Interview with Rhode Island senator, member of the Judiciary Committee, Sheldon Whitehouse. A new report details Trump campaign efforts to pressure DOJ officials to overturn election.
CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: That is "ALL IN" this evening.
THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right now.
Good evening, Rachel. And I will pay you a compliment right off the top.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: OK.
HAYES: It`s your show. I hate to encroach on your time.
But that was the most compelling, transfixing television I have seen about moles and mole removal in my life by far. I was watching it thinking, this woman is genuinely a genius at this because I can`t take my eyes off this story. This is incredible. So, excellent job.
MADDOW: You know, I feel like if -- we could invent awards, most compelling television ever about moles. Most compelling about --
HAYES: For sure.
MADDOW: Grub worms, I can also do great thing. Slip knots I`m very good at.
You are very kind, Chris. Thank you very much.
HAYES: All right.
MADDOW: All right. And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. Happy to be back.
All right. So, this is just released today. The interview with the investigators went long. It was like a 3-1/2 hour interview in the end. The first swearing, however, did not happen until about halfway through this 3- 1/2 hour long interview. This is how the swearing arose. You ready? Here we go.
Question: It`s our understanding the New Year`s Day, Acting Attorney Jeffrey Rosen, provided a different Justice Department official Jeffrey Clark, with yourself phone number. Do you know what prompted Mr. Rosen to give Mr. Clark your cellphone number? Answer: I do not.
Question, had you and Attorney General Rosen or Mr. Richard Donoghue or anyone else at Main Justice previously discussed Mr. Clark reaching out to you in any way? Answer, yeah.
On December 30th to 31st, I can`t remember exactly. I knew it was before New Year`s. Richard Donoghue called me and told me he was very frustrated because President Trump was solely focused on Georgia, with respect to any voter fraud allegations and he had commented, that nothing would dissuade President Trump from believing the election was, in fact, stolen from him.
Mr. Donoghue stated that he, the president, just would not believe that he lost Georgia. I don`t know why. He didn`t explain why. And I reiterated to him that we looked into several allegations. Obviously, we concluded there`s nothing there. And this was kind of disturbing, because in substance it met his own people had looked into it and reported back up.
Mr. Donoghue then asked me whether I knew Jeffrey Clark. I told him, no, I did not know Jeffrey Clark. Who is he? Mr. Donoghue explained to me that Clark was the assistant general for the environmental natural resources division, and he was also at the time, the acting chief of the civil division. He said Jeff Clark had, quote, the president`s ear.
I asked him what he meant by that. And he mentioned that Jeff Clark, in the Justice Department sign on to some letter suggesting the general assembly of the state legislature in Georgia should call a special session, and they should refuse to certify the electoral college votes. Also, Mr. Clark wanted the Justice Department to intervene or join, and I can`t remember exactly, in a civil lawsuit that was filed by the Trump campaign.
And I said, well, that seems, that`s very, that`s crazy. That`s just highly crazy. I think the words I used, were bat bleep crazy. And that was the description.
Rich Donoghue told me that Jeff Clark would be calling me, and that maybe I could talk to him about what we found, in to try to dissuade him from trying to suggest there was widespread fraud in Georgia. I told Rich Donoghue, well, he can call me all he wants. But it won`t change anything. We`re not going to be joining any lawsuits that are not substantiated by any evidence.
At the time, Rich Donoghue mentioned to me that in fact, I should not be surprised if the president called me directly. I said, well, the president can call me all he wants. The answer is not going to change. And that was the end of the conversation.
Question: You indicated that Rich Donoghue thought the plan that Jeff Clark was interested in pushing forward was bat bleep crazy. But did it strike you as unusual that the acting head of the civil division of the Justice Department would want to reach out to you, to discuss voting or election matters? Answer, I thought that was strange and highly irregular.
Question, and you said that Rich Donoghue indicated that the president might try to call you himself directly? Have you ever had any situation where someone at the Main Justice told you the president might contact you directly, for an issue? Answer, I have not.
Question, in your experience, with that be unusual for any U.S. attorney, to hear that the president might contact them directly?
Answer, that would be highly irregular, given the fact that it`s been traditionally their policies which the communication between the White House and Justice Department is highly regulated, through the Office of Legal Affairs and, of course, the front office, the office attorney general, and deputy attorney general.
Question: And in the course of this discussion with Rich Donoghue, to the two of you ever develop some sort of plan, for how you would deal with potential reach out from Jeff Clark, or from President Trump? Answer. No. There was no plan.
There was no plan. That testimony, unsealed today from a man named B.J. Pak. Now, we`ve been following his story for almost a year. Now his resignation of his top federal processor -- just, forgive me, it just stunk to high heaven, when it happens, without explanation, in early January, right in the middle of Trump trying to stay in office, despite the fact that he lost the presidential election.
We had just learned at the time, just 24 hours earlier, about Trump`s effort to pressure Georgia state officials into changing the vote count in Georgia, into finding him just enough votes to the election results could be overturned. The same day that Pak resigned, was when we learned about that call, pressuring Georgia officials.
And, again, B.J. Pak resigning as U.S. attorney never had any explanation. Now we get the explanation. And we learn among other things that B.J. Pak, when he was the U.S. attorney in Georgia, when all of this was coming down from the White House about them trying to say Trump didn`t really lose Georgia and that it was some sort of stolen election and the Justice Department should somehow intervene and fix it for Trump, at the time Mr. Pak seems to have been quite unnerved by the fact that White House chief of staff Mark Meadows turned up in person in Georgia at election site in the middle of all of this.
We covered this at the time. What is the White House chief of staff doing in Georgia at Cobb County? At a place where they are reviewing the ballots and the election materials in the state of Georgia, what`s the White House chief of staff doing there?
Now we get a little new insight on that from this interview, just unsealed today.
Question, on December 22nd 2020, President Trump`s White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, personally visited Cobb County, Georgia, during its signature audit of absentee by mail ballot, specifically the signature on the oath envelope. Well, it was our understanding that Mr. Meadows was not allowed to enter the room where the signatures were being verified, he did meet with Georgia`s deputy secretary of state to discuss the audit process that was then underway. My question to you Mr. Pak is, were you aware of this visit by White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows? Answer: I found out about it through the press.
Question, okay when did you first learn through the press about this visit? Answer, I think it was immediately, the day right after. Question, did you have any particular reaction to learning about this trip? Answer, I thought it was highly unusual.
Question, and why did you think it was unusual? Answer, well, in the middle of the process, the White House chief of staff would come visit, have a meeting with the secretary of state. I don`t recall that ever happening in the history of the United States.
He said it never happened before in the history of the United States. I mean, what the Justice Department was potentially going to do here, on behalf of the president of the United States, was in Mr. Pak`s words, bat bleep crazy.
That U.S. attorney, B.J. Pak, was ultimately fired, as U.S. attorney. His firing came down from the White House. He was told to resign after the president told senior Justice Department officials, how mad he was that none of the B.S. voting claims he wanted to make about Georgia were being backed up by B.J. Pak`s office. He wanted this federal prosecutor, he wanted the U.S. Justice Department, federal prosecutors office, in places like Georgia, to say there was massive, criminal election fraud, that was under active investigation, and the election results were somehow suspect to potentially criminal.
B.J. Pak wouldn`t say that. And so, he had to go. Now we know.
Today, the Judiciary Committee in the Senate, released with their calling an interim report. It`s a staff report that`s about 50 pages long. They release that alongside about 900 pages, of documents and transcripts that have turned up in their investigation so far into the Justice Department getting involved in efforts by former President Trump to overturn the results of the presidential election to stay in power despite him losing the election.
That`s what the Judiciary Committee is investigating, this preliminary report tells us, a lot of alarming things, that we did not know before, about how the Justice Department ended up right in the middle of all of this stuff, some ways unwitting, in some ways witting.
Some of what emerges really is just remarkable. This guy Jeff Clark, who is given B.J. Pak`s cell phone number, and B.J. Pak is told Jeff Clark`s going to call you, and he`s like, who`s this guy again? Why is he going call me?
His name is Jeffrey Bossert Clark, relatively unknown Justice Department official. He served as the head of the environmental division, and then they made him active head of the civil division for a short time. We now know, in detail, that he really does appear to have launched a plot with Trump, in which they were going to have the Justice Department, asserts that there were ongoing serious investigations, into serious allegations, serious and credible allegations of election fraud in Georgia and other states that Biden won.
The plan was, that, the United States Justice Department would send a scary letter to Republican-led state legislatures, in each of these states that Biden won. The letter would tell the legislatures that there were serious matters under investigation by the Justice Department, and it would tell the legislatures that they could come back into session, into special session or emergency session, and they should appoint new electors in each of those states. Even though Biden won each of those states, and the Biden electors were about to be duly seated.
Think about that. The Justice Department, the U.S. Justice Department, would effectively tell Republican legislatures in those states, the Biden victory appeared to be a sham. It appeared to be a crime. The Justice Department was on the case. And those Republican led legislature should consider disregarding the election results, and instead do what they needed to do to declare Trump the winner, or at least to not declare Biden the winner. Do what you need to do. Justice Department will back you up.
Now, that`s bat bleep crazy, right? As B.J. Pak said. But you can imagine how it would work. You know, if they sent that letter to even one state, and the Republican legislature acted on it, it would then spread to others, and all the Republican legislatures and all the other states would all do the same.
Even if it didn`t work, in multiple states, just having this kind of assertion from the Justice Department related to multiple states that Biden won, that presumably would`ve been enough to give Vice President Mike Pence a pretext, a justification for not accepting, or for delaying the acceptance of the election results, from those affected, states which is something we know Mike Pence and then his counsel looked into in detail, ahead of January 6, of the certification of the election.
That letter to Georgia, which apparently, was first drafted to Georgia, but they attempted to send it to multiple states that Biden won, that letter was not theoretical, it was drafted, it exists. The committee has it.
And here`s this guy at the Justice Department, Jeff Clark, head of the environmental division, head of the civil division, Jeff Clark is saying, let`s send out this letter to Georgia. It should be signed by the attorney general, by the deputy attorney general, let`s get this out there. Let`s do it fast. This was a scheme with Trump.
Well, in today`s report, from the Senate Judiciary Committee, we learned, that the attorney general at the time, was told by Jeff Clark, that if he did sign on to that crazy letter to Georgia, then he could stay on as attorney general. He was told that if he did not sign on to it, he would be taken out. He would be replaced as attorney general, by Jeff Clark. By the guy who wrote the Georgia letter, the guy who concocted in pursue this whole scheme with Trump.
Hey, Jeffrey Rosen, attorney general at the end of the Trump administration, you sign on to this letter and we`re going to send it out to these Republican controlled state legislators to overturn the election results, and if you don`t sign on to it, you are going to be fired as attorney general, and replaced by a guy who will do it instead. That`s where Jeffrey Rosen was told. He was acting attorney general.
The deputy attorney general its time was Rich Donoghue. In his interview with the investigation and the Senate judiciary committee, his interview also unsealed today, he explains what it was like to talk to Trump about this scheme. About this plot, at the White House, in a meeting, on January 3rd, just three days before the U.S. Capitol attack.
He says, quote, when I came in, sitting in the Oval Office was, of course, the president, behind the desk, then there was Pat Cipollone, the White House counsel, Pat Philbin, his deputy, Jeff Rosen, the attorney general, Jeff Clark, the guy who`s plotting with Trump, Steve Engel, another Justice Department official, and myself.
I set directly in front of the president with Jeff Rosen, the attorney general to my right, and Jeff Clark to my left. He says, quote: It was a wide ranging conversation about the Justice Department. The focus of it was whether the president should replace leadership, whether he should remove Attorney General Rosen, and put Jeff Clark in instead as acting attorney general.
There were some discussions about the letter, in the letter in Georgia. He says obviously.
At that point, it was difficult to separate the issue of the letter and Jeff Clark being in the leadership position, because it was very, clear and he stated it repeatedly, that if President Trump made Jeff Clark the acting attorney general, Clark would send that letter on behalf of the Justice Department. So it wasn`t as if there was a third option where Jeff Clark would become the attorney general and the letter would not go. They were sort of one and the same at that point.
He said, quote, essentially everyone in the room, again the president was making decisions, taking advice from different sides here, but Jeff Clark was advocating for Jeff Clark to become attorney general. Everyone else in the room was adamantly opposed to the president taking that step.
He says, quote, we kind of went around the room for hours, discussing it and telling the president why this was a terrible idea. The president would say things like, well why have to lose. What would I lose at this point if I put Jeff Clark in? I said, sir, you have a great deal to lose.
And then we went around and discussed about the downside of doing. This we discussed whether Jeff Clark was even qualified to serve as attorney general, and we informed President Trump that he should expect mass resignations in the department if he did this.
At one point, the president said, so suppose I do this, suppose I take him out, meaning Attorney General Rosen and I put him in, meaning Jeff Clark, what do you do? I said sir I would resign immediately.
And then he turned to Steve Engel, and he said, Steve, you wouldn`t resign, would you? And Steve said, absolutely, I would, Mr. President. You leave me no choice. And I said, well, Steve`s not the only one, sir. Or all your assistant attorneys general are going to resign. You should count on that, they`re going to resign, and these are your people. These are not bureaucrats left over from another administration. These are your handpicked people, your leadership in the department. This is the team you sent to the Senate, you`ve got confirmed, they`re all going to walk away on you all at once.
What does that say about you as a leader? What does that say about the department of what`s going on here? And you should not think it will end, there because I don`t have any idea with the U.S. attorneys will do. The U.S. attorneys may resign en masse. You may have other department personnel designed. You can have a situation here within 24 hours where you have hundreds of people resigning from the Justice Department. Is that good for anyone? Is it good for the department, is it good for the country, is it good for you? Quote, it`s not. Meaning it`s not good for you, Mr. President.
So, this is dramatic stuff. President in the Oval Office has a guy sitting in front of him, Jeff Clark, who`s willing to do it, right? Hatched this scheme with President Trump to do it. He`s drafted the letter. He`s already asked for the other officials signatures on, and threatened the attorney general, if you don`t sign, it you`ll not be attorney general anymore, I`ll be attorney general. And then I`ll sign it.
They`re going to tell Republicans in the state legislatures where Biden won, that the Justice Department is treating the election as a crime scene. That should essentially throw out the results, take steps to just keep Trump in office. This guy is willing to do it. And Trump, is very willing to put him in charge of the Justice Department, so he can carry out that plan.
What stops it is that everybody else in the Justice Department says though quit. They make a stink. And that will be bad. That`s what stops it. It`s dramatic stuff.
These Justice Department officials, and we now know, apparently White House Counsel Pat Cipollone and his deputy as well, all threatening to resign under the circumstance, definitely makes them the start of their own movie here. Makes them seem like they really saved us.
Here`s the problem -- here`s the problem not just for them being cast is heroes in their own telling of the movie. Here`s the problem for the U.S. Justice Department on its own, terms and today. Here`s the problem that is just landed in Attorney General Merrick Garland`s lap.
The problem is, that before in the end, they finally all offered to quit to stop this plot, before they did that, a bunch of them helped in the plot. They then just passively observe that this is what Trump wanted, and this is what Trump was pursuing, this was how Trump wanted to use the U.S. Justice Department. They helped him use the Justice Department to advance this plot up to a point.
Richard Donoghue, the deputy attorney general, telling Trump, it`ll be bad for, you it`ll be bad for the country, we`ll all quit. Yeah, it looks like a great story the movie at that point.
Well, before that, we know, he took Trump`s bat bleep theories about voter fraud, stealing the election in multiple states, and he sent those Trump banana-grams to the U.S. attorneys in Michigan and in Pennsylvania. He as the deputy attorney general of the United States Justice Department, told U.S. attorneys in Michigan and Pennsylvania, that they use Justice Department resources to go check it out, to go try to substantiate these nonsense claims that were coming from the White House.
Now, to be clear, these claims about voter fraud in Michigan and Pennsylvania, these didn`t like bubble up from local law enforcement efforts in Michigan and Pennsylvania, and that`s how they got to the U.S. attorney`s office there. No, these U.S. attorneys got calls from main justice in D.C., from the number two official in the United States Department of Justice, a Trump appointed deputy in his official, Richard Donoghue. In his official capacity, telling U.S. attorneys in those states to pursue these made-up claims that President Trump was using to cast doubt on the election.
And, yes, in the end, he threatened to quit if Trump went ahead with this crazy scheme involving Jeff Clark in the letter to Georgia, sure. But leading up to that, he helped Trump use the Justice Department and federal prosecutors offices to pursue these claims.
And it wasn`t just Donoghue. Today, we have learned that former Attorney General William Barr, who received all this positive attention for his public assertions that there wasn`t any significant fraud in the election - - great, glad you said it. What did he do when he was in office as attorney general? He personally weighed in and, in fact, told at least one U.S. attorney that he needed to investigate. That Attorney General William Barr had information that he needed to investigate. He got it from Rudy Giuliani. That that U.S. attorney should make it a top priority to go investigate Rudy Giuliani`s made-up banana-grams bat bleep claims about voter fraud. The same claims that Trump was using at that moment to try to get the election overthrown. Barr did it, too.
This is from B.J. Pak`s testimony, again, just unsealed today. He says, quote, on December 4th, I believe, there were news reports that came out related to a Georgia state Senate hearing on election irregularities. I don`t recall exactly the name of the community they had, but it made news because at the time, Mr. Giuliani, Rudy Giuliani, came down to the state of Georgia, at the capitol, and showed a video that he described is a suitcase full of ballots being run in the elections. He called it a smoking gun of election fraud.
The morning after, I had a conversation with the attorney general at the time, Attorney General Bill Barr. Attorney General Barr asked me if I had seen the news about this allegation of this suitcase full of ballots, and I said I did hear about that. And then Attorney General Barr said, you know, he had an upcoming meeting with the White House, meaning he, Bill Barr, had an upcoming meeting with the White House. Given the fact that he had made his public statement two days before that there was no widespread fraud in the election, he thought this videotape from Georgia, might come up during the discussion at the White House. So, he asked me to make it a priority, to find out more details about the allegation made by Mr. Giuliani. I told him I would do that. He asked me to make it a top priority, so I said I would be certain to do that.
Question, outside of the election fraud context, and I guess prior to the 2020 general election season, would you say that officials from Main Justice often alerted your office of allegations of crimes of any kind that should be investigated? Answer, it`s not often, it`s not every day that the attorney general call. In terms of the actual allegations coming down from the attorney generals office, no, that`s rare.
Question, okay, you`re in the U.S. attorney for the northern district of Georgia during the state`s previous election, in the 2018 election, correct? Answer, that`s correct. During that election, do you recall officials from Main Justice alerting your office to allegations of election fraud that should be investigated? Answer, no.
No. It`s not normal for the attorney general of the United States to call out a federal prosecutor to tell him personally and directly, here`s what you`re going to investigate, make it your top priority. I`m giving you these allegations that I want to become your first priority as an investigator. You`re the federal prosecutor, do this for me.
That`s what Bill Barr did to B.J. Pak, with Rudy Giuliani`s made up allegations about voter fraud in Georgia. And Pak said yes, sir, to the attorney general. You want me to make my first priority, of course, I will. So, he uses the resources of his office to go start investigating those things.
Pak goes on to say that as far as he knew, the division at Main Justice that actually handles election related crimes thought that these Giuliani stuff in Georgia was not a substantive matter and therefore should not be investigated by the Justice Department. But Bill Barr apparently overruled that concern at Main Justice, and said, no, I`m telling you personally to do it anyway. I`m telling you personally as attorney general, directly on the phone, that I need you to look into this as your top priority, then I`m going go to the White House with it.
So, one of the surprise revelations, in this report, just released today by the Senate judiciary committee. What they were investigated was, what was the Justice Department`s role in Trump trying to seize power, trying to stay in power even though he lost the election.
One of the surprise revelations here is that the committee, based on when it`s found already, they asked the D.C. bar to open a disciplinary investigation into the behavior of Jeff Clark, even what he did as a lawyer, what he did with his Justice Department role in that scheme with Trump. There`s an interesting question I think as to whether or not what Jeff Clark did might be criminally prosecutable, as well, and his law license may be on line if the D.C. bar investigation doesn`t go well.
Whether or not there`s a potential crime here, something for which he could be prosecuted, the committee said today that it`s not yet willing to pronounce just judgment on criminal matters. But I feel like the thing that`s missing from the analysis in this, today in all the revelations here, is that disturbing facts, the now disturbing timeline we`ve got about other senior Justice Department officials, including Attorney General William Barr, using the powers of the Justice Department, in an irregular out of chain of command kind of way, to get the Justice Department to bolster Trump`s made-up claims about fraud, his made up claims that he was using to try to stay in office.
All the attention is on the fact of the end of the day, senior Justice Department officials there were not going to go that far, you`re going to have to fire us, we`re going to resign en masse if you go that far, but all along the way, all of this stuff fed from Rudy Giuliani and from the fever swamps, and from the QAnon conspiracy theory Reddit groups or whatever else they are, wherever else they got this stuff, it flowed into the Trump White House, it flowed from the Trump White House to the Justice Department, and senior officials told federal prosecutors around the country, use the resources of your office to go chase this down.
It`s not the way the U.S. Justice Department is supposed to work.
So now, now that we know the Justice Department did work that way under Trump, what`s the Justice Department going to do about it? What is the Justice Department do with this new knowledge that its senior officials, up to the very highest levels of the department, attorney general, deputy general, they tried to use the department to do those kinds of favors for Trump as Trump was trying to subvert the election results and stay in power. Once you at the senior level of the Justice Department use the powers of that department for that purpose, it can`t be that you just get to leave and move on in the next person holds that job gets to, what, try again?
What is the Justice Department going to do here? How is the Justice Department clean up after this mess? I don`t know what`s going to happen ultimately to Trump here. I don`t know what`s going to happen ultimately to Jeff Clark here.
But what`s the Justice Department going to do about the way it was used?
Joining us now is Rhode Island senator, member of the Judiciary Committee, Sheldon Whitehouse. He sat it in some of the testimony that`s built -- used to build this report. I should tell you that Senator Whitehouse is also a former prosecutor. He served as U.S. attorney in Rhode Island. He was also the state`s attorney general, uniquely qualified to comment on this matter.
Senator, it`s a pleasure to see you tonight. Thanks for being here.
SEN. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE (D-RI): Thanks for having me on.
MADDOW: So this is a lot of material. It`s about a 50-page staff report. It`s several hundred pages worth of transcripts. It`s several hundred pages worth of exhibits. What do you think the public should understand is the most important thing that you and your colleagues have found this far?
WHITEHOUSE: I think there`s three really key takeaways from. This first it`s a very simple one, and that`s how deeply, personally involved, President Trump, was in all of this -- meetings, in phone calls, and contacts, Oval Office, he was neck deep in this personally. So that would be point one.
Point two would be how much of this scheme focused on Georgia. The letter was about Georgia. The schemes to maneuver U.S. attorney Pak out of Georgia were obviously about Georgia. And it supplements whatever investigative materials the Fulton County D.A., D.A. Willis, is pulling together to look at Trump`s efforts to subvert the election in Georgia. So it ties together into what could be a very interesting case in the Fulton County D.A`s office.
And the last is. It`s appeared in the transcript and in the statements, that it was even more important if you are in the room, more evident if you are in the room, with district attorney general -- Acting Attorney General Rosen. These guys did not have much respect for Jeffrey Clark. This guy was kind of a nobody. He`d been put into run the environment division for Trump, which obviously meant he was supposed to do nothing.
Because of vacancies at the end of the term, he was only acting civil division chief, and, it`s a little hard to imagine, that he took this up on his own, or that he would tangle with Rosen and Donoghue like this on his own. And he landed mighty quickly at the dark money shop called the New Civil Liberties Alliance.
And I don`t know who`s paying him to be there. But I think there`s a bigger story, about what`s behind this scheme. One school of thought is this is an ambitious, nobody saw this moment, took a shot at it, and got shot down by his peers. But equally plausible scenario, is that this guy was put up to it, that someone drafted that complex letter involving areas of line which he had no expertise, for him to produce to Rosen and Donoghue, and looking behind what`s took place the Department of Justice, I think this is why this is only an interim report. We need to keep looking at those other elements.
MADDOW: Am I right, Senator, that Mr. Clark has refused requests to be interviewed thus far? He, obviously, there`s no transcript of an interview has been released with him today. The committee is still presumably seeking his cooperation, his testimony. As well as all the White House documents you`re not able to get thus far from the national archive.
WHITEHOUSE: I don`t -- I don`t -- I don`t know what I`m allowed to say about that, under the committee rules right now. So I should probably just pass on that question. Sorry.
MADDOW: OK. If that`s all right --
WHITEHOUSE: He`s an essential person in this saga and at some point, in the committee, before a grand jury, someplace, his testimony is going to be obtained.
MADDOW: Let me just ask you, Senator, there`s a lot of focus on Mr. Clark and what he did. And it was kind of a shocking revelation today in the materials came out that there has been a referral by the committee to the D.C. bar, to look into Mr. Clark. And whether he should potentially be disciplined as a lawyer for what he did here.
I, though, as explained in the intro, am struck by the fact that there are other senior Justice Department officials, who are very willing to use the resources of the department, to jump down these rabbit holes on Trump`s behalf, up to and including the deputy attorney general, Mr. Donoghue, and the attorney general, Mr. Barr, all of whom told U.S. attorneys to chase this stuff down.
Is that a problem for the Justice Department, in an ongoing way? Is that a prime matter for the inspector general? Is that a matter for referral the bar associations?
WHITEHOUSE: Possibly. It`s not all that clear. To the extent that what they were doing was running down allegations of violations to federal law, then that`s with the Department of Justice is there for.
To the extent that it would be obvious to any sentient person that these were cockamamie allegations, to pursue them beyond the point that they were credible, begins to take you outside of the scope of the protection of doing legitimate law enforcing investigations.
In any event, there`s a lot of Department of Justice policies about what you do when, when you are closing in on an investigation, when you`re in that sensitive period, around the elections, around the count. And I suspect they were pretty sloppy about all of this.
And, of course, last of all, there`s the long-standing rules we`ve talked about before about contacts between the Department of Justice and the White House. And it appears a lot of this mischief might well have been done outside of the rules, that allow contacts between the White House and the Department of Justice.
So, there`s plenty of fodder for the IG and Office of Professional Responsibility to look at. And even if the people have moved on, they can still make a report to see what preventative measures should be put into the departments so this kind of stuff can`t happen again.
MADDOW: Yeah, that`s exactly right. The U.S. Justice Department, can never be used in this way again, the question is how we insure accountability now, and clarity now about what happened, to make sure it doesn`t happen.
WHITEHOUSE: This is an attempted coup d`etat within the Department of Justice against the attorney general. And it seems unlikely that this character Jeffrey Clark came up with this on his own.
Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, member of the Judiciary Committee, former U.S. attorney, former state attorney general - sir, thanks for being with us tonight. Much appreciated.
WHITEHOUSE: My pleasure.
MADDOW: All right. We`ve got much to get to tonight. Stay with us.
MADDOW: It was late January, when "The New York Times" dropped this from Justice Department reporter Katie Benner. The headline is: Trump and Justice Department lawyer said to have plotted to oust acting attorney general.
That initial report in "The Times" in January prompted an eight-month investigation by the Judiciary Committee in the Senate into Trump`s efforts to overturn the 2020 election results, and his efforts to use the Justice Department as a tool for doing so. That investigation produced today`s jaw- dropping report, and hundreds of pages of supporting material, a report that found that the Justice Department was both used as a tool in Trump`s attempted coup and was ultimately a force to stop it.
The news of that report was broken naturally late last, night by Katie Benner, "New York Times" Justice Department reporter, who has been pressing this story since before day one.
Ms. Benner, thank you again for making time to be here and understand this reporting. It remains one of the most amazing stories of our time.
KATIE BENNER, JUSTICE DEPARTMENT REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Thanks for having me.
MADDOW: In terms of this interim report by the Judiciary Committee, how far along should we see that in terms of what they`re trying to figure out? What materials they want access to? And what they still want to get?
BENNER: Not really a sports person, from what I know about baseball, I would say we`re in the third or fourth inning. You know, they still really want to speak with Jeff Clark, for example, who is somebody who`s not responded to any of their requests.
As you can see from this report, we have a really full picture of what the experience was like on the Justice Department side, how they felt getting these requests from the White House, to help up and the results of the election. But what`s their testimony, their notes, their extensive handwritten notes, emails and other documents, show is that they were never quite sure what was going on at the White House. They were never quite sure exactly who was coming up with what. It fell to them like scheme after scheme, plot after plot, to upend the election.
They had a sense that it might include, for example, Representative Scott Perry of Pennsylvania. They had a sense that he asked Jeffrey Clark, to come to the White House, to help with legal issues, and to be a voice from the Justice Department.
But they were never really sure, exactly what was going on. So, I think the committee will have to start interviewing other witnesses, including witnesses from the White House side, to get a complete picture.
MADDOW: We just spoke with Sheldon White House who`s on the committee in the raise the progression of suspect, that Jeff Clark was so in the bull`s- eye of this report, and who has been referred from potential discipline to the D.C. bar, because of what the committee has discovered about him thus far. Sheldon Whitehouse -- Senator Whitehouse just raised the prospect that Mr. Clark, might not have been sort of intellectually up to the task, that he was trying to pull off, here that he might have been put up to, it that it was an area of law he didn`t know anything about, that he may have been essentially a vessel for other people who were trying to use him, and his position, to get this done.
Does that resonate at all with what you have reported thus far in the story?
BENNER: Well, you`ve certainly get that sense if you read the transcripts, from former Acting Attorney Jeff Rosen, and his deputy Rich Donoghue. You definitely get the sense that they were always wondering, is there somebody behind Jeff Clark. They would have these contentious conversations with him, and then come back wondering, who is helping him in these efforts. And where these legal theories coming from? Certainly that is the sense you get.
MADDOW: Wow. In terms of what is likely to happen next year, I`m also struck, Katie, by the fact that there seems to be pretty good documentation of how senior Justice Department officials, did try to help Trump and when he was doing. Beyond Clark, there was William Barr, for example, not only personally telling U.S. attorneys to make it their first priority, to investigate some of these outlandish claims. But telling the FBI to interview specific witnesses. Attorney general, Deputy Attorney General Richard Donoghue getting involved personally to try to push this stuff out to prosecutors offices.
Is that going to be seen as a problem in the Justice Department going forward?
BENNER: Well I think that there are certainly calls by former Justice Department employees in some career employees that is one reason to do a full top to bottom review about what happened in the Justice Department during the Trump era, is to figure out how to stop this from happening again.
Now, so far, Merrick Garland has rejected that idea. He doesn`t seem on board with that kind of review. But we did see is the sense of the frog being boiled, slowly boiled alive. I only report on legal matters. But again, from these interviews, you could really sort of see a situation, where employees and top officials, at the Justice Department. We`re thinking to themselves, I will just do this one more thing.
I will just comply with this request for an investigation. Just so I can say that we didn`t and check the box and get him off my back. Without really understanding how that would encourage, him and embed him. How that would create a psychological roadmap by which he creates he can push the Justice Department further, and further, and further in these investigations. Do not just do that, but suddenly publicly announce in a way, that would undermine results of the investigation, undermine the credibility of the election, and as these witnesses said, impaired democracy. So, you get to a point where only the most extreme things can force officials to act.
MADDOW: Katie Benner, "New York Times" Justice Department reporter, again, who has led the country before day one in terms of breaking this story -- thank you for your time tonight. As you say third or fourth inning in a long way to go. But this is a fascinating thing, Katie. Thank you.
BENNER: Thanks for having.
MADDOW: All right. We`ve got much more to come tonight. Stay with us.
MADDOW: So, Any day now we`re expecting any day now, we are expecting the Facebook whistleblower, the former senior Facebook employee who came forward this week as a whistleblower, we`re expecting her to meet with the committee that`s investigating the January 6th attack on the U.S. capital. This was first reported by CNN.
And what`s relevant here is that part of what Frances Haugen testified to Congress this week, is that Facebook, has pretty effective technical ways to limit the use of Facebook for inciting violence and for the circulation of deliberate and inflammatory disinformation. She testified that in fact, Facebook use those technical limits, they put those technical limits in place, in the immediate lead up to the 2020 election, to good effect.
But then, according to her testimony, and according to internal company documents she took with her when she left the company, she says Facebook decided soon after the election that it no longer wanted to keep those safety rules in place. It was costing them too much money, so they stopped the security measures, just after the election. In Frances Haugen says that decision by Facebook, again, driven by their bottom line, she says it materially contributed to the planning and organization of the mob violence that took place at the U.S. Capitol when Trump supporters launched their attack on Congress January 6.
Well, Facebook has denied Frances Haugen`s allegations. They pushed back against her, even though she`s been able to produce company documents to bolstering her claims. But, again, very interesting development. She is expected to meet soon with investigators from the January six committee. They`ve said they`re looking into how the organizing of the January 6th attack came together, how the money flowed behind it. So that`s a very provocative set of questions there.
On that January 6 committee, today is the deadline for four senior members of the Trump administration, to hand over documents, to that committee by midnight tonight. The January 6 committee sent subpoenas for documents and records to Trump`s one-time chief strategist Steve Bannon, and his White House chief of staff, Mark Meadows, his social media guy Dan Scavino, and Kash Patel, making scary goggley eyes on the picture on the right side of the screen.
He`s the loyalist guy that President Trump randomly installed at a top Pentagon post in his final weeks in office, even though he appears to have had no relevance qualifications.
But this, four, has until midnight tonight to comply with those subpoenas. It doesn`t appear there going to. Politico.com was first to report today, that Trump set all four of these guys a letter, telling them not to comply with the subpoenas and not to sit for depositions next week.
The January 6 committee`s chairman is Bennie Thompson. He has threatened that anybody who doesn`t comply with one of these subpoenas will get a criminal contempt referral to the Justice Department. So, the stakes are high and rising here.
Watch this space.
MADDOW: Just before we got in the air tonight, the U.S. Senate voted to allow Democrats to raise the debt ceiling for a few more weeks. Whereupon, yes, we will get to do this all over again.
Eleven Republicans joined with Democrats to allow the votes to happen. But, then when the vote actually happens, no Republicans voted with Democrats to do it.
So, there`s a 60 vote threshold to allow the Democrats to vote for it. Republicans did allow that, with 11 Republican senators joining with the Democrats, then when it in time to actually take the vote and raise the debt ceiling, it was Democrats only. Why are we doing this?
You might remember that a few weeks ago, Republicans were threatening not one but two completely unnecessary self inflicted crises, hitting the debt ceiling, and also forcing the U.S. into a government shutdown. Well, those things have been averted, for now.
Last week, Democrats reached a deal with the Republicans to delay the government shutdown until December 3rd, now tonight, they`ve reached a deal to delay the debt ceiling crash until also, early December, which means December is going to be a nightmare, on purpose.
It also means that Democrats are going to figure out a way to pass Biden`s agenda, the big reconciliation bill, that you`ve got about eight weeks, before both of those crises come crashing back down at the same time, stopping everything. Such a stupid way to govern.
Watch this space.
MADDOW: All right. That is going to do it for us tonight and this fine Friday eve. It doesn`t mean that tonight is Friday evening. It means that`s the eve of Friday.
I`ll see you again tomorrow.
Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL".
Good evening, Lawrence.