The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 4/3/2017
Show: The Rachel Maddow Show
Date: April 3, 2017
Guest: Ali Watson, Michael Leiter
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC ANCHOR: And thanks to you at home for joining us this
“BuzzFeed News” reporter Ali Watkins has a sort of jaw-dropping scoop
tonight about the Trump campaign. That story dropped tonight just in the
last couple of hours. We`ve got Ali Watkins here tonight to talk about
that story. We`ve got her exclusively. You are going to want to hear
We`re also going to be joined tonight by Michael Leiter. Michael Leiter is
the former director of the U.S. National Counterterrorism Center.
So, big show coming up tonight. A lot to get to this hour.
One of the – one of the weirder stories in today`s news is the revelation
that Jared Kushner, the president`s 36-year-old son-in-law is in Baghdad
today. The U.S. secretary of state has not been to Baghdad since the new
administration started, but Jared`s there.
That said it`s not totally clear what the secretary of state does in this
new administration. I mean, take the president`s special envoy for Middle
East peace. That is a person who has been appointed to be the Trump
administration`s eyes and ears that point person on Middle East peace, that
person does not report to either the president or the secretary of state.
That person reports to Jared.
“The New York Times” and “The Financial Times” report in detail today that
the preparations for the critical meeting this week with President Xi of
China, those preparations are also being led by Jared. Jared has also been
put in charge of relations with China more broadly, including preparing for
this presidential meeting. He has been put in charge of us relations with
Canada and U.S. relations with Mexico, including building the wall. He has
been put in charge of all trade deals.
“The Washington Post” reported last week that he is now in charge of,
quote, “reimagining the Veterans Administration.” He`s also been put in
charge of solving the opioid crisis and national broadband policy and
criminal justice reform and the rebuilding of the nation`s infrastructure.
Young Mr. Kushner also apparently sits in on National Security Council
principals meetings when it comes time to discuss the nuclear threat from
And now today, Baghdad. Busy young men. Hopefully, he was adequately
prepared for all these enormous responsibilities by his vast life and work
experience, which consists entirely of him inheriting his father`s real
estate business. He also did have to run the business himself for a time
while his dad was in prison.
But he now has this remarkable, remarkable portfolio, maybe an
unprecedented portfolio of both international and domestic responsibilities
within the administration. And that portfolio is made all the more
remarkable by the fact that we now know that his wife, the president`s
daughter, will also be getting a senior White House job. We don`t know
exactly what her portfolio will be, but we know she`s already sitting in on
many of the most high-profile visits by foreign leaders to the United
Between her and her husband Jared, their experience and expertise in the
world lies in the fields of real estate and jewelry marketing. But the two
of them now will be in charge of some of the most important and sensitive
stuff in the government of the richest and most powerful nation on earth.
Incidentally, I should mention, we also learned a couple of days ago that
the administration has now found a new job as well for Laura Trump. Who?
Lara. Lara is Eric`s wife.
The Trump reelection campaign already exists as a formal political entity.
The firm that runs the digital side of that campaign will now employ Lara,
Eric Trump`s wife. I have no idea what her work experience is, but I`m
quite sure she`s the absolute best qualified person in America for that
job, whatever that job is.
I mean, in the past, we`ve had like you know a first lady who worked on a
health policy. Once, we had a president who hired his brother as attorney
general. But we have come to think of even those things as exceptions to
the rule. We have never thought of ourselves as a country where like Uday
and Qusay get to be ministers of whatever, right? We don`t think of
ourselves as a ruling family kind of place. But now, now, that`s we are.
And here is a root consequence of that for our new ruling family. This
remarkable consolidation of power in the hands of a few under-qualified
family members, today, that became not just a remarkable story about the
Uzbekistanization of American politics. Today, that – and no offense
meant to Uzbekistan, sorry – but beyond that becoming just a remarkable
thing in its own, today, this new thing that we`ve got as a country, this
consolidation of American government power in the nuclear family of the
president, today, that potentially started to become a liability for the
administration and for the government in terms of the most serious scandal
that looms over the new administration.
This is FCI Elkton. FIC stands for Federal Correctional Institution. It`s
a low-security federal prison in Lisbon, Ohio. It`s prison for men. There
are about 2,000 male prisoners there.
This weekend, that particular prison, FBI Elkton, released a Russian spy.
Technically, his release date was not supposed to be until the end of July,
but they let him out on Friday with time off for good behavior.
Now, that said, this Russian spy was not released back into the community
at large. When he got sprung from federal prison on Friday, the federal
prison system released him to immigration and customs authorities because
as part of his plea deal when he got sentenced last year, he agreed that
after he served his federal prison sentence, he would immediately agree
that they would deport him back to Russia.
This guy who was just sprung from prison is now being deported back to
Russia. His name is Evgeny Buryakov. Evgeny Buryakov.
When the FBI busted the spy ring that he was part of a couple years ago, in
2015, there were three alleged spies who were named in the criminal
indictment. The indictment was brought by prosecutor Preet Bharara`s
office in the southern district of New York, funny how his name keeps
But Evgeny Buryakov was one of the three people named in this ring. He`s
the one they caught. They arrested him January 2015 at a supermarket in
Riverdale, New York.
But the other two spies who were named in the indictment, they never caught
them, because by the time they brought those charges, the other two guys in
this spy ring had fled back to Russia already. One of them had been
employed as a trade representative for the Russian Federation in the United
States. The other one had been an attache at the Russian mission at the
United Nations. But the – and they both went back to Moscow. They both
escaped being arrested by the FBI.
But this guy, the third guy who actually got caught, this guy who`s been in
prison until this weekend, this guy who they actually nailed – he didn`t
have an official government cover job like the other two did. They were
all named in the indictment. The other two had cover jobs working for the
His cover job was a non-official cover. His cover job was that he worked
at a bank. He was an employee of a Russian bank called VEB. He was the
number two official at the New York office of VEB.
And when he was arrested and charged with being a spy and put on trial, his
ostensibly employers, this Russian bank, they paid for his legal defense.
And that wasn`t all they paid for. On the day that he got arrested at that
supermarket in Riverdale, his wife and his two kids reportedly fled their
home and went to the rezidentura. They fled to the building that houses
the Russian mission in New York.
Associates of Evgeny Buryakov then reportedly ransacked the apartment the
family had lived in. Evgeny is in FBI custody. The wife and kids have
gone to the Russian mission. Associates of Buryakov tore the apartment
apart, sliced up all the furniture, smashed up the wall board, broke the
place apart. Apparently, they were looking for anything that Evgeny
Buryakov might have left behind, or maybe any listening devices that the
FBI might have hidden in his family apartment.
Apparently, the FBI had put both cameras and microphones all over the
family apartment. But by the time his associates were tearing the place
apart looking for them, the FBI had reportedly taken them all back. And
this is like amazing spy movie stuff, right, but think about the
practicalities of it.
What if you were the guy who rented that family that apartment? You can
imagine how Evgeny Buryakov`s landlord felt about the state of that
apartment when he found out that, OK, his tenant is going to prison, the
rest of his tenant`s family has fled, and now, he`s got this huge literal
mess on his hands, the furniture on the wall board and everything all
smashed up and torn apart.
Well, once again, the bank came to the rescue. In addition to financing
Evgeny Buryakov`s legal defense, the bank reportedly settled with the
landlord for about $45,000 to cover the cost of the damage done to that
House when Evgeny`s friends tore the place part after he got arrested by
the FBI and charged of being a spy.
And Evgeny Buryakov and all the stories of how he handed off intel to the
other Russian spies who were in this ring with him and the drama of his
arrest and his family fleeing in the dead of night into the rezidentura,
and the bugs that the FBI had placed all over his house, all of this stuff
has been fascinating color for one of the more lurid Russian spy scandals
in the past few years. But that bank and that spy scandal are turning out
to be a very pesky asterisk that keeps getting affixed to lots of things
about the new Trump administration, because that bank where Evgeny Buryakov
was secretly working as a Russian spy, that – that is a state-run Russian
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev is on the supervisory board of that
bank. The chairman of that bank started his career by going to KGB school,
by going to the college that Russia operates for people who are going to
join the successor agency to the KGB. That – that FSB trained chairman of
the bank was handpicked to be chairman of that bank by Vladimir Putin
himself last year.
That bank, for a million reasons, should have a flashing red light when it
comes to worries about Russian intelligence and Russian influence
operations here in the United States, right? And after all, it was a
matter of public record that that bank harbored and defended a high-level
spy who was working there as cover and then paid for his defense and even
paid for cleaning up his apartment after they torn apart looking for the
That`s why it was astonishing news a week ago today when “The New York
Times” reported that Jared – Jared Kushner – had not disclosed a meeting
that he took during the presidential transition with the chairman of that
bank, with the Putin hand-picked FSB trained chairman of the spy bank, who
apparently met in person with Jared Kushner in December. Jared Kushner
never disclosed that meeting, despite all of the other troubles that have
plagued this young administration about their undisclosed contact with
Russian officials. For whatever reason, Jared Kushner did not disclose
that meeting until it was reported in “The New York Times” a week ago
And that alone is sort of problematic enough, right, when it comes to
someone with the kind of portfolio, with a broad-ranging domestic and
international portfolio that Jared has been assigned by his father-in-law
in the new administration. Troubling enough, but now, BuzzFeed news adds
their new scoop tonight.
As I mentioned, this spy ring that got busted by the FBI, three Russian
guys. One guy who had what they called non-official cover who ostensibly
worked at this bank, the other two guys, their cover jobs were official
Russian government positions. One of them worked as a trade representative
for Russia, one of them worked at the Russian mission to the U.N. When it
came time for these guys to feed their secrets and stolen documents and
intel from their spy ring back to Moscow, what would happen is these two
guys who had official cover, they would take care of that part of it. Not
the guy – not the guy who worked at the bank because he ostensibly had
their relationship with the Russian government.
But the other guys who had official cover, the other guys who had Russian
government jobs, they whenever they had anything to transmit home they
would go to the rezidentura. They would go to the Russian equivalent of
like a SCIP, a secure facility where they could make secret encrypted
transmissions of information back to Moscow center, back to spy
headquarters in Russia.
And the way the FBI caught them and blew apart this spy ring with these
three guys was absolutely genius. The FBI arranged to have somebody feed
these guys supposedly sensitive stolen documents and they handed these
documents over in binders. And these Russian guys, these spies, they took
the binders with this juicy intel. They took the binders into the
rezidentura, into the SCIP in New York, and the FBI had hidden microphones
inside the binders.
And so, they got to listen to everything these guys said, even when these
guys thought they were in the most secure environment and couldn`t be
surveilled no matter what. Inside the Russian mission, they thought they
were essentially diplomatically on Russian soil. They`re certainly in a
diplomatic immunity. They were in a Russian space. They thought they were
in a secret environment, but the documents that they had sitting in front
of them, the documents themselves were bugged. There were microphones in
And so, the FBI got hours and hours and hours of tape off those microphones
and the binders of these guys talking when they were quite sure nobody
could hear them. And one of the things those guys talked about was the
other guy in their spy ring who worked in the bank, that`s what they got
Another thing these guys talked about were their repeated efforts to
recruit Americans for their spying efforts and when this case broke open in
2015, and they released the indictment, a lot of the news coverage at the
time was about the fact that these spies apparently wanted to target
college girls in New York to be Russian assets, and that had kind of a nice
tabloid appeal to it, even though the indictment didn`t indicate that they
had too much real success with the college girls effort. Where they did
have some success was with male number one.
A quote from the indictment here, quote, “On or about April 8, 2013, the
defendants discussed efforts to recruit a male working as a consultant in
New York City as an intelligence source.”
Now, what I`m going to quote you here is a conversation between the two
Russian spies. The guys who got charged but never went to prison because
they`d already fled back to Moscow by the time their compatriot got
arrested at that supermarket. So, this is the two guys who are now back in
Moscow who never got arrested, this was them speaking at the rezidentura,
having no idea that they`re being surveilled. They`re speaking to each
other in Russian and then this is – this is the FBI translation of what
The spy number one says, “Male one,” that`s the name they get the guy in
the indictment, “Male one wrote that he`s sorry. He went to Moscow and
forgot to check his inbox. But he wants to meet when he gets back. I
think he is an idiot and forgot who I am.
Plus, he writes to me in Russian to practice the language. He flies to
Moscow more often than I do. He got hooked on Gazprom, thinking that if
they have a project, he could be rise up. Maybe he can, and I do not know,
but it`s obviously wants to earn lots of money.”
Spy number two says, “Without a doubt.” The spy number one says, quote,
“He said they have a new project right now, new energy boom. He said it`s
about to take off. I do not say anything for now.”
The other spy then says, “Yes, first, we`ll spend a couple of borrowed
millions”, and then the first spy laughs, and then says this, quote, “It`s
worth it I like that he takes on everything. For now, his enthusiasm works
for me. I also promised him a lot, that I have connections in the trade
representation, meaning you, that you could push contracts. I will feed
him empty promises.”
And then the other spy who is, in fact, working as a Russian trade
representative swears, he says, “bleep, no, then he`ll write me, or not
even me, maybe he`ll write to our clean one. Meaning, he will write to the
trade representatives office and accidentally not talk to a spy. He might
talk to a real drag rep. Wouldn`t that be terrible for their recruitment
efforts for this guy?”
The first by then says, basically, don`t worry about it. Quote, “I did not
say the trade representation I did not even indicate that this is connected
to a government agency this is intelligence method to cheat, how else to
work with foreigners.”
So, this is a conversation surveilled by the FBI through there you know
magic microphone in the binders trick. That conversation happened in April
2013. They are talking about an American citizen. They`re talking about
recruiting an American asset for their spying.
That happens in April. April goes by, May goes by. In June, the FBI
decides to act. June 13th that same year, the FBI went and paid that
American guy a visit, quote, “On or about June 13th, 2013, agent 2 and I
interviewed male one. Male one stated that he first met the first Russian
spy defendant in January 2013 at an energy symposium in New York City.
During this initial meeting, defendant gave him his business card and two
Over the following months, male one and the defendant exchanged emails
about the energy business and met in person on occasion, with male one
providing the defendant with male one`s outlook on the current and future
of the energy industry. Male one also provided documents to the defendant
about the energy business.”
So, forget the college girls thing which didn`t really work out for them.
This is what the Russian spies are after, right? This is –this is the
start of how they cultivate Americans to betray the United States, right?
Start off friendly. Start with a business relationship or maybe an
academic relationship. Start off with, you know, could you just let us
know your own thoughts on specific industries or specific things in the
U.S. government. Maybe you could help us by showing us some documents from
those industries. Let`s stay in touch. Let`s start a transactional
relationship. Can I see what you`ve got please?
Yes, I`d love to see those documents. What else do you have? I`d like to
see more of that kind of document.
I mean, this is – this is how they do it, right? And maybe it turns into
something, maybe it doesn`t, but you cultivate assets. This is what they
do. This is why they`re here instead of working at home in Moscow.
Well, “BuzzFeed News” reports tonight that male one, and that spy ring
indictment is the Trump campaign foreign policy advisor Carter Page. He
was recruited as an American asset by Russian spies in New York City in
2013. He was successfully recruited. He handed them documents and
information to help them out and was enthusiastic about their relationship.
That advisor, Carter Page, met with a Russian intelligence operative named
Victor Podobnyy who was later charged by the U.S. government, alongside two
others, for acting as unregistered agents of a foreign government.
From Ali Watkins`s story at “BuzzFeed” tonight, quote, “A former campaign
adviser for Donald Trump met with and passed documents to a Russian
intelligence operative in New York City in 2013. The advisor Carter Page
met with a Russian intelligence operative named Victor Podobnyy, who was
later charged by the U.S. government alongside to others for acting as
unregistered agents of a foreign government.
Quote, “A court filing by the U.S. government contains a transcript of a
recorded conversation in which Podobnyy speaks with one of the other men
busted in the spy ring, Igor Sporyshev, about trying to recruit someone
identified as male one. BuzzFeed News has confirmed that male one is
Here`s my favorite part, “BuzzFeed News has confirmed”. How did “BuzzFeed
News” confirm that Carter Page is male one? According for Ali Watkins`
story, quote, “Carter Page confirmed to BuzzFeed News on Monday that he is
male one in the court filing and said he had been in contact with
So, Jared`s in Baghdad, at the invitation of the Joint Chiefs, meeting with
the troops, visiting U.S. embassy personnel. There is nothing too
sensitive for Jared to be involved in, let alone to be running in this new
He is leading U.S. preparations for the China meeting. He was apparently
at the table for the decision on launching the Yemen raid that killed a
Navy SEAL, in addition to many civilians. He is in charge of all trade
At a very, very scary time in terms of North Korea`s nuclear capabilities
and intentions, Jared is apparently at the National Security Council
principals meeting when it comes to North Korea.
But at some point in coming days, he will have to make time in his
incredibly busy schedule to testify to the Senate Intelligence Committee
about why during the presidential transition, he met with the FSB trained
official who Vladimir Putin hand selected to lead a Russian state bank that
is currently sanctioned by the U.S. government and that harbored a Russian
spy network in this country, that among other things recruited a Trump
foreign policy advisor as a Russian intelligence asset just a few years
Amid all the worry and focus and scandal and investigations about the
Russian attack on our election last year and contact between the Trump
campaign and Russian officials, amid all that furor, Jared Kushner took
that meeting in December with the guy from the Russian bank and he never
said a word about it, until a newspaper reported it.
“BuzzFeed” reporter Ali Watkins, who`s the one who unmasks the Trump
foreign policy advisor at the center of this Russian spy story, Ali Watkins
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
FREDERICK RYAN, JR., WASHINGTON POST PUBLISHER: We heard you might be
announcing your foreign policy advisory team soon if there`s anything you
wanted to say ton that.
CANDIDATE DONALD TRUMP: We are going to be doing that soon. We are going
to be doing that very soon. I`d say that during the week, we`ll be
announcing some names, it`ll always grow.
RYAN: Any that you can start off this morning with us?
TRUMP: Well, you know, I hadn`t thought in terms of doing it, but if you
want, I can give you some of the names –
RYAN: We`d be delighted.
TRUMP: I wouldn`t mind. Do you have that list? I`ll be a little more
accurate with it.
OK. Ready? Walid Phares, who you probably know, PhD, advisor to the House
of Representatives caucus, and counterterrorism expert; Carter Page, PhD.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MADDOW: Carter Page, who`s he? That`s what everybody said at the time
when unprompted, then-candidate Donald Trump volunteered him as the number
two name on his list of foreign policy advisors, the first time he had ever
listed foreign policy advisors for his campaign.
Well, now, “BuzzFeed News” reports that among the many other things that
Carter Page turns out to be, he was also recruited in 2013 as apparently an
unwitting American source for a Russian spy ring that was operating out of
New York City.
Joining us now is Ali Watkins. She`s a national security correspondent for
“BuzzFeed News”, broke this story tonight.
Thank you for being here. Congratulations on scoop.
ALI WATKINS, BUZZFEED NEWS: Thanks for having me.
MADDOW: Can I ask you about one detail of this that strikes me is really
MADDOW: So, when we found out that you guys had this scoop today, we were
like scrambling. We`re like, oh, that`s the VEB case. Let`s go back and
look at that indictment. This must mean male one – why like we`re putting
it together as we`re getting this news from you guys. And I just out of
curiosity, I was like I wonder if that guy still in prison in Ohio? I
Googled him in the federal prisoner record, federal prisoner locator thing
and was shocked to find out that he had just been released on Friday.
WATKINS: Total coincidence.
MADDOW: OK, total coincidence.
WATKINS: Yes, I mean, I called around to try and see where he had ended up
or what had happened to him, try and get an interview. And the law firm
was like, he actually gets out and you know, 48 hours. And I was like,
wow, that`s really strange.
So, total coincidence sort of a weird ones.
MADDOW: And we expect that he`s probably back in Moscow right now. It was
as a condition of his plea deal.
WATKINS: Condition of his deal. He was here on an expired visa and it
was, you know, he had to go back to Moscow and leave U.S. soil. So I –
they wouldn`t confirm whether he had left or not yet, I don`t think they
necessarily knew, but the intention is for him to go back.
MADDOW: In terms of Carter Page and his appearance in this spy saga, do we
know anything about what he handed over, what he gave these Russian spies
who were trying to cultivate him?
WATKINS: Well, there`s a couple things that we know. Page was not in the
government at that time, and there`s nothing to indicate that there was
anything sensitive, and there would be really – it`s hard to imagine him
having a lot of access to send some information at that time. He was not
in Trump`s orbit. As I said, he was the private sector employees.
MADDOW: It`s 2013. So, nobody was in Trump`s political orbit at the time,
WATKINS: Yes, true, but he – I mean, he didn`t have access to anything
sensitive governmentally. So, that it does not appear that he handed over
MADDOW: That`s not unusual though for this far as we understand, at least
the way that prosecutors explained it at the time and the way the FBI
explained at the time in terms of sort of Russian trade cap around these
sort of things. When they cultivate assets, they start small, right? They
don`t necessarily start with people even think they have access to
sensitive information. They just start a relationship that results in
their being the turnover of documents get that sort of that pump primed and
then try to cultivate people for the long term.
WATKINS: Yes, absolutely. I mean if it`s something as little as kind of
making that connection, it`s a long game. You know, you can check in with
someone five, 10 years and say, hey, what`s going on with this? It`s
certainly a long game. It`s a good example of how it starts.
MADDOW: Why did Carter Page confirm this to you and what was his asked –
what was his affect toward the – toward this information in it becoming
WATKINS: He was very forthcoming with it. I mean, I had been doing a lot
of reporting on it, so knew that it was him in the document. And when I
asked him about it you`ve said, yes, I`m male one, I`m paraphrasing, but he
confirmed that he`s the anonymous male in the document.
MADDOW: So, you were able to figure this out before you got the
confirmation from him. Obviously, the icing on the cake is him saying,
yes, it`s me.
MADDOW: Reason I want to be super clear about that is because we just
heard then-candidate Donald Trump there naming him as one of his foreign
policy advisors. In fact, naming is the second person he came up with on
the initial list of foreign policy advisors. Isn`t this the sort of thing
that should have kind of turned up in vetting?
WATKINS: I mean, that`s the question moving forward, right, is what did
the Trump administration know and when did they know it essentially?
Again, you know, really want to be clear here – this was three years
before Page had any kind of connection to the campaign. Again, it doesn`t
appear there was anything sensitive. But it is questions.
I mean, clearly, this was a known fact in certain corners of the bureau, in
certain corners in New York, and as I said, Page was very forthcoming with
it. So, I think that is the question tomorrow is, what did the Trump
administration know and when did they know it?
MADDOW: And even if Page was himself an unwitting cultivated asset, we
know that he knows it happened to him because the FBI went and told him
that`s what happened to him when they interview at the time?
WATKINS: Yes, yes.
MADDOW: So, have he been vetted, even just being directly asked, have you
ever been in contact with a foreign intelligence service he would have had
to say yes.
WATKINS: Presumably, yes, if you want to answer truthfully.
MADDOW: So, we`re great to get to be a top foreign policy advisor to a
presidential campaign. Ahh!
Congratulations on this. I really appreciate it.
WATKINS: Yes, absolutely. Thanks for having me.
MADDOW: It was fun to follow in your footsteps as we saw it you reported
here. It`s incredible stuff.
Ali Watkins, national security correspondent for “BuzzFeed News.”
Much more ahead tonight. We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: Sitting in on the president`s meeting today with the Egyptian
president was the deputy national security advisor K.T. McFarland. As the
number two official on the National Security Council, it might make sense
that K.T. McFarland was in on that meeting, except for the news that she is
on her way out.
Reportedly, K.T. McFarland is not going to be national deputy national
security adviser for long. She`s off to be ambassador to Singapore.
Ambassador to Singapore of all places – you know, ambassador to Singapore
is a great gig if you can get it, unless, of course, your current gig that
you have to give up to take it is being deputy national security adviser.
I mean, no offense whatsoever to Singapore, but that`s like being promoted
from being COO to being deputy undersecretary of pencil sharpening at the
suburban satellite office.
Quote, “A source granted anonymity to speak freely about the situation says
Ms. McFarland preferred to stay on in some capacity and government in
Washington, such as a possible role at State.” State as in the State
Department in Foggy Bottom in Washington, D.C. Not State as in the lovely
city-state of Singapore which is 10,000 miles away from D.C. It`s quite an
Regardless of whether that exile actually befalls K.T. McFarland, staffing
from the National Security Council has been a real issue for this
administration. Besides Michael Flynn being fired as national security
advisor just 24 days – after just 24 days on the job and another deputy
national security advisor position getting unfilled as soon as it got
There was also last week`s reporting that two National Security Council
staffers were involved in the sharing of classified intelligence reports
with the House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes. They shared
those reports reportedly on the White House grounds in the middle of the
night for reasons that still haven`t been explained and that the White
House is now only partially talked to but not really.
One of those National Security Council staffers has been named as 30-year-
old Ezra Cohen-Watnick. He was elevated to a very fancy job. He was
elevated to be senior director for intelligence at the National Security
Council, while Michael Flynn was still there. I have to tell you, we have
now reviewed the resumes of what we believe to be the nine people who held
that job prior to Ezra Cohen-Watnick getting it in this administration, we
have found that none of the prior people who held that job had fewer than
twelve years intelligence and military experience.
Ezra Cohen-Watnick only graduated from college in 2008. He has vastly less
experience than every person who has ever had that job before on the
National Security Council. What was he doing there in that job, what`s he
still doing there?
When Mike Flynn was fired, H.R. McMaster came on as his replacement. H.R.
McMaster as a National Security Adviser tried to fire Ezra Cohen-Watnick
out of that intelligence job. But he was blocked in that effort by White
House advisers Jared Kushner and Steve Bannon.
National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster was told he had to keep this guy
Ezra Cohen-Watnick is being cited today by conservative news outlets as a
source for allegations that former Obama National Security Advisor Susan
Rice asked for names of U.S. persons associated with the Trump campaign to
be unmasked in U.S. intelligence reports. Now, there`s nothing illegal or
improper or even unexpected about a national security advisor unmasking
those names. There`s also no allegation that Susan Rice leaked those names
if she did have them unmasked, nor is there any allegation that she made
any of those intelligence documents public.
But by making those allegations about Susan Rice, the National Security
Council under Trump and H.R. McMaster itself appears to be operating at a
political level now to try to shape a conservative-friendly alternative to
the Trump-Russia scandal, one that stars the Obama administration as the
villains instead of Vladimir Putin.
However you feel about that story itself, what does this mean in national
security terms? National Security Council is there for a reason. Is it
weird that this is what the National Security Council is being used for
right now? Is it dangerous?
Hold that thought.
MADDOW: Today, “The New York Times” reports that North Korea is trying to
market the kind of lithium that would help you make a hydrogen bomb.
Today, “The Financial Times” reports that the Chinese president`s meeting
with our president later on this week is expected to be a very high stakes
event and that while the Chinese government is bringing the full force of
their diplomatic power to bear on that meeting, the person who`s heading up
preparation for that meeting on behalf of the United States is the
president`s 36-year-old son-in-law.
Choose your adventure right now in terms of national security things you
might want to worry about. But right now, there`s something strange going
on with national security and how it`s handled in Washington. Right now,
the National Security Council in the new administration, among other
things, they`re caught right in the middle of what appears to be an effort
to manage and politically shape the scandal around the Russian attack on
our election last year and the Trump campaign`s potential contact with
We all expected there would be a political effort to shape the response to
that scandal or even to shape the way the intelligence about those matters
is received, circulated and politicized. I`m not sure anybody thought that
would be run out of a National Security Council though. How weird is that?
How worrying is it in terms of the opportunity cost for the other kinds of
stuff the National Security Council ought to be worried about right now?
Joining us right now is Michael Leiter. He`s former director of the
National Counterterrorism Center under President Bush and Obama in that
role. He worked closely with the National Security Council staff.
Michael, it`s nice to see you. Thank you for being here.
MICHAEL LEITER, FORMER U.S. NATL. COUNTERTERRORISM CENTER DIRECTOR: Good
to be here, Rachel.
MADDOW: Let me ask you a big picture. When I have talked to other
national security professionals, particularly people have had big jobs on
national security like you have, they do not seem to be widely alarmed at
the Trump administration`s national security capacity. There does seem to
be faith in people like Defense Secretary Mattis and the National Security
Advisor H.R. McMaster and others.
Is that your overall view?
LEITER: Well, it`s certainly my view that there`s a great deal of
confidence about some people in certain positions. As you said, Jim
Mattis, H.R. McMaster, Mike Pompeo, I think people have confidence in as
well. These are people who understand the issues, are mature, have worked
within the national security establishment, and generally, people think
they`ve got good solid judgment and will seek out expertise.
I think the big question and the reason why I`m not as confident or
sanguine as some others is that the struggles we see within the
administration suggest those individuals, while important to their
departments and agencies, aren`t actually central players at the White
House in national security decision-making and aren`t shaping policy and
aren`t helping the president set his priorities. So, it`s great if you
have a strong team, but if you`re not talking to that team, if you`re not
using that team`s expertise, then it really doesn`t matter who`s on the
MADDOW: The news that the General McMaster may have wanted to fire this
young man who`s been named senior director for intelligence the national
security council – I find it unusual that he`s in that job. I know
nothing about him personally at all. I don`t mean to talk about him in
personal terms. I`m just comparing his resume and his – the length of
service and experience compared to other kinds of people who`ve had that
It`s strange to me that he`s in that job. It`s very strange to me and
worrying to me that General McMaster wanted to get rid of him and the White
House told him he couldn`t. What is your take on that?
LEITER: Well, I think anytime if you`ve run a business, you`ve run a
government organization, you`ve run a show. You want to be able to choose
your team. And if the boss says, “I don`t have confidence in that
individual”, and someone says, “I don`t care, he`s staying”, that`s
And it`s worrisome when, again, you point to H.R. McMaster being one of the
adults in the room but he can`t choose his own team, it makes I think many
of us question the degree of influence he has with the president.
I think the individual – I don`t know him either. He`s certainly on the
junior side of this. He hasn`t had the wealth of experience in multitude
of agencies in the field 20-plus years of intelligence experience, and I
fear that some of that youthful indiscretion, if I can use that phrase, may
well have led him down a path with Chairman Nunes, which honestly just
throws up smoke and keeps anyone from getting to the real issues that you
identified, and it`s diverting us from the important national security
issues that we face around the globe.
MADDOW: And the diversion factor there, the thing that`s most interesting
to me is not sort of how diverted are we, and are we able to refocus on the
important issues. The thing that actually worries me just as a person
who`s interested in these matters and I`ve got no expertise in this field
at all, but I`m worried that the National Security Council, somebody who`s
operating as a senior director for intelligence with the National Security
Council, is involved in political smoke-making, is involved in political
I mean, I worry about that both in terms of the other stuff the National
Security Council has to do. I also worry about it in terms of whether or
not the National Security Council is a place from which political mischief
could be made. Could they stick their – could they stick their hands into
the middle of an ongoing investigation? Do they have access to kind of
stuff where they could do real harm?
LEITER: Well, first I would say, there is some history the National
Security Council putting its nose or its hands into place it shouldn`t be,
and I don`t want to suggest that we`ve gone this far. But just think about
Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North during Iran Contra, and the National
Security Council being operational without the legal restrictions that the
other agencies were working with in.
MADDOW: Good point.
LEITER: And there is some risk when you had inexperienced staffers on the
National Security Council who may not fully appreciate what they should and
should not be doing, because it could implicate the investigations by the
All that being said, the basic idea, the reason we ended up in this sort of
Alice in Wonderland world was because it starts with a tweet from the
president, saying I just saw something on TV, there is illegal
unconstitutionally political motivated surveillance. That`s a big deal,
MADDOW: That`s a big allegation.
LEITER: That`s a big allegation. And in any other world, the president
would have actually turned to his national security advisor and said, I
just saw this, this seems sort of crazy. But get me the director of the
FBI and CIA and DNI and National Security Agency, I want to figure out if
there`s any truth to this. And it would start there, and it would be
handed off to a staffer on the National Security Council to look at and
investigate and they`d know what was going on.
What we have here was a present tweeting. That tweeting then leading to
his request to Congress to investigate the executive branch where he could
have figured it out in a ten-minute meeting. And then, you`ve got the
National Security Council feeding information back to Congress.
It is beyond the hall of mirrors. It has simply confused the issue. And
again, it is diverting us from those real issues.
And I think equally important, it makes our allies worried. The fact is
whether you`re talking about North Korea or China being more aggressive,
all these issues are ones we have to focus on and our allies need our
focus. And if we`re focused internally, they don`t believe that we have
the time and attention to do that.
MADDOW: And it`s one thing to have political hacks do that kind of work.
It is another thing to have national security staff of the United States
government at the highest level working on that stuff instead.
Michael Leiter, former director of the National Counterterrorism Center –
thank you. It`s nice to see again.
LEITER: Good to see you.
MADDOW: Thank you.
All right. Lots more ahead tonight. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Happy Monday. Hope you have a nice weekend. This weekend was
better for some people than it was for others.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVE BRYAN, TV ANCHOR: If Tulare Congressman Devin Nunes thought the –
thought he would find peace and contentment at home in California, well, it
wasn`t exactly a homecoming celebration for him in Fresno. Right down to
an anthem which you may not recognize.
REPORTER: Mixing anger with humor, protesters greeted San Joaquin Valley
Congressman Devin Nunes with a rendition of the Russian national anthem.
But Nunes snuck into a back door of the banquet hall where he changed the
subject, speaking to an agricultural group about water issues in the
REPORTER: But outside, several hundred demonstrators, some of them holding
signs with Russian insignia, are upset about how their congressman has
handled the investigation into possible collusion with Russia to influence
the presidential election outcome.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This whole congressional investigative is just
evolved into a joke. He needs to recuse himself or to take it seriously.
We want to find out what happened with Russia.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: That was what Congressman Devin Nunes came home to this weekend
in Fresno, California. His angry constituents singing, “listen or we`ll
throw you out”, playing in the Russian national anthem as his homecoming
Constituents are making for tough homecomings for a lot of members of
Congress right now, both Democrat and Republican, and that is turning out
to be a surprisingly big and interesting factor in the very big fight that
Democrats just picked in Washington, and that story is next.
MADDOW: In Denver, Colorado, this weekend, people rallied to call in the
state`s two senators to vote no on Judge Neil Gorsuch for the Supreme
Court. Democratic Colorado Senator Michael Bennet says he won`t support
the filibuster against Gorsuch and Republican Senator Cory Gardner, he`s a
yes vote for Gorsuch all the way. So, we`ll see if either Michael Bennet
or Cory Gardner pays a price for that stance on Gorsuch in Gorsuch`s home
state of Colorado.
But, you know, even without Michael Bennet, Democrats do have the votes to
mount their filibuster against Neil Gorsuch, to stop him from being
confirmed with the court unless he can get 60 votes. That showdown is
going to happen later this week. It`s going to be a huge drama as the
Republicans decide how they`re going to respond to that.
Today, every Democrat on the Judiciary Committee voted against Neil
Gorsuch`s nomination, but that was just a signal of the bigger fight that
will come over this in the next few days.
Here`s one thing to stick a flag in though in this in this news today and
as you`re looking towards the rest of the week – while Democrats on the
Judiciary Committee were taking this unified stand against Judge Gorsuch
today, they did something else I got a lot less attention. In addition to
advancing Judge Gorsuch`s nomination today, the Judiciary Committee also
voted to advance the nomination of this man.
His name is Rod Rosenstein. The White House has nominated him to be the
number two official at the Justice Department under Attorney General Jeff
Sessions. Now, who`s the number two at the Justice Department is
particularly important in skin bowl terms right now because the Attorney
General Jeff Sessions has recused himself from any investigations into the
Trump campaign`s contacts with Russia. That means any Justice Department
investigation of such things would be overseen by Rod Rosenstein if he`s
confirmed, unless he chooses to a point and outside special prosecutor
instead of overseeing things himself. That would be his call as well.
During Rod Rosenstein confirmation hearings last month, Senator Richard
Blumenthal of Connecticut asked which of those avenues Rod Rosenstein would
likely take. Would he oversee these investigations himself or appoint an
outside prosecutor? Rosenstein refused to answer.
Today, Senator Blumenthal became the only member of the Judiciary Committee
to vote against Rod Rosenstein for this crucial job. Every Democrat except
for Blumenthal voted to advance his nomination. The vote on Rosenstein was
So, stick a flag in this one. I mean, Democrats have to choose their
battles obviously. They will win nothing if they can`t stick together.
They are mostly choosing to fight on Gorsuch but not entirely. They are
not choosing the fight on the number two job under Jeff Sessions who will
run the Russian investigations.
We may look back on this as a momentous strategic decision by the
Democrats. Stick a flag in this one. Note this one for the record.
That does it for us tonight. We will see you again tomorrow.
Now, it`s time for “THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL”.
Good evening, Lawrence.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY
Copy: Content and programming copyright 2017 MSNBC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
Copyright 2017 ASC Services II Media, LLC. All materials herein are
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