The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 2/27/2017

Guests:
David Remnick
Transcript:

Show: The Rachel Maddow Show
Date: February 27, 2017
Guest: David Remnick

CHRIS HAYES, “ALL IN” HOST: That is “ALL IN” for this evening.

THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right now.

Good evening, Rachel.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Thanks, my friend.

HAYES: You bet.

MADDOW: And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. Happy Monday.

I`m going to warn you, this A block, you know, sometimes, sort of – the
show has evolved the part where I sometimes I do a long big A block and it
has a like a big arc and ends with an exclamation point. This is one of
those A blocks. This is one of those things that you have not been
otherwise hearing about in the news, but stick with me. This is worth it.

Check this out. OK, let`s say you are a thief. You`ve stolen a bunch of
money or maybe you`re a crook and you have obtained a bunch of money
through illegal means, through drug dealing or fraud or prostitution or
something. Or, you know, let`s being very discrete about it. Let`s say
you somehow have amassed a large amount of money and you just don`t want to
talk about where it came from. In any of these hypothetical circumstances,
I want you to imagine though that you`re not some Podunk, thief, crook,
shady bastard. You`re big time.

So, you`ve got this ill-gotten games and it`s not like a briefcase full of
money. We`re talking millions of dollars, tens of millions of dollars,
hundreds of millions of dollars that you have amassed through, let`s not
talk about it, means. If you want to ever be able to actually use that
money and enjoy that money, you can`t move it around just in like, you
know, bags full of loot. Once you`re talking about millions and tens of
millions and hundreds of millions of dollars, there aren`t enough
briefcases and duffle bags in the world for you to move that money around
easily. And if you want to buy big rich guy stuff, if you want to buy
like, you know, a private island or a fleet of Ferraris, or something, do
you show up to pay with hay bales full of $20 bills, somebody is going to
notice that, somebody is going to start asking questions.

And if you decide to deposit all of your money in a bank, they`re going to
want to know where that came from in most banks under most laws, in most
countries. So, if you`ve made lots and lots and lots of money in some
shady way, you need something to do with that money that makes the money
look sort of legit, just so you can use it. And we often think of that
process of making illegal or shady or secret money look legitimate, we
often think of that as like a mob thing, right? Like an organized crime
thing, money laundering.

But money laundering can also be a bank thing if you know the right kind of
bank to go to. A couple weeks ago, the big German bank, Deutsch Bank, they
got fined $630 million for money laundering. Apparently, Deutsch Bank
moved roughly $10 billion out of Russia and disguised that source of those
funds, made it all looked legit. It`s all tied to some big Russians stock
fraud scheme or something.

But it`s funny, some of the accounts that were involved in that $10 billion
money laundering scheme, some of those accounts were personally held by
relatives of Vladimir Putin, and by some of Vladimir Putin`s closest and
oldest friends. And when this money laundering scheme, including their
accounts, was exposed at Deutsch Bank, the Russian authorities, the Russian
central, decided they needed to look into this. They were very concerned
about this scheme to siphon money out of Russia without anybody knowing
where it came from.

The Russian Central Bank looked into this scheme and they decided to fine
Deutsch Bank $5,000. Let me mention again here that the fraud here, the
money laundering scheme here was $10 billion. But that`s how much the
Russian central bank levied against them as a fine.

Luckily, though, this was not just a Russia thing. This scheme did involve
a Deutsch Bank office, yes, in Moscow, but also in New York. And
interestingly, also in Cyprus. Stick a pin in that for a second. We will
come back to Cyprus.

Because of the New York connection, this giant multibillion dollar money
laundering scheme ended up in the crosshairs of the Obama Justice
Department. And, yes, when the Russians looked into it, they may have
decided to only to fine Deutsch Bank $5,000 when Loretta Lynch and Obama
Justice Department looked into it, they ended up fining Deutsch Bank $630
million. Needless to say, they took slightly more seriously than the
Russians did.

For the people at the top when these things happen, though, it always seems
to be a soft landing, doesn`t it? I said the offices involved in this
Russian money laundering scheme were in Moscow and New York and Cyprus.
When the last chairman of Deutsch Bank needed a new job after Deutsch Bank,
where he landed was, very softly, as the chairman of the Bank of Cyprus.

And Cyprus is a lovely place in a lovely part of the world and has a lot
going for it. But in global finance, Cyprus is basically the locking black
briefcase into which Russian oligarchs stuffed their ill-gotten gains
before they handcuffed that briefcase to a Russian a henchman somewhere.
This is where the Russian oligarchs launder their money.

And so, Deutsch Bank takes part in this huge scam to launder Russian money,
to basically smuggle billions of dollars out of Russia through its offices
in Moscow and New York and Cyprus. The bank chairman from Deutsch Bank
then personally ends at a bank in Cyprus. He was appointed chairman of
that bank by its two largest shareholders. One of the two largest
shareholders of that Bank of Cyprus is a close personal friend and business
associate of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

One of the other major investors in that bank, this is where it gets good,
is a Russian oligarch who they call the “King of Fertilizer”. I know, some
of my critics call me the “Queen of Fertilizer”, but they mean it
differently. But the “King of Fertilizer” guy, that this is where the news
comes home tonight, for Americans who are trying to make sense of our new
president in this new government that he`s putting in place and what really
explains their behavior when other political norms don`t seem to.

Because the “King of Fertilizer” is just an amazing story. He`s not the
richest person in Russia. That would probably be Vladimir Putin. But he
does hold the title for what is believed to be the most expensive divorce
in modern history. As part of his divorce proceedings, at one point, a
Swiss bank awarded his wife $4.5 billion as her divorce settlement. Wow.

You know, and a couple`s divorce would usually be a private matter,
especially one involving people we don`t know from other countries, why do
we care? The reason we all have to care about it, the reason we all have
to know about it now is because it`s becoming part of what we need to
understand about our current American presidency.

The split-up of this couple reportedly started in 2007, 2008, thereabouts.
The divorce settlement in the end wasn`t finalized until 2015. But it was
very, very lurid, this seven, eight-year period of this divorce, it was in
papers all the time. It was international news. It had all of these
tabloid aspects to it.

At one point, she accused him of having orgies on his yacht with young
girls. And he accused her of stealing jewelry, in fact, had her arrested
as a jewel thief at some point.

Mostly what they thought about, though, was dividing their money. She
thought that he was entitled to a multibillion dollar settlement in the
divorce and – this is important – she accused him of hiding her money so
she couldn`t get access to it. She accused him specifically of, quote,
“secreting and transferring assets in order to avoid his obligations.” She
basically said in order to keep her from getting her hands on what she
believed was his money, he started putting his money in places she couldn`t
get to it. He started putting his money in very large chunks, in the
largest chunks he could into trusts in foreign countries, trusts that own
stuff or held assets – anything to get his money off his balance sheet.
So, she couldn`t get it in the divorce.

And that`s the thing that happens in ugly divorces. But when you`re the
“King of Fertilizer”, when that happens in your divorce, it makes the
“Today” show.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REPORTER: This is 15th Central Park West in New York City. It`s one of
the most exclusive addresses and home of the most expensive condo. As you
mentioned, with so many struggling to pay rent and mortgages, a college
student just bought it and it will not even be her primary residence.

It`s a sweeping view that`s breathtaking and record breaking. For the new,
young owner, it`s just a part-time pad. The ten-room penthouse graced the
cover of “Architectural Digest” magazine just last year. It sits atop of
what`s considered the most expensive building in all of New York.

Outside, a wrap around terrace overlooking Central Park. Inside, guests
can tour the private library. But those guests could be college students.
That`s because, according to “Forbes” magazine, the new owner is the 22-
year-old daughter of a Russian billionaire. Ekaterina Rybolovlev is
studying at an undisclosed college in America, but she`s a resident of
Monaco. Price tag for her new part-time place, 88 million bucks, all paid
for by daddy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The trend right now is you`re seeing a lot of money
come from overseas to purchase these super high-end properties. It`s a
great investment for them and a lot of people think it`s safer than the
stock market.

REPORTER: In 2008, Ekaterina`s Dmitry Rybolovlev, also bought this 33,000
square foot Florida estate from Donald Trump. He paid the Donald $95
million in cash.

He may reportedly lose it in an ugly divorce battle that could cost him
half his worth. But the New York penthouse should be safe. It`s in
Ekaterina`s name.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: Again, this is a divorce that went through six different venues,
six different courts. At one point, there was a $4.5 billion judgment for
the wife – $4.5 billion.

She accused her husband of parking all his money in overseas trusts that
held very expensive assets. So she couldn`t get access to more of his
money and those trusts did things like hold very, very, very expensive real
estate all over the world. The Greek island where Jackie Kennedy married
Aristotle Onassis, I think it`s called Skorpios, he bought that island for
$150 million.

The actor Will Smith had a nice house in Hawaii. He bought that for $20
million. This guy apparently has an adjoining compound of properties in
the Swiss Alps that he bought for $135 million.

And locking up your money in assets like this, specifically to shield them
from your ex-wife who you hate, it`s probably kind of a fun way to stick it
to your spouse and avoid the accountants and the courts, right? But it
also creates, if you think about it, this incredible opportunity for
anybody in a position to sell something really, really, really expensive,
because this guy`s motivation is not to get a good deal on any of these
things, right? This guy is trying to park as much of his Russian money
somewhere else, as much of his money as he can. He needs it tied up in
real estate and these big assets in other countries. The bigger the deal,
the bigger the price tag, the better.

I mean, you want to be the guy who owns the Greek private island when the
“King of Fertilizer” starts looking for islands to buy to shelter his money
from his wife, right? You want to be the real estate broker in New York
City looking to sell the single most expensive private apartment in New
York City when that guy comes around looking to spend as much money as he
possibly can. The more money, the better.

I mean, for the right kind of person, for the right kind of seller, this
guy, the “King of Fertilizer”, Dmitry Rybolovlev, he`s just a walking cash
register if you have the right kind of thing to sell him.

Behold, la maison de l`amitie. My only thing worse than my Russian
pronunciation is my French pronunciation. But la maison de l`amitie, it
means House of Friendship, House of Amity. Remember the Amityville horror?

House of Amity, this house, was built in 2001 by a zillionaire, American
zillionaire who moved from New England down to Palm Beach, Florida, but
then sadly he promptly went bankrupt. While he was still Richie Rich,
before he went bankrupt, he did build this astounding house. It is tens of
thousands of square feet. It has 22 bathrooms.

Think about that, 22 people can go all at the same time. Although, watch
out if they all flush at the same time. Kaboom.

This zillionaire guy built this incredibly gaudy, gigantic mansion in Palm
Beach, Florida, in 2001. By 2004, it had been seized by the bankruptcy
court, and he and his wife were on their way to facing tax evasion charges.

But this house was put up on auction, in conjunction with the bankruptcy in
2004. The person who bought the house on auction is now President Donald
Trump. He bought it for $40 million. And then that big house in Palm
Beach, it sat set empty for two years. It became of this sort of this
local legend in Palm Beach real estate, because the house was thought of as
– locally, it was thought of as a monstrosity.

It was frequently described as gouch (ph), rococo (ph), it had like fake
art everywhere. You know, art inspired by real painters. Sort of copies
of stuff painted on the walls. Parts of the interior of the house were
cobble stone, which nobody could probably explain. It also reportedly had
a terrible mold problem.

But Donald Trump bought it for $40 million in 2006. It sat empty for two
years. And then in 2008, along comes Dmitry Rybolovlev, the “King of
Fertilizer”, right, going through the mother of all divorces, needing the
biggest ticket items you could possibly imagine as ways to shelter his
money from his darn wife, the bigger the price tag, the better, I`m buying
Greek islands, I`m buying the most expensive apartments in New York City, I
need places to put my money.

And Dmitry Rybolovlev turns around in 2008 and pays Donald Trump $100
million for that house, 2 1/2 times what Trump had bought it for two years
earlier. Why did this guy spend $100 million on that property? I don`t
know. We know he never moved in. In fact, some reporting on the sale
indicates he never once set foot in it and it`s now being torn down.

Trump and Rybolovlev have commented publicly that they never dealt with
each other publicly throughout that sale. They only worked through
intermediaries, which is interesting for a financial transaction that big,
right? That was the single highest priced paid for a single American house
at the time of that transaction. That record actually may still hold.
That may be the single most expensive house transaction ever in the United
States.

And they never met? They only went through intermediaries? Who were the
intermediaries?

Well, the “King of Fertilizer”, Dmitry Rybolovlev, who popped $60 million
neatly into Donald Trump`s pocket during this transaction, he doesn`t have
much of an American profile but he does have one very important American
connection. Remember I said that he`s one of the major shareholders in
that Bank of Cyprus? The chairman of that bank, as I said, is the former
chairman of Deutsch Bank, which just paid $630 million fine for laundering
illegal Russian money.

He was installed as chairman at the Bank of Cyprus by the two vice chairman
of the bank. One of the vice chairman of that bank is, as I mentioned,
Vladimir Putin`s close associate. But the other vice chairman of that bank
is an American. The American is in fact the single largest shareholder in
that bank, that bank that includes the guy whose firm was just done for the
Russian money laundering and Vladimir Putin`s very close associate. I
should tell you, the vice chairman who that guy replaced was not only also
a close Vladimir Putin associate, he was a guy who Putin was in the KGB
with before he became Vladimir Putin.

This bank is also owned in part by the Russian “King of Fertilizer” who did
this inexplicable deal that Donald Trump miraculously stumbled into, that
netted him $60 million for doing basically nothing. There is one American
who was in the middle of that bank, who was the single largest shareholder
in that bank. There`s one American in that bank. And tonight, that
American was just confirmed as our nation`s new secretary of commerce.

His name is Wilbur Ross. He`s an American businessman, long-time friend of
Donald Trump. Not much experience in international banking but
inexplicably ended up the majority shareholder in a Cypriot bank with all
sorts of ties to Vladimir Putin and to a Russian oligarch who somehow
through some intermediary, we don`t know who, ended up stuffing $60 million
into Donald Trump`s wallet, paying him $100 million for something that
Trump had just bought for $40 million, and that the oligarch apparently had
no personal interest in whatsoever, he never even bothered living in it and
maybe never even visited.

But Trump and that oligarch, no questions asked, they`ve never met, no
connection whatsoever except through Wilbur Ross, Donald Trump`s old, old
friend who will be sworn into the cabinet tomorrow as commerce secretary.

And there`s basically two things to know about this story going forward.
One in terms of explaining this presidency, the other in terms of what
happens next in our politics.

I mean, in terms of explaining this presidency, you should know that at the
time this magical deal emerged out of nowhere that put tens and millions of
dollars in Donald Trump`s pocket, at that time, Donald Trump was
financially having a very difficult time. It is a matter of public record
that he was fighting very hard, among other things, to avoid paying off a
big loan that he had with Deutsch Bank.

Deutsch Bank needs the money, that means Trump needs the money, that means
Trump needs to get the money. So, it`s mysterious windfall infusion of
cash from the Russian guy came at the right time for now President Trump.

Every investigative reporter in the country is trying to figure out whether
there is some reason that our new president seems so beholden to Russia and
to Vladimir Putin. Well, this part here, it`s not like a loose thread.
This is like a rope ladder hanging down from the ceiling begging people to
crawl up this and look around.

So, that`s one thing to know about this story. The other thing to know
about this story is what happens next in the administration. We`re going
to talk later on this hour about what`s happening with the investigation or
lack thereof and to Trump and his Russia ties.

But meanwhile, he is slowly hercule-jerkeley (ph) staffing up his
administration. This weekend, his nominee to be secretary of the navy
dropped out. That follows a similar decision by his nominee to be
secretary of the army who also dropped out. That follows the firing of his
national security adviser and then his next two picks to be national
security adviser, reportedly turning him down.

We also learned this weekend that Michelle Flournoy was just asked by
Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis if she would become his deputy at the
Pentagon. Michelle Flournoy tells Politico.com, she said no. She turned
down Mattis. She will not become deputy secretary at the Pentagon because
she didn`t feel like in good faith she could join the Trump administration.

They`re having trouble staffing up in a lot of ways, but for whatever
reason, Wilbur Ross, tonight, got through. That may not end up being a
political blessing to this administration, because now, Wilbur Ross, with
all of his unexplained, mysterious Russia ties, now he`s a cabinet
secretary. Now, he`s secretary of commerce and any scandal that ends up
affixing to him on this subject will affix to the administration,
throughout the time that he is in office.

And the big problem with Wilbur Rossi s that the scandal about him and
Russia may ultimately be a scandal about Donald Trump and Russia and we`re
going to be joined tonight by David Remnick, the editor of “The New
Yorker,” who has just bylined a mega story on Trump and Putin.

Among the news that Remnick has turned up is this. You remember that 35-
page dossier with all those salacious details supposedly about Donald
Trump, that unconfirmed dossier of dirt that Russian supposedly have on
Trump, well, here`s “The New Yorker”.

Quote, “The 35-page dossier, which included claims about Trump`s behavior
during a 2013 trip to Moscow. The dossier concluded that Russia had
personal and financial material on Trump that could be used as blackmail,
and said that the Russians had been cultivating, supporting and assisting
Trump for years. According to current and former government officials,
prurient details in the dossier generated skepticism among some members of
the intelligence community. But in the week that followed, they confirmed
some of his less explosive claims relating to conversations with foreign
nationals.”

One intelligence official tells “The New York Times”, quote, “They are
continuing to chase down stuff from the dossier and at its core, a lot of
it is bearing out.”

And now, here is what is shooting up right now like a flair in the night
sky, quote, “Some officials believe that one reason the Russians compiled
information on Trump during his 2013 trip was that he was meeting with
Russian oligarchs who may be stashing money abroad.” And that, according
to some officials, is why Russia was compiling dirt on Trump, because he
was helping them find places to put their money.

Wilbur Ross was confirmed as commerce secretary tonight. David Remnick
from “The New Yorker” joins us in just a minute and I feel like I`m finally
starting to understand this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: Sometimes a new news story itself isn`t the most important thing.
Sometimes the most important thing about a brand-new news story is that it
upsets people and therefore shakes something loose. Outrage denials.
Confirmation or denial of certain facts.

That happened over the last few days when the White House reacted with
outrage to the new stories that the White House chief of staff had leaned
on the FBI about the FBI investigation into contacts between the Trump
campaign and Russia.

The White House was outraged at those stories. They were so mad about
those stories. They pushed back hard on those stories and in doing so,
they confirmed that the White House chief of staff did speak with the FBI
about the ongoing investigation, which is not the thing you`re supposed to
concede and confirm.

The White House chief of staff is really truly not supposed to do that.
They hated the story. They reacted with outrage to the story but in so
doing, they confirmed he did it.

That`s happened over the last few days. And it has now happened again on a
story that is way weirder and more obscure. This is the new weird, obscure
news story. These are text messages reportedly received by the daughter of
Paul Manafort, who was Donald Trump`s campaign manager until last summer.

Quote, look at this part, “Tell him he has 24 hours before I leak all the
S-word to the cops.” Whoo, it`s like a bad cop TV. You`ve got 24 hours
before I take this to the feds. These threatening texts.

They are reported on by politico.com. The hacks suggest Manafort faced
blackmail attempt. Quoting from their report, “A purported cyberattack of
the daughter of political consultant Paul Manafort suggests he`s a victim
of a blackmail attempt while he was serving as Donald Trump`s campaign
chairman last summer.”

Paul Manafort confirmed to “Politico” that the hacked texts are real. He
says his daughter did receive them. He says she got those threatening
texts and the threats to go to the cops. She got them along with an
explanatory note purportedly from a member of parliament in Ukraine. The
note threatens that this Ukrainian politician has, quote, “bulletproof
facts” about Paul Manafort taking off the books payments from one of his
former clients, from the ousted Putin-supported Ukrainian dictator who Paul
Manafort did, in fact, work for in Ukraine for years.

Paul Manafort says he never received that off-the-books money from that
dictator. He also says even though his daughters did receive these
threatening texts that now “Politico” has now published, he says he had
nothing to do with any of it, it`s all just a smear campaign.

Then, we have no idea if the note or these threatening texts about Paul
Manafort, we have no idea if they are actually from this Ukrainian
politician. For his part, he denies having anything to do with any of
this.

But there`s also a claim in the middle of the story that is specific to our
new president. The person who sent these, what appear to be blackmail
threats to Paul Manafort through his daughter, this person also claims to
have evidence that Paul Manafort got paid to set up a meeting between
Donald Trump and a Ukrainian guy who`s close to that pro Putin dictator.
Manafort allegedly arranged this meeting in 2012, long before Donald Trump
was ever running for president.

So, those are the allegations. Those are purloined texts. That`s the
story for what it`s worth. Was Paul Manafort being blackmailed?

What do I make of this? I have no idea. There`s denials all around from
people who are supposed to be the good guys in this story and people who
are supposed to be the bad guys in the story. Everybody denies it. I
don`t know what it means.

But like I said, sometimes the story itself is less important than what it
shakes lose. With regard to that claim that Paul Manafort was paid to
arrange a meeting between Donald Trump and this pro-Putin politician in
2012, both Paul Manafort and the White House are pushing back on that
allegation to “Politico” and this is where it gets good because their
rebuttal to that charge is that Paul Manafort couldn`t have been paid to do
that, he couldn`t have been paid to arrange such a meeting, because why
would anybody go to Paul Manafort to get to Donald Trump in 2012?

Paul Manafort and Donald Trump had no connection back then. Paul Manafort,
in fact, never worked with Donald Trump before he became his campaign
chairman in 2016. And I think they see that as a great rebuttal to this
story.

But in offering that confirmed information to bat back this allegation that
really bothered them, they do raise a whole other way more interesting
question. I don`t know and I don`t really care whether Paul Manafort was
the target of blackmail while he was running a campaign. But you know
what`s turning out to be really interesting? The question of how Paul
Manafort ended up being Donald Trump`s campaign manager. Who picked him
for that?

Hold on. Hold that thought. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: When Russia said about trying to influence the presidential
election this first year, it wasn`t their first rodeo. Under Putin, Russia
has done this all over the world. They have developed a particular M.O.
for disrupting other country`s political activities.

In our presidential election, our 17 intelligence agencies say now,
equivocally, that we all got to see Russia at work, undermining our
election here in the United States in 2016, trying to help Donald Trump`s
chances of getting elected president.

But it`s not just us in the French presidential election this year. One
candidate is basically bankrolled by Russian bank loans, and her opponent
says he`s been the victim of multiple Russian sponsored cyberattacks, and a
torrent of Russian origin fake news reports.

In the Netherlands this year, they have decided they`re going to hand-count
every ballot in next month`s elections because they are so worried about
Russia meddling. This comes after a group of Russians, who no one knew
were Russians, basically ran a propaganda op on a Dutch referendum last
year, to get a anti-Europe, pro-Putin outcome that Russia wanted from that
election.

When Sweden was debating whether or not to enter a military partnership
with NATO, Swedes started showing up to town halls full of fears sparked by
bogus news stories about rogue NATO stockpiles of nuclear weapons and NATO
soldiers raping Swedish women, it was almost certainly a Russian
disinformation campaign aimed at swaying the vote and keeping Sweden out of
NATO.

Russia is good at this. They do it all over the world. They change their
tactics from place to place but the goal is the same, right? Insert pro-
Russian candidates or political operatives, exploit divisions, empower
disruptive forces, destabilize the democratic institutions in the western
alliances that compete with or that challenge Russia.

We can see Russia operate that way in country after country, and we know
that Russia interfered in our election, too.

Now think about Paul Manafort, the sudden appearance of Paul Manafort
running the Trump presidential campaign last year. From an American
political perspective, Paul Manafort doesn`t make all that much sense as a
person you would bring on to run your presidential campaign. He`s a
lobbyist type, honestly best known in Washington for repping really
controversial dictators like Yanukovych in Ukraine or Ferdinand Marcos in
the Philippines.

And he hasn`t been involved in Republican electoral politics in a very long
time. He`s been so not involved in Republican electoral politics that
“Politico” ran a piece about him in 2014 about the fact that nobody knew
who Ukraine`s man in Washington was. Nobody knew this mystery man.
Ukraine`s U.S. fixer, where was he?

Manafort`s current location a mystery. Manafort has all but vanished from
the Washington scene.

That was 2014, all but vanished. And then two years later, there he is
running an American presidential campaign. If you look at it through
Russian eyes, you think about it from a Russian perspective, when he
disappeared from Washington and nobody in Washington knew where he was,
well, the Russians knew where he was. He was in Ukraine, right, spending
years laying the groundwork to put up a pro-Putin autocrat in power who
then looted his country for the benefit of Putin`s oligarch friends.

I mean, from a Russian perspective, Paul Manafort is a high profile guy.
Who could be better than Paul Manafort to run an American presidential
campaign? Wasn`t that an American guy who ran that campaign for Yanukovych
in Ukraine?

According to new reporting in “New Yorker” magazine, intercepted
communications among Russian intelligence figures during the campaign
included frequent reference to Paul Manafort.

I mean, take the view from Moscow. If you know a guy who needs a
presidential campaign manager, how about our friend Paul? Right? From the
Russian`s point of view, who would be the better choice to run Donald
Trump`s presidential campaign?

From our perspective in the United States, Paul Manafort made no sense.
Who`s he? From the Russian perspective, he`d be the obvious choice.

Or take Carter Page, right? This name Donald Trump seemed to pull it out
of the hat when he was getting pressure last spring for not having any
declared foreign advisers on his team. Carter Page, he said, I can give
you some of the names. Carter Page, that`s my foreign policy adviser.

From an American perspective, that made no sense. Carter Page`s American
foreign policy resume is nonexistent. He was a mid-level oil industry
consultant who had spent some time in Moscow. One American executive with
experience in Russia told “Politico”, quote, “You`d have to dip really far
and wide to find a guy like Carter Page. I mean, wow.”

But from a Russian perspective, I mean, here`s how carter page is described
by a spokesman for the Russian state oil company. Quote, “He`s an
extremely well-informed authoritative expert on Russia. People really
respect in this industry. He`s a very serious guy. He has a good
reputation,” says Russian oil company, Russian state-run oil company.

I mean, Carter Page is well-known in Russia. He gives speeches slamming
American policy. In Russia, he gets featured on Russian TV. He`s a big
deal from the Russian vantage point.

Even consider Rex Tillerson. Did you know that Rex Tillerson and Donald
Trump had never met before the campaign, never met before the election?
All of a sudden, Rex Tillerson, Mr. Got the Russian Order of Friendship
Awarded to him by Vladimir Putin personally, all of a sudden he`s secretary
of state in the United States? How did that happen? He and Trump had
literally never met before Trump became president-elect.

The White House adamantly denies that Donald Trump had any dealings with
Paul Manafort before this campaign. And they`re telling us that to try to
tamp down one of these scandalous news stories that they don`t want anybody
following up on.

But by confirming that, they raise this question, what was this obscure
guy, this guy who had been a frequent conversation among Russian
intelligence officials, how did he end up running the Trump campaign? How
did he get that gig? Where did he get his references from?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: This weekend in Russia, thousands of people marched through the
streets of Moscow. They were there to mark two years since the murder of
prominent opposition politician Boris Nemtsov. Boris Nemtsov was shot to
death late at night while walking down the street literally just outside
the Kremlin. He had been due to lead a major protest march the following
day. And he was killed, shot in the back.

Among the marchers commemorating his death this weekend was current leading
opposition figure Alexei Navalny. Alexei Navalny is a smart,
characteristic opposition leader. He is funny and very uncompromising in
the way he stands up against Putin. Alexei Navalny did unexpectedly well
when he ran for mayor of Moscow recently and he had declared his intention
this year that he was going to run for president next year against Vladimir
Putin.

Obviously, that can`t stand. Two weeks ago, an obscure court in Russia
convicted him on random embezzlement charges involving timber futures.
With that conviction, the government now is seeming to indicate that Mr.
Navalny will no longer be allowed to run for president against Vladimir
Putin. He`ll be disqualified from having his name on the ballot because of
that terrible embezzlement conviction.

And that hammer fell on Alexei Navalny, one of our nation`s smartest
Russian watchers said this, quote, “The Trump administration notably said
nothing. The Russian see friendly faces in this administration.”

That observation comes from David Remnick, editor of “The New Yorker”, who
has just co-bylined a heavy duty new report on Russia and Trump and what
“The New Yorker” is calling “The new Cold War.”

David Remnick, thank you for being here.

DAVID REMNICK, THE NEW YORKER: Great to be here.

MADDOW: Obviously, there`s a lot of different threads to pull here.

REMNICK: A lot.

MADDOW: There are some important thing that I feel like is new ground that
you guys have reported in this long piece that gives a lot of important
context. One, something that I just mentioned, Russian intelligence
officials frequently discussing Paul Manafort. Also, some current and
former officials thinking that part of the reason that Russia may have been
interested in Donald Trump even before he declared his presidential
intentions is because he may have been a money thing, that he may have been
– Russia may have been interested in the way he may have been helping
Russians move their money out of that country.

REMNICK: Well, I think the reason Vladimir Putin was most interested in
Donald Trump has to do with Hillary Clinton. Trump could not stand Hillary
Clinton. And a lot of the pieces, the historical context of what we`re
talking about here, remember, the person who moved NATO eastward was Bill
Clinton, and this is considered in the world of Vladimir Putin a grave
threat to the security of Russia. It`s not some minor geopolitical move
that he doesn`t care about. This is a grave threat to him in his mind.

Remember, Putin came to office in 2000, appointed by Boris Yeltsin who –
and his first deed was to ensure the safety and non-prosecution of Boris
Yeltsin, and almost instantly shut down state television, which was quite
free, had an unprecedented in the history of Russian communism and Russian
history.

In the beginning, Putin was relatively up in the air where the West was
concerned. He even considered the question of whether Russia should join
NATO. And he gave up hope after a while, for reasons you can justify or
not justify, having to do with Kosovo, having to do with NATO. And his
policy turned.

So, when it came to Obama who considered Russia a regional power, a grave
insult to Russian ego, and then he considered the possible presidency of
Hillary Clinton, he was – he wouldn`t have it. I don`t think the Russians
ever thought that they could turn an election around. I really don`t. And
I don`t think necessarily they did turn this election around.

It`s hard to quantify what effect –

MADDOW: Won`t be able to prove it either way.

REMNICK: How do you stack it up next to the FBI letter? How do you stack
it up next to a very poor campaign in certain respects by Hillary Clinton
herself, to say nothing of the, you know, the appeal like it or not of
Donald Trump?

But at a certain point, he was – he just could not bear the idea of
Hillary Clinton. So, I think, to some extent that this campaign, if that`s
what we find out it had been and we want more evidence – I do. I want
more concrete evidence, not just assertion by the intelligence community.
It was to destabilize a Clinton presidency.

(CROSSTALK)

MADDOW: You think they expected her to win and the damage that they were
doing was something that they could continue –

REMNICK: Of course. Rachel, everybody expected her to win. You expected
her to win. The polls expected her to win.

MADDOW: Trump expected her win, yes.

REMNICK: Trump on the day of the election, as I`ve heard from Trump,
expected her to win.

So, they succeeded, in some sense, beyond their wildest dreams, and now,
they are freaked. If you go to Moscow and you talk to people in Moscow
now, there`s a lot of buyer`s remorse. There was an order sent down to
Russian television, enough with celebrating about Trump. They are really
worried about the lack of stability from Trump in all senses, and they
don`t want to – and they also see that the criticism of Trump, having to
do with Russia, is going to undermine his ability to help them.

MADDOW: “New Yorker`s” new piece is called “Trump, Putin and The New Cold
War”, David Remnick as our guest, can you stay for a moment? I have other
questions to ask you.

REMNICK: Of course.

MADDOW: I`ll be right back with David Remnick from “The New Yorker”, stay
with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: We`re back with David Remnick, editor at the “New Yorker”. “New
Yorker`s” just front paged a story called “Trump, Putin, and The New Cold
War.”

David, thank you.

In terms of the big look you were taking at the stuff, the ongoing reporter
of “The New Yorker”, what do you think is necessary in terms of a proper
investigation here? I feel like a lot of good reporting has given us a lot
more information than we had even six months ago. What`s your take on
that?

REMNICK: Well, our reporting will continue for the “New Yorker.” I`m sure
“The New York Times,” the “Washington Post” are spending hours and hours on
this and everybody else.

But there`s certain things that investigative reporters can do, but there
are certain things a well-intentioned, independent investigatory body,
whether it`s law enforcement or Congress can do that`s quite different –
having to do with subpoena power, having to do with calling witnesses and
all the rest. And you`re now seeing tension in Congress about what to do
about this.

And you`re seeing much more reluctance on the House side. After all, they
have to run every two years.

MADDOW: Right.

REMNICK: Somebody like John McCain is throwing caution to the wind, he`s
never going to run again probably and he wants – it`s interesting to see
Senator Burr, a Republican, who has had an interesting relationship with
the president, being quite forthright about the need for an investigation.
It`s almost amazing.

MADDOW: While also telling reporters, telling – I mean, Burr – when Burr
and Nunes –

REMNICK: Absolutely.

MADDOW: – started calling reporters and telling reporters to get off the
story, there`s nothing there, by the way, I`m the chair of the intelligence
committee, so I should know, that, to me, made me give up all hope for
Burr.

REMNICK: Do not give up all hope.

MADDOW: OK.

REMNICK: Don`t do it. Don`t do it.

MADDOW: Sorry.

REMNICK: In other words, look, I think, at the risk of self-
congratulation, I don`t mean about the “New Yorker” but as an institution,
the press is rigorously going after this and it should because it goes off
into many different directions, whether it has to do with the question of
potential collusion, about financial deals, about banking, which you
pointed out at length, the political questions about how this was handled,
by the way, by the Obama administration. You know, that`s all very
interesting for not just for historians.

Inside the Obama administration, when they knew that this was a question,
John Kerry raised among the principals of the National Security Council,
maybe we should have a 9/11-type independent commission. And the Obama
administration, President Obama, finally felt that that would politicize
the issue over much and they said no. And underneath all that reluctance
was this confidence or overconfidence that Hillary Clinton was going to
win.

MADDOW: And that whatever was happening with disrupting the election would
never be enough to prove it.

David Remnick, thank you. Appreciate it.

REMNICK: Always. Always.

MADDOW: We`ll be right back. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: I know, I know, Republicans control everything in Washington now.
Democrats are back on their heels in Washington and in the states and blah
– I know, I know, I know. It`s true. It`s all true.

But little known fact, since November, since the presidential election,
every special election in the country has gone blue. Or at least has swung
hard in that direction. It happened this month in Iowa, when a Democrat
won an open seat in the Iowa legislature. It then happened the following
week in Virginia. Democrats held on to an open statehouse seat.

The Minnesota House also had a seat up for grabs this month. That`s a
district that went for Donald Trump by almost 30 points. But in that
special election, the Republican did win, but she only won by six points.
Trump carried it by 30. She carried it by six, a deep red district in
Minnesota.

Well, now, this sort of swing has happened again, this is an election that
we`ve been covering, looking ahead to in Delaware. Heading into this
weekend, the Senate in Delaware was split 50/50 between Democrats and
Republicans and there`s one empty seat because somebody vacated a seat in
the Senate to go become lieutenant governor. So, it`s heading into this
weekend, it was 50/50, it was even-steven in the Delaware Senate with that
open seat.

That tie in the Senate with that open seat made the election this weekend
for that open seat basically a national race because Democrats really
wanted it hold on to that state Senate. Well, on Saturday, the Democrats
won that seat. A Democrat named Stephanie Hansen won that seat in the
Delaware state Senate. She won by a lot. And that doesn`t just mean that
she gets the seat, that means Democrats get to keep the Delaware Senate.

Counting Delaware this weekend, Democrats have gone 3 for 4 in special
elections since the presidential race. And in that fourth one, they
radically closed the gap in a deep, deep, deep red district.

Now, the Democrats have a chance to keep that streak going. Tomorrow, the
great state of Connecticut is going to be voting on two state Senate races.
Right now, like it was in Delaware, right now, Connecticut Senate is tied.
It`s even. And there are two seats up for grabs.

One of them is considered to be a safe Republican seat. The other
considered to be a safe Democratic seat. But if either party can pull off
an upset, if one of those races can swing the other way, it will change
which party controls the Senate in the state of Connecticut.

Oh, it`s all very exciting. We`ll keep you posted. Watch this space.

That does it for us tonight. We`ll see you again tomorrow.

Now, it`s time for “THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL”.

Good evening, Lawrence.


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