tv The Rachel Maddow Show MSNBC December 25, 2017 9:00pm-10:00pm PST
steady hands of bob mueller, ready and willing to tell all he knows about the man who sits now worried, resentful, a bit disoriented about a fix his lawyer told him he would never be in. a fix that could doom his place in history. because whatever comes next, today was a day of history. and that's "hardball" for now. thanks for being with us. thanks for joining us tonight. you know, it's not every cable news show that likes to be live on the friday night before christmas weekend. but i figure times like this in our country no taking any chances, right? anything could happen. so it's good to be here. thanks for being here with us. in december 2015, so two years ago. the "wall street journal" published this editorial, kind of scorching editorial about donald trump had sxiz business history with the mafia. now, trump by then was running for president. primaries hadn't started on the republican side. but here was the conservative
editorial page of the "wall street journal" writing about as you see the headline there, "trump and the goodfellas." "donald trump says he'll succeed as president because he has succeeded in business. so it's appropriate to scour his business record. one area in particular that deserves scrutiny is his business relationship with companies controlled by the mafia." and then it goes into some of the detail. in 1988 anthony fat tony salerno, boss of the genovese crime family was among those convict nad scheme to profit from concrete projects for numerous buildings in manhattan including trump plaza. we asked trump about these ties on his recent visit to the journal. since the mafia's in the business of stealing, we figured mr. trump would be angry that he had to build essentially a mob tax into the cost of his projects. but he seemed to be a satisfied customer. atlantic city brought more
transactions with wise guys. 2ru7's casino license was delayed as he was developing the trump plaza hotel and casino in part because of ties to a reputed associate of the scarfo crime family." the journal editorial board says they asked him about the contractors he had work for him in south jersey. trump's answer was "some of them may have been mob-oriented. i don't know." the journal concludes this editorial, "his see no evil he had no choice explanation worked for him as a businessman. the question is whether this is adequate for someone who wants to be president." so conservative "wall street journal" editorial page. that wasn't an op-ed published. that was the editorial board, unsigned effort, two years ago december 2015, raising some serious and some specific questions about trump and the mafia. december 2015. they just did that one.
they didn't go back to that topic. but now in a new article for "esquire magazine" they had a follow-up ready to go. they had a second hit on trump and the mafia to follow that barn burner of a first one. but apparently they killed it. this new report from a santana house describes a staff exodus from the editorial pages of the "wall street journal," "and the reason according to several defectors was the journal's skidding reversal once the paper's owner, rupert murdoch realized that trump could win the election." several sources pointed to editorials by one writer who wrote a strong attack on mob dealings and had a second ready to go, but as trump got closer to clinching the nomination, the journal kept delaying publication, saying that the second piece on trump and the mafia, quote, needed work. it never ran. so that top down decision at the "wall street journal" to hold fire on trump, even on substantive concerns about trump
and his ties to organized crime, that appears to have led to a large -- at least reportedly according to "esquire" magazine this week, that led to a large number of departures, staff departures from the conservative editorial page of that newspaper. now, "the wall street journal" is an august and very well-respected national-caliber paper. its editorial page has always been conservative. but its editorial page has recently not just been conservative, it has jumped right into the deepest deep end of the most radical even desperate defenses of trump. the editorial page of the "wall street journal" has recently called on robert mueller, the special counsel investigating russia, called on him to resign. since that staff exodus from that paper of conservative writers who were troubled about the pro-trump turn at that paper being directed from the paper's ownership, the paper has even published calls for president
trump to issue blanket preemptive pardons for everybody implicated in the russia scandal. and of course there's a dividing line between the editorial page of a newspaper and the news division of a newspaper, but it's hard not to notice that hard news and investigative journalists and particularly national security specialist journalists at the "wall street journal" have also been flying the coop in unusual numbers recently at the "wall street journal." just this week "the wall street journal" lost this guy, you recognize him, from national reporting this year that has been of intense interest, particularly on the russia scandal. this is shane harris. national security reporter at the "wall street journal." he's the one who broke that bombshell story about peter smith, the republican activist who actually contacted russian hackers during the campaign to try to get dirt on hillary clinton from the hackers to help the trump campaign. you'll also remember that peter smith mysteriously committed suicide not long after talking to shane harris for that story. the "wall street journal" just
lost shane harris. the journal this week also lost paul sonne, who's the one who broke that remarkable story about kaspersky software. that's how we learned that before trump national security adviser mike flynn took money from kaspersky, his own agency, the defense intelligence agency, had published multiple reports and even a pentagon-wide warning saying that kaspersky was a front for russian intelligence. that's how we found out that mike flynn knowingly took money from a company that he himself knew was a front for russian intelligence. now both paul sonne and shane harris are leaving "the wall street journal" as of this week. the journal has also shed devlin barrett, who has been a scoop machine on a lot of stories over the years but in particular on this trump russia scandal. "the wall street journal" also lost adam entis, who's the reporter who wound up breaking that big story that during the
transition eric prince had held a secret back channel meeting in the seychelles with a guy who'd been sent from vladimir putin, right? so a big chunk of their editorial staff we now know fled that paper in the wake of its turn towards supporting trump, and it may or may not be related but we are also watching them lose a ton of reporting fire power from the news side. now that we know that they spiked a second followup editorial piece on trump and his mafia ties after that really good first one, i'm curious to know what was in that piece that they spiked that they never ran. most mafia-related stories about the trump organization and donald trump feature some amount of involvement from this man. this was felix sater's trump organization business card, you see him listed there, senior adviser to donald trump. in the year 2000 felix sater was one of a dozen people arrested in a mafia stock scam. this got a lot of attention at
the time because it was a gigantic swindle, about a $40 million scam that involved a lot of people. the fbi, federal prosecutors made a lot of arrests in this scam and it ended up involving like every freaking corner of the mafia universe. the indictment in that stock scam where felix sater got indicted included people from the gambino crime family and the gravano crime family and the genovese crime family and the columbo crime family. in addition to all those different italian mafia figures it also involved as "the new york post" so subtly put it at the time, it involved the borscht boys. so not just the italian mafia but the russian mafia as well. when felix sater was arrested in 2000 as part of this goodfellas and borscht boys organized crime roundup, part of this $40 million stock scheme, the government's case against him in particular followed a very interesting path. sater got arrested along with
all of those mobsters in the year 2000. he did end up pleading guilty in conjunction with that case that they brought against all those mobsters, but they treated him in a very different way. after he pled guilty, they did not lock him up. in fact, they didn't even sentence him after his guilty plea for more than ten years. they arrested him, they secured his cooperation, they got him to plead guilty to something but then instead of sentencing him for that guilty plea, instead of putting him in prison for that guilty plea, they turned him back out into the wild. they let him go back into new york city so he could become an informant for the government about organized crime. he did that work for, again, more than ten years. it actually ended up becoming a sidebar minor controversy during the confirmation hearings for attorney general loretta lynch because she had been the prosecutor in brooklyn who brought that big mob case who'd
overseen this decade-long informant deal with felix sater. but for that decade while prosecutors left him out in the wild, left him out there collecting information and giving the government information about the workings of the mob, what he was doing during that decade razz real estate deals with the trump organization. that was his day job while he was a mob informant for the government. he worked with the trump organization on a trump tower project for phoenix, arizona that never ended up getting built. he worked with the trump organization on a trump tower in ft. lauderdale that did get built but then it got foreclosed. and smo-somewhat famously felix sater, this ex-con mob informant, he also worked on putting together the financialing for the trump complex in soho city, which this week dropped the name trump off the front of the building. but trump soho opened in 2008. in 2010 we know felix sater was still working for the trump organization as a senior adviser to donald trump.
but that's a problem because he's an ex-con. actually served time in prison before the whole stock scandal thing for which he got arrested. in the financial industry and in the real estate business it can be legally dicey to have somebody who's a convicted felon involved in any of your business dealings. he's a convicted felon and very much involved in the trump organization and its business dealings. in november 2014 in a deposition donald trump repeatedly played down any connections he might have with his senior adviser felix sater, and he certainly declaimed any knowledge of felix sater having any connections to organized crime. >> i don't think he was connected to the mafia. he got into a bar room fight. and in fact, he was supposedly very close to the government of the united states as a witness or something, but i don't think he was connected to the mafia. >> about how many times have you conversed with mr. sater? >> over the years? >> over the years. if you could estimate. >> not many.
if he were sitting in the room right now, i really wouldn't know what he looked like. >> 2013 donald trump proclaiming that his senior adviser, he wouldn't know what he looked like. that was 2013. by 2015 donald trump apparently was refreshed because he came to know him again because we now know that in october 2015 felix sater was working with the trump organization once again, this time to put together the financing and approvals necessary to build a trump tower in moscow. donald trump insisted throughout the campaign that he had no current and no pending business deals with russia. we now know despite those denials he and the trump organization were pursuing what would have been one of the biggest real estate deals of his life. donald trump himself in october 2015 signed a letter of intent to pursue a trump tower in moscow. this is a project that was spearheaded by trump organization lawyer michael cohen and by felix sater.
"the new york times" obtained felix sater's e-mails about the trump tower moscow project this past august and they showed that in addition to the exciting financial prospects for this trump tower in moscow, for some reason felix sater thought it would be a big political payoff too. he believed if that project, that real estate tower in moscow, if it got off the ground it would have great political consequences for donald trump. he wrote to trump organization lawyer michael cohen, quote, "our boy can become president of the usa and we can engineer it. i will get all of putin's team to buy in on this. i will manage this process. i will get putin on this program and we will get donald elected." now, what's the connection between trump getting elected president and some big real estate deal in moscow? i don't know, hard to say. why on earth would the president of russia be involved either in a real estate deal or in making trump president or in something
that connects the two? no idea. the trump organization's defense about its ties to felix sater over the years is that sometimes they deny they have any idea who he is. he must have made that business card at the kinko's. do they still have kinko's? they either say we don't know who he is -- when they do have to acknowledge their dealings with him, they tend to dismiss him as somebody who brags a lot, maybe he shouldn't be believed. to that point, my favorite detail in all the felix sater mob russia trump reporting is when felix sater bragged to trump organization lawyer michael cohen that he really could get this trump moscow thing off the ground and he really could get putin on board and he thereby could get trump connected, in making these connections and writing it out in e-mails that we can read in "the new york times," he just bragged about how much juice he had to make these connections and do this kind of stuff in russia. he said, quote, "michael, i arranged for ivanka to sit in
putin's private chair at his desk and office in the kremlin. i know how to play it. we will get this done." so "the new york times" obtains that e-mail and then doing due diligence they contact ivanka trump to find out if what felix sater said about her was true. her response to the "times" was that, yes, she in fact had gone to moscow with felix sater. she said she had taken a, quote, brief tour of red square and the kremlin. and although she took care to insist she was only there, quote, as a tourist, quote, "she said it is possible she sat in mr. putin's chair." it's possible. who among us can say whether or not for sure we've sat in putin's chair? this could be his chair, i don't know. so if you're interested in the trump campaign and its connections to russia, if you're interested in the scandal and figuring out if there was anything done between the trump organization and russia that might have had some later
connection to what happened between russia and the presidential election, if you are trying to figure that stuff out, felix sater would be a pretty good guy to talk to. even if he is a little nutty, he's right there in the bull's eye in terms of figuring this story out. well, here's the amazing thing. two days ago, wednesday of this week, the house intelligence committee finally decided that maybe we should do an interview with felix sater while we're investigating this russia thing. they scheduled it during the house vote on the tax bill and they scheduled it not in washington d.c. which means when it came time finally to talk to this incredibly central, interesting figure with all sorts of long, lurid, fascinating criminal organized crime, russia, trump, real estate history, the republican-led house intelligence committee decided that that witness should be interviewed specifically at a time and place where no member of congress could attend the interview. they had staff do the interview instead and they had it happen
out of state. we know for sure that no members of congress went to the interview. not because they'll tell us but because we have the roll call vote for the house when they were voting on the tax bill that day and you can see from the time stamp that it happened at 12:55 p.m. that's when they finalized the vote. there were seven members of the house who weren't present and didn't vote on the tax bill, but none of them are members of the intelligence committee. all the intelligence committee members were there in person for that tax vote, so we know they weren't in new york interviewing felix sater. then there was a second vote that day at 6:47 p.m. for that vote there were a total of 11 members of the house who didn't cast a vote. it was the seven who missed in the morning plus four more. none of the people who missed that vote were members of the intelligence committee either. all intelligence committee members were present and voted then too. that means none of them, republican or democrat, were in new york interviewing felix sater. they were all in washington. no members of congress get to interview felix.
how come he gets that privilege? why do that particular interview with that particular witness in a way that no member of congress could go to? turns out he is not the only one and the next one's even better. that's next. stay with us. ♪ the 2018 cadillac xt5. beauty, greater than the sum of its parts. come in for our season's best offers and drive out with the perfect 2018 cadillac xt5. get a low-mileage lease on this cadillac xt5 for around $349 per month.
so it's the friday before christmas. my whole family's at home watching together i think right now. hi, you guys. save me some leftovers. sister-in-law is cooking solstice dinner which i think involves wild boar and i'm hoping for leftovers. anyway. not everybody has to work the friday before christmas. some people do, which is fine. here's a surprising group that had to work today, though. the staff of the house intelligence committee. so we learned today, we kind of deduced today, that the republican-led house intelligence committee, which is supposed to be investigating trump and russia, they interviewed a character named felix sater two days ago. he's a key figure linking the
trump business empire to russia. he's also got interesting organized crime ties that might make him a particularly juicy target for aggressive interrogation. for some reason the house intelligence committee decided they would do their interview with felix sater in new york with no members of congress present two days ago. now we've learned that today the house intelligence committee did another out-of-state interview, today on the friday before christmas, in new york. they interviewed a woman who has served as assistant to donald trump and a senior vice president at the trump organization for three decades. every e-mail, every phone call, every meeting, every piece of paper that has gone to or come from donald trump for 30 years has gone through the hands of rhona graff. that's what you'd call a key witness if you're interested in the behavior, meetings, ties,
contacts, and communications of donald trump over the years. republicans in the house intelligence committee decided that she would be interviewed today also in new york city in a way that was maximally impossible for any actual members of congress to attend. we don't know if any members of congress made it to new york for the rhona graff interview today. we think some of them might. we're pretty sure most of them at least didn't. so the house intelligence committee is supposed to be how congress is investigating the russia scandal. it is getting a little weird over there. these last-minute, no members interviews with incredibly key sensitive central witnesses. the news this week broken by politico.com that republicans on that committee have formed a secret republican-only working group that's using the materials obtained by the committee supposedly for its russia investigation to instead run their own working group, which is designed to indict the fbi. republicans on the committee also this week announced more plans to call yet more senior
fbi officials before their committee not apparently because they want to ask them tough questions about russia but apparently because they want to make the fbi itself a scandal. the reason i say it seems like that's their intention is because of republicans' increasingly strident anti-fbi criticism in public statements. but also because of their strategy of bringing in these fbi officials and selectively leaking information about these officials' closed-door testimony to sympathic media outlets. that has led to some predictably sneering coverage this week designed to make these fbi officials look bad. coverage in places like the fox news channel and the washington examiner. that strategy by the republicans has also led to some unintended consequences like this today from byron york at the "washington examiner." mr. york describes the republican members of congress who are leaking this information to him as frustrated. you see that there in the headline.
clearly these republicans are not getting what they want from senior fbi officials when they're hauling them in for testimony. but even though byron york is i think somewhat sympathetic to the intentions of his republican congressional sources who are leaking this stuff to him from these closed-door interviews, byron york is also a real reporter. he's an actual reporter who faithfully conveys information that he has obtained. and in this case the information that his republican sources have given him is not information that is necessarily going to help their cause. from byron york's piece today, quote, "the dossier portion of the interview began with fbi deputy director andrew mccabe being asked if he thought the trump russia dossier met the standard of credibility the fbi required to open an investigation. fbi deputy director andrew mccabe said he believed it did." oh. later in the story, according to byron york, mccabe was asked again if he stood by the veracity of the dossier.
mccabe "said he did." so whatever republicans are trying to get out of these senior fbi officials, getting it on the record from them that the christopher steele dossier about russia interfering in the election to help trump and trump being cultivated by russia for years and there being tons of contacts between the trump campaign and russia during the campaign, i mean, getting it on the record that the fbi thinks that dossier is of sufficient credibility to meet fbi standards for opening an investigation, that is counterproductive for what the republicans are trying to do. and this follows the union intentionally damning leak that we got from andrew mccabe's testimony this week where cnn was able to report something very important about the president and his potential criminal liability for obstruction of justice. you know, fbi director james comey, as you remember, he says the president pressured him about the mike flynn investigation before he fired him as fbi director. james comey has said under oath that he informed other fbi
officials at the time of that pressure that he was receiving from president trump. well, this week under oath in congress the fbi deputy director, andrew mccabe, confirmed that. he confirmed that, yeah, james comey told him at the time about those conversations with donald trump and what donald trump had said about the flynn investigation. so the republicans in congress are now going hammer and tongs against the fbi. if the president is going to be in trouble, potentially criminally in trouble for obstructing justice, it will be because he tried to block an fbi investigation. if him doing so is ever going to be proven in a court or laid out compellingly in articles of impeachment, it will be because of james comey's testimony against the president and the corroborating testimony of other fbi officials who he spoke to at the time that the president was obstructing justice to document the fact that the president was obstructing justice. one of those fbi officials to whom james comey spoke at the
time to document and memorialize the president's behavior was fbi director andrew mccabe, who has this week been subjected to nearly 17 hours of closed door congressional testimony. and it's not just the house republicans going after him. republican senator chuck grassley of iowa also now says publicly he wants fbi deputy director andrew mccabe to be fired. he's one of comey's corroborating witnesses. another one of comey's corroborating witnesses, another one of the senior fbi officials who comey told contemporaneously about the behavior of the president was this man, top lawyer at the fbi, james baker. today "the washington post" reports james baker has mysteriously been reassigned at the fbi. we don't know the circumstances of his reassignment. we do know that shortly after this was reported in "the washington post," republican members of congress leaked to
politico.com that fbi counsel james baker had committed the grave sin of communicating with "mother jones" reporter david corn in 2016. david corn was the first reporter to describe the existence of the christopher steele trump russia dossier. he also says that this fbi official, james baker, was not his source for the dossier story. honestly, i'm not even sure republicans care about that. i think they just care that he talked to a reporter. isn't that impeachable? certainly it's corrupt or liberal or something. you step back from these individual attacks they're making against the fbi and all these various fbi officials against comey, mueller, mccabe and now against baker, what republicans are doing is starting to work their way down the list of all the fbi witnesses who could corroborate
james comey on obstruction of justice. we know they're going after comey directly. we know there are five or six of these witnesses, senior officials at the fbi who comey told. as of right now they're trying to destroy two of them, going after mccabe and baker. but who doesn't think they're just going to keep going down that list? everybody is focused on whether or not the president is going to fire robert mueller. but what the republicans are trying to do right now is instead destroy the credibility of the evidence that robert mueller could use against the president for obstruction of justice, and they're doing it by trying to destroy the careers and reputations of the witnesses that mueller could call. and if it destroys the fbi in the process, apparently they think so be it. merry christmas. more ahead. stay with us. ♪ dad promised he would teach me how to surf on our trip. when you book a flight then add a hotel you can save. 3 waves later, i think it was the other way around... ♪
after the president fired fbi director james comey in may, we learned that he had been keeping notes on his conversations with the president. when comey says the president was pushing him to back off the investigation into michael flynn. one of the people james comey told about those conversations with the president was andrew mccabe, who republicans are now pushing to have fired as the deputy director of the fbi. another person james comey told was the fbi's top lawyer, james baker. we have now learned that james baker, a potential corroborating witness for james comey, top lawyer at the fbi, has been reassigned for some reason. is this a normal course of business justice department kind of thing? is there reason to worry that the republicans are looking at
that list of comey's corroborating witnesses and seeing them more as a checklist of things to do rather than just as a roster of senior fbi officials. joining us now is joyce vance, former u.s. attorney for the northern district of alabama. nice to see you tonight. thanks for being with us. >> thanks for having me. >> first let me ask you, what's the job of the fbi counsel, the top lawyer at the fbi? how big a job is that and how well respected is james baker in that role? >> so the general counsel job at the fbi, this is the chief lawyer for the bureau, the person who's in charge of making decisions about the legality of fbi activity, also handles situations where agents get sued or where the agency has to deal with other legal issues. jim baker, when he was selected to come in and to be jim comey's general counsel, was a widely lauded pick. people were very happy to see
him coming to take this job. he had been in and out of the bureau and the department during his career and was widely respected. >> he's being universally described as widely respected and also somebody who's been involved in a number of very high profile national security matters at the fbi over the years. that makes the somewhat woolly circumstances around his reassignment including where he's being reassigned to a matter of some intrigue. would it be unusual absent the other intrigue around the political pressure on the fbi right now and the russia investigation, would it be intriguing in normal terms when somebody like a jim baker was reassigned, or is that the sort of job that turns over when we get new fbi directors? >> it is the kind of job that turns over, and in the absence of this investigation it seems unlikely that anyone would be questioning this reassignment. when bob mueller left the bureau and was replaced by jim comey, director comey brought in his own lawyer as his general
counsel. this is not unusual. the relationship between the two is very close. the director has to be able to rely on the general counsel, so it's important that they be a good fit and have compatible working styles, much like a chief of staff position. >> after we learned from "the washington post" that mr. baker was being reassigned and again we don't know where he's being reassigned to, we then got word from politico.com tonight. apparently republican sources leaking to politico.com that mr. baker is known to have corresponded, communicated somehow, with our friend david corn, who is a reporter at "mother jones" magazine, long-time investigative reporter. notably for the russia scandal he is the person, american reporter who first reported before the election on the existence of christopher steele's trump russia dossier which republicans are putting a lot of work into trying to turn
into a scandal. i'm not sure if we understand enough about these leaks, what's motivating them or what the context is for why these communications have been obtained, but would it be wrong, unethical somehow, for a general counsel at the fbi to communicate with a reporter for any reason? >> there are all sorts of legitimate reasons that the general counsel might have had a conversation with david corn. it could have been on another matter. it could have been a request from the office of legal affairs that he explain to mr. corn the proceedings in some case or some type of fbi process. i know we won't hear any comment from david on that other than his statement that mr. baker was not his source. it seems like that should be good enough to end the inquiry here without any other idea that anything improper took place. >> this is one of those things where eventually we're going to get this story and a lot of blanks are going to get filled in and it will still be intriguing but right now with
this mad libs narrative in terms of what happened here, it's raising more questions than i feel comfortable with. joyce vance, former alabama u.s. attorney, thank you very much for being with us tonight. i really appreciate it. >> thanks. and i will just reiterate something that joyce vance just said there. david corn, as i said, a national treasure of an investigative reporter, he says unequivocally tonight and it's unusual for him to comment on his sources, he says tonight that in no uncertain terms this fbi official, jim baker, was not his source for the dossier story. republicans are implying that with this leak tonight to politico.com. david corn says that's absolutely not the case. much more ahead tonight. stay with us.
liberty mutual saved us almost eight hundred dollars when we switched our auto and home insurance. liberty did what? yeah, they saved us a ton, which gave us a little wiggle room in our budget. wish our insurance did that. then we could get a real babysitter instead of your brother. hey, welcome back. this guy... right? yes. ellen. that's my robe. you could save seven hundred eighty two dollars when liberty stands with you. liberty mutual insurance.
♪ cleaning floors with a mop and bucket is a hassle, meaning you probably don't clean as often as you'd like. for a quick and convenient clean, try swiffer wetjet. there's no heavy bucket, or mop to wring out, because the absorb and lock technology traps dirt and liquid inside the pad. it's safe to use on all finished surfaces tile, laminate and hardwood.
and it prevents streaks and hazing better than a micro fiber strip mop, giving you a thorough clean the first time. for a convenient clean, try swiffer wetjet with a money back guarantee. brand power. helping you buy better. baseball is a unique sport. one of my favorite movies is "the rookie." that journeyman making it to the big leagues. when we go to the locker room and tell a young man, sometimes not a young man, that they're being called up to the big leagues, to see the emotion on their face was quite something. >> that is scott pruitt who's the head of the epa in the trump administration. and he is a man who is serious about baseball. he went to the university of kentucky on a baseball scholarship. played second base. he was a switch hitter. 2003 he and a friend bought a controlling stake in oklahoma city's minor league triple a team, the oklahoma city red hawks. that stake reportedly cost scott
pruitt $6.8 million cash. where did he get the cash? a local banker from oklahoma is reportedly a good friend of scott pruitt's, such a good friend that he helped him put up all that money. then when scott pruitt got to the epa, he called that old friend from tulsa and basically reenacted that scene from "the rookie," you, young man, are headed to the big leagues. that story is next. it doesn't end in a home run for the epa, i will warn you, but that story is next. when you combine ancestry's dna test
in may the trump administration announced a new special task force to improve the process of cleaning up our nation's hundreds of toxically polluted superfund sites, the most polluted places in america. the guy the epa tapped to lead that superfund task force was this man, albert kelly. he's a banker from tulsa. he had precisely zero experience in pollution cleanup or environmental issues at all. but he was long-time friends with the head of the epa, scott pruitt. old friend of scott pruitt's from oklahoma. his banker, in fact. kelly had loaned pruitt money to buy a minor league oklahoma baseball team and then he loaned money to the people who bought the team from scott pruitt a few years later. so scott pruitt picked him to overhaul superfund sites and their cleanup in the united states. he hired his old friend at a salary of $172,000 a year.
and that salary really turned out to be a handy thing for albert kelly. turned out to be a really good thing for him that he landed that high-paying gig at the epa because not long after he was announced as the head of the epa's new superfund task force federal banking regulators announced that mr. kelly would need to pay a $125,000 fine and he would be banned for life from ever working in the banking industry again. what happened? we don't know what albert kelly did to get himself banned for life from banking. i didn't even know that was a thing. when he agreed to pay the fine, he didn't admit or deny wrongdoing, but yeah, banned for life from banking. and then on to the epa to oversee cleanup for the country. wow. so in july, his task force -- it was announced in may. they released their final report in july. task force released the final report on america's superfund
sites that included 42 specific and detailed recommendations for america's superfund sites. now an environmental advocacy group called peer immediately filed a freedom of information act request because they wanted to see what led to this task force report. they wanted the see how did you come up with these recommendations. they asked for their research materials, agendas from their meetings, minutes from their meetings, any notes, any drafts of the report. the routine stuff that you file when you want to find out how detailed government recommendations came to exist. the epa did not respond with any materials. after that foia request was filed. so then peer sued. and this week, almost six months later, they did not get the documents they were looking for but they did get a response from the epa. and it's amazing. associated press reporting, quote, "a lawyer for epa has written to peer to say that the task force had no agenda for its meetings, kept no minutes and used no reference materials."
pruitt's plan for cleaning up toxic sites was apparently immaculately conceived without the usual trappings of human parentage says the executive director of peer. no minutes no, notes, no reference materials, no meeting agendas, no drafts. that's how things are being run at the epa right now. the oklahoma banker who just got banned for life from banking is in charge of coming up with the way that we're going to clean up toxic pollution in this country and he says his 107-member task force produced literally not a letter of paperwork in developing its plan. which, by the way, scott pruitt accepted every word of when he got that report. he accepted all 42 detailed recommendations and said he would start implementing it immediately. meanwhile, the actual qualified scientists and professionals and experts of the epa are leaving by the hundreds. "the new york times" and pro publica reporting that more than 700 people have left the epa
since president trump took office. and that number sounds staggering on its own, but wait for the next line. quote, "that puts the administration nearly a quarter of the way toward its goal of shrinking the agency to levels last seen during the reagan administration. of the employees who have left, more than 12200 are scientists, 96 -- an additional 96 environmental protection scientists including scientists and others experienced in investigating and analyzing pollution levels. all the qualified people are leaving and the trump administration bringing in new people whose qualifications as far as we know consist of being a disgraced former banker from tulsa. i mean, this is a feature and not a bug, right? this is not a story of the trump administration screwing up at the epa. this is a story of the trump administration doing exactly what they intend to do at the epa. shrinking the federal government has long been a pillar of the republican ideology. they're always talking about whole agencies that shouldn't exist, right? they threaten to eliminate large swaths of government all the
time. but this is them -- this is them doing it. this is what it looks like when they do it. joining us now is michael beschloss, nbc presidential historian. michael, it's great to see you. thank you for being here tonight. >> oh, my pleasure, rachel. always. >> republicans always talk about emptying out agencies. are there other times in modern history where we see so many people, so many experts, so many top-tier people leave one agency all at once? >> nothing like this. this is really sort of stretching the boundaries of that idea. but under ronald reagan you saw a little bit of this. for instance, 1982, the epa had had an administrator who got into a scandal over the superfund, just like what you were talking about a moment ago. congress asked her for documents. she would not give them up. she was declared in contempt of congress and she was forced to resign. and her name was ann gorsuch, and her son has just been appointed by president trump to the supreme court. >> you made that part up, right? >> no. that's a -- as they say in texas, has the added advantage of being true.
>> yeah. that's -- yeah. okay. yeah. under -- is there a president despite the rhetoric, is there a president who's actually done it? is there a clear winner under which president we've seen the most departures? have presidents succeeded in shutting agencies down either by dictate or by attrition? >> they haven't. this is sort of a republican dream, especially since ronald reagan who tried to do it at the beginning and really began to lose interest. but, you know, it goes back to the 19th century. congress passed all these civil service laws because they were worried that the presidents would turn into dictators because they could appoint people once they became president from the top of an agency all the way down. andrew johnson violated one of those laws in 1867, 1868. he was impeached. he was almost thrown out of office for that. in any case, in recent years you have seen examples of republican
presidents, especially reagan, nixon tried to shut down, for instance, lyndon johnson's old war on poverty. but the difference we're seeing with donald trump is yet again another new trump innovation this year and that is this idea of as we're seeing in the epa scaring out people with enormous expertise and experience, making them want to leave and then not refilling these positions so that you impair what the epa is supposed to do. we're seeing the same thing at the state department, where as you have talked about a number of times, those top positions are not getting filled. and the idea presumably is so that there will not be diplomats there to make deals that donald trump doesn't want made. >> all right. it's a very good point. it's a materially different thing to have a hiring freeze or to cut people's pay or to make their environment miserable so they start to leave. it is another thing to make sure that the people you're pushing out are the most capable, most
institutional, most expertise in the -- >> i've lost you just for a moment, the sound. >> oh. well, trust me. i was just telling you that you're great. michael beschloss -- >> there you are. i could just answer whatever question i feel like since i didn't hear what you said. >> i was going to ask you to opine on how great you are. so -- >> thank you. well, that i can't opine on. i only talk about true subjects. >> thank you. >> could i say one thing? >> please. >> this is a big difference, no president has done this in the way that we're watching donald trump do this. we have to stay tuned. he's also talking about doing it at the fbi. that having been said, happy holidays, rachel. >> i hear you, my friend. thank you. michael beschloss, nbc presidential historian. >> see you soon. >> all right. we'll be right back. stay with us. just like some people like pre-shaken sodas. having their seat kicked on an airplane. being rammed by a shopping cart. sitting in gum. and walking into a glass door.
anif you've got a lifee. you gotta swiffer i've always had that issue with the seeds getting under my denture. super poligrip free. it creates a seal of the dentures in my mouth. just a few dabs is clinically proven to seal out more food particles. try super poligrip free. ♪ another one is leaving. deputy white house chief of staff rick deer been is the newest one leaving. he's the second white house deputy chief of staff to quit. we also got word today the deputy director of the national economic council is leaving too and the deputy director of the
domestic policy council. and probably somebody else by the time i finish this sentence. to keep it current, i need to tell you that the donald trump administration has lost, ready? health and human services secretary, chief of staff, a deputy chief of staff, another deputy chief of staff, a director of public liaison, a communications director for the office of public liaison -- it was omarosa. press secretary, assistant press secretary two, communications directors, rapid response director, national security adviser, two deputy national security advisers, the adviser to the national security council, director for intelligence programs at the national security council, deputy chief of staff at the national security council, director of strategic planning at the national security council, a middle east adviser, chief white house strategist, national security aide, acting u.s. attorney general, fbi director, dozens of u.s. attorneys, national economic council deputy director, domestic policy council deputy director, press secretary to the vice president, director of the office of government elizabethics and special adviser to the president on regulatory reform. hi, carl. at least 31 pretty high-ranking
staffers so far. that represents a 30% turnover rate at the white house. president obama was single digits by this now it is time for "the last word requests. ali i'm sorry my list went long. >> that's okay, times have changed. there are also times of staff change. >> we have a fun thing coming up tonight. i know you should watch this. or get home in time to watch it. just in time for the holiday, the last staff has put together a look back at the best moments from these very conversations that you have every night with lawrence. spoiler alert, there will be some blushing. >> you super cut the me and lawrence crossovers. part one tonight. >> thank you.