Rachel Maddow had her hands full last night.
"Tonight we are fielding multiple breaking news stories ahead of the Justice Department's planned release of some version or versions of Robert Mueller's report tomorrow morning," she said.
"At the top of the list is this provocative new story from the New York Times saying the Justice Department officials have had extensive discussions about Mueller's findings with the White House ahead of tomorrow's planned release. There have been, quote, 'numerous conversations with White house lawyers well ahead of the report's release.' Is that what you're supposed to do with the special counsel's report on alleged criminal acts by the president? You're just supposed to give that to the president before you show any version of it to anyone else? Is that how this is supposed to go?
"Joining us now is Neal Katyal, formerly from the Obama administration. He was the head of the department that wrote the regulations that define the special counsel. Neal is joining us on the phone about 30 seconds before he has to get on a plane. Neal, thank you for making time for us," Maddow said.
"Let me first ask you about this report from the Times on releasing the findings to the White House before releasing it to anybody else. Is that what the regulations spell out they should be doing?"
"I think what iI learned in this kind of law school for this kind of behavior is super extra stinky," Katyal said.
"There are very careful rules that have been around for generations for governing the White House, its contacts with the Justice Department in general, and that's because our country's founders understood the prosecution power is massive, both because the president's enemies can be indicted and the president's friends, their wrongs can be covered up. Even in just an ordinary case, there is a very, very careful set of rules, and it's extremely rare to get the president any knowledge whatsoever of criminal cases.
"And this is that problem on steroids. The president is the subject of the investigation, and honestly, I've never heard of such a thing. It's a complete breach of precedent. It's a breach of common sense, and indeed, it makes Trump look blatantly guilty."
"In terms of the decision to do this within the Justice Department, would you have expected that somebody in the Justice Department would have played a bit of a gatekeeper role here? Would you have tried to say this is inappropriate and in keeping with Justice Department principles as you described, isn't there somebody in the Justice Department who would have tried to stop this or would have raised the alarm about doing this?" Maddow asked.
"I would have hoped so. But this Justice Department would have purged anyone who thinks independently or frankly who is consistent with the traditions of the department. And look, I guess I could have imagined an argument, Rachel, that says something like this. This report is going to be so damaging to the president, the one thing is that Trump himself took that off the table. He said the report totally exonerates him. So either that's wrong and the report doesn't exonerate him, or he is just willing to trash decades of DOJ precedent for nothing. Either way, it stinks to high heaven," Katyal said.
Maddow asked what he thought about Barr holding a press conference before the release of the report.
"At this point, enough with William Barr already. He's already once issued a summary/nonsummary that cleared Trump in 48 hours after Mueller took two years and didn't do that. And now it just looks like he's trying to get out in front of the Mueller report. And I honestly don't recall the Justice department ever doing something like this and first giving a press conference and then later having the documents and giving the press conference without the investigators there like Mueller, and certainly not in a high profile case like this.
"And, again, all of this together is just a complete breach of precedent, and it leads me to think boy, there is actually not just smoke there, there must be some fire."