The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 5/2/17
KAREN FINNEY, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I think that`s really important. And
I think looking at the record of the candidate is really important. And,
look, I think, quite frankly, I`m sure I`m going to get plenty of tweets
about this, I do think that with Hillary, you know, we put out very
detailed plans –
CHRIS HAYES, “ALL IN” HOST: I`ve got to say, Karen –
FINNEY: – and how she`d pay for it and all that. We thought that was
important. We thought that mattered. And look now, people would sure love
to know a lot more details about what Donald Trump would do. So, I think
that matters as well.
HAYES: Karen Finney and Josh Barro, thank you.
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.
And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. Happy Tuesday.
There`s a lot going on tonight. We got some late-breaking news about
former National Security Adviser Mike Flynn. And the former Acting
Attorney General Sally Yates who appears to have blown the whistle on him.
That story may dominate tomorrow`s news, particularly because FBI Director
Jim Comey is going to be back on Capitol Hill testifying tomorrow in open
Today, senators from the Intelligence Committee were bussed over to CIA
headquarters in Langley, Virginia, to go look at classified information at
CIA headquarters related to the Trump/Russia investigation. The senators
would not say what they looked at, of course, because it was classified but
we did all get to see them get on the Scooby van and go over to Langley and
their little – it`s kind of cute. It`s both stealth and adorable. How I
think of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
So, that story, the Trump/Russia investigation, you should expect that`s
going to get big again. That may blow up again over the next 24 hours or
so. Particularly with that Comey testimony tomorrow and what`s breaking
tonight on Flynn.
So, we got the latest on that, including some absolutely hair-curling new
reporting from “USA Today.” The reporter from the “USA Today” new scoop on
that subject is with us tonight.
In Washington, D.C., tonight, as we speak, the day`s news is not yet over.
We`re on proverbial political death watch yet again tonight for the
Republicans` continued efforts to kill the Affordable Care Act.
Starting this morning over the course of today into this evening,
Republicans have been trying very hard to mount a third attempt at
repealing Obamacare. Now, they are not even trying to get any Democratic
votes. This is a 100 percent Republican effort in a Congress where they
have Republican majorities in both houses of Congress. But nevertheless,
it is starting to look tonight like their “repeal the Affordable Care Act”
effort is going to fail for a third straight time.
It is not done yet, though, but it`s not looking good for them. So, all
eyes are on that continuing effort tonight in Congress. An effort that, if
it is successful, it will cause more than 20 million Americans to lose
their health insurance. They want to try to get a vote on it tomorrow.
They`re reportedly twisting arms tonight. We`ve got eyes on Washington
tonight, and we`ll have more on that ongoing story ahead this hour.
But we`re going to start tonight with something that had you – had you
asked me this morning when I woke up what would be on tonight`s show, I
never in a million years would have guessed this, but this is just
something I want you to see. I want you to experience this.
I swear it`s real. And I say that because for a big portion of the day,
after I heard about this today, I thought it was a joke. I thought it was
a prank. I did not believe it could have been real.
But we have now confirmed that this is real. This really happened. We
have the tape of it. I think, ultimately, it`s amazing just to experience
it in the moment but it`s also kind of an incredible snapshot of what`s
really going on, nuts and bolts in American politics right now.
American political reporting beltway media stuff tends to be really focused
what people say they are doing. And what people say to reporters and how
people describe their own aims and intentions. If you mute that and just
watch what happens, you just watch what they do, sometimes you get a lot
more insight into what they are capable of doing and what you should expect
next. And, boy, did we have a stark example of that today. And it`s
nothing that anybody said they were going to do.
All right. Here`s the story. You know that on Friday, Congress reached
the last-second deal to fund the federal government for a week. To avoid a
government shutdown on a minute after midnight on Friday night, which would
have been the president`s 100th day in office.
Then, over the weekend, they came up with a longer deal to keep the
government funded until September. Now, that is generally good news for
everybody who doesn`t want the federal government to shut down.
But that deal is a real thing. It`s a specific thing. And as people
started reading through the details of that deal, it became clear that the
Republicans in the Trump administration didn`t get the things they promised
they were going to get out of that agreement. And the Democrats pretty
much got everything they were insisting on.
We talked about this a little bit on the show last night. Some of these
details have now become widely known. The Republicans did not kill the
National Endowment for the Arts or the National Endowment for the
Humanities or the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, even though they
said they would.
They did not slash the Environmental Protection Agency by 30 percent, even
though they said they would. EPA only gets a 1 percent cut.
They did not kill federal funding for Planned Parenthood, even though they
said they would kill federal funding for Planned Parenthood. They did not
kill funding for sanctuary cities even though they said they`d do that,
too. But they clearly, obviously, did not get any money to build a
freaking wall between us and Mexico. And on and on and on down the list –
exhaustively, actually, down the list.
So, by the time we were on the air last night, talking about this
development and funding the government, I think people broadly have started
to figure out this first big legislation of the Trump era really, the first
significant legislation this president will sign will be a checklist of
what Democrats insisted on and none of the things the Trump administration
said they were going to force the Democrats to go along with. And it
really is true, down the line, 100 percent. The only thing the Trump
administration got part of that they wanted was increased military
spending. And the Democrats weren`t opposed to that.
So, this is a difficult thing from a political perspective, if you think
about it from the – through the eyes of the Trump administration, right?
After the 100 days benchmark, with all the media attention, all the
political attention on that, all the attention the administration itself
put on that benchmark. By the 100 days benchmark by which the new
president had passed zero major legislation, they pass this 100 days
benchmark and then head into the next week and you know finally what they
do get? They do get some consequential legislation for the first time.
They do finally get something for the president to sign, something major
and it`s nothing that they wanted, right?
That is not the kind of press they want right now. And at this point, it`s
– the deal is done. And the next government shutdown will happen on
Friday if they don`t come up with a new deal. I mean, at this point, it`s
pretty much too late to change the deal.
So, what they decided today was that they wanted to change the press about
the deal. They can`t change the deal. Let`s just change the way people
are spinning this. Let`s try to make ourselves sound better when it comes
to this deal.
I know we have to – let`s sell this deal better. And that`s where the
tape comes in.
So, today, the administration decided they needed to change the spin. And
they needed to change the story here, change the headlines, get some good
press. And so, they convened a big conference call with the Trump
administration`s new budget chief. It`s him on this conference call with a
whole bunch of experienced, top tier national reporters.
The whole idea was to change the spin. Make it look more like a win for
them. And it started off normal. This is what it sounded like before
things went wrong.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
MICK MULVANEY, OMB DIRECTOR: I said yesterday in a briefing here in
Washington that, you know, the Dems were trying to take credit for a win.
That`s fine. That`s understandable. I think in the last 24 hours, though,
we`ve seen them try and take it some place that it is simply not
sustainable, which is that they won and that we lost.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MADDOW: That`s how the conference call began. You can hear as people
joining the call or at that point, the way those tones go, those are people
signing in. Those are people joining, getting on the call.
At that point, like that`s what you expect that call to be like. Don`t
believe these Democrats when they say they won anything here. Now, we`re
going to explain our own new spin on this about how we won this. So,
that`s how the call started.
But then it took a very dramatic turn. Started off normal, like you just
heard, but then this is what happened in real time. This is how reporters
all over the country experienced the rest of the call as it was happening.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
WAPO REPORTER: This morning, the president on Twitter called for a
government shutdown in September to try to fix this mess. Can you please
address those comments? Do you think a shutdown will be necessary later
this year to get the budget system fixed?
MULVANEY: Well, again, right now, I`m not worried about September. I`m
worried about this deal that`s in front of us. But I think the president`s
tweet was we might need a shutdown at some point to drive home the point
that Washington needs to be fixed. I think that`s a defensible position,
one we`ll deal with in September.
The truth of the matter though is, now, as we`ve averted a government
shutdown in a way that allows the president to fund his priorities.
MULVANEY: By the way, for those of you who put us back on hold, if you
could mute your phones, that would be great. I enjoy the classical music,
All right. Hold on a second. Is there a way to – who would like to ask a
question? This is going to be a disaster.
DOUG OBEY: Doug Obey with Inside EPA. I just wanted to ask, you mentioned
that the Democrats didn`t get renewable energy subsidies. What do you –
which subsidies are we talking about here?
MULVANEY: They could ask for new subsidy (AUDIO GAP)
OBEY: You`re breaking up. Hello?
REPORTER: Is there another question here from “A.P.”? Is anyone still
OBEY: Yes, the audio is breaking up.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is unbelievable!
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The phone is muted?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is there anybody left there?
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MADDOW: The person just screamed, this is unbelievable.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The system is not working very well.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Is the music changing?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hello?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Your conference is ending now as requested by the
host. Please hang up.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MADDOW: And that`s the end of it. That`s how it ends. As requested by
your host, your conference call is ending now. Click. Like the most
mercifully please hang up in politics ever.
The amazing thing was like the three different versions of the song, like
each of them louder. We did not adjust the volume of that at all. All we
did was put the subtitles up so you could hear people laughing and
screaming. This is incredible! And all of the things they were saying.
But that volume was how people experienced it. That was what the White
House did today. That was the Trump administration today. This was the
This was the president of the United States of America using all the powers
of the federal government to try to re-spin the disastrously bad press
they`re getting about the first significant legislation that the new
president will sign. And that`s the budget director on the phone with all
those reporters when that happened. You can imagine the Trump imagine
director being like, this is not what I signed up for. This is not what
they told me to expect.
Is this background music coming from us?
So after starting the day with that, which really happened, they then
decided to take a second crack at it. They decided to give the budget guy
a second chance to try to re-spin this story. This time, no calls, no
technology. We`ll do it live.
They put him at the podium, at the regular press briefing, where they gave
him pictures to illustrate the border wall he insisted will get built, even
though the president didn`t get the money from Congress and while he
pointed at them, the pictures disappeared while he was talking about them.
No, you can`t even do pictures! Oh, they`re there are back again.
So, this was at the regular press briefing today. This is our second crack
at it for the administration. And then look how that briefing ended.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: Will you guys just e-mail where that wall is from so we can
identify a location?
REPORTER: Sean. Sean, come on, Sean.
REPORTER: What about the Putin call?
REPORTER: Where did Sean go?
UNIDENTIFEID FEMALE: Just sit. No one leave. Sit and wait. Let`s see.
Sit and wait. Let`s see.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He said he`s not coming back.
REPORTER: He`s not coming back?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not coming back.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: No, he`ll come back. Let`s sit here and wait.
What about the Putin call? Let`s sit here and wait. April Ryan is like,
you guys, let`s sit here and wait. Peter Alexander is like, I just
checked. He`s not coming back. That cannot be.
This is the White House press – this is what they`re doing at the White
House press briefing? He`s just getting up and walking out? They convened
a press briefing and now they`re not taking any questions and there will be
no speaking? Peter Alexander is like, yes, really, he just bailed. He`s
That was the White House today. No questions. No follow-ups. Sit and
wait all you want. The new president is going to sign his first big thing
since he`s president and we`re having a hard time talking about it.
So, I just wanted you to see that. There`s a lot to get to tonight.
There`s a lot going on in Washington. But one thing – one thing we – one
thing to know about today`s news is there is something wrong with the
background music today. This – where is that coming from? This did not
work today. You guys, come on.
MADDOW: So, this has been an interesting pattern to see develop. First
one was Devin Nunes as the House Intelligence Committee closed in on a
blockbuster public hearing that was going to feature the former Acting
Attorney General Sally Yates, a hearing that was likely to focus on former
National Security Adviser Mike Flynn and his contacts with the Russian
government. House Intelligence Committee Devin Nunes called off that next
public hearing. It still hasn`t been rescheduled and he simultaneously got
himself kicked off that House intelligence investigation.
So, he was first. But then it happened again, as the House Oversight
Committee, I think maybe unexpectedly stumbled into information about
contacts between Mike Flynn and Russian officials. Their questions about
Flynn`s contacts with foreign governments and his payments from foreign
governments led to revelations that the Pentagon had launched a new
independent investigation into Flynn.
As soon as that happens, House Oversight Chairman Chaffetz also decided
that he, too, needed to get out of dodge. Congressman Chaffetz first
announced that he was going to quit Congress and then he said he needed to
leave Congress immediately, yesterday for surgery on an old foot injury.
Then on Friday, as that news was publicly announced about the Defense
Department inspector general running its own investigation into Flynn`s
ties with foreign governments, then it was a third guy, the attorney
general of the United States, Jeff Sessions, saying that he, too, was
bailing on anything – any investigations related to Mike Flynn. On
Friday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that he will recuse
himself specifically from anything involving Mike Flynn that comes up at
the Department of Justice. Nunes, Chaffetz, Sessions – guys keep
disappearing themselves from this investigation, particularly when it gets
close to Mike Flynn.
And now, we may be starting to see why. This afternoon, members of the
Senate Intelligence Committee boarded a Scooby van and went to CIA
headquarters at Langley, Virginia. They reviewed classified intelligence
related to the Russia investigation. Committee members were tight-lipped
after returning to the Capitol because they were reviewing classified
But we did get two sort of teasers from the top Democrat on the committee,
Senator Mark Warner. He said it was helpful to have the whole committee at
that briefing at CIA headquarters because there`s a whole lot of
information that cannot leave that building. OK, we don`t know what that
information is that cannot leave the building.
But then Senator Warner also told reporters, quote, “You will be hearing
from us shortly.” We don`t know what that means either but we`ll stay
And this is about to heat up because tomorrow, FBI Director James Comey is
going to testify before a different Senate committee in open session.
He`ll be testifying before the Judiciary Committee in the Senate tomorrow.
That hearing is scheduled for 10:00 a.m. It`s an open hearing. It is
expected to get into the Trump/Russia investigation, at least as far as
Director Comey will allow that.
Then the following day, on Thursday, FBI Director James Comey and the NSA
Director Mike Rogers will testify behind closed doors before the House
Intelligence Committee, all specifically on the Russia investigation. This
will be the House Intelligence Committee`s first hearing since way back in
March, March 20th, when Director Comey testified that the FBI is, in fact,
conducting a counterintelligence investigation into Russia`s role attacking
the 2016 election, as well as possible collusion with the Trump campaign.
So, Comey is going to be testifying in open court tomorrow. Comey and
Rogers testifying behind closed doors on Thursday. Those will both be a
warm-up act for this coming Monday when former Acting Attorney General
Sally Yates is due to testify before a Senate subcommittee. She`ll be
there along with former National Intelligence Director James Clapper.
Now this is going to be the first time we`ve heard from Sally Yates. Her
first appearance on Capitol Hill since she was fired by the Trump
administration in late January after she said she wouldn`t defend the
Muslim ban in court.
The reason she`s going to be testifying has nothing to do with that. As
far as we know, the reason she`s going to be testifying is to talk about
the warning that she gave the White House about then serving National
Security Adviser Mike Flynn and his ties to foreign governments and his
contacts, his communications with Russian government officials.
Well, now today, we`re learning more about what to expect from Sally Yates
and we`re getting a window into why everybody might be freaking out every
time they get close to the Mike Flynn investigation. CNN reports tonight
that Sally Yates is prepared to testify that she gave a, quote, “forceful
warning to the White House regarding then national security adviser Mike
According to CNN`s report tonight, quote, “In a private meeting January
26th, Sally Yates told White House counsel Don McGahn that Mike Flynn was
lying when he denied in public and private that he had discussed U.S.
sanctions on Russia in conversations with Russian ambassador to the U.S.
Flynn`s misleading comments, Yates said, made him potentially vulnerable to
being compromised by Russia. That`s according to sources familiar with her
version of events. She expressed serious concerns to the White House
counsel, making it clear that Flynn could be fired.”
Now, the reason this is a big deal is because this directly contradicts
what the White House has been saying about Mike Flynn. Directly
contradicts the administration`s version of events surrounding Mike Flynn
including White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer who has told reporters
that Sally Yates simply gave the White House a friendly heads-up about Mike
Flynn. From CNN`s report, quote, “Yates is highly motivated to set the
record straight about her warning regarding Flynn.”
Now, we should note it wasn`t just Sean Spicer who tried this line that
Sally Yates had done nothing more than give the White House a casual heads-
up about Mike Flynn. That wasn`t just Sean Spicer like mispronouncing
Bashar al Assad. This was something that the White House actually rolled
out through multiple staff as their official explanation of what happened
when they got warned by the acting attorney general about Mike Flynn and
didn`t fire him for almost three days later.
It wasn`t just Sean Spicer. White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus also
tried to say that when Sally Yates came to the White House, it was just a
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REINCE PRIEBUS, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: Look, here`s what happened.
Yates came in, gave a heads-up to the White House counsel. White House
counsel looked at the matter, the next day or the day after, the
investigation was closed. No longer going on.
Then the issue shifted to whether or not something was done that was wrong.
The vice president was then looped in on this situation and we talked to
the vice president about whether or not Michael Flynn was being honest or
not. The vice president knew that there was an FBI interview. And then
ultimately, we decided, after about ten days, bringing the vice president
in, that we decided that he wasn`t being honest. That`s a timeline. It
happened very quickly, Chris.
CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS HOST: But the vice president says he didn`t know
for 14 days that he had been misled by Michael Flynn.
PRIEBUS: No, the vice president knew that he were – what the vice
president didn`t know, I believe, was that Sally Yates gave an initial
heads-up to Don McGahn. Some time after January 27th, it was – our legal
counsel got a heads-up from Sally Yates that something wasn`t adding up
with his story. And so then our legal department went into a review of the
situation, and some time after that, when Sally Yates refused to do her job
as attorney general, like two days later, we had to get rid of her.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: She just gave us this little heads-up. It was like, you guys,
post-it note. And then, like two days later, we had to get rid of her.
So, the White House explanation about what happened with Mike Flynn, what
did they know about Mike Flynn and his ties with the Russian government and
his ties with foreign governments and his payments from foreign
governments? What did they know about that when they vetted him to be
national security adviser?
That has never made any sense in terms of why they took him on as national
security adviser. Their explanation for how they reacted to this news from
the Department of Justice, playing down the warning that they got, saying
that they responded to it very quickly, even though they kept him on for
another three weeks after this warning. The explanation that Mike Flynn
had no idea that – excuse me, that Mike Pence had no idea Mike Flynn had
any of these government ties, none of those things factually makes any
And Sally Yates is absolutely key to us all starting to get the real story
and starting to make sense of it. So, she`s due to testify on Monday.
This testimony from Comey tomorrow. Testimony from Comey and Rogers behind
closed doors on Thursday. Sally Yates will testify on Monday. We`re
already getting reporting about what to expect from that.
We`ve got Nunes bailing. We`ve got Chaffetz bailing. We`ve got Jeff
Sessions bailing. Everybody who gets near the Flynn investigation is
So, this story is about to get bigger, not smaller. Clearly, Mike Flynn is
at the center of some bull`s-eye here. But, you know what? One last point
here – we`re also starting to see something else that`s interesting. And
that is how Republicans in Congress may be trying to bottle this up.
The head of the Senate Judiciary Committee is Senator Chuck Grassley. He
has now sent kind of a shot across the bow at the FBI, ahead of James
Comey`s testimony tomorrow before Grassley`s committee. Grassley just sent
a letter to the FBI director, casting doubt specifically on the dossier.
Remember the dossier, the Christopher Steel dossier about the Trump team`s
connections to Russia?
In this letter, he tries to undercut not just the dossier but tries to
undercut the FBI for having ever relied on this dossier in the first place.
So, watch that line from Chuck Grassley and Senate Republicans as of
We also just got this news from the top Republican on the Foreign Relations
Committee today. Senator Bob Corker now announcing that his committee will
not pursue any sanctions against Russia for attacking our election.
Because why would they do a thing like that?
I mean, you are starting to see not just some interesting new information
come out about this investigation. You are starting to see somewhat
amazing Republican reaction to these investigations as they move forward.
Things are about to get really interesting in terms of this investigation,
in terms of this story and in terms of how they`re going to cope with it in
political terms as we learn more.
Watch this space.
MADDOW: Some remarkable new reporting from “USA Today.” Did you see this
Just one of those things where I`m not sure I can improve on this. Just
should know this exists. I`m going to read this lead. Quote, “A former
member of the Russian parliament is gunned down in broad daylight in the
Ukrainian capital of Kiev. A longtime Russian ambassador to the United
Nations drops dead at work. A Russian-backed commander in the breakaway
Ukrainian province of Donetsk is blown up in an elevator. A Russian media
executive is found dead in his Washington, D.C., hotel room.
What do they have in common? They`re among 38 prominent Russians, 36 men
and two women who were victims of unsolved murders or suspicious deaths
since just the beginning of 2014.
The list contains 10 high-profile critics of Russian President Vladimir
Putin, seven diplomats, six associates of Kremlin powerbrokers who had a
falling out. Two are possibly connected to a dossier alleging connections
between President Trump`s campaign staff and Kremlin officials. A dossier
produced by a former British spy and shared with the FBI.
Twelve of these people were shot, stab or beaten to death. Six were blown
up. Ten died allegedly of natural causes. One died of mysterious head
injuries. One reportedly slipped and hit his head in a basketball bath.
One was hanged in his jail cell and one died after drinking coffee. The
cause of six deaths was reported as unknown.”
This is a new report just out from “USA Today.” Headline as you can see
here is “Mysterious rash of Russian deaths casts suspicion on Vladimir
Again, this list goes back to the beginning of 2014. So, you know, it`s
the last three years-plus. The risk of being on the wrong side of Vladimir
Putin is not a new risk that we have just become aware of in this country.
For example, Vladimir Kara-Murza who we had on this show on Friday night,
he was first apparently poisoned in Russia in 2015.
But what is different now for us Americans, what is different now about
this trail of dead Russians, as one Senate intelligence committee witness
memorable put it recently is that now, Vladimir Putin`s government is
accused by U.S. intelligence agencies of attacking our election last year
to hurt Hillary Clinton`s chances and to swing the election to Donald
Trump, and now, there is an open counterintelligence investigation at the
FBI as to whether or not the Trump campaign cooperated in that Russian
And so, now, because of that, now, Putin`s trail of dead Russians isn`t
just a story about him and his governance. Now, it`s a backdrop to what
we`re trying to learn about us and our governance. It was the last open
hearing on the Russian attack where expert witness Clint Watts advised
investigators, advised congressional investigators of what they ought to do
is follow the trail of dead Russians.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CLINT WATTS, EXPERT WITNESS: Follow the trail of dead Russians.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That`s struck everybody as maybe – maybe being hyperbolic when he
said it? I don`t think he meant that as hyperbole. I don`t know if
congressional investigators literally took that advice, but “USA Today” did
and what they found reads like the script for a horror movie.
Joining us now is Oren Dorell. He`s a foreign affairs reporter for “USA
Today.” He is the author of this chilling article today.
Mr. Dorell, congratulations on this reporting. Thank you for being here.
OREN DORELL, USA TODAY FOREIGN AFFAIRS REPORTER: Thank you. Thank you for
MADDOW: Let me just ask, what was the genesis of this reporting and how
did you go about compiling what is – what is a very long list?
DORELL: I`ve been following this story of Russia and its involvement in
Eastern Ukraine for a long time and also its involvement in the previous
election of the United States. But – and I came across another reporter,
Sarah Hurst, who is in the U.K., in Britain, who had been keeping tabs of
suspicious deaths in Eastern Ukraine and in Russia basically since the
Russian involvement in Ukraine began in 2014.
And I came across this list that she compiled and she had been following
media reports and media reports and Russian media and Western media and
then checking some of these people looking at their social media sites.
Yes, social media sites. And together, I kind of verified some of the work
that she was doing, but we worked together and she compiled the list. I
kind of checked what she had and added a few details and together, we put
this all together.
MADDOW: And you`re clear in the report that you`re not necessarily
alleging that all 38 of these people were murdered deliberately by the
Putin regime, but you have to decide what you consider to be a government-
linked death or a death that counts as reasonably suspicious to be on this
sort of a list. What`s the line for you between that sort of reasonable
suspicious for a specific death and what may just be coincidence or
DORELL: So, that`s a very good question. And what really – there are two
factors that go into this. One is what connection do these people have to
the Kremlin and to people in power. Do they have information? Do they –
you know, one is looking at the victim or the person who died and what
their connection is to the Kremlin. A lot of these people are – all of
these people have information that people in the Kremlin would not want
They`re diplomats. They`re military leaders in Eastern Ukraine. They`re
people who either were involved in corruption as participants and got
caught, or they`re people who were trying to expose corruption either as
government officials or as reporters or activists. Others are people who
were somehow – had information, some other information, you know, a couple
of them are involved in this – were alleged to be involved in – connected
to this Trump dossier which, obviously, is another type of information that
people don`t want out.
Another aspect of this was, you know, really looking at the history of
Russia. There`s a long history of – unfortunately, of people being killed
who are either enemies of Vladimir Putin or enemies of the Russian state
and Soviet state before that. The Soviets developed all kinds of chemicals
and means of killing people that were almost untraceable.
We have – people have spoken to – people who worked in this field for the
Soviets, and they describe what they had. And there have been people under
the rule of Vladimir Putin who we know have been murdered.
Alexander Litvinenko, the former KGB agent and FSB agent who defected to
Britain was killed with plutonium 210. It`s a radioactive substance that
can only be made in a few places in the world, and one of those is in
Russia. And in order for that material to have made it to London where he
was given that material, a decision, according to the British government, a
decision would have had to have been made at the highest levels of the
So, there`s a long history. We looked at people at the ways that people
died. A lot of them – there are a lot of outright murders. There are a
few that, you know, are very suspicious. There are a few who died of
natural causes, but allegedly, but some of them are very – were rather
young. So, you know, we don`t know which of these people are on the list
were murdered, but we think – we think it`s worth asking the question.
MADDOW: Yes, and what you`ve provided is, as I said, scary but essentially
a reference list that I think a lot of people will use when they – as
people do further reporting on this story, not just in terms of the Russian
government but in terms of this American connection as well.
Oren Dorell, foreign affairs reporter for “USA Today” – thank you for
talking to us about this stuff. It`s scary stuff to cover. I really
appreciate the work that you guys did and thanks for talking to us about it
DORELL: Thank you.
I will say just to underscore Oren`s point there about people`s involvement
in or exposing of corruption. One of the things you find again and again
and again as you start following the Russian side of this, that when
there`s corruption, when there`s particularly large scale corruption,
people who are exposed to that corruption from all different sides end up
being in danger. Not just people who make it publicly known, not just
people who investigate it, but people who resist it, people who go along
with it, people who profit from it, people who can tell tales about it.
Everybody who is touched by corruption ends up being in danger. And in
Russia, in the case of Russia, often that means mortal danger.
All right. Much more ahead tonight. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Quick programming note. Tonight, I`ll be on an excellent
television show called “Late Night with Seth Meyers.” Two fair warnings.
One, I will still be wearing the same $20 blazer. If you think it looks
frumpy from the front, you should see it from the patented 34-degree side
angle that happens on late night shows.
Number two, there will be a belabored analogy involving “The Silence of the
(BGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: There`s never been a presidency, an administration that was this
overtly hostile to the press. But at the same time, there`s never been a
president who was more addicted to the news about himself and who is more
responsive to the news that he supposedly thinks is so worthless. So, it
is a weird tension. I think it`s a dangerous time for the First Amendment
and for the free press in this country. At the same time, we`re oddly
influential with the guy who wants to kill us.
SETH MEYERS, COMEDIAN/TV HOST: Yes, it`s a weird dance. It`s like one of
those movies where the serial killer is also clearly in love with the
person who is trying to arrest him.
MADDOW: So you`re Clarice?
MEYERS: The press is Clarice and he`s Lecter. It`s like a cat and mouse
game and, like he`s definitely going to kill some other people but maybe
MADDOW: And he`s age inappropriate and you can`t figure out what she sees
in him. I know.
MEYERS: Tell me about the lambs.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: But if the press is Clarice, and the president is Hannibal Lecter,
who is Buffalo Bill? And when do we get the delicious claret.
“Late Night with Seth Meyers” tonight is 12:35 a.m. Eastern. But we`ve got
more ahead tonight in the meantime. Stay with us.
MADDOW: In January 1950, President Truman`s secretary of state, Dean
Acheson, made a mistake. He was making remarks to the National Press Club
and he described a defensive perimeter within the Pacific region in which
the United States pledged to protect that defensive perimeter under all
He described that defensive perimeter in the Pacific region and he did not
include Korea in that defensive perimeter. Didn`t mention the Korean
Peninsula. And who knows if it was a connected event or not, but six
months after those remarks by the secretary of state, North Korea invaded
South Korea and the Korean war began. Since then some scholars have
pointed to Dean Acheson`s comments, his misstatement of what U.S. policy
was at the time or at least his policy disconnect from his president,
scholars have pointed to those remarks from Acheson as having played a
factor in the start of the Korean War.
Historians` assessments, at least some of them, when he misstated U.S.
policy or he gave voice to his own mistaken interpretation of what he
thought U.S. policy was – well, maybe he green lit North Korea, maybe he
somehow convinced North Korea that now would be an OK time for him to
invade the South since now, the U.S. government was implying that the U.S.
wouldn`t jump in in response if North Korea made that move.
Now, whether that`s a fair assessment of Acheson and Truman and the start
of the Korean War, there are now starting to be some parallel worries that
that same type of communication disconnect, that same kind of American
policy not all happening in one voice, that same type of concern may be at
play again. Those worries may be playing out with this new administration,
over and over again.
One example, just this past weekend, President Trump praising Kim Jong-un,
calling him a smart cookie, saying he would be honored to meet with Kim
Jong-un. Meanwhile, if you look at the State Department website, they
insist there that the United States and North Korea, quote, “do not have
diplomatic relations.” The president, not just praising dictators, but
saying things about those dictators that the State Department is shocked by
or at the very least they`re not echoing at all. There`s no united front
in terms of what U.S. policy is.
Take another recent example, Turkey. In Turkey, they recently had
referendum that very narrowly resulted in the president getting way more
expansive power than usual. It, essentially, dissolves parliamentary
diplomacy and parliamentary democracy in Turkey. State Department
responded to that erosion of democratic principles with alarm, pointing out
concerns by international monitoring groups about irregularities and uneven
playing field in the referendum. At the same time, though, President Trump
got the Turkish president on the phone to congratulate him on his big win
in that referendum.
Then, this weekend, it happened again. President Trump shocked everybody
when he invited the Philippines president, Rodrigo Duterte. President
Trump this weekend invited him to the White House. Rodrigo Duterte is
somebody who human rights advocate say has led to the killing of thousands
of people of his own citizens and extrajudicial murders and in his way of
fighting the drug trade.
Trump inviting him to the White House shocked everybody who knows anything
about Duterte. It appears, in fact, to have shocked the U.S. State
Department and the National Security Council as well, who reportedly had no
idea that the president was going to extend this invitation to the
Philippine dictator who, himself, brags about killing drug suspects with
his own hands.
There`s lots of ways to look at this phenomenon, people starting to talk
about it a lot on the news. This is about more than president Trump
personally, right? More than just President Trump and his personality and
his attraction to authoritarian dictators. Perhaps more importantly, this
is a question of looking at this. There`s important question that you can
get here from looking at this behavior historically, is this dangerous
behavior the president is exhibiting as compared to past president. What`s
the risk when the president puts out a foreign policy and a relationship
with a potentially dangerous foreign leader that has nothing at all to do
with everything else that the U.S. government says about that same person
in that same country.
Historically speaking, is that a dangerous disconnect?
Joining us now is Michael Beschloss, NBC News presidential historian.
Mr. Beschloss, it is great to have you with us tonight. Thank you for
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS, NBC NEWS PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Thank you, Mr. Maddow.
MADDOW: Past administrations and past presidents have certainly been cozy
with bad guys.
BESCHLOSS: They have.
MADDOW: Is President Trump`s behavior just a continuation of that or is
there anything different compared to his predecessors.
BESCHLOSS: No, there`s something very different here, you know, look at
the presidents of the 20th century and beyond. Franklin Roosevelt talked
about the four freedoms that we wanted to extend around the world. John
Kennedy and his inaugural talked about human rights that we wanted to make
sure other countries had.
Donald Trump in his inaugural said, we do not seek to impose our way of
life on other countries – that was a big dangerous signal. And there`s a
direct arrow from that I think his calling up to congratulate those leaders
that you were talking about in the Philippines and Turkey and perhaps had a
meeting with Vladimir Putin this summer.
MADDOW: And, Michael, in terms of the disconnect between Trump and his own
government, his own State Department, is that Acheson-Truman analogy the
kind of the right place to look in terms of those potential dangers?
BESCHLOSS: I think it really is because other, you know, leaders around
the world, including the ones we mentioned are looking at the American
government and they`re trying to figure out what we`re really trying to
convey. If you`ve got the State Department saying we`re for human rights
and then President Trump calls up the leader of Turkey and says
congratulations on, essentially, restricting democracy, what does that tell
MADDOW: Michael Beschloss, NBC News presidential historian – thank you,
my friend. Nice to see you.
BESCHLOSS: My pleasure. Good to see you, Rachel.
MADDOW: All right. We`ll be right back. Stay with us.
MADDOW: “THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL” is about to start, but I
have to make a correction before I go. Tonight, in reference to the great
Jonathan Demme movie “Silence of the Lambs,” I got my wine wrong. I was
thinking Clarice, and so I said claret.
But everybody knows that when you eat their liver, you eat it with some
fava beans and a nice Chianti. Chianti, not claret. I made the wrong wine
reference, I`m sorry, I`m terrible and I don`t know anything about wine.
Chianti, I`m sorry.
All right. That does it for us tonight. We`ll see you again tomorrow.
Now, it`s time for “THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL.”
Good evening, Lawrence.
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