The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 3/31/17
Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW
Date: March 31, 2017
Guest: Ned Price, Clinton Watts
CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: All right. 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. Have
a great weekend.
And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. Happy Friday.
God decided to give me an ice storm for my birthday this year. So, we`re
broadcasting from western Massachusetts tonight. Super happy to be here
with a very nice group of people, sort of my home studio because I live in
western Massachusetts. But it`s been a very, very long time since I have
And I am grateful to everybody for all the hard work, who made this
Thank you tonight for being with us as well.
There`s a lot going on tonight. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders are in
the other half of this state they are co-headlining a big, big rally in
Boston. This is an event that has attracted thousands of people sold out
event here in deep blue Massachusetts.
And, you know, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren probably still are the
highest-profile Democratic or Bernie Sanders case Democratic-ish
politicians in the whole country, at least they are the highest profile
Democratic politicians not named Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama.
But, you know, when times change especially when times change radically,
you never quite know who`s going to become the new center of the political
universe and in the few short scandal-ridden weeks that the Trump
administration has existed, we have grown some new Household name Democrats
as a country. They haven`t eclipsed the more famous ones, but they`re
starting to get pretty famous on their own like this previously obscure
California Congressman Adam Schiff.
Adam Schiff is the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. Most
folks could not have picked him out of a lineup this time last year. But
Adam Schiff has fast become one of the highest profile people in his party
not necessarily because people look at him and think, hmm, President
Schiff, although maybe some people do think that. I think more of a reason
he`s become so prominent in the past few weeks, in the past couple of
months, is because of the sense that when the White House turns on the TV
and sees Adam Schiff there talking, important people in the White House
with secrets to hide start grinding their teeth and maybe throwing stuff
and conceivably, they start calling his Republican counterpart on the
intelligence committee to plot some new smokescreen to try to throw Adam
Schiff off the case.
Well, tonight, newly prominent Adam Schiff met with Donald Trump.
Apparently, it was not a big showdown. It`s possible it wasn`t even a
planned event at all. But Adam Schiff went to the White today to review
intelligence documents and apparently while he had what his office is
describing as a cordial meeting with the president. I bet.
This trip to the White House today was to review documents, documents that
were apparently thrown up as a smokescreen for the Trump-Russia
investigation that`s being led in part on Adam Schiff and Devin Nunes`
House intelligence Committee. These are the documents that Republican
Chairman Devin Nunes apparently obtained from White House officials and
then gave a big press conference to make a big show of him carrying those
documents back into the White House, which is where they came from in the
first place. The White House has still not admitted that the White House
itself was the source of those documents for Devin Nunes – at least they
haven`t admitted it overtly.
There`s a whole bunch of problems here in terms of the way this thing has
rolled out. Devin Nunes explicitly told a reporter that he did not obtain
those documents from White House officials. But apparently he did and
apparently now, the White House is at least implicitly admitting that they
were the source of the documents because today they made those documents
available to Adam Schiff and how else could they be showing them to Adam
Schiff tonight if they never had them in the first place?
The White House still not explains why they previously covered up where
they came from even if they are implicitly admitting now that it was them.
In print, this is sort of the cover-up part of the scandal I guess,
experiencing it though in day-to-day life as it keeps unrolling, it feels
less like a – this feels less like a scandal and more just like a fiasco.
It just feels like a mess.
But after reviewing those documents at the invitation of the White House
tonight, Congressman Adam Schiff did release this statement about what he
saw. Quote, “Today, staff director and I reviewed materials at the White
House. It was represented to me that these are precisely the same
materials that were provided to the chairman, Chairman Devin Nunes, over a
week ago. While I cannot discuss the content of the documents, if the
White House had any concern over these materials, they should have been
shared with the full committees in the first place as part of our ordinary
oversight responsibilities. Nothing I could see today warranted a
departure from the normal review procedures and these materials should now
be provided to the full membership of both committees.”
And then he closes with this, “The White House has yet to explain why
senior White House staff apparently shared these materials with but one
member of either committee, only for their contents to be briefed back to
the White House.” The White House has yet to explain that.
And he`s right, it remains weird and unexplained that the White House is
now implicitly admitting that it`s the source of these documents, that it
has these documents that can show them to Adam Schiff. They`re still not
saying why they wouldn`t admit to that before. The White House will still
not say who let Congressman Devin Nunes into the White House grounds to
obtain these documents in the first place last week, or why White House
staffers gave the information specifically to him, all that remains
And now, we`re left with more than just the fiasco, more than just the mess
now we`re left with some serious questions. Now, we`re left with the
question of why White House staffers were looking at this information and
leaking it in the way they did and whether that indicates that the White
House was tracking the progress of the FBI`s investigations or even trying
to pervert the course of those investigations in Congress.
Today, NBC News reported that before the Obama administration left and the
Trump administration came on board, Obama administration officials made a
list of documents related to the Russia investigation basically in order to
keep them safe. Quoting from the NBC News report today, quote, “Obama
administration officials were so concerned about what would happen to key
classified documents related to the Russia probe once President Trump took
office that they created a list of document serial numbers to give two
senior members of the Senate Intelligence Committee.”
Quote, “A former Obama administration official tells NBC News that after
the list of documents related to the probe into Russian interference in the
U.S. election was created in early January, after that list of numbers was
created, he, the former Obama administration official, hand carried that
list of serial numbers to members of the Senate Intelligence Committee.”
The purpose was to make it, quote, “harder to bury the information.”
So, the investigation into the Russian attack on our election last year, it
started obviously during the Obama ministration. The Obama administration
was worried that the Trump folks would erase it, would get rid of what had
been found already. So, NBC News reports tonight that Obama administration
officials made a list of all the documents that existed at the time Trump
took over. And now, the Senate Intelligence Committee can look at that
list and they can know they can find out if any of those documents related
to the investigation have in fact been mysteriously disappeared. They`ve
got basically the table of contents just in case somebody`s been burning
And maybe making that list was not such a bad idea. Remember what a weird
thing about when we found out that Steve Bannon was getting a seat on the
National Security Council, right? This is the freaking National Security
Council. Steve Bannon is the publisher of a right-wing website who lives
on Seinfeld royalties. What is he doing on the National Security Council?
After an initial freaked out that Steve Bannon was on the principals
committee of the National Security Council now and the CIA director and the
Director of National Intelligence and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs were
not on that principals committee, after a furor over that development those
other high-ranking officials were reinstated at the National Security
Council. But Bannon didn`t go. They kept Bannon there as well.
Even after they got rid of General Michael Flynn as national security
advisor, replaced him with H.R. McMaster they still kept Steve Bannon on at
the National Security Council. H.R. McMaster was reportedly told that he
could hire and fire at will on the National Security Council, that didn`t
turn out to be true. He did try to fire a young man named Ezra Cohen-
Watnick and the White House including Steve Bannon intervened to keep Ezra
Cohen-Watnick in his job.
And now, Ezra Cohen-Watnick from the National Security Council, as well as
the top lawyer at the National Security Council, have both been named as
two of the people who took intelligence intercepts that may or may not be
related to investigations into the Trump campaign in his potential
collusion with Russia, they took those intercepts and they fed them out of
the White House for political effect.
Weird that Steve Bannon`s on the National Security Council, right? Still,
especially if the National Security Council is now turning out to be the
vehicle by which the White House is trying to kibosh these investigations.
Joining us now is Ned Price. Until mid-February of this year, Mr. Price
worked at the CIA as a spokesman and senior analyst, before he quit that
job. He is also in the past served as spokesman and senior director at the
National Security Council.
Mr. Price, thank you for taking the time to be with us tonight. I
appreciate you being here.
NED PRICE, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL SENIOR DIRECTOR : It`s good to
MADDOW: So I highlighted the role of Adam Schiff here because he has been
very aggressive in not just pursuing this investigation but also raising
questions about what the White House has done here, how the National
Security Council in this case has behaved. He`s basically described
National Security Council`s as being implicated in laundering intelligence,
as hiding the origins of intelligence that was fed out and made public for
As somebody who worked on the National Security Council, how does that
strike you as an allegation?
PRICE: Well, it is absolutely credible and it certainly appears to be what
Look, Rachel, you know, President Trump made a name for himself as a
showman and I think what we`ve seen over the past week has been little more
than amateur political theater, except the stakes in this case or certainly
much higher than who gets the apprenticeship with the Trump Organization
and this is really about our national security.
Look, I think the true nature of this incident began to reveal itself
earlier this week when Chairman Nunes finally confirmed that, yes, he met
his sources on the White House grounds. That was the clearest indication
to date that this was a scheme that was cooked up by the White House,
including by apparently these two senior National Security Council
And I say scheme cooked up because they didn`t need Chairman Nunes to go
down to the White House to have this furtive surreptitious meeting. They
didn`t need this middleman. They – these two senior NSC officials could
have made the five minute or so walk from the fourth floor of the
Eisenhower Building where Mr. Cohen-Watnick`s office is located, to the
Oval Office if they felt they had something important that the president
needed to see needed to see.
But instead, as Vice Chair Schiff said, they laundered this information
through Devin Nunes who has proven himself to be a willing pawn of the
White House for a couple reasons. One, they wanted to add credibility to
these documents. Two, of course, they wanted to obscure the source. This
couldn`t be coming from the White House.
And, three, Rachel, I think importantly, they wanted to distract from the
unmitigated disaster that was the HPSCI, the House Permanent Select
Committee on Intelligence hearing last Monday, in which Director Comey
admitted for the first time that there is an active, ongoing
counterintelligence investigation that could well reach into the White
And, frankly, they succeeded. If it hadn`t been so ham-handed, they may
have gotten away with it. But eventually, this caper has caught up with
MADDOW: Ned, one of the things that people are starting to get
increasingly concerned about and this NBC report today about Obama
administration officials making a list of the serial numbers of documents
related to the Russia investigation and taking it with them are taking it
down the road, taking it to the Senate Intelligence Committee so it exists
somewhere outside the administration after the Trump folks got on board
people are worried about the prospect that within the White House and
within the National Security Council, there`s the possibility not just for
tracking the investigations into the Trump-Russia situation but potentially
for sabotaging them, or disappearing key aspects of those investigations
and the intelligence work on which they are based.
Can you tell us if those fears are based in reality? Is that far-fetched?
Is that something people should worry about?
PRICE: Well, up until January 20th, I would have said, no, that`s
outlandish. We wouldn`t have an administration and power that would work
and subvert the system in that way. But unfortunately, now, I`m not so
sure, and if that report is in fact accurate, I think it may well have been
prudent to preserve that intelligence and to ensure that there is a
But it`s also important to note that the NBC News report doesn`t allege
that the previous administration gave this information solely to Senator
Warner, the Democratic senator, that we – the Obama administration gave it
to the entire Senate Intelligence Committee.
Look, there`s another challenge here that I think we`ll need to be
cognizant of and vigilant against, and that is this administration reaching
directly into the Department of Justice. Of course, Attorney General
Sessions has purportedly recused himself from this investigation. But this
administration, the Trump administration, has shown no compunction against
breaking that previously inviolable wall between the White House and the
Department of Justice and even the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and I
think we need to be concerned in and watch to ensure that this is not the
case, to ensure that this information this investigation can go wherever it
needs to go.
MADDOW: Ned Price, former spokesman analyst of the CIA, former spokesman
and senior director at the National Security Council. Ned, thank you for
joining us this evening.
PRICE: Happy early birthday. Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: Thank you very much.
All right. Tonight, we have a guest who is very smart, who has been saying
something very, very scary. We are not going to have a cocktail moment
today but nobody will blame you if you have a little tipple in this
commercial break. See you in a moment. See you in a moment. We`ll be
MADDOW: One week from tonight, Republicans say they intend to have
confirmed the president`s pick for the United States Supreme Court. They
intend to put the nomination of Neil Gorsuch before the full Senate for a
vote on Friday, week from today.
Now it is not at all clear whether they are going to get there on this
vote. The top Democrat in the Senate, Chuck Schumer, has been saying that
Democrats will filibuster this nomination. He says Republicans should not
get to confirm a Supreme Court pick, while the cloud of this Russia
investigation is hanging over the president.
Well, Chuck Schumer tonight is one crucial vote closer to bringing that
filibuster fight to the end the Democrats want. Progressives, by and
large, have been on board with Chuck Schumer and actually pushing him in
this direction. The big question for the Democrats has been whether
they`re centrist members, the more conservative members, would go along
with it too.
Well, tonight, centrist Democrat Claire McCaskill who has struggled openly
with whether to block this nomination, tonight, Claire McCaskill announced
which way she is going and she is going for the filibuster.
Senator McCaskill saying tonight, quote, “I cannot support Judge Gorsuch
because his opinions reveal a rigid ideology that always puts the little
guy under the boot of corporations whether it is a freezing truck driver or
an autistic child, he`s shown a stunning lack of humanity. The president
who promised working people he would lift them up has nominated a judge who
can`t even see them.”
This decision by Senator McCaskill takes away a vote that Republicans had
been counting on for Gorsuch. They need eight Democrats on their side in
order to get around the filibuster. So far, they only have two. They have
Heidi Heitkamp from North Dakota and they have Joe Manchin of West Virginia
and that`s it. Republicans are running out of Democrats who could be one
over on this.
Will Democrats stick together and successfully filibuster the Gorsuch
nomination? If they do that, will Republicans then respond by using the
nuclear option and taking away the power to filibuster altogether?
Mistakes in this are super high the outcome is quite unclear and that, of
course makes for agita left, right and center.
Happy Friday. We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: This is a check. I think we`ve got a picture of the check here
for $7.2 million. As you can tell, it`s an old check, hard to read $7.2
million, obviously, a ton of money.
But back when this check was signed in 1867, it was tons and tons of money.
$7.2 million back in 1867 was about $125 million in today`s money. That`s
what we got paid – excuse me, that`s what we paid as a country to get
Alaska. That`s what we paid for Alaska.
The country that cashed that check from the United States of America was
Russia. That`s what we got Alaska from. Russia was sort of strapped for
cash at the time. The Crimean War hadn`t turned out awesome. They weren`t
getting much out of Alaska anymore. They were worried would be hard to
hold on to for the long run. So, they cut a deal. The U.S. Secretary of
State William Seward gave them that check for $7.2 million and they gave us
territory that was one fits the size of the entire continental United
States. Nice deal.
That deal was made 150 years ago yesterday. And William Seward, secretary
of state, he took a ton of heat for it. People thought it was an expensive
bad deal for America. They called it Seward`s folly.
But now, of course, were quite psyched to have Alaska. You know who`s not
psyched that we have Alaska now? Russia. They have seller`s remorse.
I mean, they haven`t been grinding their teeth about it for all 150 years,
but they are sort of grinding their teeth about it now. This is a Russian
magazine called “Military Industrial Courier”, which I promise you I do not
read on the regular. But this got picked up in the near times yesterday.
This article in the Russian “Military Industrial Courier” is called “The
Alaska we`ve lost.” Darn you, William Seward, for snookering us on that
Yesterday, Russian President Vladimir Putin was at an international forum
in the Arctic where he was not only complaining about Alaska, he was
complaining that the United States is unfairly using Alaska as part of our
plot for world domination. He said, quote, “What we do is contained
locally while what the U.S. does in Alaska, it does on the global level.”
So, the United States is using our unfair toehold in Alaska for purposes of
global oppression, obviously. I mean, you would not expect this sort of
thing if you weren`t looking for it, but there is the bit of Russian
nationalistic fervor right now around the issue of Alaska.
In 2011, in the White House under President Obama started there we the
people petitioning system on the White House website, if you get enough
people to sign up on any petition, the White House have to answer. And it
turned into all sorts of stuff, right? Everything from the Death Star to
gay rights to the war in Syria to 9 million different petitions about legal
But in 2014, one of these petitions popped up and it was about Alaska. And
the Alaska one, it didn`t break any records or anything in terms of the
response to it. But something about the petition itself seemed a little
off, and then the response to the petition was definitely off.
This is it. We`ve got snap of it. It`s not posted online anymore, so
we`ve got the diligent national heroes at the Wayback Machine to thank for
having captured this screenshot, the snapshot of it when it had about seven
But check it out. You can – you can read it for yourself what`s wrong
with this picture. Quote, “We petition the Obama administration to Alaska
back to Russia. Groups Siberian Russians cross the isthmus now the Bering
Strait dash ten thousand years ago. Russian began to settle on the Arctic
coast first visited Alaska during the expedition, Shestakov and D.I.
Pavlutsky 1729 to 1735, years, vote for secession of Alaska from the United
States and joining Russia.”
Let me guess, Google translate Russian to English wasn`t all that awesome
in 2014, right? So, I mean it seems like an odd thing at the time, right?
This oddly translated give us back Alaska thing. Who wants this?
It got a little bit of news pick up at the time and it ended up on the
White House website. But then almost instantly, it got 39,000 signatures.
Hmm, 39,000, where did those come from they can`t all be people who think
Well, I`ll let former FBI special agent former executive officer of the
counterterrorism center at West Point, now an academic counterterrorism
expert named Clinton Watts pick up the part of the story from there.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CLINTON WATTS, FORMER FBI SPECIAL AGENT: In April 2014, Andrew Weisberg,
J. Burger and I noticed a petition on the whitehouse.gov website, Alaska
back to Russia appeared as a public campaign to give America`s largest
state back to the nation from which it was purchased. Satirical are
nonsensical petitions appearing on the White House website are not out of
the norm, but this petition was different having gained more than 39,000
online signatures in a short period.
Our examination of those signing and posting on its petition revealed an
odd pattern. The accounts vary considerably from other petitions and
appeared to be the work of bots. A closer look at those bots tied in
closely with other social media campaigns we had observed pushing Russian
propaganda months before.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That`s Clinton Watts testifying at the Senate Intelligence
Committee about some of the more ham-handed Russian influence operations
that he`s noticed in his counterterrorism work, counterintelligence work in
the United States. Noticing how even you know stupid stuff like that
around a poorly spelled White House petition. Even when it`s dumb, it
gives you a place to start in terms of seeing what tools they have, in
terms of seeing how they operate. So, basically, getting 39,000 signatures
instantly on this groovy mistranslated White House petition about Alaska
and Russia, it gave away a little bit of how they work.
So, there`s – their signature because of things like that, because they
operate in lots of ways serious and not, some of those signatures were
already clear to counterintelligence people by the time those same Russian
forces were operating inside something very high-profile. They were
operating inside the U.S. presidential election.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WATTS: The final piece of Russia`s modern active measures surfaced in the
summer of 2016 as hacked materials were strategically leaked. The
disclosures of WikiLeaks, Guccifer 2.0 and DC Leaks demonstrated how hacks
would power the influence system Russia had built so successfully in the
previous two years.
As an example, on the evening of 30 July 2016, my colleagues and I watches
RT and Sputnik News simultaneously launched false stories of the U.S. air
base in Incirlik, Turkey, being overrun by terrorists. Within minutes, pro-
Russian social media aggregators and automated bots amplified this false
news story. More than 4,000 tweets in the first 78 minutes after launching
this false story went back to the active measures accounts we`d tracked in
the previous two years.
These previously identified accounts almost simultaneously appearing from
different geographic locations and communities amplified the fake news
story in unison.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Clinton Watts, former FBI special agent on how the Russian attack
worked in a nuts and bolts way, what it looked like to see it unfolding and
how they did their work. What he`s talking about is what intel people
called active measures, and that`s a term of art that civilians like us
don`t often use. But in this case, what it means, as far as I understand
it, is not just grabbing information, not just stealing secrets and then
using that information back home for their own purposes. Active measures
means you are instead deploying whatever weapons you`ve got back here back
I mean, in pure terms, sort of in the platonic ideal of spy agencies, what
they do is they spy. They just steal information. But in real life, there
are active measures. In real life, they do stuff. They don`t just listen
in. In real life, they wage war.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WATTS: Today, Russia hopes to win the second Cold War through the force of
politics as opposed to the politics of force. While Russia certainly seeks
to promote western candidates sympathetic to their worldview and foreign
policy objectives, winning a single election is not their end goal.
Russian active measures hope to topple democracies through the pursuit of
five complementary objectives. One, undermine citizen confidence and
democratic governance. Two, foment exasperate divisive political fissures.
Three, erode trust between citizens and elected officials and their
institutions. Four, popularized Russian policy agendas with in foreign
populations. And five, create general distrust or confusion over
information sources by learning blurring the lines between fact and
fiction, a very pertinent issue today in our country.
From these objectives, the Kremlin can crumbled democracies from the inside
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: So that`s how Clinton Watts put it in front of the Senate
Intelligence Committee, and that`s generally what U.S. intelligence
agencies say we are up against, why Russia launched this attack and how.
But there`s one last piece of it that I think we have been missing, that
tells us a little something about Russia and potentially tells us a lot
about ourselves, at least about our current political situation. The
investigation into whether or not Russia had help, had American
collaborators in its attack it`s probably the most salient part of it for
us as Americans now that we`re quite sure that Russians mounted the attack
and were more and more comfortable understanding how exactly they did it .
Thomas Rid is a British cybersecurity expert who also testified to the
Senate Intelligence Committee this week. He gave new details this week
about just how intense the attack was on the Clinton campaign. In one
month-long period this time last year, from March 10th to April 7th, he
testified yesterday that hackers working for the Russian military
intelligence service, GRU hackers, made personalized specific attacks on
109 different staffers from the Clinton campaign, 109 different staffers
targeted in that one month.
Jake Sullivan one top Clinton adviser got hit 14 times alone last March, 14
separate attacks by Russian military intelligence, all personally tailored
specifically to him to try to compromise his data, just in one month.
So, we`ve now got this good understanding of how hard the Democratic Party
and the Clinton campaign got hit by Russia. The Russians really targeted
them. They really tried hard to hurt Hillary Clinton and help Donald Trump
during the presidential, general election. But what we did not necessarily
get before is that the Russians reportedly didn`t just help Trump win the
general election, they helped him win the Republican nomination as well.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WATTS: Through the end of 2015 and start of 2016, the Russian influence
system began pushing themes and messages seeking to influence the outcome
of the U.S. presidential election. They were in full swing during both the
Republican and Democratic primary season may have helped sink the hopes of
candidates more hostile to Russian interests long before the field narrow.
Senator Rubio, in my opinion, you anecdotally suffered from these efforts.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Senator Marco Rubio took that in stride in that moment in the
hearing. He later confirmed in the hearing that his office was aware of
him being targeted by Russian cyber attackers, you know. And part of that
is trivia about how the Republican primary went down now, right? Just as
it`s interesting trivia about the general election, as to how the Russians
helped Trump there as well. I mean, honestly, none of us can say the way a
particular election would have gone in the absence of any one factor,
including the Russian attack.
But the investigations now in our country are twofold. One is how the
Russians pull it off. We`re getting more and more information on that
every day. It is fascinating, boy, they`ve come a long way from there give
Alaska back to the Russia of petitions, right?
But the other thing that`s being investigated, the more salient thing for
us as a country the forward-looking thing in terms of what we`re doing now
with who`s in power now and what the accountability is now, the more
important part of the investigation is, did the Trump campaign coordinate
with them? Were they in on it? Were they not just incidental
beneficiaries of something Putin was doing because he hated Hillary
If it is true that the Republican primary was also a battlefield for the
Russians, that`s an important piece of this, because if that`s true if they
did help in the primary as well as helping in the general, that means they
weren`t just wanting Hillary Clinton to lose, they weren`t just trying to
affect the general election, so a not Hillary candidate could win. If they
were working in the primary as well to elect a specific candidate in the
primary, that means they were not agnostic as to who got to the general
election, they specifically wanted Donald Trump. They wanted him more than
Why is that? What did Russia find more attractive about him than anybody
else on offer?
Stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JAMES LANKFORD (R-OK), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: My question is, first,
why did he think he could get away with it this time? This is not new for
the Russians. They`ve done this for a long time across Europe, but it was
much more engaging this time in our election. Why now? Mr. Watts?
WATTS: I think this answer is very simple and is what no one is really
saying in this room, which is, part of the reason active measures have work
in this U.S. election is because the commander-in-chief has used Russian
active measures at time against his opponents. On 14 August 2016, his
campaign chairman, after a debunked –
LANKFORD: When you say his, who`s his?
WATTS: Paul Manafort –
WATTS: – cited the fake Incirlik story as a terrorist attack on CNN and
he used it as a talking point.
On 11 October, President Trump stood on a stage and cited a – what appears
to be a fake news story from Sputnik News that disappeared from the
Internet. He denies the intel from the United States about Russia. He
claimed that the election could be rigged. That was the number one theme
pushed by RT, Sputnik News, white outlets all the way up until the
election. He`s made claims of voter fraud that President Obama is not a
citizen, that, you know, Congressman Cruz is not a citizen.
So, part of the reason active measures works and it does today in terms of
Trump Tower being wiretapped is because they parrot the same lines.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Clinton Watts testify in the Senate Intelligence Committee on the
Russian attack on our elections and how the Trump campaign acted to amplify
what the Russians were doing, whether they knew that`s what they were doing
Former FBI special agent Clinton Watts joins us now.
Mr. Watts, thank very much for joining us tonight. I know you`re in demand
after you made quite an impression at this hearing this week. Thanks for
spending time with us this evening.
WATTS: Thanks for having me, Rachel.
MADDOW: I`d like to start by asking about that question that I just raised
about willingness. You described repeatedly moments where you saw Donald
Trump the candidate and other people in his campaign, including his
campaign manager, amplifying what had been done by the Russians reiterating
it, ratifying it, giving it more substance by repeating it as if it was
true information, is there any way to tell whether they knew that`s what
they were doing or whether it could have been totally unwitting?
WATTS: I can`t prove that, but what is remarkable is at times, the
synchronization and essentially rapidity of taking Russian messages that
are put out by propaganda outlets and spinning them into campaign stumps or
using them as talking points was quick. You see Stone who says I`ve heard
that WikiLeaks has something coming out. He`s a communicated openly and
publicly with Guccifer which is a Russian hacker.
Why go to a Russian intel operation? Why go to Russian propaganda sites
like RT news and take their talking points to use against another American?
And there`s two parts with. So, is it, one, he`s complicit and
coordinating? I think that`s unlikely. Maybe his aides were at some point
and I think that needs to be investigated.
But the other part is opportunistic. And why be opportunistic when your
motto is America first? But you`re clearly not putting Americans first if
you`re using Russian propaganda.
MADDOW: Let me ask you about one specific incident that you laid out in a
little bit of detail in your testimony this week, which is about this fake
story that there had been an attack on the U.S. base in Turkey that`s
called Incirlik. Can you explain – just kind of walk us through how that
was – what was fake about that? How it was used and how it then surfaced
in real time in this – in the campaign?
WATTS: Yes, there were two real things that were going at Incirlik that
night. One, there was a small protest outside the gate, and, two, there
was increased security around the base. So, the chairman of the Joint
Chiefs of Staff was flying into Incirlik the next day, until they an
increased security to essentially tighten things up this is after the coup
if you remember in Turkey.
That story was then changed and manipulated into there`s a terrorist
attack, a Benghazi style terrorist attack that is hitting Incirlik air base
and there are loose nukes out there. There is a being overrun in terms of
a Benghazi style attack. That comes out from overt outlets, state
propaganda outlets, RT, Sputnik News simultaneously.
Within just a few minutes, you see many amplifying accounts which we call
gray accounts. Very pro-Russian accounts websites that take those
conspiracies, spend them even further and then amplify those stories with
bots. The goal is to get it into the top trending stories on Twitter, such
that mainstream media needs to react to it.
The way they do that is they use hashtags. The ones they wanted to create
panic with where nuclear, the media, to try and get a reaction from
mainstream media outlets just like MSNBC. The third was Trump, to get
Trump supporters to see it, and the fourth was Benghazi. You`re
essentially communicating that story is another Benghazi style attack,
trying to bring in real Trump supporters into this story to further promote
MADDOW: So, that started as a – that started in terms of the way they
created it and then the Trump campaign cited it as if it was a true story
without reference to the origin of the news or without checking it with
WATTS: Right, and it wasn`t even just that the story was debunked. It
happened at the end of July, we published I believe is on the eighth of
August, and on the fourteenth of August was when Paul Manafort went back
and cited that story whenever he was doing an interview. So, why would you
take a Russian propaganda line to begin with in a story that had clearly
been debunked in the days before and then regurgitate that is your own
talking point against the Clinton campaign?
MADDOW: Clinton Watts, would you mind sticking with us just for one more
quick question? I have – I`d like to ask you about what how you feel
about the state of this investigation and sort of our defenses at this
point. Do you mind staying with us for just a sec?
Clinton Watts testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee this week.
Former FBI special agent. He was the former executive officer at the
Counterterrorism Center at West Point. He`s a counterterrorism expert.
Obviously, he`ll be right back with us. Stay with us.
MADDOW: We`re back now with former FBI special agent Clinton Watts who
testified to the Senate Intelligence Committee about the Russian attack on
our election last year.
Mr. Watts, thank you again for sticking with us.
WATTS: Thank you.
MADDOW: You have seen a little bit of this investigation close-up now.
You testified in this open hearing in the Senate committee this week.
I just have to ask you given what you have seen in your own work on this,
what you testified about and what you know of how the United States was
responding, what do you make of the state of the investigations thus far?
WATTS: I think what`s interesting is I saw a really great bipartisan
committee yesterday when I was at the Senate. Great questions from both
Republicans and Democrats, very responsible. There wasn`t a lot of
politics thrown into it, and that`s not necessarily what I expected having
watched the House investigation the week before. To be honest, I was a
little bit nervous about going in there.
But every senator that was there yesterday, I truly believe had America`s
best interests at heart. And I thought both the chairman the co-chairman
did a great job of moderating that session. And it did restore my hope a
good bit that we can get to some resolution on what`s really going on with
the Russian meddling and get a full picture of that. I`m only speaking of
it in terms of the influence approach, but get a full understanding of
everything that`s going on.
MADDOW: As a former FBI special agent, do you believe that the FBI has the
capacity to get to the bottom of this, get to the bottom even if the
possibility of collusion? Some people have suggested that some of this
would be better handled by the CIA than the FBI for example? Do you think
the FBI`s up to it?
WATTS: I think the FBI is not only up to it but the right place to do it.
They do investigations especially retroactively like this better than
anyone in the world. I think what would help them a lot was the political
meddling to not short-circuit the investigations. Every time we have
alternative intelligence processes running through the White House, when we
have legislators moving between the executive branch for special briefings,
that`s going to shut down sources of information that`s going to extend and
cloud the investigation.
We need to give the FBI time to do the good investigation and clear things
up. And they can only do that if they`re given the resources and space to
do it and not push politically in one direction or another Clinton.
MADDOW: Clinton Watts, former FBI special agent, counterterrorism,
counterintelligence expert, who I think helped a lot of people understand
more about this than we did before your testimony this week – thank you,
sir. I appreciate your time being here tonight.
WATTS: Thanks for having me.
MADDOW: All right. We got more ahead here tonight. Do stay with us.
MADDOW: Sunday this weekend will mark one week since the big protests in
Russia last weekend. They were the largest anti-government protest since
2011 and 2012. Tens of thousands of people took to the streets in dozens
of cities all over Russia to protest against corruption. In Moscow alone,
tens of thousands of people showed up. There may be a repeat of those
Russia protests this weekend and we know this because it seems that the
Russian government is trying to take pre-emptive measures to shut those
Prosecutor general`s office has asked a state media regulator to block
access in Russia to YouTube videos and social media postings that have
called for people to take o the streets again on Sunday. I don`t speak
Russian but these are reportedly scans of the letter the prosecutor`s
office sent to the media regulator, asking them to block access to these
videos and posts so people won`t know that they are being called on to go
out and protest.
It`s unclear exactly who is behind what would be this weekend`s new round
of protests. The guy who was behind the last ones, the anti-corruption
opposition leader, presidential candidate Alexei Navalny, he was arrested
last week at the start of protest. He was given a 15-day prison sentence,
so he`s still in jail now. No word yet on whether they`re going to try to
stretch out his 15-day sentence for longer than that.
But in addition to him being in jail tonight, basically everybody who works
for him also got put in jail. More than a dozen of his staffers of his
anti-corruption group got arrested and put in jail. They all to tonight
are still in jail. Their offices were apparently ransacked. All their
paperwork and computers were taken by the Russian police.
This is the sort of thing that would have lit up the U.S. State Department
as recently as a few months ago. But, so far in this case, the United
States has released exactly one statement about Russia`s treatment of its
citizens in this regard. It was from the state department it came out in
the middle of the night Russia time and there`s been nothing other than
Russian President Vladimir Putin now threatening a further crackdown on
protests, threatening to make penalties for protesting even stronger. Even
with that brand new threat, there is no response from our White House
crickets. At that same public appearance, Vladimir Putin tried hard to
downplay his connections with the Trump White House, saying, this guy Rex
Tillerson everybody says I know him, I`ve only met him a couple times.
He said, quote, “If Mr. Tillerson comes, I met with him several times
before, two or three times. We will be sure to discuss this issue if I
meet him again.”
Two or three times, really?
Here are five times we can name when Vladimir Putin met with our now
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. These are all from when Tillerson was
ahead of Exxon, and that`s literally just from the first page of a Google
Image search. The oldest picture we found in our cursor research was from
2005. That`s him all the way on the left, Rex there.
Then there`s this lovely one from 2011 when Tillerson went to Putin`s
summer home in Sochi to sign a gigantic oil deal. The most recent one,
almost the most memorable is this one from the summer of 2013 when Putin
awarded Rex Tillerson the highest non-citizen honor anybody can get in
Russia. Putin pinned it on Rex Tillerson lapel, shook his hand, toasted
him with champagne.
See? They`re buddies. They go way back.
But as Russians plan to take to the streets if they dare this weekend, with
the leading presidential candidate opposition figure still in jail and his
organization having all its staffers jailed and having its papers torn
apart and having its computers confiscated by the Russian government, that
is the sort of thing that the U.S. used to rail against. In this case, I
think that Vladimir Putin knows there`s no threat that he`s going here from
his old buddy Rex given many heat for at this time.
That does it for us tonight.
Now it`s time for a special edition of “THE LAST WORD”, “March Madness,” a
look at this very chaotic month in the very young Trump presidency.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY
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protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced,
distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the
prior written permission of ASC Services II Media, LLC. You may not alter
or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the