THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW for January 8, 2018, MSNBC - Part 1
<Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW>
<Date: January 8, 2018>
<Head: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW for January 8, 2018, MSNBC - Part 1>
<Byline: Rachel Maddow, Michael Beschloss, Carol Lee>
<High: K.T. McFarland`s nomination to be ambassador to Singapore stalling
in 2017 because of her role at the center of the Trump administration`s
exposed lie on the Flynn scandal, but not that it stopped the Trump
administration from renominating her. Democrats may need to be even
craftier to get on Republican resistance to publishing the transcript of
Fusion GPS testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee, may need to do the
unusual Congressional trick used by then-Senator Mike Gravel to get the
Pentagon Papers into the public record. Carol Lee, national political
reporter for NBC News, talked with Rachel Maddow about the possibility of
Donald Trump facing questions in person from Robert Mueller and what that
means for the progress of the Trump Russia investigation.>
<Spec: K.T. McFarland; Government; Fusion GPS; Congress; Politics; Donald
Trump; Robert Mueller; Russia; Justice; Policies>
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: And I want to thank you at home for joining us this hour. Happy Monday.
So, this is a little odd. Mike Flynn, Trump national security advisor, currently cooperating with the special counsel investigation into the president and his campaign after he Mike Flynn pled guilty, right, to lying to the FBI about his contact with the Russian government during the transition. OK, a month ago, “The New York Times” reported when Mike Flynn had those contacts with the Russian government he was not acting on his own. In real time, he was communicating with Trump transition officials about the fact that he was talking to the Russians, and he was talking with Trump transition officials specifically about the fact that he was having conversations with the Russians about them taking it easy on the issue of Russian sanctions.
Now, that`s important because the White House has portrayed Mike Flynn contacting the Russians about sanctions as some kind of betrayal, right? Remember, their line was that they had to fire Mike Flynn, they had to obtain his resignation because he lied about his contacts with the Russians to Vice President Mike Pence.
Yes. Who could have known what Mike Flynn was really up to? It was such a betrayal. He lied.
Well, that all fell apart last month when “The New York Times” published direct quotes from e-mails that had reportedly been sent among top transition staff discussing just exactly what Mike Flynn was doing with the Russians.
Quote: On December 29th, a transition advisor K.T. McFarland wrote in an e- mail to a colleague that sanctions announced hours before by the Obama administration in retaliation for Russian election meddling were aimed at discrediting Mr. Trump`s victory. The sanctions could also make it much harder for Mr. Trump to ease tensions with Russia, quote: which has just thrown the USA election to him.
After learning that President Barack Obama would expel 35 Russian diplomats, the Trump team quickly strategized about how to reassure Russia. The Trump advisers feared that a cycle of retaliation between the U.S. and Russia would keep the spotlight on Moscow`s election meddling which would tarnish Mr. Trump`s victory and potentially hobble his presidency from the start as part of the outreach Ms. McFarland wrote, Mike Flynn would be speaking with the Russian ambassador.
So, that was all reported by the “New York Times” last month. The transition, the Trump transition knew what Mike Flynn was up to when he did the thing he later lied to the FBI about, which has now resulted in him pleading guilty to a felony and becoming a cooperating witness. Mike Flynn, despite all of the implication to the contrary from the White House, Mike Flynn wasn`t acting on his own. The Trump transition was in on it and we know that in part because of K.T. McFarland`s e-mails about it.
OK, K.T. McFarland is probably best known as a former FOX News personality. When Trump hired Mike Flynn to be his national security adviser, Flynn brought on K.T. McFarland as his deputy national security adviser. Not long thereafter, Flynn was forced out of the White House in this big scandal and K.T. McFarland stayed on a little while longer but honestly within a few weeks, she was out as well.
That`s how these things tend to go, right? You are the deputy who`s brought in by somebody who gets in trouble. That person that got in a lot of trouble gets in a lot of trouble and gets ousted, you usually follow them out the door.
That said, the Trump White House soon announced that they had a new gig in mind for K.T. McFarland. Behold, she shall be sent to Singapore.
It`s kind of a weird consolation prize, right? After the national security adviser gets forced out in a giant national security scandal and you`re his deputy, then you get an ambassadorship? It was a weird consolation prize from the start. It started to seem like an even weirder consolation prize when Flynn wasn`t just ousted, he was criminally charged and pled guilty last month.
But then a few days later when “The Times” got those e-mails that showed that K.T. McFarland was totally in on the scandal that cost Mike Flynn his job and ultimately led to his conviction -- well, yes, then, her being sent to Singapore as an ambassador no longer just seemed like a weird idea. Obviously, it started to seem impossible.
K.T. McFarland`s nomination for U.S. envoy to Singapore stalled over Russia concerns. I mean, even Republicans were on board, right, that this thing was not going to be able to go ahead, not under these circumstances.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. BOB CORKER (R-TN), FOREIGN RELATIONS CHAIRMAN: The nomination is frozen for a while until that gets worked out and, you know, she knows -- she has to know that herself.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: She has to know. Obviously, you can`t become an ambassador, right? When you`re right in the middle of an ongoing criminal national security scandal and your name is on some of the most red hot e-mails at the center of it and specifically at the center of what the White House has been lying about when it comes to that scandal. And those e-mails have been handed over to the special counsel, who`s bringing indictments down like thunder bolts on officials from the campaign and the administration -- yes, probably in the midst of that you wouldn`t expect to be confirmed as the ambassador to Singapore, right? You`d think.
Tonight, the Trump administration has just renominated K.T. McFarland to be ambassador to Singapore. Sure, why not? Everybody was kind of in agreement that that was a crazy idea under these circumstances and her nomination wasn`t acted upon and everybody thought it was over. They are bringing her back. Sure, why not confirm her?
It has been kind of a weird day of news. That`s -- the K.T. McFarland story is one example. Here`s another. This was in “The Washington Post” just a few days ago.
It`s about -- do we have that piece? Yes, there we go. It`s about the head of the specific committee in Congress that oversees the State Department, Foreign Affairs Committee. Trump just nominated to a senior position at the State Department the wife of the chairman of that committee that oversees the State Department.
Now, that`s not the end of the world. It`s a little weird, right? But on a ranking of Trump administration norm-busting and ethics flouting, this would not be a championship contender. Yes, it`s weird.
The member of Congress most responsible for overseeing one of your agencies, you give his wife a plum job at that agency? It`s a little weird.
I mean, for these guys it`s like Tuesday. Not a big deal. You know.
So, we have that news a few days ago from “The Washington Post,” then today, just days after we got news of Ed Royce`s wife getting a job at the State Department, we got the very surprising news that congressman, Ed Royce, the committee chairman, the one whose wife just got that big State Department appointment, he`s quitting Congress.
Now, Ed Royce is a long-term California Republican congressman. He`s been there for 25 years. He`s chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee. And it is a surprise he is quitting.
As recently as this fall he was insisting, he was definitely staying and anybody saying he was going to retire was nuts. But now, all of a sudden, he`s going and right after his wife got that plum job at the major agency that he oversees.
Mr. Royce is the eighth Republican member of Congress who is the chair of a committee who has announced that he or she will not run for re-election. It`s one thing to be a run-of-the-mill member of Congress, but when you chair a committee and you step down, eight of them is a lot. And that`s probably good news for the Democratic Party`s chances in the mid-terms overall, that eight committee chairmen are leaving. But even just beyond just the large numbers of committee chairs who are going, some of these individual ones are strange and this Ed Royce one today was strange and a surprise.
So, like I said, it`s kind of a weird news day. I expect it will continue to be a weird news night. But I`ll see your weirdness thus far today and I will up the ante. In 2008, there was a pretty good-sized Democratic field of candidates who signed on to run for president that year as the very unpopular era of George W. Bush came to a close.
The Democratic primary in 2008 ended, of course, with the super dramatic down to the wire fight for the nomination between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. But, you know, if you go back to the beginning of that primary, the candidate who was the most surprising and sometimes the most fun to cover right from the beginning was a man named Mike Gravel. This is him.
I know this looks like we`re using very unflattering footage of him but I have to tell you, he`s the author of this footage. This is his own campaign ad. The ad overall goes on for nearly three minutes.
More than the first minute of it is just what you see here -- Mike Gravel looking into the camera with a sort of run-of-the-mill look on his face. He kind of swallows a few times, smacks his lips. It`s not like he`s fixing you with his gaze, right? Sometimes you hear road noise. Somebody walks by.
But then there is some action. You fast forward to 1:11 in the ad by which point the only thing he`s done is stare into the camera. But he turns, he walks a few steps, he goes and picks up a big rock. He carries the big rock over to the edge of the lake and whoop, boom.
And then the ad keeps going for a long time thereafter. The rock hits the water like 90 seconds in and then like for a whole another minute and a half, it`s just Mike Gravel walking away. Three-minute ad.
Mike Gravel ran for president in 2008. It`s kind of a weird cat. It`s not like he didn`t know ads like that were weird. That was the point of them.
He turned out to be a lot of fun in debates when he could get himself into debates, but never really broke through as a presidential candidate. What his candidacy did do in 2008 was remind everybody that there is a guy in this country named Mike Gravel who once upon a time had a pretty phenomenal and interesting career in U.S. politics.
In 1968, Mike Gravel was elected as a Democratic senator from the state of Alaska. He was sworn in 1969. And when you are a first-term senator -- yes, being a senator`s a very prestigious job, but when you`re just starting out, you don`t get very prestigious assignments.
So, for Mike Gravel, when he was a freshman senator, the one thing he actually got to be in charge of in the Senate, even with his party running the Senate and so they`re in the majority, they get all the chairmanships and everything, the one thing in the Senate that they put him in charge of was a subcommittee on buildings and grounds within the public works committee. It might not have been much, but it was the one thing they let him run.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
THEN-SENATOR MIKE GRAVEL (D), ALASKA: The Subcommittee on Buildings and Grounds, it`s the only chairmanship that I have and I treasure it dearly.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That was Mike Gravel speaking in 1971 on what turned out to be an extraordinary night. On that night, Mike Gravel managed to make it one of the most important things in the world that he happened to be the chairman of the Subcommittee on Buildings and Grounds.
Now, again, this is June of `71. In June of `71, first, “The New York Times”, then “The Washington Post” and “The Boston Globe” and other newspapers had started publishing pieces of the Pentagon Papers.
There`s a great movie about this out right now called “The Post”, which is about “The Washington Post” and their decision about handling the Pentagon Papers and all the legal fights and everything. But in June of 1971, Daniel Ellsberg who had taken these documents from the Pentagon, he was trying everything he could think of to get these documents into the public eye so the American people could read these documents for themselves, they could see for themselves what the government really knew about the Vietnam war.
And part of his strategy was to get these Pentagon documents to newspapers who were starting to publish them piece by piece. But as they were publishing them piece by piece, they kept getting blocked by the court, and they were fighting it out individually, with each new bit of publication, with each new paper in terms of injunctions and threats from the administration.
But newspapers were not the only avenue that Daniel Ellsberg chose for releasing these documents from the Pentagon. He also went to a number of members of Congress under the idea that the speech and debate clause in the Constitution might allow a sympathetic member of Congress to get the Pentagon Papers into the public record by getting them into the congressional record, where constitutionally they probably couldn`t be censored. And the American people could therefore read them.
Now, lots of higher-profile members of the U.S. Senate reportedly turned down Daniel Ellsberg when he came to them with this idea. But Mike Gravel was this young guy, 41 years old, freshman senator. He personally was turning very hard against the war. He tried to stop the draft by filibustering the draft to death.
And he was the one guy who took Ellsberg up on his offer. They came up with this plan. Gravel figured out what he was going to do. He was going to get the Pentagon papers into the congressional records.
They couldn`t be censored, so they could all be released to the public. And he had this plan. His plan was to read the Pentagon Papers on the floor of the Senate.
Terrible plan, as it turns out, because Mike Gravel did not plan it right in terms of the procedural stuff and when he got up there on the floor of the Senate June 29th, 1971, he took to the floor and he was going to read the Pentagon papers but he immediately got shut down because of the absence of a quorum in the Senate chamber. He hadn`t figured on that.
But Mike Gravel had a plan B. After it wasn`t going to work on the floor of the Senate, he got another genius idea about his little subcommittee on buildings and grounds. I`ll quote you from the “New York Times” the day after he did this.
Quote: The Alaska Democrat had hoped to read the documents on the Senate floor in an all-night session, but he was thwarted when a quorum of 51 senators couldn`t be mustered and they were adjourned. Senator Gravel went across the street to the new Senate office building, to the hearing room of the Buildings and Grounds Subcommittee of the Public Works Committee. There he convened a session of the subcommittee of which he is the chairman and there he began the reading.
My favorite detail actually of this whole moment in American history is that Mike Gravel in order to do this technically had to make the case these Pentagon documents he was going to read about the Vietnam War, he had to make the case that they were relevant to his committee. He had to make the case that they had something to do with his subcommittee on buildings and grounds. And so, he had a witness come in, a New York congressman come in and he had the witness testify that he wanted to have a federal building built in his district.
And Mike Gravel told him, yes, sir, I`d love to put a federal building in your district but I can`t because there`s no money, because all the money has gone to this darn war. And you know what? I have some stuff to say here about that war.
And thus, he started reading the Pentagon Papers out loud. And there were journalists on scene who had seen what he was trying do on the Senate floor, they followed him across the street to see what he was going to try to do in his little subcommittee. Nobody knew how this would end up.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: Have your legal experts told you you`re safe from prosecution or injunction as long as you read these in your function as a subcommittee chairman?
GRAVEL: That`s a question yet to be decided.
REPORTER: Senator, do you have any hopes of this --
GRAVEL: What they have told me is that`s a question yet to be decided.
REPORTER: That there is some possibility you could be enjoined legally --
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: But Mike Gravel, with all that uncertainty, he nevertheless read. He read for hours.
He intended actually to read a lot longer than he did, but about four hours into it, he became so exhausted that he actually got very emotional and sort of couldn`t hold it together.
Still, though, everything he was able to read became part of the public record. He gave copies of what he read to the journalists who were present in the room and then even though he was exhausted to the point of sobbing, openly weeping in the hearing room, he had the presence of mind at O dark 30 in the morning after these hours, with all of that emotion, he had the presence of mind to ask for unanimous consent that more than 4,000 pages of the Pentagon Papers should be entered into the congressional record.
He asked for unanimous consent. He was the only member of his little subcommittee who was present in the room. He thereby got unanimous consent. He unanimously approved his own motion.
And that is part of how we have the public record that we do from that incredible moment in American politics. That put 4,000 pages of the Pentagon Papers into the public record.
And this is newly relevant today because Greg Sargent of “The Washington Post” reports today that Democrats in the Senate right now are considering trying to do something like that again. Now, this time, it is not dozens of volumes and thousands of pages of the Pentagon Papers, this time, it`s a transcript from the Russia investigation.
This weekend, these billboards went up in Des Moines, Iowa: Senator Grassley release the Fusion GPS transcripts. Iowa, of course, is the home state of Chuck Grassley, who`s the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
In August, the head of this firm Fusion GPS gave ten hours of testimony to Chuck Grassley`s Judiciary Committee about his firm`s role producing the so-called dossier, that collection of raw intelligence reports concerning Russia`s interference in the election and their relationship with Trump and the Trump campaign.
Now, as you know, Republicans in Congress who are supposedly leading congressional committee investigations into what Russia did and whether they had help from any Americans, congressional Republicans have largely instead focused their efforts on trying to get the real Russia investigation off-course. In large part, they have focused their efforts on denouncing the dossier with all of their might and denouncing Fusion GPS, the firm that paid for it. Senator Grassley and Senator Lindsey Graham right now are trying to get the Justice Department to bring criminal charges against the British intelligence agent who compiled the dossier.
Other congressional Republicans have subpoenaed the bank records from Fusion GPS. Congressional Republicans have forced the FBI to hand over sensitive law enforcement materials from their ongoing investigation that will give Republicans in Congress details of how the FBI checked out claims from the dossier when they were doing their own investigation.
Republicans have just been going hammer and tongs against the dossier and the firm that paid for it. It`s their main effort to create a competing scandal, a diversion from the central questions of the Russia matter.
The problem for them in that strategy is no major thing from the dossier has been conclusively disproven. A lot of people who were mentioned in the dossier have denied that what it says about them is true, but a bunch of what is in the dossier has been proven out over time.
And importantly, the company that commissioned it, the firm that paid for the research and hired Christopher Steele to do, it they say -- and they know more about it than anybody -- they say they stand by what is in that report. All this criticism, months of criticism, Republicans going after it with everything they have, the firm that commissioned that report says we stand by it.
Don`t you want to know on what basis they stand by it? How can they think -- how can they think, with all of these attacks they are still OK with it? Why?
Ultimately, there were three different committees that heard more than 20 hours of testimony about the dossier from the head of Fusion GPS. The first committee that sat them down for more than ten hours was Chuck Grassley`s Senate Judiciary Committee.
Shortly thereafter, in August, a town hall in Mount Ayr, Iowa, Chuck Grassley seemed to indicate to one of his constituents that we the public would get to see the transcript of those ten hours of testimony.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TOWN HALL ATTENDEE: The second thing I`d like to talk on is Senate Judiciary Committee staff members met for 10 hours. I`d like to know what they discovered in that meeting and I would like the transcripts released. Will you do that?
SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY (R), IOWA: Yes. The answer is it will take a vote of the committee to do it. But I presume that they will --
TOWN HALL ATTENDEE: Will you personally vote for the release of the transcripts?
GRASSLEY: I don`t know why I wouldn`t.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That was in August.
Since then, Republicans including Chuck Grassley have only intensified their attacks on the dossier, on Chris Steele personally, on Fusion GPS. That has only intensified the public interest as to what is in those transcripts.
Today, Senators Richard Blumenthal and Sheldon Whitehouse, Democrats who are both on Grassley`s committee, sent him a letter insisting that Chairman Grassley make those transcripts public. Fusion GPS has reiterated publicly and emphatically that they want those transcripts released. Democrats on the committee appear now be unified in saying they want the transcripts released. Senators who have seen the transcripts because they`re on the committee, who know what`s on it, have said there wouldn`t be harm caused by releasing it. It wouldn`t interfere with anything in terms of any ongoing investigations.
But for some reason, Senator Grassley won`t do it. Despite what he told his own constituents in August, today, he insisted, no, he will not allowing that transcript to be released.
You know, when it was the Pentagon Papers in 1971, those were secret Defense Department documents that had been spirited out of the Pentagon by somebody who wanted the public to see them. He went to Congress. He went to the press. That is how the public got that information.
The administration went crazy trying to keep that stuff secret, but it got out. In Watergate, it was the White House tapes. Those tapes were the property of the White House. And Nixon did not want to hand them over to Congress.
Congress insisted, though. The courts ultimately forced it. That is how those tapes finally made their way to the public.
In this case, these transcripts, they already belong to Congress. This fight to get the transcripts released is not some fight between branches of government. It`s not some constitutional question. It`s a political question of Democrats who know what`s on those transcripts wanting those transcripts released and Republicans who know what`s on those transcripts wanting them kept under wraps.
If Greg Sargent`s reporting at the “Washington Post” today is right and Democratic senators are considering pushing this to the hilt, potentially pulling a Mike Gravel here, they will have a hard time of it. When Mike Gravel did what he did in 1971, Democrats ran the Senate. So at least he had his little subcommittee chairmanship.
Democrats right now are in the minority in the Senate. None of them run even a teeny tiny little subcommittee on public works that can be convened at midnight with some reporters. But if the Republicans keep saying no, the public can`t see those transcripts, and Democrats decide they want to go to extremes to get this out, to get it into the public record, they have some options. And this is likely about to get weird and a little dramatic. Those ripples will likely spread far and wide.
Watch this space.
MADDOW: Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse and Richard Blumenthal today called on Republican Senator Charles Grassley to release the transcript of ten hours of testimony that was given to the Judiciary Committee by the founder of the firm that commissioned the Trump-Russia dossier.
Senator Grassley thus far says he has not moved. His office reiterated today in writing that there`s no plan to release those transcripts anytime soon.
The question newly is, how far are Democrats willing to go in order to get those transcripts on the record?
Greg Sargent of “The Washington Post” reports today that Democrats are considering pulling a Mike Gravel Pentagon Papers style stunt, that they may be thinking about ways that they could read these documents, read this transcript into the public record, thus making it publicly available even as the committee chooses to not formally release it.
Could that conceivably work? Did it actually work when Mike Gravel did it in 1971?
Joining us now is NBC presidential historian Michael Beschloss.
Michael, thank you very much for joining us.
I know you are somewhere warm and sunny and this is not what you need to be doing right now. So, thank you for being here.
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS, NBC PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: No, absolutely delighted. I`m on what Attorney General Sessions refers to as an island in the Pacific.
MADDOW: Oh, very good. I know you`re not on executive time, though. I know you`ve been working very hard.
BESCHLOSS: No, no. Indeed.
MADDOW: The Pentagon Papers --
BESCHLOSS: Unlike certain personalities in the White House.
MADDOW: Exactly. So, the Pentagon Papers example with Mike Gravel is dramatic in its own right, and I`d be interested to hear from you in terms of the significance of that event, what Mike Gravel did in 1971, how consequential it was, how much of a risk he was taking by doing that. I know that it was greeted as an intensely controversial act when he did it.
MADDOW: But also, if Democrats are looking at that as a potential model for what they might be able to do with some of these Russia investigation documents that Republicans won`t release, should that actually be seen as a model as something that could be done now?
BESCHLOSS: I think it should be. You know, Gravel, as you`ve said so well, was a maverick. And his whole point was that the Pentagon Papers should not be concealed. He knew what the Founders said.
The Founders said they wanted the United States to be different from England where the mistakes and scandals of the rulers were concealed from the people, you didn`t get access to documents. So, Gravel was saying what better example than the Pentagon Papers, which tells of decades of American action toward Vietnam, a lot of lies, a lot of mistakes.