tv The Rachel Maddow Show MSNBC January 30, 2017 6:00pm-7:01pm PST
stridings and they have to also persuade each other on the other side and i think there's a immediate triage that needs to happen but i think there's a deeper effort to actually go beyond speaking to the tribe and try to expand that tribe as hard as it is when you're doing first aid. >> thank you for joining us tonight. i appreciate it. >> thank you. "the rachel maddow show" starts right now. the fbi was founded in 1935. its founding director was jay edgar hoover. for the first 37 years that the fbi existed, they never had another director. they only relinquished the fbi when they pried it from his cold, dead hands. in our system of government, judges get lifetime tenure but other than that, nobody else is
supposed to serve for life. and jay edgar hoover appointed himself fbi director for life and one of the ways that he was able to hold on to that job for 37 years, one of the ways to hold on to that power for the length of his life is because politicians were terrified of him and for good reason. he kept files on all sorts of politicians and he was absolutely not above blackmailing politicians in order to keep him in line and keep himself in power. so that eliminated the threat that anybody was going to reach into the fbi from the outside and remove him as director. but he also had to manage the other direction and make sure he'd never be toppled from within the fbi. and, you know, it's not like there wasn't cause. it's not like the fbi or jay edgar hoover himself were short on scandals, short on
controversy, just because there was politicians that should have been a very large scandal. whether it was the blackmailing or stuff from his own personal life or fbi scandals dealing with the civil rights movement or anything else, you would think that something would have stuck to him. you would think that after almost 40 years on the job, something would have risen to the level that hoover had to go. but hoover managed that internally. hoover never let that happen because he kept his foot on the neck on every agent in that department for which he was in charge. he attracted some loyalty from within the bureau but anybody who wasn't loyal, he quashed all intern intern internal descent.
that agent would very quickly find himself promoted. that agent would get promoted specifically to butte, montana. jay edgar hoover's fbi office, this one, in butte, montana, was where he exiled any fbi agent who challenged him, any agent who criticized him. hoover did that for decades. only problem with that system is that some fbi agents liked montana when they got out there. so it made for a lousy form of punishment. the bigger problem for all of us, by kwaushing all descent, by literally exiling to montana any critics of the director, that whole bureau suffered for almost 40 years for being in fear of and enthralled to one man's exclusion to all single ideas and that is what happened at the fbi for the first 37 years of it
existence while j. edgar hoover was defending it. he was director up until the day he died. the fbi closed that office in 1989. turns out they didn't need it anymore. and descent, of course, is a tricky thing. descent from outside and enemy to look the right kind of strong. but internal descent, it's tricky. you need internal descent to stay healthy, in order to course correct when you are getting something wrong, especially if you're a big, powerful agency. right? you need there to be or you won't grow. you'll cease to be able to function at your best. descent is threatening to people in power. right? the people in power who the descenters are complaining
about. it's tricky. it's a balance. the fbi under j. edgar hoover is the example of not handling that balance very well. that's how you get a director for life. i mean, other agencies tried to cure themselves against descent that naturally grows inside powerful institutions and that's why we have powerful whistle blower protection programs and private companies. there are sometimes means by which people can anonymously complain or anonymously report up the chain things that they think are dangerous or wrong. the state department, though, they have some things singular. thanks in part to the disaster that was the vietnam war, the state department in the early 1970s created a unique, protected channel for internal descent. it's interesting. at the state department, if you want to descent, you are legally protected, the agency's rules
say you are protected, you cannot be punished for expressing your descent. but at the same time, you're not allowed to descent anonymously. you put your name to it. any state department employee can use this. it's called the descent channel within the state department. it's an overt thing. it's not something that frequently gets used but it does tend to get attention when used. if you file a cable or memo that says it is a dissent channel communication under state department rules that communication from you must go directly to the desk of the secretary of state personally and to the other top leadership of the department personally. you can completely get around the entire chain of command and go right to the top. and once you do that, once you use the dissent channel, the state department agrees explicitly that you will get a substantive response personally. you will get a response. you can't file these things anonymously. you have to put your name on it. but in exchange for sticking
your neck out like that, they guarantee no reprisals. this is from the state department rules. freedom from reprisal for dissent channel users is strictly enforced. officers or employees found to have engaged in retaliation or reprisal against dissent channel users will be subject to disciplinary action. so this is, you know, the way the state department has tried to handle it. it's a unique thing at the state department. it's an important part of the culture of that institution. they allow, they have carved out this basically extreme measure. you can take as an employee of that department, if you feel like you can't get your voice heard through normal channels, you can stove pipe your opinions, your views, your concerns directly to the secretary of state and the dissent channel has been used over the years. it was famously used on the treatment of cambodia at the end of vietnam war, used by during george w. bush administration during the iraq war and last
year when 51 state department employees all signed on to the same dissent channel memo complaining about u.s. policy in syria basically advocating that the u.s. go to war in syria. dissent channel is a railrely ud thing. it sends up a flare when that happens. the only way it can exist is if they abide by the key part at the heart of it. no reprisals. you're going to put your name on this so you must be responded to but you can feel safe doing that because no reprisals. that's the rule. that's the principle. that's what makes it work. here's how the white house responded when they were told that only 100 employees were criticizing the new trump muslim and refugee ban. >> these bureaucrats have a problem with it? i think they should get with the
program or go. hold on. this is about the safety of america. >> get with the problem or they can go. the dissent channel within the state department, they are doing it right. the white house is doing it wrong. you're not allowed to tell people to quit because they used the dissent channel. no reprisals, right? dissent is never easy for anyone in power. it never is. this administration by their actions have generated an unusually huge amount of dissent of a lot of different kinds from the various art and some of the dissent is coming from within the government now as we are seeing at the state department and as we are seeing with one very dramatic announcement that happened from the justice department. we're going to be talking about that in a moment. of course, we're also seeing large and spontaneous demonstrations in the streets. last weekend it felt like a stunning development when the day after inauguration, d.c. was
host to one of the largest marches that has ever happened in washington, d.c., just a massive turnout in the nation's capital that da warwarfed the n of people that turned out for the inauguration. this weekend it happened again in response to the religion-based refugee ban that the president signed on friday. this weekend again, thousands and thousands and thousands of people in marches and protests and rallies that were not planned for weeks in advance like the women's march was. these outpourings of dissent this weekend, these were organic, spontaneous, instantaneous, we'll talk about what happened at the airports in a second but it's really interesting to note that people who don't live in big cities were visual legal vly galvanize.
we've been watching that because it seems to be mushrooming in terms of a channel for people to organize against the trump agenda. but look at this. look at the turnout. do we have that? there we go. look at this. this was this weekend's indivisible meeting in one congressional district in oregon. you see, what you're looking at is a strange picture, people poking their heads through open windows. the reason they are doing this is because this is what it looked like from inside this meeting. people could not get in, with or without their dogs. i think we have a shot of another meeting in oregon, another indivisible group. this was a meeting in kansas city, missouri. a group that said they were getting about 50 people turning out for their organizing meetings, they were really psyched about that. now more than 600 people turned outlook at this turnout in virginia. those protests were already
happening. at the airports by now, you've seen the footage of people turning out at the international arrivals area at airports from north carolina to ohio to san francisco to virginia to new york to atlanta to texas. again, these were not protests organized in advance. nobody was going to plan this in advance. nobody knew this was going to happen. people just heard that refugees were being held up at american airports and not being let in and the news spread on social media and, boom, people just turned up. and democratic politicians have finally started to realize there is a tiger out there and they want to try to catch it by the tail. senators like cory booker of new jersey and elizabeth warren of massachusetts. they went to airports -- cory booker was at dulles airport. senator warren was at logan airport in boston. they went in to join in what was already happening at these airports, with or without them. some members of congress went to airports in and around their
districts this weekend not just to protest but also to work. this is congressman john lewis at the airport in atlanta. members of congress heard that people were being detained. they got down to the airports in their districts or near their districts and tried to intercede. they tried to intervene. they got to work to try to get people out. in new york, we saw that kind of intervention from congressman jerry nadler who went to jfk airport and tried to advocate to get people out of detention at that other port. in virginia, congressman bobby scott was patiently trying to wear down the local cops who would not let him in to speak with federal officials at the airport. congressman jerry connolly of virginia did the same thing. he ran into the same resistance in terms of police officers not wanting to listen to him despite his status as a federal official. we have a little tape of that interaction. congressman connolly was not happy from being stopped by what he wanted to do there. i will worn you, it's a mild swear word.
still, a little swear. >> i'm a member of congress. we're asking for access to -- are people being detained? >> sir, i don't know that. i work for the police department, not for -- >> but your job is to enforce the law. >> yes. >> we have a federal judge who has ruled that anyone being detained has a right to legal representation. >> the dulles police have been very helpful. >> and i want them to know that i'm going to be a pain in the ass. >> i told you, a little swear. i warned you. members of congress, senators showing up, intervening, being willing to be a pain in the -- democratic party mascot. this is an unusual thing to see, right? we don't usually get to see our members of congress working in this way. i imagine for most democrats
it's more fun happening than any time they hold a town hall event these days. senator whitehouse held a town hall and when it gets this confrontational, people tend to take things outside. >> do you vote -- >> he's got a list. >> i've got it and i don't know because i'm looking at the list right now. >> just say no. just say no. just say no. just say no. just say no. just say no.
just say no. just say no. just say no. >> how do we impeach him? >> treasury secretary, no. let me tell you the ones that i'm "no"s on. >> what about devos? >> he already said no. >> center of education, no. [cheers and applause ] >> secretary of state, no. attorney general, no. dva director, really big know. secretary of treasury, no. secretary of labor, no. secretary of commerce, i need to talk to him about noaa and what he's going to do.
there are big ocean issues involved. >> just say no! just say no! >> democratic sheldon whitehouse hearing from his own constituents last night. what do you think he's going to have in mind when he makes those votes? democrats were already getting heat for having not voted in sufficient numbers against trump cabinet nominees. according to the depth of feeling against the new administration among the democratic base. last week, senator al franken in minnesota on this program and lots of other progressive senators and lots of different forums, they all defended, for example, their -- the almost unanimous vote in the senate for general james mattis to be secretary of defense, saying that he might be a good check and then you know what, on friday afternoon, there's general mattis standing there literally with the president standing over his shoulder. that blue suit, that blue tie,
if jim mattis was supposed to be the good one in terms of the check on the worst impulses of the trump administration, what's worse in terms of their impulses than the muslim ban and he stood literally right there while he's signing it. so now there are signs that democrats are starting to notice for how much heat they will take for saying yes to trump. democrats succeeded in delaying the vote that was supposed to happen for steve mnuchin and succeeded in delaying the vote that was supposed to be tomorrow for linda mcmahon and delaying the final floor vote tomorrow on the exxon ceo to be secretary of state and after watching as amazed as minute as the streets have erupted and as day after day after day of protests has met the first radical new administration, democrats tonight didn't just join everybody else's rallies, they
held their own. democrats held their own event outside the supreme court tonight. hundreds of people turned up outside the supreme court tonight in d.c. and house democrats denounced the muslim ban, promised legislation to undo it and promised to fight it with every fiber of their being and as that unfolded on the street in washington tonight, that dissent from inside the government, somebody fired a big new flare of dissent that the administration seems to have no idea what to do with and that dramatic story is next. americans - 83% try to eat healthy. yet up 90% fall short in getting key nutrients from food alone. let's do more. add one a day men's complete with key nutrients we may need. plus heart-health support with b vitamins. one a day men's in gummies and tablets. when you hit 300,000 miles. or here, when you walked away without a scratch.
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okay. we have major breaking news this evening. we have just been notified within the last minutes while we are in our commercial break there the acting attorney general of the united states has just been fired. the president has fired the acting attorney general sally yates. let me tell you what's going on here. jeff sessions, senator jeff sessions of alabama has not been confirmed or sworn in but we can't go for any length of time as a country without an attorney general, without a top law enforcement officer in this country. jeff sessions is the first proposed cabinet nominee from the new administration to start the process of being confirmed. his were the first hearings they held. but democrats have succeeded thus far in delaying the process. they've delayed even a committee
vote. no votes have been cast. the department of justice has been under control of an acting attorney general, an appoint ee from the obama administration and sally yates released a dramatic statement, saying as long as she is attorney general, running the juts cities department, the justice department would not be legally defending the travel ban and the refugee ban that president trump ordered on friday. she says she is not convinced that the executive order is lawful. she put out this statement tonight that reads in part, "consequently, for as long as i am the attorney general, the department of justice will not present arguments in defense of executive order unless and until i become convinced that it's appropriate to do so." so that's where we were heading into this hour. that letter was sent at 6:30 p.m. now, just moments ago, just literally minutes ago, the acting attorney general, sally
yates, has been fired by president trump. sally yates, congratulations, you have made history. here's the statement from the white house explaining that she has been fired. the acting attorney general sally yates has refused to implement an order designed to protect the united states. tonight president trump named dana boente who is the u.s. attorney for the eastern district of virginia to serve as acting attorney general until senator jeff sessions is finally confirmed by the senate. again, acting attorney general sally yates has been fired in this dispute with the new president and the new administration over his very controversial order to ban all refugees and to block travel to this country from the residents of seven countries whose populations total more than 200 million people. joining us by now phone to react to this breaking news is hallie
jackson. thanks very much for being with us. what do you know that we don't know from this statement in terms of what just happened tonight? >> i can tell you a little bit, rachel, at least a little bit of the backstory, sally yates came out and said she would not enforce the executive order. they talked about how they believe it's a poll lit sigh zags of this issue and concerned in their view about yates not enforcing the law and if this was an obama administration law, it would have been fine for her, for example. so what this does, number one, not pleased. number two, i will tell you that it is breaking news to a lot of folks. that said, one thing we know about donald trump, just from looking at the precedent that has been set over the last nearly two years of his campaign and this transition has been that the president is somebody who will enact retribution if he
feels it's appropriate to do so and clearly he felt it was appropriate to do so. part two, remember what happens tomorrow morning, jeff sessions, the nominee jeff sessions goes to vote for attorney general. i was speaking to a source that is close to senator sessions and it's expected to go through as planned but it puts pressure on republicans in the senate to get sessions through, essentially. the person who has been stated to be the acting attorney general, i confess i also am struggling with the last name pronunciation. dana boente is an obama administration appointee. he was appointed under eric holder in the eastern district before -- back in 2013, 2012. so this is somebody who is not -- who has ties to the obama administration but as you see in that statement that came out
tonight, he says he will support donald trump in this role until senator sessions is confirmed and to ensure that our people in our nation are protected clearly which is what donald trump wanted to hear before naming him the enacting attorney general until sessions gets into his place. >> now, the next things that need to happen in terms of reporting and getting the full import of this event tonight, hallie, we're going to have to learn more about dana boente. >> a source e-mailed me -- >> boente. the "o" is silent. we'll have to learn more about who is now the acting attorney general of the department of justice. obviously sally yates because the first person who is fired by this white house on a matter of principle, on a matter of principle with the
administration. hallie, one of the things we'll be watching for is to see people who had been asked to stay on from the obama administration through the transition, whether they will resign in protest or themselves be fired. do we have any word from the white house on whether they expect yates to go along or whether they will clear out other people, too? >> i think at this point it's too early to say. i can speak not just to the justice department but to the state department as to some of the concern of unrest that's developed among the staffers, not the highest level people but staffers on the lower tiers that have developed. there's a question mark of how much frankly abrupt firing of sally yates is going to play into the morale at the justice department when we've seen it play out at the justice department as well. so i think there's a lot of folks in washington still kind of looking at the same notes that we are and grappling with how to come to terms with it. >> that's right. hallie jackson, thanks for your reporting tonight. thanks for joining us on short notice as we cover this breaking
news. again, to repeat this story that's broken in the last couple of minutes, the president has fired the acting attorney general of the united states. that person was sally yates who had been an obama administration appointee. she released a letter this evening saying that, in her view, as long as she was acting attorney general, the department of justice will not present arguments in defense of president's executive order on immigration and refugees, she said that she was not convinced that it was a lawful order. again, the white house just announcing moments ago that they have relieved her and replaced her with the u.s. attorney for the eastern district of virginia, dana boente, who will now be stepping in to be the attorney general. joining us now is an investigative reporter for "the new york times." i appreciate you being here with us tonight. thanks. >> busy night here in washington. >> yeah. tell me, on the one hand, i feel like once we got the letter from sally yates saying under her as long as she was in charge of the
justice department there would be no legal defense of this order. i heard people saying that her days were numbered. even with that expectation, how unusual is it for an acting attorney general to be fired? >> this is a dramatic one-two punch. first of all, for even an acting attorney general to question the legality of an executive order is very unusual and even more unusual for the administration to fire her. i mean, it sort of evokes the saturday night massacre under nixon in watergate firing the general who refused to carry out one of his orders. >> one of the things that is a point of contention and both sides addressed this in their statements tonight, the fact that the office of legal counsel reportedly signed off on the order -- the president's order on immigration and refugees.
and in their statement tonight explaining that sally yates was being fired, the white house tonight notes, this order was approved as to form and legality by the department of justice office of legal counsel. sally yates addressed that saying my role is different from that of the office of legal counsel which reviews executive order for form and legality. it's limited to the narrow request of whether in their view the order is properly drafted and doesn't take into account statements made by surrogates close in time and don't address policy choice embodied is wise or just. boiling this down for those of us who aren't lawyers or close legal observers, what is this fight about? >> i think it's saying i've done a broader review than my office of legal counsel did. they were merely signing off on the form and legality, in their words, of the order. i was looking at the broader
justice department policies. she said i was questioning whether itas wise and just were the words she used and referring to statements made by signing. i think it's clear what she was talking about there were comments that president trump along with rudy giuliani made spelling out, really, that this was meant to allow christians in and ban muslims. so she didn't specifically address that in her memo but it's fairly clear that's what she was taking into consideration in saying is this a legal and justifiable policy. >> and she's not, in her statement, making a sort of root and branch argument against the policy. she doesn't go through and list the particulars of why she thinks it may not be lawful and the justice department shouldn't defend it but says she's not convinced that the executive order is lawful. >> right. >> from your reporting and understanding of this issue, do you think it's likely that
ranking positions at the justice department will share that view and will now leave or be fired because they'll basically take the sally yates line on this which of course the administration says is incompatible being at the justice department? >> i think it's clear before she issued this memo tonight that this had caused significant unease for lawyers at the justice department who already had to go into court beginning over the weekend in response to petitions filed by people who were detained and going to have to file motions in the next few days and appear in court to defend this and the idea of defending a policy that, first of all, they knew nothing about until the moment it was signed and, second of all, they may have some legal and ethical concerns about it i think was causing some discomfort and now with yates stating this publicly, i think you're going to see certainly lower level
lawyers at the justice department echoing that same refrain. >> when the transition happened, there was some consternation that the new administration wasn't doing a good enough job of staffing up, of just having enough people in place. not just in senate confirmable jobs but all sorts of jobs, to be able to keep the government running from the previous administration to the new one. we got reports that a lot of people who were obama administration appointees were asked at the very last minute to stay on. is that the case at the justice department, are they fully staffed? are there people who in large numbers have stayed on simply as a courtesy and as good public servants even though they don't agree with this administration? >> i don't think numbers really were a problem at the justice department. that was one of the few places you didn't hear a lot of couldn't controversy or discontent. sally yates was asked by
president trump to stay on. she was the deputy attorney general since 2013 under obama and she stayed on as acting attorney general for a range of duties, including signing foreign wiretaps which before today was not a problem in her role. >> she will become -- her role in history will be different than it otherwise would have been before tonight. this is a very big deal. this is a very unusual occurrence. eric being thank y eric, thank you for your time. >> thank you. again, the acting attorney general of the united states, sally yates, has just been fir by the predent of the united states. she put out a statement this evening saying that she was not convinced that the president's
executive order on friday was a lawful order. she said, as long as i'm acting attorney general, the department of justice will not present arguments in defense of this executive order unless and until i become convinced that it is appropriate to do so. rather than trying to convince her, they fired her tonight. this is an unusual thing. right now, one of the things that we're keeping track of is who will become the acting attorney general, who will become the top law enforcement official in the united states. his name is dana boente, u.s. attorney for the eastern district of virginia. he was appointed by president obama. we're looking into his background now trying to get a sense of what he might do at the department of justice while we're awaiting the potential confirmation votes for jeff sessions which may start as early as tomorrow in the senate. at this point, who knows how senate democrats will respond and retaliate against the administration if they will at all over this dramatic news. the other thing we're trying to understand now, as we get into
sort of the belly of this story, as we start to understand what this means, is the historic nature of an action like this. we just saw eric, reporter for "the new york times," reference the saturday night massacre which is, of course, a nixon era proverbial blood letting that i think is what flashed in everyone's mind when we first heard about this. for a perspective on that and how big a deal this is, we're joined by presidential historian michael beschloss who we've called on very short notice. thank you. >> my pleasure. history yet again, right? >> is it? it certainly is a big deal. when eric just referenced the saturday night massacre there from the nixon era, can you remind us what he's talking about there and tell us whether you see parallels to that? >> sure will. that was a saturday night in 1973. it was the watergate scandal and he was fighting for his life.
there was a special prosecutor who had been appointed who was demanding richard nixon's famous tapes and nixon was refusing to give them up and so nixon finally decided he's going to fire cox but to do that he had to get his attorney general to do it. the attorney general was elliott richardson, an upstanding gentleman from massachusetts. he said, absolutely not. i will quit before that happens. so he quit. the number two was a man named william ruk kels house. he wouldn't do it either. he also quit. number four was nominated for the supreme court, the nomination failed. borke said i will fire cox. cox was fired and the fbi was called in and that was called the saturday night massacre. it was on this network by the anchor at this time, this may be the greatest constitutional crisis in history. what we're seeing now in 2017
doesn't loom as large as that but i think it raises a couple of questions, which are, number one, how independent is the department of justice going to be under the trump administration? this raises real questions. number two, you mentioned that jeff sessions is about to be confirmed. the whole nature of that confirmation, i think, is likely to be transformed and, number three, donald trump stock and trade when he ran for president was i'm going to be this great manager. i'm going to run the country and the government in a way that you have never seen before. we are ten days into this administration and given those ten days, i don't think it's entirely a great advertisement for great management. >> michael, in terms of the political norms and the way that history you just described resonates in our current politics, after the saturday night massacre, after other crises that we have had where the department of justice and its independence, the very
independence of law enforcement in this country, after we've had challenges to that, has that changed the ethos at the department of justice, where you would expect career folks, people who would have a nonpartisan approach, people like sally yates would stay on from barack obama to a trump administration, despite the radical change in politics simply because the new administration asked and it's the right thing to do. would you expect that this would rub the justice department so much the wrong way that we'll see either an exodus or they'll have to mass fire people, there will be some sort of revolt. >> i think you could see an exodus of career people because that's what this department is supposed to be. there is an ethos that goes back to the beginning of this country and it also had that affect at the time of the saturday night massacre.
once cox was fired on behalf of richard nixon, two things happened. petitions were filed for richard nixon's impeachment and that's when he really started to look like a goner. number two, the new attorney general was demanded to be clearly independent of nixon and a post went to a guy named william say, one who detested richard nixon and was known for this almost more than any other republican senator. so i think the result for this for donald trump is going to be there will now be expectations for independence in this department and whoever is the next attorney general much greater than there might have been 24 hours ago. >> nbc news presidential historian michael beschloss, thank you. >> my pleasure, rachel. be well. >> so to repeat this breaking news this evening, this is a remarkable development. jeff sessions is the nominee to
be the new attorney general. jeff sessions has not yet had the first vote on his con ti confirmation. it's expected that democrat also put up a fight. republicans do not appear to be willing to go along with that. before tonight, i would say that senator sessions was expected to have his committee vote and probably to be approved out of committee tomorrow on more or less a party line vote. that may now be further pressured by whatever senate democrats can do given what has just happened tonight at the department of justice. after the acting attorney general who was asked to stay on from the obama administration, after she put out a statement saying she was not convinced that the president's executive order on refugees immigration from friday, she was not convinced that it was lawful and while acting attorney general, after she said that, the president tonight fired her and
has replaced her with the u.s. attorney for the eastern district of virginia, dana boente, not somebody who has a significant national profile despite the very important job he has as u.s. attorney. he was appointed u.s. attorney by president barack obama and we'll all be learning more about dana boente in the days ahead. this is a dramatic move. we just spoke with historian michael beschloss about it and eric from "the new york times" about the shock wave this is sending across washington. i want to bring into the conversation now, lawrence tribe, harvard law school, he's argued before the u.s. supreme court dozens of times. he's one of a few litigators who is also a household name because of his job. professor tribe, but for joining us. >> thanks for calling, rachel. >> how big of a deal is it for the president to fire an acting
attorney general s? >> i think it's historic. i agree with michael beschloss. it reminded me of the saturday night massacre. the only difference is how quickly this has happened in the trump presidency. history is being collapsed into a black hole and everything that's happening faster than the speed of light. and it seems to me that because the sessions nomination is already controversial, it challenges who we are as americans and violates important parts of the constitution, including the clause forbidding an establishment of religion, because we have seen a succession of national protests from the ground up against the way this president is conducting
his almost extemporaneous presidency, i think it's an important turning point in our history and i think tonight is part of that extraordinary moment that we're living through. >> once the acting attorney general sally yates put out this statement tonight, professor tribe, saying that as long as she was acting a.g., the justice department would not defend this in court because she was not convinced that it was lawful. once she put out that statement was it inevitable and in fact was it right that the president relieved her of her job and replaced her? did she essentially dig her own grave here or did the president have a choice? >> i think the president did have a choice. he could have arranged for the appointment of a special defense counsel to defend his position even when the justice department wouldn't. there have certainly been cases in our own recent history where the department of justice was
unwilling to defend a particular law ancongress appointed someone to defend it. in this case, because it wasn't the law that was an issue but an executive order, the president might have arranged through the white house counsel's office to have his order defended but for him to turn the justice department through this charge into part of his system and compromise its independence suggests that he has no commitment to the institutional integrity of the department we rely on to represent the rule of law and not simply the will and whim of the president of the united states. >> if this firing tonight has, as you say, compromised the independence of the justice department, do you expect or would you call on senior members of people serving in ranking
levels of the justice department to leave, to resign and protest, to do anything else they could to get out of a department that has now been compromised by this action by the president? >> well, i think they should all be ready to resign on principle if there's positions are compromised similarly from the distance that i occupy at the moment and without knowing more of how much good they can do inside versus what they can do by resigning in protest, i would hesitate to advise anyone at this point. i certainly think that the fundamental issue of how one deals with various forms of evil in government, whether one remains to try to ameliorate the harm or whether one leaves is a deeply personal and problematic choice for many but certainly working within the system that is running at odds with the americ identity and with the
american constitution is something that one should only do if one genuinely is ready to resign on principle is simply working as a cog in a machine that is obviously corrupted and getting worse by the hour. >> professor tribe, thank you. i really appreciate it. >> thank you, rachel. >> what professor tribe was saying there is being able to resign and protest on a matter of principle, this, to be clear, was not a resignation on a point of principle. this was the acting attorney general, sally yates, taking a stand for how she believed the justice department should act with regard to the president's order banning refugees from this country and banning travel to this country from people of national origin from seven specific countries. she said that she was not convinced the executive order
was lawful and, therefore, as acting attorney general, the justice department under her would not defend it. that is what led to her being fired tonight and replaced by dana boente. again, the u.s. attorney for th eastern district of virginia. we're still sort of absorbing this information. this is the first, i guess this is the first person fired on a point of principle like this of the trump administration. i think we were all expecting there would be resignations on points of principle. that's not out this went down. i want to bring into the conversation somebody who has an interesting role to play in this entire confrontation, his name is bob ferguson. he's the attorney general of the state of washington, the state of washington has just filed in federal court an effort to stop that presidential order from friday on immigration and refugees. they're seeking a national restraining order against that policy. mr. attorney general, thank you very much for your time tonight. >> thank you, rachel, thanks for
having me on. appreciate it. >> let me just get your response first. obviously you're the attorney general of a state, the acting attorney general of the united states has just been fired. on a point of principle over this matter that you are suing the federal government about. what's your reaction to sally yates being fired tonight? >> it's troubling. and i've been listening to you and your guests and i think they're hitting it right on the mark, this is troubling for the justice department and the independence of that department. i think sally yates, she had a right. it's a difficult order to defend. we believe it's unconstitutional and un-american but overall, yes, this is a troubling day, no two ways about that. >> can i just ask as a matter of federal procedure, so you've brought this case against the president's order in federal court, you are seeking a nationwide stay. we've seen the court -- excuse me, the order appear in court fooi times in one way or another since he signed it on friday, and so far, the other has gone 0
for 5 but the type of relief that has been ordered by all of those five judges has been temporary and limited in terms of the immediate impact of the order. you are actually seeking a nationwide stay. had the justice department gone ahead with what sally yates said, that she said they wouldn't defend it in court, had the president not fired her tonight, what would have happened with your first hearing on your measure? who would you have been arguing against? how would that have been handled? >> i think that's hard to predict. it's possible the president could have hired somebody else to do it. we were wondering about that literally as i was driving to the studio to chat with you. at the end of the day, you're exactly right. the litigation we're bringing in washington state challenges the very constitutionality of this executive action and if we are right, and courts agreed, it would invalidate that not just in washington state but nationwide. that's the difference from the other litigation you've been reporting on. >> what do you think of the chances for your filing? obviously we have seen -- one of
the more remarkable things to watch this weekend was to see lawyers in their street clothes laptops in hand flood into the nation's international airports and the international terminals to provide whatever legal help they could to individual people who were caught up in this order. that was the origin of those five court actions that resulted in various limitations of the policy over the course of the weekend. those narrow actions obviously were narrowly targeted and immediate. what do you think the chances are for a nationwide stay based on your arguments? >> let's put it this way, rachel, i would not have filed this litigation unless i was kflt we would preva confident we would prevail. in the courtroom it's not the loudest voice that prevails, it's the constitution. we are confident a judge here in the western district of washington will agree and we're
optimistic we'll grant that restraining order as well. >> bob ferguson, attorney general of the state of washington which, again, seeking a nationwide stay against the president's order. thank you very much. please keep us apprised. this is obviously a story move in directions with can't anticipate. thank you, sir. again, i want to reiterate what's happened here. we've got the u.s. attorney for the eastern district of virginia now we're told sworn in as the new acting attorney general of the united states. again, as has been frequently true about thiadministtion, we don't have some of the very basic details that you would expect to get in moments like this. like we've had these strange incidents where we've got the president having reportedly signed an order and we don't have the text of it. leading to these weird circumstances where the order is apparently going into effect, we've never seen it in print and therefore can't evaluate it. similarly we got news tonight that the new acting attorney general was sworn in at 9:00 p.m. this evening. we don't know who swore him in.
we don't know if there were witnesses to it. we don't know where it was. obviously, the trump administration controlled the timing on this because they were the ones who decided when to fire the acting attorney general. so they could have gotten it together to do the swearing in of the new attorney general any way they wanted to. but all we're doing now is taking their word, that he was sworn in as our new acting attorney general as of 9:00 p.m. joining us, my friend, dalia litwick, senior et tor ditor at and expert at making legal things that don't make sense to us nonlawyers make sense to us nonlawyers. thanks for being with us tonight. >> hi, rachel. >> how big a deal is this? >> it's a big deal. what you're hearing is echos of the saturday night massacre, 1973, you know, a purge. it feels very, very much, if you read the statement the white house put out, you know, they're accusing sally yates of betr betraying, that's the word they used, the justice department.
it's an amazing statement. it calls her an obama administration appointee who is weak on borders, weak on illegal immigration. i mean, it feels like something president trump wrote on the back of a napkin and handed to someone. it doesn't feel like this is how we talk about the most senior lawyer in the justice department. >> the justice department obviously is an agency that we expect to be politically independent, even though it's got political appointees at its upper echelons and this is something we fight about a lot as a country. i think about the slings and arrows born by people like eric holder, janet reno, people like jen ashcrof, people on the other side of the aisle saw them as public enemy number two, public enemy number one was the president. but despite that, the justice department does represent law enforcement in this country, does have to at least not only be seen as an independent agency
free from political aswauation,s this is out of -- >> i think it not only encroa encroaches, rachel. i think that's the point. the point by dismissing her as, you know, weak and an obama administration appointee, by suggesting she's been politicized, i think the attempt here is to say we're going to have friends and enemies and there is nobody, not judges, not justices, nobody who is going to be seen as above politics and i think this really does race the question with jeff sessions, you know, the judiciary committee is meant to vote on him tomorrow, the whole senate is meant to vote at the end of the week. i think this really raises the question of can he possibly be deemed above politics if he's going to rubber stamp donald trump initiatives or is it, in fact, true that we've destabilizes the idea of law and constitutionality, rule of law,
justice, all of it is just my team versus your team? i think it's incredibly dangerous in terms of using that kind of thinking in talking about justice and the constitution. >> what do you think will happen next at the justice department? obviously sally yates not the only high-ranking obama administration appointee to stay on at the request of the trump administration. what do you think -- what do you think will happen now that she's been fired? >> i hesitate to hazard to guess, rachel. i will just say that if what we saw at the state department today with the draft memorandum circulating that, you know, dissenters, you know, many, many dissenters having problems with the executive order and told pointblank by steve bannon, you know what, just leave. if you're not loyal, just leave. >> by sean spicer, yeah, that's right. >> this is a loyalty test, i think, at this point. >> dahlia, part after who
we need to figure out is nuts and bolts. what is dane in boente like, now going to be taking over, how will the senate democrats respond in terms of whether or not they can throw additional sand in the gears in terms of the jeff sessions nomination, will he get a confirmation vote tomorrow? will there be either an exodus or mass firings at the justice department in response to this? i mean, all of it is in process, like laurence tribe was saying earlier this hour, it feels like time has collapsed and everything is happening all at once. do you have any hope for any sou sort of course direction, that reestablishes the political norms and judicial norms that used to exist around these issues? >> i think to the extent there can be course correction, it's going to be people picking up the phones and saying i think jeff sessions needs to answer some questions before we vote on him. i think that if people believe that there is such a thing as the constitution, not your constitution versus my
constitution, if people still beevthat there has to be one body of law in this country, and we do our best to all agree on what it is, then i think the course correction doesn't come from the top down anymore, it comes from the bottom up. >> dahlia lithwick, senior editor at slat e. thank you for joining us as we cover this remarkable event, president trump firing the acting attorney general of the united states, this just happened within the last hour. our continuing coverage now goes on with lawrence o'donnell. "the last word with lawrence o'donnell." good evening, lawrence. >> rachel, it was a historic night before we got to this firing. we had an acting attorney general stand up to the president of the united states and say no, say no, i will not, in court, make any attempt to enforce our defend your executive order, and then the suspense was under way. the president had a choice. he could fire her, of course, it's within his power, but now that leaves the