Is President Donald Trump’s administration deliberately bringing about the death of the Republic? Or are they just plain stupid?
Rachel Maddow considered this quandary on the Thursday night installment of her MSNBC program, The Rachel Maddow Show, weeding through the still-seething controversy over Trump staffers’ communications with Russian officials.
The scandal over whether Russian spies hacked the 2016 presidential election, perhaps at the behest of Trump’s staffers, has raged for the bulk of the new president’s first month in office.
If the embers had been cooling, they were reignited when former National Security Adviser Michael T. Flynn resigned mid-month after revelations he had possibly illegal contacts with Russian officials.
On Thursday night, Maddow — the only cable-news host who does long-form deep dives into as few as one or two topics per hour — viewed the scandal from a new angle by scrutinizing White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus’s apparent involvement.
Earlier in the day, CNN reported that the White House asked the FBI to sweep aside news reports that Trump staffers talked with Russians during and after his presidential campaign.
Maddow said NBC’s own Pete Williams confirmed the CNN story, reporting that “A White House official asked the FBI’s Deputy Director in a hallway meeting at the White House if the FBI could knock down aspects of the New York Times report that said Trump associates had been in contact with Russians during the campaign.”
A despondent Maddow laughed at the news that Priebus — who isn’t allowed under any circumstance to talk to the FBI about any of their current criminal investigations — had done just that.
“You can’t do that!” she declared. “I mean, for one, take a civics class! … Ask a fifth grader!”
After shaking off her nervous laugh, she drove home the gravity of the situation.
“On matters this serious, it’s a little unsettling to be caught between, on the one hand, ‘this could be the death of the Republic,’ on the other hand, ‘ahh, these crazy kids, they don’t know what they’re doing, they don’t understand the first thing about America.’
“Those are your options. That’s where we’re at with the investigations into Trump and Russia.”
Laws barring White House officials from discussing ongoing criminal investigations with FBI agents trace back to the aftermath of the Watergate scandal, as Maddow noted at the top of her program.
Following accusations that former President Richard Nixon interfered or tried to interfere with an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice, contact between the White House and the DOJ was limited.
Only four individuals in the White House — the president, the vice president, the counsel to the president and the principal deputy counsel to the president — could contact the DOJ about a criminal investigation, Maddow observed.
The rule changed under former President George W. Bush’s administration, with his attorneys general ballooning that number from four to nearly 900 individuals — “everybody up to and including the White House pastry chef,” Maddow quipped.
But Bush’s final attorney general, Michael Mukasey, ultimately reinstated the old rule after the resignations of former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and Karl Rove, former Deputy Chief of Staff and Senior Advisor to Bush.
But in light of Priebus’ alleged actions, Americans can’t be sure whether the old rule is still in effect, according to Maddow. Her conclusion? Trump’s White House doesn’t know what it is doing — and wants to tear it all down anyway.
Her guest Colin Kahl, former National Security Advisor to Vice President Joe Biden, concurred.
“The problem is you have an administration that combines the worst kind of incompetence with some nefarious intentions,” he said.
The Rachel Maddow Show airs weekdays at 9pm on MSNBC.