MADDOW: Joining us now for the interview is Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota. She is a key Democratic member of the Senate Judiciary Committee and somebody who lots of people want to run for president in 2020. There, I just put it right out there.
SEN. KLOBUCHAR: There you go.
MADDOW: There I go. Senator, thank you for being here.
KLOBUCHAR: Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: Let me ask you about some of this Justice Department stuff we've just been learning about.
MADDOW: So, a new name has been floated as potential attorney general nominee, William Barr, who served in what role as A.G. for a short time during the George H.W. Bush administration. We've also got some interesting information out of the Justice Department today about recusal in the Mueller investigation. I want to ask you about that too. But what's your reaction to the William Barr trial balloon?
KLOBUCHAR: Well, first of all, we don't know if that's who he is going to put in place. I haven't worked with him. I do think he is worthy of consideration. I am concerned he has said some negative things about the special counsel's office and some of the prosecutors he had in place, but that's all I know right now. But, again, what we want to see is a nominee. So we'd like them to put someone forward so we can quickly start interviewing them, get their documents, figure out what's going on, because right now, we have someone who is a walking conflict of interest in Mr. Whitaker who shouldn't be there to begin with.
MADDOW: With Whitaker, obviously, there is controversy over the fact that he's serving as the acting attorney general of the United States in an indefinite capacity without ever having come before the Senate. There's also –
KLOBUCHAR: Yes. That's one problem.
MADDOW: That's one problem.
KLOBUCHAR: Let's keep going.
MADDOW: There is also his conflicts of interest, as you mentioned.
KLOBUCHAR: Yes, $1.2 million in which he spent a lot time going on TV going after Hillary Clinton, yes.
MADDOW: Also, he appears to be part of a fraudulent busted by the FTC scam that is currently – reportedly currently being investigated by the FBI, including his personal role in intimidating people who night have otherwise complained about him.
KLOBUCHAR: OK, that's another one.
And then you have which is very relevant to this, the fact that he said that he thought the investigation was crossing a red line, the fact that he said you could starve the investigation so it would have no money, and then the final thing, at one point he said publicly that he didn't see connections at all that the special counsel had developed between the Trump campaign and Russia.
Yet tomorrow, as you so well-pointed out, we are going to have kind of a lollapalooza day where we have got the special counsel's office explaining to us about Manafort and what we think should happen there and why they didn't think they should accept the plea. You've got Papadopoulos coming out of jail. You've got Flynn – that situation where they've issued a report explaining why they thought he shouldn't go to jail, because of the fact that he has come forward with information.
And all of this is going on at the same time that we may be –
MADDOW: Both Flynn and Cohen are going to be sentenced next week.
KLOBUCHAR: Exactly. It's all these pieces of a puzzle coming together. But if they take out the corners of the puzzle, you don't have the puzzle. And that means keeping Mueller going, making sure the investigation gets completed, allowing for a report, if there is going to be a report, and then, of course, allowing for oversight from someone who has not conflicted out, and that would be Rosenstein.
MADDOW: So we've been talking about the problem with Whitaker and the Mueller investigation ever since Whitaker was first named to this job. The thing that has not evolved at all since he was installed in this job is that we still, as far as I can tell, have zero transparency into whether or not he is overseeing the Mueller investigation or not there. There's some public source reporting, which suggests that he has been back channeling information to the White House or he has had some advance notice of things before they became public knowledge, but the Justice Department itself has not told us whether he has recused, whether he's met with ethics investigators or ethics officials at the Justice Department, or what his role is in overseeing this.
Is that just the secrecy of the investigative process? Is there something that's proper about that secrecy?
KLOBUCHAR: No, I don't think so at all because he's supposed to be giving us information. We have asked as members of the Judiciary Committee have very specifically asked the Justice Department to give us information about these conflicts, about if he is recusing himself, what the extent of that recusal is. And we're also asking for a briefing directly from them, if they're not going give us a document. And, of course, we've been asking the same thing about Benczkowski.
MADDOW: Yes. And Benczkowski today, thanks a Freedom of Information Act request –
KLOBUCHAR: Thanks to your great reporting.
MADDOW: Well, I mean, I just show-off whatever people dig up.
But in this case, we now actually do have an overt statement from the Justice Department that Benczkowski, around whom there were concerns about his own involvement in the Russia investigation, he is recused from everything having to do with Mueller. That's very interesting news.
If the Justice Department felt compelled to make that kind of declaration about Benczkowski, does that indicate that they will eventually have to tell us the same kind of information about Whitaker?
KLOBUCHAR: Of course. I mean, this guy is serving as the acting attorney general, and may for the foreseeable future here even though we know we have some I think lawsuits with merit about the fact that we didn't have any ability to confirm him, problem under the Constitution, and that number two, they used the wrong statute in putting him in. They should have used this secession statute that would have meant that, in fact, Rosenstein should have taken over as the next in line after Sessions was asked to resign or you might say fired.
MADDOW: Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, will you stay?
KLOBUCHAR: Will I stay on your show? Yes, I will stay on your show. I thought you meant stay on this investigation which I am committed to do as a member of the Judiciary Committee. We have a lot going on there. Yes, I will.
MADDOW: I will ask you to stay in much more esoteric ways if you want.
KLOBUCHAR: I know, I'm excited. Yes.
MADDOW: Just through the commercial. All right. We'll be right back with Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota.
MADDOW: Joining us once again for the interview, Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota. Senator, thank you for coming in and talking I'm really happy to have you here. I also find you to be one of the most people I enjoy talking to on television about politics and that has been through since I first met you.
KLOBUCHAR: Thank you. I think I was on your show early on. I would go on every Halloween.
MADDOW: I think in part because I am biased and because I enjoy you as a person but also as a political analyst, I feel like you have exactly the right profile of somebody who ought to run for president with the expectation that you would do very well both in the primary and in the general election. And I know you've been asked a lot about this lately, but how are you approaching this decision? How are you thinking about whether or not you should run for president?
KLOBUCHAR: Well, first of all, I just got off an election and I led a ticket where we as you know had two U.S. Senate seats, one governor's race, statehouse and a bunch of congressional races in a state that Donald Trump almost won. It was about a little over a point difference. And so, that was my first obligation. So, I have to get that done.
MADDOW: You won by 24 points.
KLOBUCHAR: I did. But I had a ticket that I had to get through.
KLOBUCHAR: Someone said it wasn't just on my shoulders, it was my back. And it was really important to win those races. So, we did that, and I hope some of my colleagues around the country.
So now I am looking at this. But I think things you have to consider when you look at this daunting decision is, first of all, do you want to be president, you have to think about who can win. There's a lot of good people that are going to be running. And then you have to think about this geographic fact that in the last election, the Midwest got left behind on our side. We did not do well.
I'm talking not about 2018, where we picked up a number of great governorship in Wisconsin, Kansas, with Laura Kelly, and different place. But it is what happened in the last presidential.
So, I think it's important to have voices from the Midwest. I think it's important to have people that can win in counties and areas that Donald Trump did well in. I will say that I won I think 72 counties in Minnesota that he had won. And I think a lot of this is going not just where it is comfortable but also where it's uncomfortable.
And then, of course, there's a singular focus on getting our own optimistic economic agenda across in a time when you have tweets every morning and new rabbit holes to go down. I think it's really important that whatever candidates are running, focus on an optimistic economic agenda for this country. At the same time, we protect our democracy, and the last time I checked Democrats can do two things at once.
MADDOW: And it sounds like you want Democrats to do that. I don't hear you saying I'm the best Democrat to do that. But from the way you're talking about it, I mean, if that's going to be the agenda, if that's the way to win both geographically and in terms of the message, then why shouldn't it be you?
KLOBUCHAR: Well, I'm considering it. I learned the hard way in my U.S. Senate race when Mark Dayton had decided not to run at the last moment, he was an incumbent senator, and I immediately was asked about it, and unfortunately, my husband found out on TV that I was considering doing it or on the radio, and I'm trying to spare my family. That's why I think I'd have to have a discussion with them as well as a number of people I've been working with over the years.
MADDOW: OK. Well, if you want me to talk to them, I'll do so, Senator.
KLOBUCHAR: All right. Well, it's great. Thanks.
MADDOW: Senator, I have one last question that I want to ask you about that is on a policy matter.
MADDOW: And I want to ask you this as a former prosecutor and also a senator on the Judiciary Committee.
MADDOW: And it concerns an issue that's a – it's really a crime issue but it now relates to a Trump cabinet secretary as well. It's the Jeffrey Epstein case.
KLOBUCHAR: Oh, in Florida, yes.
MADDOW: Yes. So, there's this Florida case involving Jeffrey Epstein. The current Labor Secretary Alex Acosta was the U.S. attorney when that case came forward in Florida, and he – “The Miami Herald” has just done this incredible expose. He gave Jeffrey Epstein a plea deal that resulted in having federal immunity after a 53-page federal indictment has been drawn up against him on child rape, and child molestation, all these things.
If a plea deal that gave him federal immunity, gave all this potential conspirators immunity as well. And the guy ended up pleading to two state charges, doing 13 months in a private wing of the county jail with his own guards and he got to go home 12 hours a day for six days a week.
Senator Ben Sasse is the one Republican senator who said this is an issue the Justice Department should explain that deal especially given the U.S. attorney who did it is now a cabinet secretary. How – is this an appropriate inquiry for the Senate? Should the Justice Department have to explain itself? And why is Ben Sasse the only Republican who seems to care about it?
KLOBUCHAR: I'm glad that he cares and, of course, I care very much as someone that has worked on these kinds of cases and done a lot in the area of human trafficking and sex trafficking.
From what I've learned with “The Miami Herald” reporting and other stories is that this is not just like a he said/she said story. This is 50 she saids and one he said when it comes to Mr. Epstein, who was convicted, but as you pointed out, served such a short sentence. So that was strange.
The other thing that's strange is the victims were not even told about the sentence. In my state, you have all kinds of requirements. You don't seal an agreement like this in nearly any case because you want to consult with the victims before you put the sentence out there. It's law in most cases.
So I think there is a very good reason to figure out what went on here and why the U.S. attorney at the time, and this was back during the last Bush administration in 2007, George W. Bush, why this happened. And I think it's a meritorious review, and I'm glad Senator Sasse and a number of us on the Democratic side agree that we should be looking into this.
MADDOW: Senator Amy Klobuchar, one of the most pragmatic senators in the U.S. –
KLOBUCHAR: Well, that's because –
MADDOW: – in U.S. Congress.
KLOBUCHAR: – common ground is the only way you can get to higher ground.
MADDOW: Listen to you.
KLOBUCHAR: That's what we need to do as a country. Well, we just haven't been doing that lately, except the George H.W. Bush funeral. We did it for two hours and that was good.
MADDOW: Senator Klobuchar, thank you for being here.
KLOBUCHAR: OK. Thank you.
MADDOW: When you make a decision, you let me know.
KLOBUCHAR: All right. Thank you.