tv The Rachel Maddow Show MSNBC January 10, 2019 9:00pm-10:00pm PST
thank you so very much for being here with us. good night from nbc news headquarters here in new york. the federal government is still shut down. the president is still the president. today for sure, something was different in american governance. >> this stiff competition, mind you, is one of the worst classified briefings we've received from the trump administration. the secretary barely testified, answered some questions but he didn't give testimony. they had an intelligence briefing, which i won't go into and then they read a document which was unclassified, wasting the time of the members of congress. and i went in sympathetic to the process that has been established for sanctions and the relief of sanctions.
i came out just unimpressed. >> one of the worst classified briefings we have ever received from the trump administration and, quote, this is with stiff competition, mind you. democrats now control half of congress, they control the house of representatives. that was how speaker nancy pelosi reacted today after the trump administration's treasury secretary steven mnuchin was summoned by the house to come up to capitol hill and explain why exactly the trump administration announced before christmas and signed off on the decision to relax sanctions on businesses associated with this russian oligarch known to be close to vladimir putin and the kremlin. he was sanctioned in 2016 and steven mnuchin as secretary in late december signed off on a relaxation of the sanctions,
under law, under a beefed-up law that was passed number unanimously by the house and senate and 2017. under that new u.s. sanctions law, congress has 30 days to review an announcement like this, to review any announcement from the administration that they're relaxing sanctions. in that 30-day period, congress can investigate that decision and they can overturn it if they think it is improper. and that is what led to this appearance today on capitol hill by the trump treasury secretary. and as you could quickly tell from the reaction from members of congress coming out of that classified briefing, secretary mnuchin's explanation about why he wants to drop those sanctions on that russian oligarch, it did not go well. >> i'm very dissatisfied by the briefing. it was kind of a waste of time because we didn't get some of the answers that we needed and so hopefully there will be an
extension of time before this actually goes into effect. >> i'm very disturbed by what i learned. >> i asked the question why the treasu treasury is taking an action that increases the net worth of an individual that we sought to punish and sanction, and mr. mnuchin had no response. >> we need to learn much more than we did this afternoon. >> we didn't get sufficient answers. >> was secretary mnuchin defensive about this at all or argumentive or was it pretty -- >> he did not want to address why he had taken action that was clearly in the financial interest of mr. deripaska. >> he didn't give any reasons? >> he told me that we should trust the administration. >> i'm afraid this is the tip of the iceberg of the undoing of the sanctions regime. >> we are saying to the trump administration and to the russians, we are looking carefully at every transaction you're involved with. we will exercise our oversight.
the end of overlook has ended and the beginning of oversight, you see right here this afternoon. >> that's democratic congressman lloyd dogget there announcing the end of overlook and the beginning of overnight. secretary mnuchin looked a little flustered, maybe even flummoxed for having to have to answer questions from the democratic congress. he complained to reporters after his testimony that he had been there for a full hour and a half, and he was therefore very surprised that he was receiving any criticism. that said, he did announce that he would consider extending the time that congress has to potentially reject this decision that he has made about these sanctions. if they do that, of course, that would result in the u.s. government keeping these sanctions in place. right? if they choose to reject this decision by mnuchin and the trump administration. and it's, of course, the democratic-led house, the nancy pelosi-led house who summoned mnuchin today to give his best
explanation on these sanctions. but it wasn't just a democratic thing, this briefing they opened to every single member of the house, all democrats and all republicans, and i know i am swimming upstream a little bit when i say this, and i know you don't believe me, i can feel it through the tv, but i still think it is worth pointing out that this is a subject on which there may not be the same knee-jerk instinctive partisan divide we've seen on so many other issues in the trump era. russian sanctions specifically have been something republicans have been willing to defy the trump administration about in the past. that's how we got this new beefed up sanctions law in the first place, that gives the congress to reject a move like this within 30 days. that bill passed so overwhelmingly, it has 2 votes against it in the senate and 3 votes in the house. it was otherwise unanimous. trump couldn't have gotten near vetoing that, even if he wanted to. so, again, it was an all-members
briefing today by secretary mnuchin, at least the democrats coming out of that briefing said that wasn't a good explanation for relaxing those sanctions. we're going to need to hear more than that. over on the senate side, we know that both republican and democratic staffers on the banking committee are also reviewing this relaxation of sanctions by the trump administration. so, i mean, i get it that everybody expects the republicans will do everything trump wants. everybody expects that the republicans will even let trump lift sanctions on this russian oligarch just because trump gets to do what he wants, even on anything related to russia, but i'm telling you on russian sanctions that has not been the history. and so therefore i think it is worth keeping an open mind that the republicans might surprise us all. we shall see. and this is turning out to be sort of a fascinating initial test of where some of the boundaries might be for the trump administration, now that they've got this new congress in place. i mean, oleg deripaska would be
a really interesting test case for that. he is barred from entering the united states. he's sanctioned by the u.s. government. he's the guy to whom the president's campaign chairman offered private briefings during the presidential campaign for some reason before that campaign chairman got convicted of multiple felonies. so, again, this is a live issue, but if oleg deripaska's going to be the test case, that's going to be a very interesting test case. we shall see. it will be a landmark moment if one of the first acts of this congress is to rescind the multiple-billion dollar christmas president the trump administration is trying to give this russian oligarch right after the midterm elections. and, you know, it does sort of feel -- i mean, watching all that kinetic activity in congress right now, watching that fight brewing and having some real drama as to where that fight is going, to does sort of feel that there are parallel tracks right now in washington and in our government, right? on one track, we've got one of the longest government shutdowns in u.s. history, grinding on
with no end in sight. government workers now getting their new pay stubs, reflecting the fact that their paychecks for this pay period are for zero dollars. we're going to talk later this hour about some of the other consequences of the ongoing shutdown, including those that appear to directly undercut the president apples reason for causing the shutdown in the first place. but while that happens on one track, while the shutdown grinds on, at the same time on the other track there is a lot that is in motion. there is a lot that seems to be really in flux right now when it comes to she's scandals and investigations surrounding this presidency. those, it turns out, have not shut down. this afternoon the president's longtime personal lawyer michael cohen announced that the he will testify in open session in congress before the oversight committee and its new chairman democratic congressman elijah cummings. that testimony by michael cohen will take place on february 7th, and, yes, it is going to be the hottest ticket in a congressional hearing room in quite some time.
that said, mr. cohen is known to have lied to congress before. he has admitted that. he pled guilty in november in federal court to lying to the intelligence committees in congress about the trump tower moscow project. now, though, mr. cohen says we should believe him. now he says he is coming clean and he wants to tell all he knows and he says he's happy to do so, including in open session before the oversight committee and there are, of course, now multiple committees that would love to question him now, including the intelligence committees in the house and the senate, despite the fact that they're the committees he pled guilty to lying to not that long ago. now, in terms of whether other committees are also going to get him in their witness chair, it's not clear yet. part of it may just be timing. as i said, michael cohen is scheduled to testify before the oversight committee february 7th. less than a month later, on march 6th, he is due to be in prison, starting his three-year
federal prison term. now, i can't imagine that the committees are going to want to bring cohen to congress for more testimony once he has started his prison sentence. i can't imagine they're going to want to go to federal prison and extract him from prison to bring him to congress to testify, but, honestly, i don't know, maybe. maybe they are planning on doing that. senator mark warner who is the top democrat on the senate intelligence committee, he's going to be here live in just a moment. that's one of the things we can ask him. but we also learned late last night that in the trump white house, the white house counsel's office is staffing up massively and quickly, in terms of the number of lawyers they've got on-hand. that in and of itself is a little bit of a weird situation. you'll recall that the last white house counsel, don mcgahn, we learned quite late into his tenure in the trump white house that he had testified for dozens of hours to the special counsel's office, apparently unbeknownst to the president and to other senior white house officials. what's that night like in the
white house when you -- somebody finally tells you that your white house counsel has been speaking to the special counsel's office for dozens of hours and you had no idea? don mcgahn did that. he's now gone as white house counsel. i would be interested to know if he is still cooperating with the special counsel's office, even now that he has left the trump white house. we don't know about that one way or the other. but there is a new white house counsel in place, pat cipollone, he has taken over the office and he has reportedly hired 17 new lawyers for that office just in the last couple of weeks, all to help handle the legal demands of the president's various scandals and investigations. according to "washington post" reporting late last night from carol leonnig, what is driving cipollone's hiring strategy and the white house's plans to use those new lawyers and they are expecting a battle royale, both with the democratic-controlled congress and with mueller's office over the issue of executive privilege.
and executive privilege is a buzz word, it gets misused a lot. it's sort of a complicated thing. you can speak as much legal ease want to once you are fighting over executive privilege. but bisquely for us regular folks, for understanding that being the big fight they're expecting, it basically boils down to whether or not the president and the white house have to hand stuff over. whether a president potentially has to testify to either a special counsel like robert mueller or to other prosecutors and other criminal inquiries or to congress. do you have to hand over material? do you have to respond to subpoenas? do you potentially have to testify? and we tend to think of the relevant history around that question as being all tied up in watergate, right? richard nixon's efforts to resist the courts when they were demanding that he hand over the white house tapes. and it's true, watergate is an important precedent here, but some of the other more recent precedent on this issue is not
just more recent than watergate. for a bunch of reasons right now, it hits closer to home. >> are you worried about what the hearings may reveal, sir? >> i'm waiting to hear as much as anyone else. i have told you over and over again everything that i know about all that took place, and i'm waiting to find out. >> senator says you ought to check your memory or your statement you knew nothing of illegal fund-raising within your administration, sir. >> there is no illegal fund-raising as far as i know at this point. >> did you know what colonel north was doing? did you know that he was coordinating this? >> no. >> what about the third country, sir? why were they contributing money? >> you will find that within the law, the law specified that the secretary of state was to encourage our fellow democracies to give aid to the freedom fight. >> including for military aid, sir? >> however they wanted to do it. >> are you willing to testify,
if asked? >> huh? >> are you willing to testify before the select committee if asked? >> you'll have to wait and find out. >> how do you feel as the hearings are beginning, sir? what is your expectation? >> i'm hopeful that i'm finally going to hear some of the things that i'm still waiting to learn. >> but don't you know what you did? do you have to have someone else tell you what you did? don't you know what you did? >> i know what i did. >> president ronald reagan having a hard time there with questions from reporters about the iran-contra scandal. how are you feeling as the hearings are beginning, sir. i'm hopeful i'm going to learn about some of the things. are you willing to testify, if asked? i have to wait and find pout. that was may 5th, 1987. probationen there clearly not 59 his best in nat exchange with reporters, but that was a very stressful time. not long before that encounter
with reporters at the white house, he had had to give that oval office address to the nation on iran-contra, in which he said this indelible, unforgettable just gut-wrenching thing. >> let's start with the part that is the most controversial. a few months ago i told the american people i did not trade arms for hostages. my heart and my best intentions still tell me that's true, but the facts and the evidence tell me it is not. >> the iran-contra scandal was a really big scandal, and when the president has to explain things that way to the american people, my best intentions still tell me that that lie i told you is true, but the facts tell me that lie i told you is a lie, my heart was in the -- my intentions, but i didn't, i -- it was a big scandal. it was a big problem in the reagan administration. the president's own either confusion or evasions or lies on the subject were a real crisis
for him toward the end of his presidency. substantively, though, it wasn't just a crisis, it was a fight. lawyers working on his behalf waged a big fight over executive privilege, whether he had to hand over evidence in iran-contra, whether he might have to testify. i think that's why you got that sort of odd pause and the almost half smile from reagan when he was asked by reporters in that combative exchange outside the oval office if he was going to testify. you can almost see the gears working as he's trying to figure out what he'll say. >> are you willing to testify, if asked? are you willing to testify before the select committee, if asked? >> you'll have to wait and find out. >> the president ultimately had to wait to find out how much of a leg he might have to stand on legally when he was trying not to testify, and trying not to hand over evidence. and his lawyers did wage that fight on his behalf, but ultimately in the end, it did not go great for him.
>> federal judge ruled today that former president ronald reagan must give evidence and testimony in the iran-contra trial of john poindexter, his former national security adviser. >> federal judge harold green ordered former president reagan to turn over immediately 33 entries from his personal diaries and to provide videotaped testimony in the poindexter trial. later today, reagan's attorneys filed a motion in federal court in washington invoking executive privilege, in essence refusing to turn over the material under the constitutional guarantees for presidential privacy. reagan's decision today is not the first time a president has invoked executive privilege in a criminal investigation. richard nixon did it in 1974, but lost when the supreme court ordered him to turn over the nixon tapes to the watergate special prosecutor. >> so the judge ordered ronald reagan to hand over presidential diries and to submit videotaped evidence in that iran-contra
trial, and reagan's lawyers fought it and said no, no, no, executive privilege applies here. but within two weeks of that ruling, there was reagan doing actually exactly what the judge asked, handing over evidence, giving videotaped testimony. >> reagan left his suburban los angeles home this morning to face the courtroom examination. there was heavy security at the courthouse, to which the judge and lawyers in the john poindexter case had come from washington. reagan was permitted to give video testimony. reagan waived as he entered the courtroom where technicians from the justice department and fbi had installed cameras and videotape machines. >> reagans lawyers fought that executive privilege fight. they tried to put up that fight, but they lost. i mean, famously, richard nixon before him fought to keep the white house tapes and other evidence from scrutiny from the judiciary and famously nixon lost that fight, too. he lost that fight hugely at the supreme court. that, of course, led to a bad end in the watergate scandal for
president richard nixon. it went the same way with reagan. reagan briefly tried that same fight back in iran-contra, but he lost that, too, and we definitely don't remember iran-contra in this country as vividly as we remember watergate, but just as watergate had a bad end, iran-contra had a bad end, too, a bad end of a very different sort. >> good evening. it began more than seven years ago, a deal by the reagan administration to free hostages in lebanon, sell arms to iran and divert profits to the nicaraguan contras. today it ended. president bush pardoned casper weinberger accused of lying to congress and five others in the scandal. bush called it an act of healing. the iran-contra prosecutor called it the completion of a cover-up. nbc's law correspondent carl stern reports from washington. >> reporter: by barring a weinberger trial and pardoning others who he said had acted out of patriotic motives, bush tried to put the iran-contra
prosecutors out of business. it happened just when he has become personally embroiled. in oklahoma city, independent counsel lawrence walsh revealed bush has failed to turn over some of his own notes and faces a possible subpoena. >> in light of president bush's own misconduct, we are gravely concerned by his decision to pardon others. >> the way the iran-contra scandal was forcibly ended was on christmas eve, 1992, after george h.w. bush had just been voted out of office and made a one-term president, george h.w. bush on his way out of office on christmas eve pardoned everybody who was still in trouble in the iran-contra scandal, just at the time when his own involvement was startling to potentially drag him into the courtroom as well. today as democrats take over the house and the mueller investigation circles this president and the white house gears up, hiring 17 new lawyers in just a couple of weeks, the
executive privilege fight that they say they are gearing up for, that they are expecting, that is not a good sign for the president's defense. previous major presidential scandals show that the white house usually loses those types of fights. when there are very high stakes and when they're using executive privilege to fend off scrutiny for matters of intense national concern, and that's not legal analysis by me, i am not a lawyer, that is just my observation of how presidential scandals tend to settle out and what fights presidents tend to lose in the middle of those scandals. but, you know, after reagan lost the executive privilege fights that he waged in iran-contra, the bad ending of that scandal thereafter also brings us right to the door of the trump white house today. because on tuesday, tuesday next week, there will be confirmation hearings for trump's new choice to be attorney general of the united states, and, of course, attorney general is a hugely
consequential job in and of itself. the nomination and potential confirmation of william barr to that job, it's doubly dramatic right now because deputy attorney general rod rosenstein, who has been overseeing the mueller investigation, he says he will resign and leave the justice department if and when william barr is confirmed. that's an important transition ahead for the justice department. william barr is also yet another trump would-be appointee who has an extensive and aggressive record of criticizing the mueller investigation, and you can expect that to be a big focus of his confirmation hearings next week, but william barr is also something very, very specific in the history of presidents and presidential scandals and the bad ways that they can end. because on christmas eve 1992 when george h.w. bush shocked the country by pardoning everyone still in trouble in iran-contra and effectively ending the prosecution of that scandal while he himself was edging into its crosshairs, he
took that action specifically on the advice of william barr. who was in the george h.w. bush administration at the time, the same william barr who is now trump's nominee to be attorney general. here is "the new york times"' write-up on those pardons from the christmas day edition of that paper in 1992, quote, throughout the deliberations mr. bush consulted with attorney general william p. barr. william himself has bragged about his role in bringing about those pardons in iran-contra. william barr said, quote, i certainly did not oppose any of them. i favored the broadest. there were some people arguing just for a pardon for weinberger and i said, no, in for a penny, in for a pound. question, all the ones you recommended he did pardon? william barr, i believe so. with everything going on in the u.s. government right now,
right, with the, i mean, with just -- with the government shutdown, with the trump administration quietly trying to lift sanctions on a russian oligarch linked to the trump campaign, with the expected testimony of michael cohen in open session, with the new revelation this week that the president's campaign chair was providing internal campaign data to a russian intelligence asset during the campaign, i mean, is it really possible that in this environment right now that the senate is about to confirm someone whose most notable previous achievement in public office is that he was the architect of the last time a major criminal presidential scandal was shut down with blanket pardons for everyone. in for a penny, in for a pound. i wanted everyone pardoned. that is who president trump has nominated it to be attorney general. who is now taking meetings with senators. his confirmation hearings begin on tuesday. senator mark warner from the intelligence committee joins us next. lligence committee joins u next
i believe the best technology should feel effortless. like magic. at comcast, it's my job to develop, apps and tools that simplify your experience. my name is mike, i'm in product development at comcast. we're working to make things simple, easy and awesome. i'm very pleased to say that joining us now is senator mark warner of virginia. he is the top democrat on the intelligence committee in the
senate. senator warner, it's great to have you here tonight. thanks for making time to be with us. >> thank yo you, rachel. >> so there was a briefing today for all members of the house in which the secretary of the treasury steven mnuchin came up and talked about his decision, the trump administration's decision to lift sanctions on a russian oligarch, oleg deripaska who has a lot of links to paul manafort. reportedly offered him private briefings during the campaign, for some reason. in the response to that briefing, it sounds like at least democrats in the house want the relief of sanctions delayed. they want this decision by the administration to at least be held off for awhile so they can examine it. can you tell us if you think the senate may also have some of those concerns? >> well, i hope the senate will take the same approach. the plan that was put out by the administration was to take this russian oligarch, oleg deripaska, who controls about 70% of a major aluminum company