. In fact, this entire investigation stems from my efforts, fully authorized under FBI rules, to set the record straight on behalf of the Bureau and to make clear that we were continuing an investigation that people in DOJ opposed.
The OIG investigation has focused on information I chose to share with a reporter through my public affairs officer and legal counselor. As Deputy Director, I was one of the -- one of only a few people who had the authority to do that.
It was not a secret. It took place over several days and others, including the Director, were aware of the interaction with the reporter.
It was the type of exchange with the media that the Deputy Director oversees several times per week. In fact, it was the same type of work that I continue to do under Director Wray at his request.
The investigation subsequently focused on who I talked to, when I talked to them, and so forth. During those inquiries, I answered questions truthfully and as accurately as I could amidst the chaos that surrounded me. And when I thought my answers were misunderstood, I contacted investigators to correct them.
But looking at that in isolation completely misses the big picture. The big picture is a tale of what can happen when law enforcement is politicized, public servants are attacked, and people who are supposed to cherish and protect our institutions become instruments for damaging those institutions and people.
And, Harry Litman, I want to get your reaction to that much of Andrew McCabe`s statement.
LITMAN: It`s true. It`s tragic. The broader story here -- first on McCabe, the broader story, as Ben and Ned say, is one of exemplary public service, respected across the -- from everybody, and an unfair tarring.
But this broader theme that he sounds at the end of his statement, politicization of law enforcement, is just nauseating. And it`s continued and continued.
What they`re trying to do to him now -- Trump had his Press Secretary go out and call McCabe, to America, a bad actor today. It`s reminiscent of the defamation that they visited on Comey when he was fired, and they said, falsely, the whole FBI had turned against him.
This kind of assault on independent law enforcement by the White House for the small ends of trying to affect the investigation against the President is really dangerous and toxic.
O`DONNELL: I want to read one more passage of Andrew McCabe`s written statement tonight. He says, here is the reality. I am being singled out and treated this way because of the role I played, the actions I took, and the events I witnessed in the aftermath of the firing of James Comey.
The release of this report was accelerated only after my testimony to the House Intelligence Committee revealed that I would corroborate former Director Comey`s accounts of his discussions with the President.
The OIG`s focus on me and this report became a part of an unprecedented effort by the administration, driven by the President himself, to remove me from my position, destroy my reputation, and possibly strip me of a pension that I worked 21 years to earn.
The accelerated release of the report and the punitive actions taken in response make sense only when viewed through this lens. Thursday`s comments from the White House are just the latest example of this.
This attack on my credibility is one part of a larger effort not just to slander me personally but to taint the FBI, law enforcement, and intelligence professionals more generally.
It is part of this administration`s ongoing war on the FBI and the efforts of the Special Counsel investigation, which continue to this day. Their persistence in this campaign only highlights the importance of the Special Counsel`s work.
Ben Wittes, your reaction to Andrew McCabe saying that the reality here is that he is being singled out.
He said, I am being singled out and treated this way because of the role I played, the actions I took, and the events I witnessed in the aftermath of the firing of James Comey.
WITTES (via telephone): Look, we don`t know what the underlying evidence that the I.G. has reported about Andrew McCabe is. We do know that the singling out of the Deputy FBI Director by the President of the United States on a repeated basis is a unique event in the history of the United States.
We do know that firing a long-serving FBI official two days before he is due to retire anyway is a highly unusual matter. And we do know that the political pressure on the Justice Department to do that was extreme.
So I can`t say that, you know, Andy McCabe`s protestations of innocence of whatever it is the Inspector General has found about him are accurate. I can say that the situation stinks.
And as I said before, I will evaluate the evidence that supposedly justifies this action at the point in which it becomes public. And until then, look, a lot of what Andy McCabe is saying in that statement is just plainly true.
O`DONNELL: And, Ruth Marcus, as Ben just said, we don`t have the Inspector General`s report, but we have Andrew McCabe`s written response to it at this first stage of this news. And I`m going to zero in on the sentences in which Andrew McCabe is directly dealing with what must be in that Inspector General`s report.
He says, during these inquiries, I answered questions truthfully and as accurately as I could amidst the chaos that surrounded me. And when I thought my answers were misunderstood, I contacted investigators to correct them.
And, Ruth, when we get to read the Inspector General`s Report, I believe there will be several pages that describe what Andrew McCabe is describing there, and we`ll have to hold one against the other.
MARCUS: Right. And two things can simultaneously be true, and Ben put this well when he was describing it.
It is absolutely clear -- name another Deputy Director of the FBI who was - - became a household name. He became a household name because he was attacked by, first, presidential candidate Donald Trump and then President Donald Trump.
And he is -- and he was attacked and I would submit, probably fired, for largely political reasons. And I would throw in there the absolutely shameful singling out that Sarah Huckabee Sanders did of him from the podium yesterday.
But this episode that he alludes to, you know, it`s part of this behind the scenes dance that`s a really necessary part of Washington that goes on, where, on background, officials guide reporters to help reporters get their stories more accurate, to make sure that things are not written that are unfair to subjects or targets of an investigation.
This is a dance that has to go on, that needs to go on behind the scenes. But something happened there that I -- that, at least, it sounds like the Inspector General found wasn`t exactly right. And something then seemed to have happened with McCabe`s testimony that the Inspector General, I suspect, had a problem with.
So the fury that McCabe has about the politicization of the FBI and about his being fired, I totally get. I don`t want to say that it`s clear that his conduct has been completely above reproach because it feels like it`s a much more complicated story than that.
O`DONNELL: And, David Cay Johnston, it seems like Andrew McCabe has a lot more that we`re probably eventually going to hear about this. And I think we`re so lucky that we have experts from the -- with Justice Department experience here as well as reporters because this is a report -- this is a journalism story, too.
And McCabe is in trouble because of communication with "The Wall Street Journal," with reporters. McCabe describes that in his written statement tonight as his job.
JOHNSTON: Right. Yes.
O`DONNELL: He says, this is one of the things that the Deputy FBI Director is charged with doing, clarifying for the press, when possible, what the FBI is doing or what it`s not doing.
And so he says here that he has done this -- he said, it was the type of exchange with the media that the Deputy Director oversees several times a week. In fact, it was the same type of work that I continued to do under Director Wray at his request.
So he is saying the Trump-appointed FBI Director had him doing exactly the same thing with the press.
JOHNSTON: Yes, you get to see the knife with that one.
JOHNSTON: Well, this is exactly how this stuff works. And, of course, the FBI and other agencies are concerned. They don`t want a reporter who has a story to mess up their investigation. Witnesses can be affected by these things.
And, no, we don`t know exactly what McCabe did, but I think there`s a very pregnant line there about how when he evidently felt that the people who questioned him didn`t get his answers the way he intended, he set out to correct them.
Now, unless there`s something showing that he was mendacious and obviously so, it would seem to suggest that he may have been, to some degree, set up, or -- and he certainly clearly indicates he believes he was trying to make the record as accurate as possible.
O`DONNELL: And describes in his first round of trying to remember truthful answers about this, he says he was doing the best he could "amidst the chaos that surrounded me." And I think we all have a feel for what that must have been.
We`re joined now by phone by Jill Wine-Banks. She`s a former assistant Watergate special prosecutor, and she`s an MSNBC contributor.
And, Jill, I wish you could be on camera because we could see your St. Patrick`s Green, again, which I saw earlier tonight, that you are wearing.
But, Jill, I want to get your reaction to this story. At first, we began simply with the fact that Jeff Sessions, at 10:00 p.m. tonight approximately, on a Friday night, fired Andrew McCabe, the former Acting Director of the FBI with only two days left before his official retirement.
We now have a full written statement by Andrew McCabe that I`ve been reading here. Your reaction to what we know about this so far.
JILL WINE-BANKS, FORMER ASSISTANT WATERGATE SPECIAL PROSECUTOR (via telephone): Well, first of all, let me say we take St. Patrick`s Day very seriously in Chicago, so that`s why.
O`DONNELL: I know you do.
WINE-BANKS (via telephone): Yes.
O`DONNELL: I know you do.
WINE-BANKS (via telephone): But on a serious note, I mean, at 10:00 p.m. on a Friday night before his Sunday retirement becomes effective does throw some doubt into the credibility and reasons for the action.
I do agree, of course, with Ben that we need to have all the evidence before we pass judgment on what the recommendation was. We need to see the I.G. Report.
I also think that his statement, the McCabe statement, is a very persuasive and compelling one that I`d like to know more about the background of.
And I wonder whether the President realizes that all of these people that he fires now have no reason not to cooperate fully with Mueller and to speak out, and whether people are realizing how much distraction is happening in the chaos at the White House from the Mueller investigation, from the Stormy Daniels investigation, and from the overall effect of trying to taint the FBI and Mueller and the Department of Justice, and whether McCabe has been denied due process.
I cannot believe that he`s already had a hearing that would be entitled to any senior service person, such as himself, before he gets fired. He hasn`t had a chance to defend himself and tell his side of the story, so I don`t think we should jump to conclusions that he`s innocent or that he`s guilty. We need to see the full evidence.
And in the context of this president and how they have attacked not just McCabe but the entire FBI and the Department of Justice and Mueller, it makes me suspicious, it makes me suspicious and makes me wonder about the truth of it.
O`DONNELL: Harry Litman, I want to go to one of the points that Andrew McCabe raises, which he believes that this is a design to damage his credibility as a witness in the Mueller investigation. What`s your reaction to that?
LITMAN: Well, it`s true and that`s probably what -- I mean, Trump has that in mind as a practical goal. It seems to me he just has the more petty mind -- goal in mind of just gratuitously taking away the pension of someone who has crossed him. To me --
O`DONNELL: But, Harry, can I --
O`DONNELL: Can I ask you to focus, as a legal practitioner --
O`DONNELL: -- on the actual practical effect of this --
O`DONNELL: -- on the perceived credibility of Andrew McCabe as a witness going forward? If you were in the Special Prosecutor`s office and you had the McCabe file, you were in charge of him as a witness going forward, how would you feel tonight?
LITMAN: Look, you know, I would feel only a little worse. There are all kinds of people they -- that they use that will some impeachment material.
But, yes, here is how it all will be. He will testify if it comes to a proceeding that Comey told him exactly what Comey said he said.
And then the defense attorney will say, oh, is that right? Well, are you aware -- isn`t it true, Mr. McCabe, that you were found to have committed misconduct? Isn`t it true that you were fired, et cetera, et cetera?
And that impeachment will have whatever value it has in front of a jury. I just want to say here, though, that it`s true, as Ben and Ruth says, that part of what`s going on -- we, of course, don`t know exactly what he did and it`s very odd that Horowitz found these things.
But I just I think it`s all secondary next to two points. Whatever he did, the timing of his being railroaded out is indefensible and political. And most important of all, the political themes of demonization of law enforcement that he sounds at the end of his statement, that those really should be, I think, the headline for us as a country.
O`DONNELL: I have already brought up the timing coincidence that, as we went into this hour of television, I believed that our hotter breaking news tonight was going to be about the President`s attempt to move Stormy Daniels` lawsuit into federal court.
I want to switch focus to that because it`s hard to believe that the timing is coincidental tonight, that the President did -- was not paying attention to what was happening in this news cycle and how this announcement could change that.
The President of the United States is actually asking a federal court in California to take jurisdiction of Stormy Daniels` lawsuit against Donald Trump. The President of the United States is asking the federal court to take the lawsuit away from a California state court.
And tonight`s legal filing in federal court in California by a California lawyer representing the President of the United States claims that Stormy Daniels` lawsuit against Donald Trump should be moved from state court to federal court because Stormy Daniels is a resident of Texas, Donald Trump is a resident of Washington, D.C. and New York City.
And because of the multistate locations of the parties, the case should not be heard in a California state court since none of the parties live in California.
The legal filing says that President Trump and his lawyers are, quote, aware of at least 20 violations by Clifford -- that`s Stormy Daniels` real name -- of the confidentiality provisions of this settlement agreement.
Clifford expressly agreed in these settlement agreements to liquidated damages in the amount of $1 million for each breach of the confidentiality provisions which is approximated to already be in excess of $20 million.
We are joined by phone now by Stormy Daniels` attorney, Michael Avenatti.
And, Mr. Avenatti, I know you learned about this when you were on a plane tonight. What is your reaction to the President trying to move this case into federal court?
MICHAEL AVENATTI, ATTORNEY FOR STORMY DANIELS (via telephone): Well, thanks for having me. I`m not at all surprised. We anticipated that the President and Mr. Cohen might attempt to do this.
It`s really a prelude. It`s an interim step, if you will, to where they really want to go, which is arbitration. They want this matter decided by a private arbitrator in a conference room in a private office building as opposed to a public courthouse that`s open to the people, where people can actually judge for themselves the facts and the evidence.
This is just more of the same. I mean, it is consistent with the way they have treated my client for some time now. They have attempted to bully her and intimidate her. And ultimately, they do not want this matter public. It`s just that simple.
This is more of the same, their attempts to gag and muzzle my client, and we`re not going to stand for it.
O`DONNELL: It`s a really striking legal filing to see because there you see the name of the President of the United States on the title page of this pleading in federal court. And the name of the President of the United States, typed in there by his lawyer, also has an alias beside it typed in there by his lawyer.
The President of the United States has a lawyer who refers to him as Donald J. Trump also known as David Dennison. That is how the President`s lawyer represents Donald Trump in this case, a client with an alias trying to keep everything that Stormy Daniels knows about him secret.
AVENATTI (via telephone): Well, I think what is truly remarkable about this -- if we just take a step back and really think about this for a moment, I actually think this is a remarkable moment in our nation`s history.
I don`t think that there has ever been an instance -- and I know that`s a big statement but I stand behind it. I don`t think there`s ever been an incident in the history of the United States where you have a sitting president who undertook a personal vendetta against a private U.S. citizen --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK.
AVENATTI (via telephone): -- who merely was --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK.
AVENATTI (via telephone): -- who merely was looking for an opportunity to tell her version of events and is seeking $20 million worth of damages. I don`t think that`s ever happened before in the history of the United States. It`s frightening, quite honestly.
O`DONNELL: Now, your client has already spoken to "60 Minutes." "60 Minutes" has announced that they intend to broadcast that interview on, I believe, March 25th. That presumably by the President`s definition will constitute what he considers another breach or another several breaches of this agreement.
So according to the President`s reading of the situation, do you expect at the end of the broadcast of the "60 Minutes" interview for Stormy Daniels, in the President`s view, to be liable for another $20 million or $100 million?
AVENATTI (via telephone): No, we don`t. I mean, the President also thinks he won the popular vote, so, you know, I don`t know what to say.
But, look, this $20 million demand or $20 million claim in damages is laughable. And, you know, next I guess, we`ll hear $50 or $100 or $200 million. It`s an absolute joke. We don`t believe the agreement is going to be upheld.
And even if the agreement is upheld, that liquated damages clause, it will never be upheld because it is what is called legally conscionable, which means, even if the parties agreed to it, and even if they read it and understood it (INAUDIBLE) -- confident that no court will enforce a million dollars liquidated (INAUDIBLE) especially when the consideration monetarily was only $130,000.
So this pie in the sky. It`s a bullying tactic. It`s designed to intimidate my client and I. And clearly, they haven`t been paying attention over the last who weeks.
We`re not going to pack up and go home. We`re not going to dismiss the case. She`s not going to prevent the "60 Minutes" piece from hiring.
We`re going to let the chips fall where they may. We`re going to continue to strive to tell the American people what happened here. And we`re going to allow them to make a determination on who is shooting straight with them and who is not. And it`s that simple.
O`DONNELL: And, Mr. Avenatti, I just want to go over one more point before you go. And you know you got a lot of attention this morning on this network on "MORNING JOE" when, in an answer to questions, you`ve said that Stormy Daniels has been threatened and that she has been physically threatened.
Has she been threatened by anyone representing or connected to the President?
AVENATTI (via telephone): Again, I`m not at liberty to discuss that. I`m confident that when people tune in to "60 Minutes" on the 25th of March, they`re going to learn the details surrounding that threat or the threats. And they are going to judge for themselves as to whether she is telling the truth and whether she`s credible.
And at some point, Mr. Cohen and the President are going to have to account for their various actions associated with attempting to silence my client. And I am counting the days.
O`DONNELL: Did Michael Cohen threaten Stormy Daniels?
AVENATTI (via telephone): I`m going to stand by my same answer.
O`DONNELL: And when were those threats? When were the most recent threats?
AVENATTI (via telephone): I`m not at liberty to discuss the details of the threats. Again, I think when people tune in to the interview, they`re going to learn about it.
O`DONNELL: Michael Avenatti, really appreciate you calling in. I know this was difficult for you to do. I really appreciate it. Thank you very much. Really appreciate it.
AVENATTI (via telephone): No problem. Have a good weekend. Thank you.
O`DONNELL: Thank you. And our legal panel is still here, everyone who has been covering and following both of these.
I want to go to Ruth Marcus first because this -- before we even get to the legalisms of it, I just want us to pause over the fact that we live in a country where the President of the United States has a lawyer type his name in a legal pleading and then type his alias in right beside it and file that legal pleading in a federal court, in a courthouse, where the President appoints the judges.
MARCUS: Well, yes. And you know --
MARCUS: It has been quite a day of Stormy Daniels news, as you pointed out, trying to get a little bit more information on what this threat and physical threat was and who it came from. And I am just thinking about where we are and where we`ve been.
And my reporting career spans the Clarence Thomas/Anita Hill hearings where we thought we heard things that we could never get into our newspapers back in those days when certain words weren`t allowed. And we managed to report all of that in our newspapers.
And then we went to impeachment and Bill Clinton and blue dresses and all sorts of other things that didn`t seem fit for a family audience. And we got those into our newspapers.
And now here we are with a president and a porn star. And it`s a kind of dreary trajectory of the kind of -- of modern politics and the craziness of this moment. And just the sordid nature of what we`re all being dragged into writing about when there are actually serious problems facing the country.
There are serious policy issues to be decided, and we`re talking about porn stars and threats and presidential aliases. So I`m just throwing up my hands here.
O`DONNELL: Understandable. David Cay Johnston, no one on this panel knows more about Donald Trump as a litigant than you do. You`ve watched him both be a phony bluffer --
MARCUS: I`m not hearing anything.
O`DONNELL: -- as he was when he threatened to sue me.
O`DONNELL: And I begged him to sue me because I knew he was bluffing. You`ve seen him actually sue people. You`ve seen him cave. You`ve seen him settle $25 million on Trump University.
What do you make of this filing tonight? And is this the first one you`ve seen where he includes an alias beside his name?
JOHNSTON: Yes, it`s absolutely the first I`ve seen with an alias. And this is extraordinary. Now, of course, in making this filing, they basically acknowledge that this relationship went on, and there was a hush money payment.
But this, again, is Donald`s bullying and going on the attack. And I`ve done as you have. You know, I was -- I`ve talked about Donald and the drug trafficker and said, Donald, you know, if you think what I`ve said isn`t true, sue me over it.
One of the interesting things about this case is the removal to federal court. The 1925 Arbitration Act was passed to allow corporations in different states to settle dispute. It was never intended to apply to disputes between individuals, between individuals and companies.
If it were put up today in Congress, it would never pass if it was going to apply to you and me if we were in a dispute.
And the lawyers on the panel are quite right that the federal courts have a different inclination about this than the state courts. But this is not a dispute that should be allowed under the 1925 Federal Arbitration Act because we`re not talking about two corporations. We have one and -- created solely for the purpose of helping, they thought, hide the money.
O`DONNELL: Let me go to one of my lawyers. Jill Wine-Banks, your reaction to what Stormy Daniels` lawyer, Michael Avenatti, just have to say?
WINE-BANKS (via telephone): Well, first of all, I would say he is doing a wonderful job of representing her and making her look better than the President.
And David is quite correct that we now have absolute proof that D.D. is President Trump, which is, I think, an unforced error on the part of his lawyers who didn`t think two steps ahead when they filed this suit.
I think Michael was quite correct, Avenatti, in saying something about the inequitability of this. For $130,000 payment, she agreed to pay $1 million per every breach? That is not only unconscionable just under the norm frames of contract law. You can`t enforce a contract that is so inequitable. We have a principle, just in general, that that isn`t enforceable.
And as to your earlier question about whether the credibility of McCabe is so severely hurt, it`s certainly no worse than Flynn and the others who have plead guilty to lying and who will now be the witnesses against the President. And all of them are now free to tell the truth about the President.
So, again, it`s bad thinking on the part of the President`s lawyers to have gotten into the situation where they`re allowing this to happen. I really am just astounded at the bad lawyering on his part and -- but they have been effective in distracting us, as Ruth said, from policy, from his bragging about lying to the Prime Minister of Canada, something for which we should be all be apologizing to our neighbors to the north.
There`s so much other things of importance and the people of America can hardly keep track from day to day of what`s important and so nothing sticks.
O`DONNELL: Jill Wine-Banks gets tonight`s last word, weaving it all together. Thank you -- Ned Price, Harry Litman, Ruth Marcus, David Cay Johnston, Jill Wine-Banks, Benjamin Wittes -- thank you all joining us and thanks to Barry McCaffrey for joining us at the beginning of the hour. THE 11TH HOUR WITH BRIAN WILLIAMS starts right now.