tv For the Record With Greta MSNBC May 19, 2017 3:00pm-4:01pm PDT
special host chris giannising starts now. hi, chris. >> katie, thank you so much. three big stories that are breaking and developing. first the washington post reporting the russia probe has reachea current white house official who isescribeds close to the president. the white house pushing back in a statement saying, a thorough investigation will confirm there was no collusion between the campaign and any foreign entity. then you have "the new york times" reporting, president trump told russian officials in the oval office that former fbi director james comey was a nut job and firing him eased the pressure from the russia investigation. nbc news has not confirmed this story, but at this hour the white house is not denying it. also breaking now, mcclatchy reporting that investigators looking into russian meddling are now also examining if white house officials engaged in a cover up. big headlines on three major stories, all breaking within a few hours of each other just this afternoon, and all could
have major consequence for this presidency. we are covering them all tonight. with me the reporters who broke two of those big stories, the washington post, matthew skoe field of mcclatchy. let me start with you, deb lin. what can you tell us about this white house official who is under scrutiny and what do we know or do we know under scrutiny for what? >> we really don't know many of the underlying details, but we do know that it's a serious investigation into that person's conduct, and that it's something that is an important part -- it's been described to us as an important part of the investigation. and remember, there's a dot of parts and tentacles of this russia probe and what we're told is this investigation into the senior white house official is an important piece of that overall work. >> it is hard to imagine it wouldn't be. this is the first time we've heard a report that someone close to the president is sort of getting caught up in all of this in this way. having said that to your first point, this is part of what
seems to be an intensifying investigation, right? >> right. that's another part of what we've been told, which is that while there have been some subpoenas issued and some witnesses interviewed, it's going to get more active. the investigation is going to do more subpoenas and more witness interviews. and it's going to become more clear to the outside world exactly what is of concern to investigators and we are told we should expect that to happen in the coming weeks and months. >> so, obviously you know that anybody who is interested in politics, and particularly has been following all this very closely, started off a major guessing game. we do know that jared kushner, rex tillerson and sessions all had contacts with russian officials. but as to who is a, quote, significant person of interest, the term that you used in the story, senior white house advisor, is that to be taken literally as in a title? >> i think it should be taken as someone whoashe president's ear and who is very high up in the hierarchy. that's what we're tryi to signal there. we're not trying to give you a job title and then get into a game of this.
you know, we're trying to be careful in terms of our reporting. we felt like the consequence and implications of someone who has a senior role in the white house now being under investigation is worth telling people. and we are obviously doing more reporting work on our end and will bring more out as soon as we are confident, fully confident in what we have on new information obviously. but i don't think -- i don't want to, you know, try and like cast hints or anything. i think that would be unfair to all the people involved, frankly. but i do think it's important to tell people that, you know, there is a senior white house official who is getting a very serious look from investigators in the russia probe. >> meantime, matthew, and we've heard this so many times in so many investigations, that sometimes it doesn't have to be the age twal acctual act but it cover up. what can you tell us about the alleged cover up? >> there is no evidence there is an ongoing investigation into the cover up. there is -- evidence is that the
special counsel has the authority to look into the possibility of a cover up. it's a nuanced difference. the deputy attorney general was speaking to members of the house today and explained this. we talked to representative elijah cummings. he said the possibility of a cover up becomes one of the three prongs of this investigation. i've been talking very recently to the department est justice. they said we have to consider this is part of the authority of the special counsel. it does include the possibility of a cover up, but it's not saying there is an ongoing cover up investigation at this time. >> but, again -- >> it's not saying it's not. >> it is an investigation that is intensifying and expanding with the appointment of former director mueller. you can see where these tentacles would be out there. >> we can see this -- this is something -- yeah, absolutely, i would agree with that. >> any indication at all right now if there is something seriously leading them in that direction, or if this is just a possibility?
>> right now what we know is that it's just a possibility. it's not necessarily an act -- there's no active cover up investigation that we know of. we just know that the authority is there. >> i want to bring in also ken delaney, nbc's intelligence and national security reporter, msnbc chief legal correspondent ari miller who is spokesman for the justice department under attorney general holder. ari, so many things to talk about. but let's start with this conversation that happened inside the oval office. and i think one of the things we didn't touch on was that this is not something that we saw before where, for example, where a nversation came out because it was recorded by james comey. this was something that apparently was written down within the white house and circulated among a very small group of people. >> that's right. reading from "the new york times" account which is not disputed by the white house at this hour, the president reportedly saying, quote, i fired the head of the fbi, he was crazy, a real nut job.
i face great pressure because of russia, that's taken off. i'm not under investigation. the headlines saying that it's easing the pressure. this is donald trump drawing the length that his own aides so strenuously tried to deny to protect them and doing it to the very subjects of the inquiry who were told a counter tell and mixed criminal inquiry, him telling these people, these russian representatives, we don't have to worry about this because i fired comey. this is galling. >> galling, but is it part of a case that could be built? >> well, there's three things here. there's what happened during the campaign. there is as you articulated whether an ongoing cover up or other activity, and then this third thing caused only by donald trump's words and conduct itself, the question of whether he is obstructing justice. that part legally is not really something the d.o.j. would prioritize or the special counsel because the d.o.j. doesn't normally look at whether the president has committed crimes and pursue it that way. if you got there and we are not
there yet, that is something that congress does and it's constitutional oversight powers. but the fact that there is this third layer and the fact we have a special counsel as we have reported throughout coverage is because of donald trump. and, so, that's important because while his supporters may be frustrated and they hear him discussing a witch hunt, there is no witch hunt. it's his own words and his own appointee, rod rosenstein, that is pursuing this through a special counsel. so, that's the other ckop. it is appropriate and matt miller having word to the d.o.j. can weigh in on this. it is highly inappropriate for the president to prejudge the legitimacy of this inquiry as it goes and then to do so seeming to tell the russians who are, of course, subjects of the inquiry that it's all good. >> let's go to matt miller. what did you make of this when you read this? >> i think it is another piece of evidence that will help answer what is the most significant question in american politics today, and that is did the president of the united states commit a crime by trying to stop this investigation from going forward? and this will be another piece
of evidence, his words to the russians along with his words to lester holt, along with his decision to fire jim comey, along with the fact he told jim comey -- asked him to stop the investigation of mike flynn. those are all pieces of evidence to try to establish if that's what the president of the united states was trying to do. and while d.o.j. typically -- d.o.j. has decided in the past it won't -- it cannot prosecute the president, that that's an act for congress, i do think that that's something bob mueller can look at. if he finds evidence, what he would do is turn it over to congress. i think finally, we're going to get a very quick clue from him as to whether that's what he's looking at. if we see jim comey not go testify in the coming weeks as he's been asked to do, if we see the fbi not turnover jim comey's memos to congress, i think that's likely because bob mueller has decided those are relevant to his investigation of a possible cover up and he doesn't want them turned over. >> well, ken delaney, let me go to you because we've been talking about the pace of this investigation intensifying.
but it's hard for i think some lawyers, let alone regular people who are out there following politics, to figure out how many different layers of an investigation there are. bring us up to date. where are we now that you've added mueller into this whole mix? >> it is remarkable, chris. i should just add that nbc news confirmed a white house official has come under scrutiny in this investigation. our sources are not revealing the identity of that official and, therefore, we don't know what conduct has come under suspicion. but what you have here is a sprawling counter intelligence -- >> i'm going to stop there. i think it bears repeating, we now have someone close to the president who is a person of particular interest in this investigation. that's what we're confirming? >> exactly right, and that's pretty dramatic stuff. what you have here is a large counter intelligence and criminal investigation. and, you know, a lot of trump
supporters and conservatives have been writing that they have seen no evidence of collusion with russia. where is the beef for this thing? show me evidence that anybody close to trump has colluded with this russian hacking and interference campaign. and they're right about that, no such evidence has circulated publicly. but the thing about an fbi investigation, fbi agents are going to investigate crimes wherever they find them. and, so, we see with mike flynn who failed to disclose half a million dollars lobbying for the turkish government and we see with paul manafort who has some questionable real estate transactions that have come under scrutiny, the fbi is scrutinizing and those men are now at the forefront and the focus of this investigation that may also look at other crimes that have nothing to do with russia collusion and it's all wrapped together, chris. >> that's such a key point to put it in basic terms. if there is a current white house official under this kind of scrutiny. the question is are they under scrutiny for what they did perhaps earlier in the campaign or for something they have done since joining the trump administration. >> exactly, or for business
dealings that aren't particularly related to russia collusion. once the fbi starts looking, there's no telling where this thing is going to go. >> and, matt, as they are looki looking you have a situation where clearly -- i'll let you describe what you think is going on inside this white house. but the way "the new york times" got their information is one official read quotations from this memo that was taken during the meeting between the president and the russians. a second official confirmed the broad outlines of the discussion. there can't be a ton of people within the white house who had access to that reporting of the information. what does it tell you about what's going on inside that white house? >> it's really stunning. i was actually -- the first thing i thought when i read that report, i was surprised someone sitting in the meeting actually took that as an official note and put it in the record, let alone that it leaked. i think we've seen a toxic environment in the white house, and we're only getting started. we're just at the beginning of this investigation. this is going to get so much worse for the white house, there is going to be so much pressure on white house staff when they
start getting called into the grand jury, when their e-mails and documents start getting subpoenaed by a special prosecutor. the pressure that can put on staffers and the pressure that it puts when they start wondering, you know, is one of my colleagues cooperating? is one of my colleagues telling them about something i did? takes what is already by any accounts not a very functional white house and is going to add layer upon layer of dysfunction on top of it. >> and you have a president who didn't seem to care about the optics of meeting with the russian ambassador. he personally defended it the day after he fired comey. and lester holt also asked the president about that, so, let me play it. >> did you worry at all when you made the decision to fire comey when you did, the day before lavrov was here in the white house and the russian ambassador, did you think through the optics of a way this would look? >> i never thought about it. it was set up awhile ago. and, frankly, i could have waited, but what difference does it make?
>> matt, you were a spokesman at justice. the president's staff is on air force one right now. under any circumstances, this is a complex and challenging trip. they've got not just us, they've got the international media to deal with. they have what we know to be a level of exhaustion from all the chaos over the weeks of this administration. let's throw in jet lag for people who -- for maybe this is -- they're normal folks who are going to be tired. and then in the matter of hours, you have three pretty big stories breaking. how do they even begin to handle that as they are embarking on his first foreign trip? i don't think we can overstate how important this would be under any circumstances. >> yeah, under the best of circumstances these trips are very difficult to pull off. but these are far from the best of circumstances. they go into this trip with the stories that ran even before today following them everyone around the world follows what happens in american politics. they see what happens to the american president. these stories have been published in the post,
mcclatchy, make it onto overseas broadcast. they bring that with them. then to have this break while they're there and let's be honest, i don't think anyone thinks that no story is going to break in the next week and a half while the president is gone. it is very likely there will be continued disclosures about this investigation that will disrupt press conferences that the president has with heads of state when he's trying to send a message and instead he's asked about the newest developments of this russia investigation. it disrupts everything that they're trying to do. it makes it very difficult for the white house. and, again, this is not a white house that was functioning at a particularly high level anyway, and this will just make it so much more difficult. >> and one more point, chris. this goes beyond optics which is something we always talk about in politics. it goes to the mental state of the president. and one thing investigators look at is do you act in a way that shows a potential consciousness of guilt or do you act in some other manner. so, ignorance and incompetence are often legal defenses because maybe you just didn't know what
you were doing. the problem with these reports and these accounts and the way the president is conducting himself is they increasingly have evidence that he is aware that things look bad, that he perhaps does want to hide things. when you ask the attorney general, the chief law enforcement officer of the united states to leave the room so you can have a discussion with someone who reportedly you've asked for loyalty oath for and then you terminate them, and then you tell people who are in charge of the foreign policy operations of a foreign government accused of meddling in our elections, you tell them that this is now being eased, these things add up to look like a very negative mental state from a investigative per sp perspective. i've not prejudging where the investigation goes. if your defense is going to be i didn't know what i was doing. >> to matt's point people are apparently putting things in an official record, you wonder what were they thinking to put something like that in an official record.
>> they're not thinking they're trying to protect donald trump. maybe they're trying to protect themselves. >> great panel. thanks to you. so, how are democrats in congress responding to today's bomb shell stories? we're going to talk to congressman hakeem jeffries from the judiciary committee. does the president need a personal lawyer? the white house meeting on that question has already happened. we are going to tell you about it. also, why the president talking about domestic fbi issues, why with russian diplomats? what's the kremlin's angle in all this? that's ahead, too. this is a story about mail and packages.
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have said there is no collusion. >> president trump about 24 hours ago insisting he never asked james comey to end the flynn investigation, and tonight we are learning russia was on his mind. the "the new yk times" hearing what was on the official account, the official account of his oval office meeting? trump telling the russians, after firing comey, he, quote, faced great pressure because of russia. that's taken off. where is that official account? what exactly is it, and will we see it? a white house official is now a person of interest in the russia investigation. new york congressman hakeem jeffries is with me now along with ann. let me get your reaction first. the president has denied repeatedly there was any collusion. he denies that he ever did anything wrong. now we have him and nbc news has confirmed the existence of these notes taken from this meeting. he's with the russians. he calls the fbi director a nut
job, talks to them about what would be considered a fairly sensitive personnel matter. and then added, i feel great pressure because of russia. that's taken off. your reaction? >> well, it's another shocking development to some degree where donald trump's mind frame has been with regard to this investigation. it allows us to interpret some of these actions are perhaps being done in order to thwart the ongoing criminal investigation that was being conducted by the fbi into possible collusion between the trump campaign and the russians during the election. >> is that what you took away from the meeting that you were in today with rod rosenstein? >> what's clear from the meeting today is that the special prosecutor bob mueller will have full authority, resources and discretion in order to follow the facts and pursue the evidence wherever that may lead. that should reassure the american people. the other thing that was interesting, and perhaps the most important thing for me that came out of the meeting was that the deputy attorney general made
clear that in his view, based on the department of justice regulations, the president does not have the power to fire the special counsel, and that's particularly important because we've seen a willingness to terminate individuals who the president apparently believes are too close to getting to his folks or him in the context of this russian investigation. he fired u.s. attorney preet bharara after it was revealed he was close to investigating allies. he fired sally yates after she had conversations with the white house that suggested her belief that michael flynn may be a russian asset. and, of course, he fired james comey who was leading the investigation, the criminal inquiry, into his campaign. >> mcclatchy also had one of these stories today, the possibility of pursuing a cover up not that this is an active part of thenvestigation, but it looks like it could be a part of
this investigation. elijah cummings, apparently one of the people they talked to about this, did you take that way from the meeting as well? >> well, what i took away from the meeting was that the special prosecutor would have the ability to look at both the underlying criminal case which is the possibility of collusion between the trump campaign and the russians as well as other things that may have occurred related to a possible cover up, obstruction of justice, abuse of power, presidential interference that would be inappropriate. >> ann gar en, you know what would be interesting, i talked to a number of members of congress coming out of that meeting, they expressed their hope now that bob mueller is taking charge of this investigation, if the white house was able to reset and go into this foreign trip, name a new fbi director which obviously did not happen today, that perhaps they could get back to the business that they want to be doing in the halls of congress. what do you make of these three big breaking stories, including one by your newspaper today? >> yeah, i mean, they were
clearly speaking a couple hours before, you know, what has become really -- >> literally just a couple hours before. >> today's version of what has become daily revelations in a very fast-moving story. certainly from the point of view of members of congress, republican and democratic, this is a huge distraction. and even though the principal investigation is now clearly going to be the one housed through the justice department and not anything that congress does, it's still a huge distraction. it takes an enormousmount of time and energy and the republican side it takes an enormous amount of political energy. it's very complicated. it's obviously we're seeing that it is causing angst and some divided loyalty among some republican members of congress.
i'm sure they would love nothing better than to talk about something else. they've got a budget coming out next week. anything, something else. and from the white house perspective, they would love to talk about the trip that they're currently on, but this is clearly going to follow the president through every stop of that trip. >> let me ask you about that trip because obviously this is important. there isn't a stop. there isn't anything built in for optics. there is real business that is going to be done here. and in addition to that, complicated stuff. what does this potentially mean for the focus of the president, for the focus of his staff and for the way other foreign leaders and diplomats approach him? >> well, you know, i hesitate to say anything confidently about what it will mean because this white house is doing things very differently than past white houses. the ordinary course of business for a white house foreign trip, particularly the president's first one, is that it is a very, very big deal, and every detail is managed.
and clearly a lot of details have gotten away from them, even before they've even arrived in saudi arabia. that said, his couple of days in saudi arabia will be very tightly managed by the saudis. so, there i think is a lot less room and chance while he's in saudi arabia that he will say something in the presence of the press or that something else will happen to him or by him, except of course if he tweets, you know, while he's there, just simply because there isn't an opportunity really for him to say or do much while he's there. clearly, developments will still happen here. it is the weekend. maybe they won't be moving quite as quickly, but it's entirely possible that the entire news cycle in the united states has nothing to do with his time in saudi arabia and the big speech he's going to give there on islam and the future of that religion. >> congressman, ann makes a good
point about now the focus going to the lion's share of it, anyway, to the mueller investigation and that is something that was expressed to me by the congressman coming out of that meeting that you were in with rod rosenstein. having said that, there is still counter intelligence things that need to be looked at by congress. are you confident that those will move forward and will move forward in a way that you believe will get to the bottom of at least what congress is charged with looking into? >> i certainly hope so. i think many of us increasingly -- >> hope so or feel confident about it? >> i certainly hope so. the house intelligence committee was off track for a while with the antics of the prior chairman. he's now recused himself and it appears that things are back on track in terms of democrats and republicans working closely together. many of us also still believe that congress should enact an independent commission similar to what was done in the aftermath of september 11 so we can convene a group of experts who can take a close look at what ee curd as it relates to russia's attack on our democracy, communicate that to the american people, and also figure out how do we prevent
this from ever happening again. so, there is still some unfinished business that needs to take place in order to deliver the type of transparency that our democracy requires and that the american people deserve. >> congressman jeffries, thanks so much for coming in. have a good weekend. >> thank you. >> ann, to you as well. >> thank you. >> how will president trump respond to all this? well, he is on air force one right now en route to udi arabia. he will land the middle of the night our time. will he be hiring a personal attorney? stay with us. escape from monotony. together, we are perfectly balanced, our senses awake, our hearts racing as one. i know this is sudden, but they say: if you love something... set it free. see you around, giulia ♪ bounty is more absorbent,mom" per roll
welcome back. we have those breaking news stories unfolding this hour. the washington post reporting a white house advisor close to president trump is a person of interest in the russia probe. the "the new york times" reports that trump told russians in the oval office the fbi director was a nut job, and firing him eased the pressure he faced. vladimir putin offered to provide transcripts of the meeting saying it would show trump did not giveaway classified secrets, but a lot of people asked at the time why the russian ambassador sergey
kislyak even was in that meeting. of course, he is at the red hot center of the trump controversy. it was kislyak who general mike flynn called in late december and that call and the reported lies about it got flynn fired. attorney general jeff sessions was forced to recuse himself from all russia investigations after we learned he met with the russian ambassador twice during the campaign. former trump campaign advisor carter page met the ambassador at the republican convention. and jared kushner met with the ambassador after trump won the election. he was joined by general michael flynn. and that was a meeting at trump tower. malcolm nance spent more than three decades in naval intelligence and homeland security. he is the author of the plot to hack america, how putin cyber sps and wikileaks tried to steathe 2016 election. it's white house reporting that we have confirmed, malcolm, on this meeting where the president calls his fbi director, or most
ree recently, former fbi director a nut job to russian diplomats. what did you make of it when you read that? >> you know, as i hear all of these stories breaking, the first thing that we have to see is the basic, you know, the common denominator of all of these stories, much less the nut job comment. they were about the russians, the russian investigation, and were given to the russians themselves. why the president of the united states was having confidential discussions about the inner workings of his cabinet to the russian foreign minister and the russian ambassador, it's beyond me. you know, i would love to give this administration some advice and the only advice i can come up with is don't talk to the russians. but in this case, the water is under the bridge. donald trump seems so much more comfortable with them than anyone in the world, and that itself has gone now from suspicious to almost sinister.
>> the fact that this is moving at such a break neck speed and the fact that obviously a lot of this is coming from within this white house, one of the questions that we had yesterday for rod rosenstein, and i don't think anybody got a great answer from him and certainly they won't get it from mueller, is how long this might take. there are people who say it could be years. but the speed at which this is moving, you do wonder if this investigation with all these leaks will take as long as some people thought it might. >> well, i think the leaks -- leaks happen once they get to, mainly to the congressional arena. the fbi doesn't generally leak. but i think that as counsel mueller starts to carry out this investigation, you are going to see, in his remit, he can investigate virtually anything. and if he goes down one direction and he's looking up russian contacts and he finds that there is a financial component to this, he can branch
off from that and put, you know, the treasury's financial crimes division onto that. if he finds someone files a tax return improperly, he can do that. this report tonight someone inside the oval office, a senior advisor, you know -- >> someone close to trump, senior advisor, yep. >> the way they describe it, it sounds like jared kushner who has deep ties to moscow. >> we don't know that. >> we don't know that, that's not been confirmed by anybody, that's merely speculation. but for the most part, they have financial ties, which means that every one of these agencies under the counsel, former director mueller, can now go and run down each of these. i suspect breaking news is going to become like, you know, the sun rising every morning. >> when you're talking about dealing with the finances of russia and any business dealings, how complicated will it be to get to the bottom of that? you know the way that government operates. >> well, you know, it's not so much the government of russia. they have ways of masking their
money. they have cut outs and go betweens who can put money into your pocket without you actually seeing it, or even knowing where the strings are attached to a lot of those financial transactions. it's going to be how the americans who are involved in this receive that money. did they get it directly? i mean, there was the one palm beach, you know, mansion purchase byonald trump a few years back in which he earned almost $50 million in profit. they are going to look at that and they're going to say, was that actually a payoff intended to bring him into their sphere of influence? and, of course, there are many, many other components of this. does this involve u.s. corporations with oil deals in russia? i think this will take years. but, again, i think that so much news is in here, this is almost a conglomerate of russian/american relations that may -- you know, there is going to be a surface component that is completely legitimate, but i
think what's going to lie beneath that is going to be extremely, extremely interesting, of course. and as they said yesterday, it has already moved from counter intelligence, spy catching, into a criminal investigation. and that means they already know the u.s. code has been violated somewhere. >> malcolm nance, always good to see you. thank you. >> it's my pleasure. >> and as we were just talking about the russia probe reaching a current white house official, so, will president trump hire a personal attorney? that's next. liberty mutual stood with me
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we are back once again covering breaking news from what the president told russian officials to reports that the current white house official is a person of interest in the russia probe, and all of it adding to the pressure already on president trump. now, even before today's developments, "the new york times" reported that the president's advisors are urging him to hire an outside lawyer, and politico is reporting that the president huddled with his legal team just one day after former fbi director robert mueller was appointed special counsel. quote, white house counsel don mcgahn and his team is urging the white house and trump to be cautious in its comments with a special prosecutor involved. joining me now alex from politico who had the news with the trump meeting with lawyers. matt miller, so many legal questions. alex, i want to start with you and the meeting. what was the focus of that
meeting? >> the focus was very simple which is to start getting the president and his team familiarized with the process and how it's going to work. this is going to be a new process for people in the white house. matt made the point earlier on this evening. look, this is a white house that is very much -- has been racked in chaos from the beginning. this is going to be another strain on them as they move forward. so, this meeting was really to start getting them prepared and ready to go here as this gets underway. >> but the thing that really jumped out at me -- there were several things -- it was a really fine piece of reporting. but we just read part of it, that they wanted to urge the white house and trump to be cautious in its comments. it's just hard to see how this presidt is cautious either in his comments or in his tweeting. >> absolutely. and, look, you're getting a taste of that tonight with "the new york times" story in which he made these comments about jim comey. this is what the white house is going to have to deal with now. and you could see a lot of the
president's top advisors being questioned about what the president said about anyone at any given point and these are really going to come under scrutiny here. you're going to have robert mueller and others really taking a look at contradictions in terms of what the president said at various points and what his advisors said at various points. >> ari, a lot of people said to me, the president has a lawyer, doesn't he, which is don mcgahn. that's not a personal lawyer. that's a lawyer for the presidency. so, the question gets raised, does he need outside counsel? >> right. and does he need counsel who is going to think about him both during and after the presidency. we have referred to the higher bar for dealing with the president. but no one is president forever. and, so, outside counsel plays that different role. there is another point here i was actually discussing this with our own chris hayes earlier today when we were covering this news as it broke. donald trump is very experienced in the courtroom, but in a very different courtroom. all civil cases, over 2000 different cases in litigation according to an authoritative
count by usa today. he is considered one of the most active litigants alive, which just thinking about that is big. but you wonder at this point given the series of miss steps, his own aides, his own advisors, loyalists frustrated with the actions he's taken against his interests, you wonder if he learned lessons thinking this would be like a civil case. at the end of the day he pushed hard like a civil case. in the instance of the trump university case, a matter of leverage and nois he settled and paid out $20 million and moved on. he is accustomed to a model where you push really hard, sometimes it works, when it doesn't you pay something out. that is not how criminal inquiries work for -- >> i'm going to interrupt you because we just got this shocking breaking news and, matt, i'll get your reaction first. jim comey is going to testify openly before the senate intelligence committee after memorial day. your thoughts? >> it will be a bombshell.
i think, you know, jim comey has wanted to testify. he's wanted to tell his story. but i think, again, the clue that we're going to have to watch, there is this open question, you know, is the justice department looking at a cover up or not? is bob mueller going to look at a cover up? we won't know that for a while. we might get a clue in that testimony. if jim comey comes in and there are some things he's willing to talk about but other things he says, i've talked to the special prosecutor and he's asked me not to go into this, that would be a very clear sign that that's something that bob mueller wants to pursue. he wants to have a chance to talk to witnesses without them knowing what jim comey has already told him. >> that would be the question i would have that was surprising because there was some question about whether we were going to hear anybody, ari, in an open session given that you have an investigation and you could hear robert mueller saying, i need to keep all of this quiet. >> yeah. we had heard in our reporting according to associates of comey, that he didn't want to do the original closed session idea. that while that has certain
benefits, he wanted to have one public transparent accounting. this is now happening. this is another piece of brak g breaking news here, late in the day, jim comey will give the most anticipated testimony perhaps of the year, maybe some of yates and his earlier testimony. will give him a chance to speak -- >> i think in the current environment, it went way beyond that. you have a situation that has escalated so much. just look at what's happened today and what we've learned today. >> exactly. it will give him a chance, he's obviously not going to speak about matters, that are, a, classified, b, open to the relevant inquiry wherever it goes. it will give him a chance to speak about matters that are not classified. discussions with donald trump he as former director views as inappropriate, i would say most of that can be at least referred to in some way to matt's point, it's certainly true if there is an investigation of obstruction, he may have to hold back something. but i don't think he's going to come in and say, i can't talk about anything with the president. i don't think that's the purpose. i think the whole purpose of the
hearing would be to address some of that, as well as address what he thinks is what we might call the comey standard. what will be the test for people to make sure that this is an independent inquiry from start to finish. he now plays a larger and central role, and that is precisely because of donald trump's behavior, not anyone else. whatever he wants to say and whatever he thinks about press coverage, it is because of president trump's behavior. >> and joining us now is paul henderson, former prosecutor. so, as you look at where this is going now, so, this is going to be this testimony that everyone has been anticipating. there are so many parts of this story that go back to former director comey. talk to me a little bit from your perspective as a prosecutor, where this goes, how he prepares, how members who are going to question him prepare, and how this will be viewed by robert mueller. >> well, it's no surprise that everybody is going to be lawyering up at this point. and, so, now that we know that
we are going to get this testimony that we have all been waiting for, i think what's really going to happen is that special prosecutor is going to be paying close attention to all of that information that is going to come out from these hearings and that is kind of why it's a big deal because all of these hearings are going to be on the record and they're going to give a clear indication of who knew what, when they knew, and all of that goes into this whole investigation as we are trying to back date and figure out what was the process, what actually happened, what information was shared, and whom it was shared to. this is really a bombshell and there is going to be a linchpin and a lot of what's going on with the investigation that now we will be able to track, see and understand in real time as these hearings take place. this is a big deal. i think it brings us to -- go ahead. >> no, go ahead, finish your thought. >> i was going to say, i think it brings us to the big deal of what is going to happen at the end of this tunnel. is there the possibility that now we are actually talking
about the possibility of indictment? and i know people have talked about that in the past. and is that something that is real for a sitting president? there's still really a big split of authority on all of that and we know the office of legal counsel has ruled in 1973 and again in 2000 that we can't indict a sitting president. i think that it's very possible that that split will be challenged and have to go to the supreme court. but we'll know more once we get the evidence out of this testimony that is going to take place with comey coming to testify in front of -- >> there is no evidence of that. there is no public evidence we're near that at this juncture. >> and before we go that far down, sort of the path, let's go back to this testimony, matt. because the first thing you might think of is this is somebody who kept absolutely voluminous meticulous records. one memo was made public, at least what we know of it, and it was a block buster.
who knows how much might be put into the record under this testimony, matt. >> yeah, he certainly has quite a story to tell. even the memo that we've seen a little bit about, the times reported a little bit about, the times reported that memo was extensive, it had much more that was not shared with them. we know more about this dinner he had with president trump where president trump asked him to basically pledge loyalty. i think one of the things to watch, though, is also how does the white house handle this? remember when sally yates was first scheduled to testify before the house intelligence committee, before chairman devon n nunez canceled that testimony. the white house tried to keep her from testifying some of her conversations with the white hous by asserting other privileges. they eventually backed down. it will be interesting to see if they try to block him from testifying by saying, your conversations when you were with the president as a government
official are subject to privilege. and then it will be interesting to see if he respects that or not. >> james comey was one that went out and spoke against the president when he was the fbi director. making those unfound accusations that obama wiretapped him, which there was no evidence of. jim comey went there before the congress and, under oath, fact checked and contradicted the sitting president, which we know the president didn't like. this is someone clearly willing to upset people. there were times when that was a source of criticism for jim comey, i think we all remember that. right now it's a source, i think, of faith. it's an article of faith that he is not going to pull his punches because someone is powerful. that makes this testimony very powerful. >> that, alex, i think is going to be one of the reasons why it's going to be so important.
this is somebody who not only has shown he's not going to pull his punches, but he prides himself on the fact that he is independent, that he is beholden to no one, that as director of the fbi, he believes what he was supposed to be, which was totally independent. so what does that mean for this white house? >> it means trouble ahead, danger ahead. look, he is someone who seems to have sort of a flare for the dramatic, right? remember back to his testimony during the 2016 campaign. you know, those were -- there was a lot of hype surrounding that testimony, drew a lot of headlines, and that was before all of this. so there is going to be a lot of attention on this hearing, and who knows what he's going to say. but look, to your question, this white house, you can forget about all of its legislative agenda and the things it was trying to accomplish. i can tell you from my reporting that they are very much focused on this investigation. there is a lot of resources that
are being directed to it. and for now, it's going to be really hard to see how tax reform, infrastructure, health care and even those big agenda items that donald trump had campaigned on, had promised and said he would pass, how any of those get the kind of focus and attention that they were once expected to get. >> i want to go to the phone. nbc's mike viquera who we have had running all over trying to gather stories. have you been able to track anyone down about this? >> the halls of the white house are ghost halls right now, so to speak. >> it is almost 7:00 on a friday night. >> we should know by this time, shouldn't we, chris? >> yeah. >> i did have a chance to talk to congressman warner. i specifically asked him, there were several other reporters there, does this do away with the need for comey, first of all, to come and testify before your committee, and secondly, do
you think that bob mueller is going to try to put the kibosh on some of this, because it will step all over his investigation which we have learned is perhaps a criminal investigation now which implies a whole bunch of things about people pleading the fifth, so forth and so on. he insisted -- and i have to say i was kind of skeptical. he insisted, no, it doesn't make any difference whatsoever. we invited comey to come and we believe he will come, and now we understand he is going to come after labor day, he made that commitment. remember, less than a week after, they had asked if richard burr, the republican head and the chairman of the committee had asked comey to come and testify before the committee. he declined. word got out that he didn't want to do it behind closed session, he wanted to do it in public. and so burr and warner then put together a letter and said, okay, come and do it, we'll give you the option essentially. you can do it in an open
session, you can do it in closed session, you can do it in both. unclear to me whether at this point -- which one he's chosen. but evidently now jim comey is going to come forward regardless of the fact the special counsel is now conducting their own investigation. >> in open session. mike viquera, thank you for that. this is a pretty boilerplate statement by the ranking member and the chairman, except for this, ari, and it comes from senator burr. he talks about how he wants to learn about russian interference, but then he says, i am hopeful that he will clarify for the american people recent events that have been broadly reported in the media whimedia, which says to me this is wide open. >> i think it's wide open, i think they want an accounting, i think they want it under oath. it is common in our business to say he said-she said and try to split the difference. when people speak in public when we have these secondhand accounts, we do the best we can. this is different. jim comey doesn't have to do this. currently he's not under any
legal obligation or subpoena. he very quickly has, given all the events, said he will come back after memorial day and give testimony. there are people who for legal reasons may not want to. if i was advising him as a lawyer, i would say maybe you want to get some level of immunity, some partial use immunity before you go out and tell your story. but the point is strong because it's not he said-she said when the he is a former law force official with a pretty good reputation who is willing to go out under oath. ends more than anyone that's a legal obligation, you expose yourself to penalty of perjury. that means he's fairly confident about what he has to say, that it's true, that he'll stand up in public. not the case for many of us right now. >> let me go a step further, paul henderson, with that. here you have someone who, again, kept all these memos, made all these notes. now, this is not a court of law.
having said that, how powerful is it to have contemporaneous notes, a contemporaneous record that often at the time was shared with other people when you're testifying like this? >> it's absolutely relevant because it's corroborative. right now we're in a place where everyone wants facts, everyone wants information, and there is a segment that exists that wants evidence. so all of these documents, all of these recordings are going to be reviewed and examined in a way that's actually challenging this wall of executive authority that heretofore has been somewhat solid but diminishing very quickly. it is going downhill with all of these challenges from the media, all of these challenges from comey, all of these challenges from other departments that are saying, hey, that executive authority is not true, and this is going to be the clearest challenge to that executive authority that we've seen in this administration with this very public hearing. everyone is going to be paying
attention, and i do believe that all of these challenges to this administration are just going to be obstreperous and create a problem for whatever agenda has been going on right now. you aren't going to see a lot of talk about tax reform, about health care, about housing anymore, because this is the story and this is the issue that has to be resolved before anyone can do anything and mobilize anywhere else, because everyone is concerned about what the implications of this hearing is going to be, what the implications of the special prosecutor and the direction they're going to be moving in, what evidence they're going to come up with and how they're going to use this information against this president. >> we only have about a minute left, but matt miller, i want to go to you. this news obviously must just be filtering on to air force one, to the president, to his staff. what do you think it's like on board air force one right now? >> does donald trump ever realize he's made a mistake?
because he has made such a big mistake with his handling of this from the beginning. it's entirely possible there was no collusion between the trump campaign and the russian government. it's entirely possible if there was donald trump knew nothing about it. but the way he's handled this investigation since he took office up to the possibility of having committed obstruction of justice, now going to hear director comey talk about the private conversations where donald trump, we know, said very inappropriate things, you would hope it's a moment of reflection for him to sit and say, you know what, i have made some great mistakes, and if i have any hope of surviving this, i need to make dramatic changes. but i wouldn't have much faith that that's what's happening. >> in an afternoon of breaking news, the biggest news potentially of all. the former fbi director fired by the president is going to go before the senate intelligence committee in open session in just a few weeks, and i'll just throw this in there. we just found out the president is nominating calista gingrich, wife of newt gingrich, to be
ambassador of the holy sea. i am tell you in rome a controversial decision as well as some here. "hardball" with chris matthews -- you're not going to want to miss this one -- starts right now. >> bombshells bursting. let's play "hardball." good evening, i'm chris matthews in washington. another afternoon, another bombshell report, actually two today. remember that oval office meeting with the russian foreign minister and ambassador, the one in which president trump reportedly revealed highly classified information? according to the "new york times" today, president trump also told those russians that firing james comey had relieved pressure on him. the times quotes a document summarizing the meeting. the president said, i just fired the head of the fbi. he was crazy. a real nut job. i face great pressure because