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Transcript: The Rachel Maddow Show, September 11, 2020

Guest: Andrew Phelps


MSNBC's continuing coverage of the coronavirus pandemic. The U.S. Pacific Coast completely enveloped by a thick layer of smoke that continues to just billow out of the wildfires that are ripping their way up and down the West Coast. Federal prosecutor Nora Dannehy, a top aide to U.S. Attorney John Durham and his Russia investigation, has quietly resigned, at least partly out of concern that the investigative team is being pressed for political reasons to produce a report before its work is done, said colleagues.


CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: All right. Tom Perez, chair of the DNC. Thank you so much for your time on this Friday night. I appreciate it.

TOM PEREZ, DNC CHAIR: Always a pleasure.

HAYES: Quick programming note, make sure you tune in on this Sunday with my colleague Joy Reid, along with Ander Zimmern, to explore the food related crisis unfolding for Americans during the pandemic, as restaurants and food worker struggle across the country. Watch "Food and the Pandemic", Sunday, at 11:00 p.m. Eastern, only on MSNBC.

That wraps up "ALL IN" for this week.

THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right now.

Good evening, Rachel.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Thanks, my friend. Much appreciated. I hope you have an excellent weekend.

HAYES: You bet.

MADDOW: I want to thank you at home for being with us this hour. Very happy to have you here.

After the 9/11 terrorist attacks 19 years ago today, one of the very large changes that was made to the U.S. government in response to those attacks was the creation of a behemoth new government agency, the Department of Homeland Security. Nearly two decades later, it still feels a little weird, it still feels a little awkward that there's something in the U.S. government called Homeland.

But that agency is gigantic. It is sprawling. It has a massive budget, and in terms of what it does, still a little nebulous. It's still sort of finding its way in terms of what exactly comes under its umbrella of securing the homeland.

Part of what has been just a tidal wave of big consequential news this week -- it's been an incredible news week -- was the emergence this week of a high level whistle-blower from the Department of Homeland Security, the man who served as the head much intelligence and analysis for that department. He says this week in an official whistle-blower complaint that among other things, the Trump administration ordered what is effectively a stand-down order for the federal government to not respond, not alert anyone, not react to another serious foreign attack on our country.

Brian Murphy says in his whistle-blower complaint that he was told to not release intelligence reports from the Department of Homeland Security to state and local officials, even to other federal law enforcement agencies, about the Russian government attacking the 2020 election to try to mess with the election and influence its outcome. Don't report on that. Don't warn these other agencies about these attacks that are under way. Just let it happen. Shut up about it. Stand down.

I mean, it was never going to be a good time to learn that the Trump administration was doing this, right? Hey, just let this next attack on us happen, right? It was never going to be good to learn that, but to learn that as we hit the 9/11 anniversary is really something else.

And, of course, as soon as we got that whistle-blower report, we got a whole bunch of new detail about what exactly that attack looks like. We got this reporting from the Microsoft Corporation about the fact that this attack on our election is under way, that Russian cyberattacks are happening right now. They are targeting hundreds of campaign-related people and entities, and per Microsoft's assessment about what they are seeing, they say the way that Russia's doing it this year is way more sophisticated and way more hard to detect than their attacks were in 2016.

Now, these tracks, by the way, with what we heard last night on this show here from Peter Strzok, the FBI top counterintelligence agent, who led some of the initial investigation into what Russia did in 2016.

He says in his book, quote: We knew that the Russians had pulled some of their punches. We had credible intelligence that Russia possessed the means to have done even more damage to our electoral system in 2016 but had held back. He describes a meeting ever Trump's inaugural, so after the 2016 election, after Trump was inaugurated, in which he and other FBI officials discussed the fact that they had the knowledge that Russia had stuff in reserve, that they could have deployed in 2016 and they didn't. They had something in reserve to potentially use against us in the run-up to our next presidential election.

At the end of Peter Strzok's book, he stresses it again. He says, quote: On the morning after Election Day in 2016, several of us were concerned that the Russians had pulled back from plans to deploy disruptive actions in the event of a Clinton victory. We suspected that Moscow had shelved those operations because Trump had prevailed but were keeping those options ready for use in 2020, all the while developing new avenues of attack.

I mean just this news week, man. That book came out on Tuesday, here's these top counterintelligence warnings that Russia left stuff on the table in 2016, and when they come back in 2020, they are going to do stuff they haven't done before. It's going to be way more sophisticated. The book comes out on Tuesday.

By Thursday, sure enough, there's these first news stories about the Russian cyberattacks upping their game and the new tougher stuff they are throwing at us this time. And what's the Trump administration doing about it? Well, according to a senior official turned whistle-blower this week from the Department of Homeland Security, they're spiking intelligence reports that warn that this is happening, stopping those intelligence reports from going out to local officials and local law enforcement. Also at the same time, the president's lawyer is repeatedly meeting with and taking materials from someone who the Treasury Department just sanctioned as a Kremlin agent, who the U.S. treasury department says is working on this year's new Russian election interference effort, the person with whom he is working on that directly is the president's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani.

And, and, and now today, we've had a mysterious top-level resignation from the team of prosecutors who Attorney General Bill Barr assigned to the Durham investigation, to basically make it seem like it was a criminal scheme in the FBI and the CIA for anyone to have even tried to fight back and investigate against the last Russian election attack in 2016. The person who is reportedly the lead investigator on that effort resigned from the Justice Department, resigned from the Justice Department without explanation.

So we don't know what happened there. There is some cryptic reporting from the "Hartford Courant", which was the first to report her resignation, that it may have had something to do with the attorney general pressuring that investigation, to make some sort of public declaration before the election. That has not been borne out by other papers being able to report that, but lots of people are on this story now. We will have more on that coming up.

But, you know, good times, right? I mean, this is all happening -- this is the 9/11 anniversary this is happening. News that's just astonishing right now.

This morning, early in the day, Susan and I had to drive somewhere together, and it was at the time of day that I would usually be reading in to, you know, start reading in for the show. Susan said she would drive so I could do that work.

And because that's boring for her, right, I'm not having -- making conversation with her and because I'm working, she can't like listen to anything without bugging me. She asked me if I would read the headlines from my work, read the headlines from the news roundup that we do for the show every morning. And so I was like, okay, honey. This is not probably the best way for you to start your day, but I'll just plow right in.

And I started reading her the headlines from our staff news note. Trump and Biden commemorating 9/11 at memorial events. "The New York Times," New York city marks 9/11 as time of harrowing loss. During the coronavirus pandemic, the U.S. has exceeded the death toll of September 11th, 2001, by orders of magnitude. In New York City alone, more than 23,000 people have died of the virus.

Next headline is from "The New York Daily News" today. Trump administration secretly withheld millions from New York Fire Department's 9/11 health program. What? The Trump administration is stealing money from the funds for 9/11 first responders to help them deal with their health problems from 9/11? Really? We'll have more on that later.

Okay. But keep moving, keep going. Five hundred thousand people in Oregon told they might have to evacuate to flee the wildfires. That's 10 percent of the population of the state of Oregon.

Next headline, two of Oregon's biggest fires likely to combine, say officials.

On to California, wildfire north of Sacramento is largest in California history, and it may not be done growing.

Next headline, Los Angeles suffers worst smog in almost 30 years. Super massive plume of smoke heading for western Washington. Poor air quality expected through the weekend. Nearly 40 percent of the U.S. in drought.

Keep going. CDC forecasts thousands more COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. in just the next three weeks. Fauci, the top infectious disease doctor in the U.S. government, says the U.S. needs to hunker down for this fall and winter.

Then this is a nice kicker. Public trust in CDC, Fauci, and other top health officials is evaporating, poll finds, at which point I'm reading Susan all these headlines, at which point Susan says to me, stop, please. She said, I will watch the show tonight, but please read yourself into the apocalypse silently now, like I've had enough.

I mean the headlines right now, and the political news is like bombshell after bombshell after bombshell and scandal after scandal after scandal, but it's everything, right? If you are feeling overwhelmed by the news and by the state of things and how everything feels so bad in so many ways all at once, do not judge yourself for having those feelings. What it means is that you're awake and cognizant of the real world and how it really is right now.

I mean, take care of yourself and stay grounded and make sure you surround yourself with people to whom you can talk with about your feelings. But you are not wrong to think that things are very bad right now in lots of different ways. They're terrible.

I mean we persist, though, right? We persist, and we try to make things better, and we keep our eyes open. But my God, are things bad on so many different fronts right now.

I mean, let's talk a little bit about COVID today. The news feels a little ominous, I will tell you, in a very Trump administration-specific way. Because of the revelations from the Bob Woodward book that the president did understand the gravity and the deadliness of the virus while he was playing it down to the public, the president caught on tape admitting, I wanted to play it down even though he knows how serious it is.

But even in the wake of those revelations this week, I said earlier this week, if this was a TV show about this moment in American politics, this would be the episode where the president resigns once that has been exposed about the distance between what he knew and what he told the American people, and the potential tens of thousands of lives that might have cost.

But even in the wake of those revelations, the president is still continuing to play it down. Even though we've now all heard the tape explaining that he does have a real understanding of the threat and he's just playing it down for his own purposes.

So, we've got that happening. The president continuing that, and because Dr. Fauci, the government's actual top infectious disease expert, has to correct the president on this stuff publicly now. I mean, that's part of his job, being straight with the American people about what's really going on with the pandemic, how serious it is, what it means, and what B.S. somebody is trying to sell you that is actually going to be hurtful.

In having to correct the president publicly now, we are entering into a new sort of ominous time in terms of the way we are responding to this pandemic, even more than before. Having Fauci correcting the president in public the way he is having to do more and more now, knowing this president, it feels like the overture to something very bad.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The United States has done really well. I'm very proud of everybody that worked on this. And I really do believe we're rounding the corner. We're rounding the corner.

ANDREA MITCHELL, MSNBC HOST, "ANDREA MITCHELL REPORTS": I want to ask you about something you said Thursday. You said it was time to hunker down because the fall and the winter is, quote, not going to be easy. The president says we've rounded the final turn. How do you square those two messages?

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: Well, you know, I'm sorry, but I have to disagree with that because if you look at the thing that you just mentioned, the statistics, Andrea, they are disturbing. You know, we're plateauing at around 40,000 cases a day, and the deaths are around 1,000. As we enter -- and, you know, we turn the corner after the Labor Day weekend. I'm hoping we do not see a surge in cases as we've seen following the Fourth of July and Memorial Day.

But when you have a baseline of infections that are 40,000 per day and you have threats of increased test positivity in certain regions of the country, such as the Dakotas and Montana and places like that, what we don't want to see is going into the fall season, when people will be spending more time indoors, and that's not good for a respiratory-borne virus, you don't want to start off already with a baseline that's so high.

MITCHELL: Did you see the president going around and having these outdoor rallies, thousands of people crammed into these rallies, no masks really to be seen. There is some risk to outdoor rallies when people are that close, correct, and don't have --

FAUCI: Yeah. I mean you don't want -- I mean if you're outdoors, Andrea, and you're crowded together and you don't have a mask, the chances of a respiratory transmission of a virus clearly are there. I mean just because you're outdoors alone -- I mean not alone as an individual, but just because you're outdoors does not mean that you're protected, particularly if you're in a crowd and you're not wearing masks.

MITCHELL: The president did relay to Bob Woodward in early February that you, quote, breathe the air and that's how it's passed. Then he took public stances for months about mask wearing and social distancing. Doesn't that help cause widespread resistance to wearing face coverings?

FAUCI: Well, yeah, Andrea. That's quite unfortunate obviously because as you know, we the physicians and the scientists on the coronavirus task force, have been stressing continually about the importance of wearing masks for that very reason. It does a lot of good if everybody wears a mask. You're absolutely correct. We've got to get that message across. And when it gets muddled, that's unfortunate.

MITCHELL: And, again now in the book, on March 19th, the president said to Bob Woodward -- I quote -- that I want to always play it down. I still like playing it down. Those are his words in his own voice. After hearing that, hearing those tapes with him acknowledging that, do you still believe he was not trying to distort the reality?

FAUCI: Well, you know, I mean obviously I had gotten asked that question before, and certainly there were disagreements. As you know, there were times when I was out there telling the American public how difficult this is, how we're having a really serious problem. You know, and the president was saying it's something that's going to disappear, which obviously is not the case.

But I can't have any explanation for the conversations between the author of the book, Bob Woodward, and the president. So, I mean, I can't comment any more on that except to say, yes, when you downplay something, that is really a threat. That's not a good thing.


MADDOW: When you downplay something that is really a threat, that is not a good thing. The president said something is going to disappear. That obviously is not the case. We have got to get that message across about masks. When it gets muddled, when that message gets muddled, that's unfortunate.

Dr. Anthony Fauci with NBC's Andrea Mitchell today. Andrea Mitchell doing a master class interview with him. But there's Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top infectious disease doctor in the U.S. government, delivering the hard truth about how bad this still is. In another part of the interview today, Dr. Fauci told Andrea today that it is going to be, quote, well into 2021, maybe even toward the end of 2021 before we're back to anything approaching normalcy in terms of normal life.

And that's a best-case scenario with a successful vaccine that works and gets distributed. Well, into 2021, maybe even towards the end of 2021 with a vaccine.

So he's telling us things that are very hard to hear, that are based in reality. But because the president's comments on COVID as we approach 200,000 dead are increasingly divorced from reality and therefore harmful, here's Dr. Fauci having to clean up and correct the president's false statements at an increasing pace. And it is -- it is a very, very valuable public service that he did that finally and that he does that, finally somebody who will just tell us the truth. Boy, do we need him. But, boy, does it make me fear for his job and for who they'd replace him with, right?

All right. But all this stuff is happening at once. Eyes open. No opting out.

This is our time. This is our country. We are citizens. We've got to do what we can to make things better. That means understanding them the best we can, even in weeks that just feel so overwhelming like this one.

We've got some new news coming up next on those huge wildfires in the West, including something that's going on in Oregon that you should hear about. We're going to be speaking with the head of Oregon's emergency management agency. We've got a live interview with him coming up next.

Stay with us.


MADDOW: It has gotten so big, you can see it easily from space. This was the U.S. Pacific Coast today, completely enveloped by a thick layer of smoke that continues to just bellow out of the wildfires that are ripping their way up and down the West Coast.

Right now, there are more than two dozen active large fires blitzing through California. They've already burned more than 3 million acres of California's land.

Of the 20 worst wildfires to ever hit California, 6 of the 20 worst have occurred this year. This July was the hottest ever recorded in California's history. Then in August, California set a new record for their highest average monthly temperature ever. That scorching heat creates dry, arid, fire-friendly conditions, and that is what has gifted California another record, this worst wildfire season in its history, coming fast on the heels of what had previously been its worst wildfire record in history.

This is the portrait of climate change in the year 2020. California Governor Gavin Newsom said today that what California is experiencing is a preview for what is in store for the whole country if the climate continues to warm unabated. He said today that California is, quote, America fast-forward.

California fires are nowhere near contained, and it's not like California isn't throwing everything they've got at it. Check this out from the California fire authority. Right now, there are close to 15,000 firefighters on the ground in California tonight, 2,200 fire engines, 101 aircraft, 251 bulldozers, 334 water tenders, which are the trucks that bring the water to the fire.

And it's, of course, not just California. Not just California maxing out their firefighting potential tonight. Fires are ripping their way up and down the whole West Coast. Whole towns in Washington state have been burnt to the ground. More than a half million acres have been burned in Washington state.

But the situation in Oregon is particularly and acutely bad right now. Things were bad in Oregon as of yesterday. You probably saw news about it. But it really does seem like the fires there just ballooned overnight.

Let me give you a sense of the scale in Oregon. Typically, over the course of the year, Oregon would lose about 500,000 acres to wildfires. In the past week, more than a million acres in Oregon have been burned, and 90 percent of that has happened in the last 72 hours. So we're talking about a surface area larger than the state of Rhode Island burned. That's twice the yearly average up in smoke in three days.

Tens of thousands of people in Oregon have been told to evacuate their homes. You're looking at images obviously of many structures that have already been destroyed. Five hundred thousand people in Oregon live in areas that have been told to at least prepare for potential evacuation. That's more than 10 percent of the entire population of the state.

And things are getting worse in Oregon tonight. There are multiple fires burning throughout the state. Multiple fires uncontained. As I mentioned at the top of the show, two of the biggest fires in Oregon are on the verge of merging. Officials have been warning all day that that could happen at any moment. That would basically turn it into one big super fire.

You'll remember these eerie images from earlier in the week. Orange skies in the San Francisco Bay Area. Smoke clogging up the air and turning it this weird Martian shade of orange. Well, this was Portland, Oregon, today -- less orange. More of just a thick, gray blanket of smoke.

Air quality in Portland was reported as one of the worst on the entire planet today. The air was so unbreathable in Portland today, people were told they shouldn't leave their homes unless absolutely necessary.

At least 26 people have died because of these fires thus far. Dozens more reported missing. Those numbers are expected to grow, especially in Oregon, at least that is what Oregon officials are warning us.

Today, the director of emergency management for the state of Oregon said that based on the number of structures that have been lost, he says the state is preparing for a, quote, mass fatality incident.

Joining us now is that official, Andrew Phelps is the director of Oregon's Office of Emergency Management.

Mr. Phelps, I know this is a very, very critical time. Thanks for helping us understand.


MADDOW: Let me ask you if anything I just described there about what's happening in Oregon has been supplanted by more recent events. Have I said anything wrong, or if there's any other way you would put this in terms of helping the country understand how serious the situation is in your state.

PHELPS: You're spot-on, Rachel. We know that the weather is going to get better at some point next week. That should alleviate some of the fire threat, especially in our wild land and urban interface areas.

But we also know we've got a long way to go to get there. We've got immediate life safety needs. We're in the middle of evacuating tens of thousands of Oregonians, trying to get them to safety and making sure that those that aren't under that immediate evacuation threat are prepared to do so at a moment's notice.

MADDOW: When you said today that the state is preparing for a mass fatality incident because of the severity of these fires and specifically because so many structures have burned, what did you mean by that, and what does that look like in terms of you preparing for that in the state in.

PHELPS: So we've had recent examples in California, devastating, fast-moving wildfires that have caused dozens and dozens of casualties, fatalities. Based on those lessons that we've observed in California, we're seeing those same types of conditions in Oregon. Fast-moving fires, fires that damage the only means of egress for a lot of communities. And we just know that so many structures were lost, there are going to be a number of fatality fatalities, folks that couldn't get warning in time ask couldn't evacuate their homes and get to safety.

MADDOW: So you're expecting that you will discover people who didn't survive as you are able to get through the areas that have been burned?

PHELPS: That's our expectation. That's where we're posturing our response once we address the immediate life safety threat. We've requested assistance from the federal government, and they've been tremendously helpful getting those resources to us here in Oregon to begin that process of managing the search and recovery efforts once the fire zones become safe enough to re-enter and begin that recovery process.

MADDOW: It's just dire.

In terms of the resources that you need, let me just ask if there are -- if you do have the resources that you need and that you want to be able to bring to bear to this crisis. Thinking about it jurisdictionally, I was reading today that one of the crews that -- one of the fires that your crews are firing, the Slater Fire, crosses the border into California. It's both in Oregon and California. I wonder if that's created issues in terms of bringing resources to bear, coordination, command and control, those sorts of things.

PHELPS: We've really got a handful of fires on the landscape, and any one of those fires would have overwhelmed our resources. So to be able to say that we've got enough resources would not be an accurate statement by any stretch. I do want to acknowledge not just our federal partners but several states that have offered assistance. We've got firefighters on the ground in Utah. This is at a time where really every state in the West is dealing with their own severe wildfire threat.

So resources are stretched incredibly thin, but we're having conversations with states really across the country on how they can help and what kind of assistance they can provide. I'm just incredibly grateful for all they're doing to help alleviate some of the immediate suffering and life safety threat we have here in Oregon.

MADDOW: Andrew Phelps, the director of Oregon's Office of Emergency Management -- boy, do you have a situation on your hands there, sir. Good luck to you.

And come back and keep us apprised. We would love to be able to help our viewers stay up to date on what's happening here. I know that a lot of times the national media is very East Coast focused, but all eyes are on you right now.

PHELPS: Thanks for helping us tell a little bit of our story.

MADDOW: All right. Thanks.

We've got much more to get to tonight. Stay with us.


MADDOW: Last night on the show, I got to speak with Peter Strzok, who as the FBI's top counterintelligence agent investigated Russian interference in the 2016 election and ultimately investigated President Trump himself in terms of his connections to Russian interference on his behalf. Peter Strzok, of course, was then publicly vilified by Trump and the conservative media and Republicans in Congress. He was fired from his job, and the president has threatened to have him prosecuted for something or other.

And I could spend a whole other show just unpacking the things that Peter Strzok told me last night about his conviction, that the president is currently compromised by a hostile foreign government in an ongoing way. I mean just getting your head around that particularly from somebody in that kind of a position to know, it's mind-blowing, right?

But here's one specific thing that Strzok said that I have been thinking about ever since because I didn't expect this answer from him and because he seemed so confident about it while I was honestly kind of skeptical.


MADDOW: If it turns out that Attorney General William Barr is doing something in cahoots with the president that's improper, that is -- and I'm speaking absolutely hypothetically here -- but something that is, you know, designed to soften America as a target for foreign interference or to otherwise obscure what law enforcement and intelligence officials know is going on in order to allow those things to benefit the president's campaign, do you have faith that our government as it stands right now could correct for that, could hold the attorney general to account for that, could potentially investigate him or pursue him for those things if he did put himself on the wrong side of the law?

PETER STRZOK, FORMER FBI OFFICIAL: Well, look, I don't know what he is or isn't doing with the White House. I think it's fair and accurate to say that he is engaged in a series of behavior that are deeply politicizing the Department of Justice, both the things that are going on right now as well as seeking to unwind the prosecutions of General Flynn, the sentencing of Roger Stone and others. I know that there are principled men and women within the Department of Justice and within the FBI who wouldn't tolerate an improper sort of influence like that. That if push came to shove, that there are lines within all those people that they would not allow to be crosses, and I'm confident that they would speak out rather than submit to that sort of grave, grave improper sort of action.


MADDOW: I will admit when Peter Strzok said that last night, I was heartened to hear that, and it's interesting to know about him, right? Especially given what he's been through, that he still has that kind of faith in the people of the Justice Department, right?

Like I said, I was skeptical, but he believes that people do the right thing if they were confronted with being told by Attorney General Bill Barr or anybody else that they needed to do something corrupt to benefit this president. I was skeptical. That was last night.

And then lo and behold today, it happened. He apparently was right, and I was wrong. I mean that's what it looks like. Today, a federal prosecutor with decades of experience in the justice department, who had been working on an investigation into counterintelligence concerns about President Trump's ties to Russia, she quit the Justice Department today, and she quit reportedly because Attorney General William Barr was putting improper, untenable political pressure on her and her team.

Here's the lead from the "Hartford Courant" newspaper in Connecticut which broke the story today. Quote: Federal prosecutor Nora Dannehy, a top aide to U.S. Attorney John Durham and his Russia investigation, has quietly resigned, at least partly out of concern that the investigative team is being pressed for political reasons to produce a report before its work is done, said colleagues. Colleagues said Nora Dannehy has been concerned in recent weeks by what she believed was pressure from Attorney General Bill Barr to produce results before the November election.

And, look, the whole purpose of this investigation which Bill Barr set up and assigned to John Durham, it's always been transparent, right? Bill Barr tasked this one U.S. attorney with investigating all the people in the U.S. government whoever dared to look into Donald Trump and Russia, as if that was some sort of terrible thing to do, as if that was some sort of crime in and of itself.

And the president, you know, loves to talk about locking up his enemies. And the president loves to bring up the Durham investigation specifically. He gets to say that all his favorite punching bags like Peter Strzok and like former CIA Director John Brennan, they're all going to jail. They could all be charged any minute. John Durham is going to charge those guys and lock them up for treason or something.

But it's not just the president and his all-caps Twitter ravings. It has been both the president and the attorney general of the United States, Bill Barr, who have constantly teased in public statements the possibility that this Durham investigation is going to produce something incredibly damaging to the president's perceived enemies, and it will be just in time for the election. Barr has gone out of his way to say that Durham's findings certainly could come out before the election and there would be no reason to prevent those from being released to the public before the election.

But I mean even though that's been obvious, right? It's one thing for us as outside observers to see them saying that in public, to suspect what they're doing behind the scenes, to sort of see how this might be a political operation designed to weaponize the justice department to help the president's re-election campaign.

But it is an order of magnitude different when -- order of magnitude of difference when somebody inside that investigation at the Justice Department up and resigns, right? And her colleagues say it was because Barr is trying to use her and her team to help his boss get re-elected, by producing something that the Trump campaign can presumably use as dirt on their opponents just before everybody votes.

We haven't had -- I've said this before. We have not had very many principled resignations in this administration. It's always helpful when they explain themselves on the record as to why they are quitting, and there have been few -- the people who have done that are few and far between.

I will tell you we did reach out directly to Nora Dannehy, to the prosecutor who quit today. She declined to comment.

But something beyond what we've all been able to see happen in public happened behind closed doors, and that has caused her to quit. There is reporting suggesting she quit for a very bad reason, which kind of feels like a red alert at this point.

Joining us now is Andrew Weissmann, former top Justice Department official. He was lead prosecutor for Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team.

Mr. Weissmann, it is great to see you. Thank you for being here.


MADDOW: So I gather that you know Nora Dannehy professionally. What do you think we should know about her in terms of understanding the decision by her to resign?

WEISSMANN: Well, lots of people know her because she has been a federal prosecutor for decades, and she has had a great career. She has been steeped in public corruption cases. So, for her to take this action is, as you mentioned, truly signification.

And just to put a fine point on, there's no question in my mind that she is resigning for -- because she thought there was political pressure. If this was for any other reason, such as family circumstances, you could be sure that we all would have heard that because she wouldn't want to hurt the investigation by having speculation.

And you just don't resign from a high-profile case like this and leave people unless there is a really compelling reason.

So she must have been really struggling with this. But I'm very, very happy that you played that clip from Pete because it really shows the finest in terms of the FBI and the Department of Justice lawyers and agents and analysts who really believe in the rule of law.

MADDOW: Andrew, is there any either rule or sort of strong ethos, especially for somebody who's been a real Justice Department lifer, around whether you're supposed to explain yourself if you resign under circumstances like this, if it is something that you say you suspect here, that she's resigning because there was improper political pressure here and she wasn't going to abide it, and so she quit and walked out because of it, within the Justice Department, among you and your fellow prosecutors, would you leave and not say anything publicly about it, or would you leave and explain the purpose for your resignation?

WEISSMANN: So there's no rule against explaining your resignation to a certain extent, but there are other ways to go about it than appearing on TV or writing an op-ed. So here's one example. Jonathan Kravis, who was the lead in the Roger Stone case, he did the same thing. He resigned for what we all now know was political pressure brought in this case to have favorable treatment for somebody close to the president, and he wrote an op-ed in "The Washington Post." So that is one way to do something.

But the other ways are to resign and to report your concerns to the inspector general or to Congress. In other words, there are channels for people to report misconduct.

MADDOW: If the Judiciary Committee, for example, in the house wanted to ask Ms. Dannehy to come in to explain to them what happened, either publicly or behind closed doors, would that be appropriate?

WEISSMANN: Yeah, that could totally happen. You saw that that happened with respect to my former colleague Aaron Zelinsky, who was working on the Roger Stone case.

But one thing I want to make sure people understand, Rachel, is this is not normal. It is one thing for people like Pete and me to express enormous confidence in the integrity of people at the department of justice. But people are not routinely confronted with this. Whether it's in Republican or Democratic administrations, this is really off the chart in terms of what has happened to the Department of Justice.

And particularly on 9/11, which is a time that lots of people in the Department of Justice are extremely proud of being there and having been able to do some small thing for the country, it is really difficult to watch what the attorney general is doing to the rule of law.

MADDOW: Andrew, along those lines, I would like to ask you about something else that happened today, and it's about the Michael Flynn prosecution. Obviously, that has been a long and crazy road at this point. But where it stands now, as you know, is that the Justice Department under William Barr is trying to drop those charges, and a judge has fought for the right to be able to interrogate that decision by the Justice Department.

Today -- I'm going to read you -- you probably read this today, but it's for our viewers. I want to read you something written today by a court-appointed essentially advocate in the Flynn case, who has been appointed by the judge in this case to argue that Flynn shouldn't have the charges dropped. He said today in a filing, quote, to describe the government's motion to dismiss as irregular would be a study in understatement.

In the United States, president's don't orchestrate pressure campaigns to get the Justice Department to drop charges against defendants who have pled guilty twice before two different judges and whose guilt is obvious. And the Justice Department doesn't seek to dismiss criminal charges on grounds riddled with legal and factual error and then argue that the validity of those grounds can't even be briefed to the court that accepted the defendant's guilty plea. Nor does the Justice Department make a practice of attacking its own prior filings in a case as well as judicial opinions ruling in its favor, all while asserting that the normal rules should be set aside for a defendant who is openly favored by the president.

Yet that is exactly what has unfolded here. There is clear evidence that the government's motion to dismiss the case against Michael T. Flynn rests on pure pretext. There's clear evidence that this motion reflects a corrupt and politically motivated favor unworthy of our justice system.

That's like -- he's just getting started. That's just the first two paragraphs. Judge Gleason goes on to say the Justice Department trying to drop the charges against Flynn is them running, quote, a corrupt political errand for the president.

Now, obviously this is Judge Gleason advocating a specific side in this fight. But, boy, does this strike me as red-hot and just incredibly damning of what Attorney General Barr has tried to do here. I just wanted to get your reaction to it.

WEISSMANN: Well, John does not mince words. It is -- it is very clear what he thinks. But it's backed up by facts. And I think the key thing for your viewers to ask is why is the president and why is Bill Barr doing this? In other words, what is it that is leading them to do this, and they're taking a different legal position than they take in every other case that raises these same issues.

In other words, that was one of John's, you know, biggest points is why are you torturing the facts and the law here for Michael Flynn?

And, you know, this is the national security adviser. He lied to the FBI. He admitted it. He lied to the vice president of the United States.

And what did he lie about? He lied about the conversations he had with the Russian ambassador to the United States to tell him don't overreact to sanctions that the prior administration had put on Russia because it had interfered with the Russian -- with the American election in 2016.

Why would that be something that, A, you would lie about? And why would you try and reward somebody for that kind of behavior?

MADDOW: The question about why Mike Flynn told those lies when he knew full well -- had to know full well that the government had been able to listen to the conversation and so the lies would be found out remains a central mystery here, and freeing him from this prosecution despite pleading guilty is obviously in some ways would curtail any effort to ever get to the bottom of that.

Andrew Weissmann, former head of the criminal fraud section of the Justice Department, one of the leading members of the Special Counsel Mueller's team, Andrew, thanks for being with us on a Friday night. I appreciate you being here.

WEISSMANN: Nice to be here.

MADDOW: All right. We'll be right back. Stay with us.



REPORTER: This morning, the president is facing mounting scrutiny after planning and then abruptly canceling a secret meeting with the Afghan government and the Taliban that was set to take place Sunday at Camp David, just days before the anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo out on five Sunday shows defending the strategy.

MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATES: President Trump ultimately made the decision. He said, I want to talk to President Ghani. I want to talk to these Taliban negotiators. I want to look them in the eye.

REPORTER: And insisting Camp David was an appropriate location to host the Taliban, a group which harbored the al Qaeda terrorists behind the September 11th attacks.


MADDOW: It has been one year since President Trump had the grand idea of opening up Camp David to host the Taliban on the week of 9/11. That was his big idea for how to commemorate the 9/11 anniversary last year. Invite the Taliban to Camp David. Even though that was ultimately abruptly canceled as the country collectively shot coffee out its nose upon learning that was his big idea.

This year, the president has birthed a cousin to that genius idea from 9/11 last year. At a news conference yesterday, September 10th, the president bragged, quote, we're getting along very, very well with the Taliban.

"The Washington Post" then reported that six Taliban prisoners were released from Afghan custody yesterday. The Afghan government did not want to let them go because of what these prisoners were accused of, but the United States government, the Trump administration, insisted.

Three of those six Taliban prisoners freed yesterday are accused of involvement in killing U.S. troops in Afghanistan in so-called insider attacks, these types of attacks occur when Taliban members infiltrate Afghan security forces and then turn on U.S. soldiers.

Even as these Taliban members, these Taliban prisoners accused of killing American soldiers, were being released against the wishes of the Afghan government yesterday, released because the Trump administration insisted that they be released on the eve of 9/11, President Trump was at that moment crowing about how great he gets along with the Taliban.

And, of course, there's always more. Today we woke up to the news in "The New York Daily News" that the Trump administration has been secretly withholding millions of dollars from the FDNY 9/11 health program. FDNY is the New York City Fire Department. Their 9/11 health program is designed to treat firefighters and medics who got sick because they worked the pile at 9/11.

Apparently, the Trump Treasury Department, starting nearly four years ago, they just started scheming some of the money, they just started mysteriously withholding portions of that fund.

Chief medical officer for the FDNY telling "The Daily News" today that the money was, quote, just disappearing without any notification. He added, quote, here we have sick World Trade Center-exposed firefighters and EMS workers when the city is having difficult financial circumstances due to COVID-19, and we're not getting the money we need to treat these heroes.

Quote: for years, they wouldn't even tell us. We never ever received a letter telling us this.

They have just been taking the money and keeping it for themselves for almost four years. And we find out today -- today of all days.


MADDOW: That is going to do it for us tonight and for this week. Take good care of yourself this weekend. Do something that makes you bigger and stronger and better at what you do and who you are.

This time in the news right now is rough. You need to be at your best. Your country needs you.

See you again on Monday night.

Now, it's time for "THE LAST WORD" where Ali Velshi is in for Lawrence tonight.

Good evening, Ali.


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