The Rachel Maddow Show, transcript 3/3/2017

David Cay Johnston


Date: March 3, 2017

Guest: David Cay Johnston


RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST:  And thanks to you at home for joining us this

hour.  Happy Friday.


Alexei and Boris.  Alexei on the right, Boris on the left.  They were

friends.  They were kind of rivals but they were friends. 


They were certainly colleagues.  They were co-leaders of one of the biggest

opposition efforts that Putin ever faced in Russia.  You see Alexei on the

right.  There you see Boris on the left side of your screen.  Boris again

on the left side your screen, the more ruddy complexion, Alexei on the



Alexei and Boris, they ran a political organization together.  They led

rallies together, right up until the night of February 27, 2015 when Boris

got murdered.  Boris was shot in the back on the street just outside the

Kremlin.  You can see his body in the foreground of that shot. 


Right up until Boris Nemtsov was killed outside the Kremlin, his friend

Alexei Navalny had been leaf-letting with him for a march they were due to

lead against Putin in Moscow together.  They`d been planning for this big

rally that was due to happen the morning after Boris got killed.


Ultimately, it turned into a funeral march, and ultimately, they wouldn`t

even let Alexei go to Boris` proper funeral.  They locked him up and held

him on charges of illegal leaf-letting on the day that Boris had his

funeral and was buried. 


Well, now as we have talked about before on this show, Alexei Navalny, the

survivor of that friendship, he is now running for president of Russia

against Vladimir Putin.  They`ve got election this is time next year and,

you know, Putin and his government, they do keep finding ways to put Alexei

in jail. 


The most recent rabbit they pulled out of a hat against him was that they

had him convicted on embezzlement charges against a state-run Russian

company, something having to do with timber futures?  Nobody believes it

was a real case, but it was a real conviction and technically that

conviction disqualifies Alexei Navalny from running against Putin.  Keeps

him off the ballot. 


That embezzlement conviction they cooked up means that he technically will

not be allowed to run against Vladimir Putin for president next year.  And

Alexei Navalny is unbowed and apparently unafraid by these machinations

from Putin`s government.  I mean, despite all these things that Putin has

done to him.  Despite this conviction, he says he`s still going to run.  He

says he`ll figure it out.  They can`t stop him. 


But check this out, today, holy mackerel, today, Alexei Navalny just posted

this online.  That`s him in the tie there.  Alexi Navalny, he runs

something called the Anti-Corruption Project.


And today, he and his Anti-Corruption Project, they posted this video. 

It`s almost an hour long.  It`s really well done.  It`s in Russian,

obviously, but you can see at the bottom, it`s got English subtitles. 


I have to admit, I found it – I spent way too much of my office hours

today watching the entire thing, I found it completely riveting. 


If you want a real world manifestation of bravery in politics, this is it. 

This is worth watching if you want to know what that looks like. 


You know, it`s interesting.  It`s an article of faith among anybody who`s

sort of connected in geopolitics, right?  You talk to long-time

journalists, particularly people who worked abroad.  You talked to anybody

who`s worked in big time national security or big time international

business or diplomacy, even some big time military folks, anybody who`s had

a real career, been out there in the world, somebody worldly and connected

and knows what`s what. 


If you know anybody like that ask them, you know, and do it like – don`t

think about it, quick, pop quiz, just ask them, who do you think is the

richest man in the world?  And if you ask somebody who`s connected, who`s

worldly, who`s been around, every single one of those people, every single

time, will give you the same answer.  They will say the richest man in the

world, obviously, is Vladimir Putin. 


And on paper that shouldn`t be true, right?  The salary of the Russian

president is a fraction of what the U.S. president gets paid.  Vladimir

Putin has never had a job outside the Russian government.  He`s never had

any disclosed business ties, any official investments we are allowed to

know about.


But you know what?  The whole oligarchs thing, the whole conversion of all

state-run enterprises of the communist Soviet Union, all those billions and

even tens of billions of dollars that have moved over the last 20 years,

all of that money is believe to have gone to some degree through Vladimir

Putin`s pockets. 


He is widely believed – by people who are in a position to know, he is

widely believed to be the richest man in the world – and by a lot.  And

basically all of that wealth, if it`s true, right, all of that wealth has

been stolen and/or extorted and/or kicked back to him over his 17 years in

office running an increasingly autocratic Russian government. 


I mean, technically, yes, there`s a Russian parliament but it is like a

vestigial organ at this point.  It`s basically the adenoid of the Russian

government.  It`s the tonsil. 


Technically, there`s also a court system in Russia but you know what? 

That`s Putin, too.  Just ask the small town judge who cooked up the timber

futures embezzlement charge against Alexei Navalny, again Putin`s

presidential opponent for next year`s election.  Also, technically, there`s

a form of democracy in Russia.  They have elections. 


But, you know, ask Boris Nemtsov bleeding in the street outside the

Kremlin.  Ask other opposition leaders who have turned up dead or in prison

or had their political parties declared illegal.  Over all the years that

Putin has been in office, increasingly year after year with a tighter and

tighter grip, the Russian government has been reduced and reduced and

reduced down to one person.


The state is one person, it is Vladimir Putin – with one tiny exception. 

Vladimir Putin has allowed for there to be one non-Putin thing in Russian

government.  And it is this guy.  The guy with his back to us there doing

the sort of chicken wing dance. 


His name is Dmitry Medvedev.  And at one level – it`s a little weird that

Putin has been in charge in Russia for 17 straight years because there are

supposedly term limits on the Russian presidency.  The way he`s gotten

around that is that he has ping-ponged back and forth between being Russian

president or being Russian prime minister.  He keeps going back and forth

between those two offices and so, you need somebody else to do that with,



As he – as Putin has pinged back and forth between prime minister and

president and back again, the guy who`s held the other office for him is

Mr. Chicken Wings here, is Dmitry Medvedev.  He`s the guy Putin has allowed

to hold the other job so Putin can stay in power.  And Putin is always

running everything, don`t get me wrong.  But sometimes, he`s running

everything as president while Dmitry is prime minister and sometimes, he`s

running everything as prime minister while Dmitry is president.  It`s cute. 


And Dmitry Medvedev is sort of seen as ridiculous figure in Russian

politics.  He`s seen as like a pet.  But he`s also like really in a vaunted

place.  He`s the head of Putin`s political party which is called United

Russia.  He`s the only human being who Vladimir Putin has allowed to hold

any meaningful title in that country for years. 


Medvedev started off as Putin`s chief of staff 14 years ago and Putin has

kept him basically as his adjunct in office ever since.  And now, look at

this.  This is the video, right, by the opposition guy, Alexei Navalny. 

This is that video that he posted today. 


But what this is, this is Alexei Navalny and his anti-corruption group

flying drones with cameras on them over what they say are all of Dmitry

Medvedev`s secret properties. 


Now, again, like Vladimir Putin, Dmitry Medvedev is not supposed to be

rich.  He doesn`t admit to owning anything like this.  He`s never worked

outside – look at this house.  He has never worked outside of government

jobs.  He just gets a government salary. 


But here is the opposition guy, the guy who wants to run against Putin, the

guy they keep locking up, this guy who they keep convicting on trumped up

charges whose friend and co-leader of the opposition was murdered in the

street outside the Kremlin, here`s Alexei Navalny, not just undeterred in

being a Putin opponent, here`s Alexei Navalny breaking whole new grounds,

literally flying drones over the walls and fences. 


Look at this house of Putin`s prime minister`s 45,000 square foot mountain

chalet in Sochi on the Black Sea.  How do you afford that? 


And here they are flying drones, right, with cameras attached and they`ve

mapped it here over this gigantic country house in Kursk which has its own

manmade lake. 


Here`s them flying another drone over another one of these gigantic country

mansions.  Reportedly this one a 30,000 square foot behemoth in the

beautiful verdant Moscow suburbs.  This one also has its own lake. 


And I think we`ve got one other here.  This one we can`t even really figure

out where it is because I can`t understand the Google Russian translation

well enough to figure out the geography on this one.  This is reportedly,

though, another one of Dmitry Medvedev`s lovely homes.  A big rural estate. 

We think this is also maybe outside Moscow but not too far?


Oh, but wait, there`s more.  They have taken drone footage of what they say

is his vineyard in Tuscany with its 17th century villa. 


And while we`re at it, would you like to see his yachts?  This is his

yacht.  Oh, sorry, and this is his other yacht.  Both of which are

reportedly named for his wife, which is nice. 


But remember, life long public servant, no declared legal sources of

outside income whatsoever other than his government salary.  And it`s one

thing to say Vladimir Putin is the richest man in the world and his cronies

are all corrupt.  It`s another thing to document it, to post the

documentation online, to unravel all the shell companies, to explain in the

a way that normal people can understand it even with subtitles and to lay

out the trust and the foundation – to lay it out as public information and

then to physically go there and film it and post the film online with

explanations so everybody can see it. 


That is what Alexei Navalny just did today.  This has just been put out. 

As I said, it`s Russian – the film is Russian with English subtitles. 

It`s totally worth watching.  We will post a link to it.  “The New York

Times” today also did a good write up on it out of their Moscow bureau. 


But this is – I mean this is new ground that has been broken.  Imagine the

bravery it takes, right?  Imagine what it`s like to take a shot at that

particular king.


I mean, given what has happened in the past, given what has happened in

Alexei Navalny`s lifetime as a public figure.  What has happened to Putin`s

critics, to Putin`s opponents, to critical independent journalists, to

anybody who has gotten in Putin`s way, certainly to anybody who has tried

to tell his secrets?  Think about the bravery that takes. 


This week here at home, the U.S. attorney general recused himself from

investigations involving contact between the Russian government and the

Trump campaign.  He had to recuse himself after he admitted to not

disclosing information about his own contacts with the Russian government

while he was part of the Trump campaign. 


This follows the resignation of the national security adviser for also not

disclosing his contacts with the Russian government during the transition

and during the campaign before that. 


And I want to make a point here about bravery and risk.  Do you remember

how it is that we found out about Michael Flynn`s conversations with the

Russian government?  How we all came to know that National Security Adviser

Michael Flynn had actually talked about sanctions with the Russian

government even though he`d been denying that?  Do you remember how we

found out that actually we know what`s in the conversations and we know he

talked about sanctions? 


How did we know what was in the conversations?  How did we find out about

that?  They were phone calls. 


How did we – we found out about that because there were, reportedly,

transcripts of the calls between National Security Adviser Michael Flynn

and Russian government officials.  And as we think about danger, right, as

we think about how dangerous this moment is, as we think about political

bravery in this context, as we think about what people are risking and how

big a deal this moment is for us as a country, how outside the normal

course of event this is thing is that we are living, consider just that one

fact about Michael Flynn, national security adviser, and why he had to

resign 24 days into this new administration.


U.S. intelligence agencies often times – like everyday – listen in on

calls and communications made by foreigners, particularly foreign

government officials here in the U.S. happens all the time.  It`s a little

unseemly, right?  It`s not awesome feeling to know that but it`s true and

it`s legal under U.S. law.


But under U.S. law, if American law enforcement or intelligence sources are

surveilling, they are listening in on a foreign communication and an

American gets on the phone, a U.S. person becomes part of that conversation

then in that circumstance, in that event it is no longer legal for the U.S.

agencies listening in on that call to keep listening.  They have to hang



It`s legal for them to listen to foreigners, for them to eavesdrop and spy

on foreigners.  It`s not legal for them to eavesdrop and spy on Americans. 

So, if an American gets on that call, if an American turns up in one of

those communications, they have to drop it.  Unless they`ve got a warrant

that keeps them listening in, because there`s some investigation under way

and they`ve been able to go to court and get a warrant that allows them to

keep listening. 


The fact that we know there were transcripts of intercepted communications

between Michael Flynn and the Russians means that there was a warrant,

means that a FISA court warrant was issued for an investigation somehow

related to that matter that allowed that surveillance to keep going,

allowed that transcript to be taken. 


And FISA information is a big deal in terms of secrecy.  FISA is a secret

national security court in the United States.  Stuff that turns up under

FISA court warrants, stuff obtained under FISA court warrants doesn`t

usually get leaked. 


This is not your run-of-the-mill talk to your neighborhood journalist. 

FISA stuff is very secretive information that is treated very carefully in

the government. 


And that means whoever leaked the content of those Michael Flynn Russian

government intercepts, whoever said, “They talked about sanctions, it`s on

the transcripts,” whoever leaked that to the press was doing something

that`s a big deal, was taking a big leap into the unknown, was taking a big

risk.  Somebody who was a big enough deal to have that FISA warrant

information, apparently thought that information about National Security

Adviser Michael Flynn that turned up under that surveilled phone call,

apparently that person in the U.S. government thought that that information

that turned up on Flynn was so dangerous that it needed to be made public,

despite the fact that it was from this highly secret source covered by this

highly secret court that is kept under such close watch inside the



That stuff doesn`t leak.  That is not normal that that leaked and whoever

leaked that, whoever the source was there – I mean, you may see that as

wildly reckless, that`s secret information.  You may also see that as

wildly brave depending on the way you look at it, but it`s worth

understanding that the person who did it, I`m sure, gets what a big deal it



They must understand the danger.  They must understand the risk and they

chose, for whatever their reasons were, to do it anyway and that`s a big

deal.  And here`s where this comes together, because we don`t know what`s

going on in terms of the law enforcement and intelligence investigations,

right?  The FBI, CIA, NSA, Treasury Department investigations into links

between the Trump folks and the Russia folks.  We don`t know. 


We know a little more about the investigations happening in Congress, the

House and Senate Intelligence Committees. 


Well, earlier this week, the “Washington Post” hinted at it and last night

NBC News confirmed based on two sources that the intelligence committees

are considering calling to testify for their investigations, they`re

considering calling a man named Christopher Steele.


I was like, you know, that must have been the other name Ian Fleming

considered besides James Bond, right?  James Steele?  Christopher Bond. 

Christopher Steele?  Christopher – no, James Bond.  You can imagine.


It`s such a like a cinematically perfect, iconic, British MI6 spy name. 

Christopher Steele.


He`s also apparently a real person who is an ex MI6 British spy.  And we

know he was the author famously of that dossier of an unproven, strange

supposed Russian dirt on Donald Trump that BuzzFeed published in January,

right before the inauguration.  That salacious dossier was initially

dismissed not only as unsupported but also outlandishly salacious in terms

of its personal wild allegations about our new president. 


And, you know, still, to this day, nobody has provided one whit of evidence

that any of the sex stuff, and any of the salacious and personal stuff

about Donald Trump from that dossier is true.  Not one whit of evidence. 


But that wasn`t the only thing in that dossier and we now have had two

reports, one from CNN and one from the “New Yorker” saying that U.S.

intelligence and law enforcement sources have been finding that the dossier

kind of holds up otherwise.  They`ve been able to corroborate some of the

less salacious stuff in the dossier, the stuff about contact between the

Russian government and the Trump campaign and other people in Trump`s



Quote, “U.S. investigators say they have corroborated some of the

communications detailed in a 35-page dossier compiled by a former British

intelligence agent.”  Quote, “Intercepts do confirm that some of the

communications described in the dossier took place between the same

individuals on the same days and from the same locations as detailed in the

dossier.”  Quote, “The corroboration based on intercepted communications

has given U.S. intelligence and law enforcement greater confidence in the

credibility of some aspects of the dossier as they continue to actively

investigate its contents.” 


Now, this is from the “New Yorker” this week.  Quote, sorry, I`m

paraphrasing at the start here.  In the weeks that followed the publication

of this dossier, U.S. officials, quote, “confirmed some of its less

explosive claims relating to conversations with foreign nationals.”  Quote,

“They`re continuing to chase stuff down from the dossier and at its core a

lot of it is bearing out.”  That quote from an intelligence official

speaking with “The New Yorker” this week. 


Well, if some of that Christopher Steele dossier is turning out to be true,

if that Christopher Steele dossier turns out to be the original and at

least somewhat accurate reporting on what the Russians have on Donald Trump

and why this is happening to our country and why all these Trump-related

people have been talking to the Russians all this time, whether or not they

remember these conversations until they get it nailed to their foreheads,



You know, if that`s the case, if this is this original story of what

happened here and why, what befell our country in this scandal – well, you

know, it would be good to hear from the guy who put that together – the

guy who figured it out in the first place by going to Russia and figuring

it out. 


The problem is if the house and Senate intelligence committees want to talk

to Christopher Steele, nobody knows how to find him.  He has gone into

hiding.  He went into hiding, he says, for his own safety as soon as the

dossier came out and his name was associated with it, and nobody has seen

him since. 


And there are a lot of rumors about lot of important Russians who have

turned up dead or arrested since the Christopher Steele dossier was written

and then leaked.  If the dossier is a true account of what the Russians

have on Donald Trump and what they did to try to make him president because

of it, then, you know, think about it, the Russian government presumably

would like to plug those leaks that led to that true information, making it

to this western intelligence source and ultimately into the American press. 


Have they been going after their own people on this?  Have the Russians

that disappeared and died since the dossier came out, is that them cleaning

up after it?  I mean, one of the stories that`s not a rumor but is

confirmed news which we reported on several weeks ago is the senior FSB

officer dragged out of a high-level FSB meeting.  A high level FSB meeting

is happening in few view of the room, officers come in, put a bag over his

head, arrest him and drag him out of the room. 


We`re later told that that senior FSB officer was charged with treason and

it is believe that that`s connected to Russian government secrets leaking

to Western intelligence.  But if you want to know more about that, can`t

help you.  We haven`t heard hide nor hair of that guy since his initial



We are not used to Russian-style politics in our country.  We have never

run their operating system on our hardware before.  But this is dangerous

stuff.  I mean, this is the dagger in cloak and dagger, right? 


And little new pieces of the story are unspooling everyday, right?  The

national security adviser is gone and the son-in-law and senior adviser to

the president also met with the Russians and didn`t tell anybody about it. 

And the attorney general is recused but facing pressure to resign over his

contacts with the Russians and the Russian connected campaign manager who

mysteriously dropped out of the campaign, right before the final swing of

the election, he`s turning out to be a can of worms that`s barely been

opened yet. 


And a bit more of this story unspools every single now and has already

taken daring and bravery, particularly from the leakers and the whistle-

blowers and the intelligence sources.  But it`s worth remembering that

bravery does not happen in safe places.  Bravery does not happen where it

is safe.  Bravery happens in the presence of real danger.


And we have gotten an acute up close personal view of that danger coming up

tonight.  Stay with us.




MADDOW:  We interrupt this regularly scheduled broadcast for some breaking

news tonight regarding Attorney General Jeff Sessions.  We have just

learned that Attorney General Jeff Sessions has agreed to amend his



In his testimony at his confirmation hear hearing in the Senate in January,

he now famously failed to disclose meetings he had with the Russian

government officials when he was asked about Trump campaign meetings with

Russian government officials.  Jeff Sessions told the Senate he didn`t meet

with Russians but he did.  He now says he will go back and change his

testimony.  He says he will do that on Monday. 


Now, this announcement comes after this letter was sent today, all nine

Democratic members of the Senate committee wrote to the committee`s

chairman today, requesting that Jeff Sessions come back, that he appear

before the committee in public and an open session and answer their

questions in light of what he now admits was not true about his testimony. 


The spokesperson for Sessions tells NBC tonight, quote, “In light of the

letter received from senators late this afternoon, the attorney general

will respond to their questions along with his amended testimony on

Monday.”  Oh, really? 


No.  Before you get too excited, I need to tell you the “Washington Post”

is reporting what they mean by that is that Jeff Sessions is not going to

turn up.  He`s not going to appear before the committee in person on

Monday, rather he`s going to file his amended testimony and he will answer

senators` questions in writing on Monday. 


I don`t know why he doesn`t want to show up and take questions with the

cameras rolling, but that news that at least we`ll get something from him

on Monday is just into NBC tonight.  We will keep you updated as we get



Stay with us.




MADDOW:  On Tuesday night this week, when we were covering the president`s

not State of the Union Address, you might remember that we had NBC chief

foreign correspondent Richard Engel on the air after the speech from

Moscow.  It`s a little unnerving that it makes news sense right now to get

a take on the American State of the Union from a Russian perspective,



But that does actually make news sense right now and that`s why Richard was

in Moscow for us on Tuesday night.  But Richard Engel has since come back

from Moscow, and he ended up today in Virginia doing an absolutely hair-

raising interview with one of the people you will find on every list of

opposition figure, journalists, and dissidents who have been murdered or

barely survived an attempted murder in Vladimir Putin`s Russia. 


The man who Richard interviewed is named Vladimir Kara-Murza.  Two years

ago in 2015, Vladimir Kara-Murza was poisoned.  He very nearly died.  He

got very suddenly ill, lost consciousness, he had multiple organ failure,

he barely survived.  He had to learn to walk again.  He had to learn how to

hold cutlery again.  That was 2015 but he survived. 


And then it happened again.  Little over a month ago, he was back in

Russia.  The same thing happened, and his doctors say he somehow ingested

what they`re only willing to call an unidentified toxic substance.  But it

happened again and he has been in and out of a coma since then, but again,

he survived what appears to be a second attempted murder, a second



And today, Richard Engel interviewed him while he recovers and got him to

explain what just happened.  Watch this. 





morning I guess even earlier, 4:30 maybe, I woke up because my heart was

racing.  My heartbeat was getting faster and faster and I could feel it. 





KARA-MURZA:  Yes, and it obviously wasn`t normal, and I started sweating

badly and feeling suddenly really weak.  As I realized later that`s because

my blood pressure dropped suddenly very quickly.  I started having trouble

breathing and this was very painful as well, but also, it`s – I could

physically make this movement but it felt like no air was coming out and I

was suffocating. 


ENGEL:  Gasping – gasping for breath? 


KARA-MURZA:  Yes.  Of course, I knew straight away what it was because it

was the second time in two years it happened and it began almost

identically the same way. 


I understand this happens really quickly.  Within the space of maybe 15 to

20 minutes, I went from being completely normal to being basically

incapacitated, unable to breathe, heart racing, blood pressure non-

existent, unable to stand or walk or even sit at that stage. 


And then within six hours, the next six hours, by that time I was already

unconscious.  Within six hours, all of my major organs shut down just one

after another.  Again, same picture as 2015, multiple organ failure.  The

liver, lungs, kidneys, heart, one after another, they just give up. 


But I wish I didn`t remember those first few hours because those were the

most horrible ones.  I mean, I don`t think there are words to describe this

– you know, to describe how it feels when you`re trying to breathe and you

cannot, and when you slowly feel your whole body just giving up, one organ

after another.


And you feel like, you know, you feel the life is going out of you and I

remember having this distinct feeling OK, this is it.  I`m dying, this is

really it.  This is the end. 


And I wish I didn`t remember those few hours, but I do both times, both in

2015 and now. 




MADDOW:  Joining us now is Richard Engel, NBC`s chief foreign



Richard, congratulations on getting that interview.  It`s harrowing to hear

this man who was almost killed twice talk about getting that near to death. 

What was it like talking to him today? 


ENGEL:  Well, I was surprised that he was in such good health.  He was

weak.  He stopped the interview after about an hour.  He said he couldn`t

go on. 


He walks quite slowly but his mind was sharp.  He was speaking very

clearly.  There was no stuttering.  There were issues with that.  But I was

impressed at his bravery, that he sat, he came, he did the interview. 


We did a walking shot where we walked together to get some pictures.  He

has something of a limp right now which is from his last poisoning.  He

lost a lot of feeling in – on the left side of his body, but I found him

to be very courageous that he was willing to sit down and tell his story

after they tried to kill him twice he says. 


He`s now in the United States.  That was one thing that his family wanted

to make sure he got out of Russia so that he was able to recover. 


Right after he was poisoned, I spoke to his wife who also, somewhat

shockingly, sat down, did the interview and she told me at the time that as

soon as he was taken off of the respirators and the life support systems,

as soon as he was unplugged, she wanted to get him out of the country. 


MADDOW:  Richard, it is widely, widely believed that he was – this

attempted murder was something that was carried out by the Russian security

services or by people related to the Russian security services.  That he

was targeted because he`s a Putin opposition figure. 


ENGEL:  He fully believes that. 


MADDOW:  What do you make of those contentions? 


ENGEL:  Well, if you look at the pattern here, a lot of people who have

been outspoken critics have had untimely health problems and sometimes



You mentioned earlier and showed that disturbing picture of Boris Nemtsov

who`s on the bridge right next to the Kremlin who had just been shot.  Now,

there is a connection here.  Boris Nemtsov was not only Navalny`s close

friend, was not only Kara-Murza`s close friend, Kara-Murza was in Russia at

the time promoting a documentary he made on his friend, on Boris Nemtsov,

the man shot dead on the bridge. 


He was touring the country promoting this documentary, going from lecture

to lecture.  You`ve been on book tours.  You know what it`s like when you

go from location to location.  You meet people, you drink things, you eat



So, he was in a very hectic period and sometime during that period his

doctor says he was given some sort of poison.  He doesn`t know exactly

when.  He doesn`t know where but he was promoting this documentary on

another activist, a friend of his who`s actually the godfather to one of

his children, and then in the middle of the morning, 4:30, 5:00 a.m. he

says, he suddenly feel this is incredible pain, he shoots up out of bed, he

can`t breathe and within 15, 20 minutes, he can`t even stand and his organs

start collapsing. 


So, look at the pattern.  His friend was shot dead.  He was poisoned some

time while he`s promoting a documentary about his friend.  Other activists

in his circle have also ended up killed or injured so in his claim that

there`s a pattern that if you speak out against the Kremlin, bad things

will happen to you, there is a case to be made there certainly. 


MADDOW:  Richard Engel, NBC chief foreign correspondent.  Richard, again,

congratulations on that interview and thanks for helping us understand it

tonight.  Appreciate you being here my friend. 


ENGEL:  Absolutely.  It`s important to say that – just so we put context,

we did reach out to the Russian authorities.  We reached out to the

Kremlin, to the embassy here in Washington, also to Russian police and we

did not get a response. 


MADDOW:  If you do, I don`t want to be in the room with you when it comes

in, but I`d love to hear about it afterwards. 


ENGEL:  Absolutely.


MADDOW:  Thank you, Richard.  I appreciate it. 


I should also mention that one of the moments that stuck with me from this

interview as I watched the whole thing when it came today, Richard at one

point asked Vladimir Kara-Murza as he`s recovering from this assassination

attempt, what appears to be an assassination attempt, he asked if he had a

message for President Trump and Vladimir Kara-Murza said in response,

quote, “The only thing we ask of our colleagues and political leaders in

western democracies including the United States is that they don`t help Mr.



We`ll be right back.




MADDOW:  Nice place – Concord, North Carolina.  Population roughly 80,000. 

Concord has its own airport, small one.  Little single runway.  Concord

calls itself the fastest gateway into Charlotte.  Seems like sort of a co-

dependent relationship if you ask me. 


But one day in November, this past November, less than a week ahead of the

general election, our future president held a campaign rally in Concord,

North Carolina, and on that same day, flying into Concord`s single-runway

airport was a man they called the King of Fertilizer.  They called them

that in Russia.  I`m sure it sounds better in Russian and it probably

rhymes.  His name is Dmitry Rybolovlev.


Now, if you watched Monday show, Monday night`s broadcast of this show, you

might remember us talking about Dmitry Rybolovlev, about this fantastically

wealthy billionaire, Russian oligarch, the King of Fertilizer. 


In what his ex-wife said was a bid to shield his gazillions of dollars from

his white during a hard fought divorce battle, he went on a radical

spending spree during the roughly the period of his divorce.  He bought a

private Greek island for $150 million.  He bought a big French soccer team. 

He bought the most expensive apartment in New York City at the time. 


And in 2008, the Russian fertilizer king bought this Palm Beach mansion

from Donald Trump and he bought for $100 million, which was the most

expensive U.S. home sale ever.  A hundred million dollar price tag was

remarkable for another aspect, another feature of that bottom line, which

is that $100 million was like 2.5 times what Donald Trump paid for it just

a couple years earlier. 


That much we have covered on this show.  We`ve covered that and the fact

that the fertilizer guy who is so apparently radically overpaid Donald

Trump for that property, he`s also a major shareholder to a bank in Cyprus

that has ties to Vladimir Putin.  The vice chairman of that bank is our new

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, long time friend of Donald Trump.  So if

you saw Monday night`s show, that much we have covered. 


Here`s a new thing, though – as far as anybody can tell, the same Russian

oligarch, the fertilizer guy, he also owns this nearly $100 million

airport.  Look at that, private owned airplane.  Look how big it is.  He

owns it through a holding company in the British Virgin Islands and we know

from flight records that on November 3rd – so five days before the

presidential election – his plane, the fertilizer king, his plane showed

up in little Concord, North Carolina, that tiny one-strip airport on the

same day Donald Trump was in Concord, North Carolina, holding a rally. 


The fertilizer king`s plane arrived in Concord, North Carolina, from New

York at around 9:30 in the morning, stayed in Concord for a few hours, then

took off for the roughly 25-minute voyage from Concord, North Carolina, to

Charlotte, North Carolina, which is where we get this picture. 


The fertilizer king`s plane you see there on the left, on the right that is

Donald Trump`s plane.  They were both spotted at Charlotte`s airport that

same day at the same time, November 3rd, five days before the election,

which is interesting, right?


And it`s not the only time the fertilizer king`s plane was in the same city

as Donald Trump while he was campaigning that fall.  A week before, October

30th, the fertilizer king, his plane was in Las Vegas.  He`s in Las Vegas

the exact same day that the Republican nominee was holding his Las Vegas



But then, hmm, last month, the president spent the weekend of February 11th

in Florida at Mar-a-Lago with the prime minister of Japan, remember the

whole thing about the fake Situation Room with the missile launch at Mar-a-

Lago?  Right.


Well, that Friday night of that weekend, look, here comes the Russian

fertilizer king flying into Miami where from where he had been previously,

which happens to have been the south of France.  You know, honestly, who

knows what this means?  It could be a big cowinky-dink. 


The story has layers on top of layers.  But tonight, we have someone hire

with us who put us on to the flight the number – or the tail number

information here, who figured out this thing about these mysterious

interactions of the flight paths of these two planes. 


He may be able to decode this mystery with us and that special guest joins

us next.  Stay with us.




MADDOW:  If you have spent a lifetime rooting around in the deepest secret

of the richest and most powerful people on earth, if you found a way to

make a career rooting around the lives and secrets of the gazillionaires on

earth, then right now, you are a remarkable resource for the rest of us in

this country trying to figure out this new presidency we`ve got, because we

now need people who can follow like the tail numbers of private jets and

start asking the question of why an airplane apparently belonging to a

Russian fertilizer king keeps showing up in the same place as Donald Trump. 


From the web site run by Pulitzer-winning financial reporter David Cay

Johnston, quote, “Why would Dmitry Rybolovlev`s plane scurry back and forth

from Moscow to odd destinations like Charlotte and Concord, North Carolina,

as well as to Las Vegas, New York, Burbank and Miami, to arrive there

precisely when Donald Trump was there?”


David Cay Johnston then asks what he calls the obvious question, “Was

Rybolovlev a Putin emissary?”


Joining us now is David Cay Johnston.  He`s editor and founder of the, which published that report.  He`s also the author of “The

Making of Donald Trump.”


David Cay Johnston, it`s great to say you.  Thank you for being with us





MADDOW:  We started looking at the fertilizer guy through the lens of him

having bought this Florida mansion from Trump for more than what Trump paid

for.  It seemed like a way for somebody to pay Donald Trump more than $50

million.  What got you started on him and on the mystery of his plane

showing up so many places that Trump is? 


JOHNSTON:  Well, the report that we ran, which is about 10,000 words long,

was actually written by Jim Henry, who has also been tracing bankers and

wealthy people for as long as I have, 40 years or so.  But we have been

looking of these ties that Trump has with the Russian oligarchs.


And, Rachel, remember, the oligarchs are a state-sponsored network of

criminals and they are totally dependent to stay alive, as you showed in

earlier segment, on being in the good graces of Vladimir Putin and when he

wants things done, they do them. 


In the case of Rybolovlev, he turned over $250 million, quote/unquote,

“voluntarily” to the Russian government in dispute with Putin, where Putin

was essentially bringing him to heel.  When citizen journalists started

noticing and then Jim Henry developed where this plane was, we began

saying, what`s going on here?  One or two cases, well, OK. 


Now, we can`t put Dmitry Rybolovlev and Trump in the same room, but the

number of times their planes were in the same places during the election,

particularly given all the other questions we have about what is going on

and why is Donald Trump so eager to tamp down and make sure there`s no

public inquiry, that`s what prompted us to decide this is a worth a big

lift for our nonprofit news organization. 


MADDOW:  And, David, am I right Trump maintains he`s never met this person,

he`s never had any dealings with this person even though he conducted with

him what was the most expensive home sale in U.S. history?  He said

throughout that entire process, they never met each other, never came

across each other. 


JOHNSTON:  Well, Rex Tillerson never pumped gasoline, either.  I mean,

that`s a silly – it`s on the line of the low grade thinking where Donald

Trump says for every new regulation, we`re going to repeal two others. 

It`s moronic.  It is so stupid, it`s moronic. 


And I think voters – I hope voters look at that and go that`s ridiculous. 

That`s a non-answer about the issues. 


MADDOW:  David Cay Johnston is editor and founder of who has

been doing incredibly thorough heavy lifting on this subject and I expect

more to come.  David, thanks for being with us.  I really appreciate it.


JOHNSTON:  Thank you, Rachel.


MADDOW:  Do you have it bookmarked?  You should bookmark it.


We`ll be right back.




MADDOW:  Strictly speaking, this is not a press conference. 


This was our new secretary of state yesterday coming out for a quick photo-

op with the director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N.

nuclear agency.  So, that`s neat. 


OK.  They`re standing their silently, everybody grab a camera.  OK. 


Since the new administration started, these photo-ops are actually all we

know.  They are all we`ve been allowed to see, all we`ve been told about

the work of the State Department.  We get to see hand shaking by silent men

and occasionally a silent man and a silent woman, but that`s it. 


The State Department`s not doing any other talking.  The State Department,

the usual practice going back to the 1950s was regular, usually daily press

briefings.  The current State Department has given zero briefings, no

briefings, no press conferences, just the hand shake photo ops.  That`s all

they do, while not speaking. 


Well, this is the latest one, these nobody`s allowed to talk thing that

happened but the great Andrea Mitchell was not having it at this one. 

Watch this, watch Andrea trying to get her job done as a reporter and watch

the reaction. 




ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS:  Mr. Secretary, can you do your job with the

kind of budget cuts the president has proposed?  What does it say about the

priority of diplomacy in this administration? 


STAFFER:  Thank you, everyone.  Thank you. 


MITCHELL:  Do you think you`ll have a deputy any time soon, sir? 


STAFFER:  Thank you.  We`re done.  Thank you. 


MITCHELL:  When do you think you might have a deputy? 


STAFFER:  Right this way.  Come on, let`s go.  Andrea, come on, guys. 

Andrea, out, please.  Out. 




MADDOW:  You hear Andrea even crack up at the end like seriously, this is

it?  She`s been reporting there so long the staffers know her.  They`re

like “Andrea, come on.”


The State Department silence really has been deafening, we are told tonight

that after these months of silence, the regular press briefings will at

least start up again on Monday with some caveats.  Andrea reports tonight

there will be two briefings on camera, the rest will be done on the phone

and, of course, they`ll take Fridays off. 


But they will start to speak again.  We don`t know what the State

Department briefings will look like under this new administration.  Until

then, nobody is holding their breath, certainly not Andrea, who is not

having it.  That makes me love her all the more. 




MITCHELL:  When do you think you might have a deputy? 


STAFFER:  Andrea – come on, guys.  Come on.  Let`s go.  Andrea.




MADDOW:  Andrea, please, they`re not going to talk to you. 


That does it for us tonight, raise your children to be reporters.  We`ll

see you again on Monday. 




Good evening, Lawrence. 










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