The Rachel Maddow Show, transcript 3/3/2017
Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
VLADIMIR KARA-MURZA, RUSSIAN OPPOSITION ACTIVIST: About 5:00 in the
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.
RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT: You woke up to this
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
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
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.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
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
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
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.
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-
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
DCReport.org, 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
DAVID CAY JOHNSTON, DCREPORT.ORG FOUNDER: Thank you.
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 dcreport.org 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: Dcreport.org. 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
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
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.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
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.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MITCHELL: When do you think you might have a deputy?
STAFFER: Andrea – come on, guys. Come on. Let`s go. Andrea.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
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.
Now, it`s time for “THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL”.
Good evening, Lawrence.
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