The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 6/23/17 U.S. Kremlin source
Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW
Date: June 23, 2017
Guest: Ellen Nakashima, Ned Price
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: And thanks to you at home for joining us this
We got a big show tonight. “The Washington Post” today dropped this huge
story. It`s more of a small book really, about the Russian attack on our
presidential election last year and how the Obama administration came to
recognize that that was happening, what they understood about it and
importantly, how they reacted to it once they realized what it was.
In just a moment, we are going to be joined live by one of the reporters
who broke that story, and there`s a lot to talk to her about.
This is like – this story today at “The Washington Post”, it`s like ten-
front page worthy scoops all in one big story. And among those, among the
scoops “The Washington Post” got for this report is that U.S. intelligence
agencies somehow have access or had access to a source of intelligence that
was very, very, very close to Vladimir Putin. And that is intriguing just
on the surface, right, just for the pure spy novel lurid thrill of it.
We`ve got somebody close to Putin or something close to Putin.
“The Post” to its credit I think makes clear how extraordinary that is
beyond just the wow factor. How unexpected it is to learn that.
Ultimately, how important it is to U.S. interests.
“The Post” today notes that Putin is, quote, a former KGB officer who takes
extreme precautions to guard against surveillance. He rarely communicates
by phone or computer. He always runs sensitive state business from deep
within the confines of the Kremlin.
But nevertheless, the U.S. somehow got access to intelligence, got access
to information that apparently could only have come from very close to him.
According to “The Post”, U.S. intelligence agencies sourcing when it came
to attributing an author, when it came to attributing blame for the Russian
attack, their sourcing came from, quote, deep inside the Russian
government. Deep enough inside the Russian government that what they had
in – what they had intelligence about, what they had a report about was
the direct personal individual involvement of Vladimir Putin in directing
I mean, Putin is a guy who`s so secretive, Russians were not even allowed
to know the names of his children until recently, or in fact that he
definitely had them. When he got divorced in 2013, half of Russia was
like, he was married?
But somehow U.S. intelligence agencies have sourcing inside the Kremlin
about his personal involvement in Kremlin covert activities. That`s a big
freaking deal. I have no idea what that intelligence source is, but that
is a big deal. And it is remarkable, honestly, that “The Washington Post”
has been able to report that.
The nature of the source of that intelligence, the danger the source of
that intelligence must be in if that source is a human source. I mean,
that`s just palpable, right? How do you think Putin reacted to reading
this in “The Washington Post” today?
I mean, the sensitivity of the United States having an intelligence source
so close to Putin, that is apparently what drove a lot of the extreme
secrecy within the U.S. government about what the intelligence agencies
knew concerning the Russian attack. “The Post” has some incredible details
on that today, including them shutting off all of the monitors, like the TV
screens, shutting off all of the monitors around the Situation Room in the
White House when senior officials were meeting to discuss these matters.
They hadn`t shut down all the video monitors in the Situation Room for
anything since the bin Laden raid, but they did it for this because they
considered it to be so sensitive and so secret.
The sensitivity of the source of America`s intelligence on this subject,
the prospect that that source might conceivably be a human being who is in
personal contact with Putin, that – I think that drives home for us as
Americans just the incredible sensitivity and human dangerousness of some
of what our intelligence agencies know, right? It sort of makes you get
viscerally why it`s so important that that kind of information shouldn`t
ever fall into the hands of anyone who is, say, beholden to Russia for some
So, that is one of the things “The Washington Post” unveiled today. Such a
sensitive thing, it`s almost impossible to believe that we get to read
about it in the paper.
I should tell you, though, there`s sources for this report, according to
them, are, quote, more than three dozen current and former U.S. officials
in senior positions in government. So, presumably, they`ve got this nailed
down, right? Three – more than three dozen sources. It`s a remarkable
thing they have been able to report out but with that many sources
presumably they have nailed it.
In addition to that incredible scoop about the source of this intelligence
being so close to Putin, there`s also a bunch of really other specific
information that we never really knew before that tells us a lot more as
citizens about what happened to us last year. They describe, for example,
the FBI and the State Department noticing and getting alarmed about an
unusual spike in requests from Russia for temporary visas for officials
with technical skills seeking permission to enter the United States for
short-term assignments at Russian facilities. I mean, that`s astonishing,
I mean – how – so FBI and the state department are alarmed, an unusual
spike in requests for Russians with technical skills for short-term
projects here right before the election. How did – I want to know how did
they notice that? Do they have algorithms that process requests for visas
that tell them when something spooky and spy-like pops up? Or did one
person be like, hey, weren`t there three other guys named Sergei who were
applying for this same visa? Anyway.
How did they notice that? How did they know about the tech skills of all
these Russians who were trying to get into the country for short-term
assignments right before the election? So, that`s an incredible detail.
Now, “The Post” also reports somewhat ominously that the Russian attack on
our election was not entirely remote controlled. And I don`t know if this
relates to the part about all the Russians with tech skills trying to get
in on short-term visas, but “The Post” reports today that the Obama
administration believed that some of the Russian attack last year, at least
some of the people who participated some way in that attack, were Russians
who were not in Russia. They were Russians who were physically located
here in the United States when they were helping in the attack. So, that
obviously previously unreported.
I don`t understand exactly (AUDIO GAP) and how much of a handle the Obama
administration and now presumably the Trump administration had on who those
Russians are or were.
Again, there`s a ton in this story from “The Washington Post.” I`m very
much looking forward to talking with Ellen Nakashima about that in just a
It`s not just a collection of granular little scoops like these ones that
I`ve been talking about, though. There is an overarching framework to what
“The Washington Post” has reported today. And basically, the big question
around which they frame all this new reporting, and it`s a question that I
think we all have to admit will loom large in history about this time in
our country, which is how did Russia get away with this? Not just what did
Russia try to do, but how did they get away with it? Especially now that
we know that various parts of the U.S. government were able to conclude
confidently, not only that the attack was under way while it was under way,
but they knew who was doing it. How did they get away with it? How have
they continued to get away with it?
I should tell you that NBC News has an exclusive story out just tonight
about the Trump administration and how they have done nothing, how they
have taken little meaningful action since Trump has been in office to shore
up U.S. defenses against Russian hacking, to protect our election`s
infrastructure in particular, let alone to retaliate in any way against
Russia for having done what they did in our election last year. Depending
on how you feel about the Trump campaign and their own special relationship
with Russia on this issue, the news that they`re doing nothing to try to
prevent it from happening again in the future and they`re doing nothing to
respond to Russia having done it last year, that may or may not be
surprising to you.
But why did the Obama administration not do more than they did once they
realized what was going on? This big report from “The Post” that hints at
the U.S. government having a lot of options, if they really did want to go
after Russia, if they really did want to retaliate and hit Russia in
response to what they did. Specifically there`s some new and very
provocative news from this “Washington Post” piece where they describe what
sounds like rather epic American capacity for hitting Russia using cyber
And I`m being a little vague about this because “The Post” is a little
vague about this, but this is new. “The Post” is newly reporting that
before he left office, President Obama approved a covert measure that,
quote, authorized planting cyber weapons inside Russia`s infrastructure,
the digital equivalent of bombs that could be detonated if the United
States found itself in an escalating exchange with Moscow.
Oh. That work was started under a covert authorization signed by President
Obama before he left office. In the five months since he left office,
though, that work apparently has continued on the basis of President
Now, “The Post” does not say exactly what kind of damage this new capacity
the U.S. is developing, what kind of damage it could inflict on Russia or
even what types of Russian infrastructure these things might be targeting.
But, you know, even before this previously undisclosed covert program to
develop new ways to hit Russia, even before this, the U.S. has previously
been clear that whatever the Russians can do to us in terms of cyber
attacks, or whatever the North Koreans can do to us or the Chinese or
anybody else who devotes massive state resources to developing this
capacity, the U.S. has been clear in the past that they believe that our
NSA, our cyber command has more firepower in that regard than any other
country on earth. And whatever any other country can do to us, we can do
to them and much worse.
There`s no lack of confidence within the U.S. government that the United
States has the power to inflict devastating consequences on Russia or any
other country if we chose to do so by cyber means. Why didn`t they choose
to do something like that when the Obama administration recognized what
Russia was doing with our election, particularly when they realized it
wasn`t some freelance operation, it wasn`t some criminal operation, it was
being deployed directly by the Russian government on the orders of the
Again, we`re going to talk with Ellen Nakashima from “The Post” about this
in just a moment.
But the way “The Post” lays it out, they give basically two types of
answers to that question. One of them is domestic to the U.S. and it is
sort of exasperating to think about a national security matter like this
having domestic political constraints about it, but that`s the way it is.
The other one is not domestic, though. It`s a different kind of
constraint. That`s the keep you up at night kind of thing.
But the domestic political constraint that “The Post” describes was
apparently about Donald Trump making it a touchstone in his campaign that
the elections were somehow rigged for Hillary Clinton. When he was saying
that the elections are rigged, the whole thing is rigged, he wasn`t saying
the Russians were rigging our election. What he was saying is that the
U.S. government, right, the Obama administration, or maybe even the Clinton
campaign, the Democrats were somehow rigging the election to favor Hillary
And because he was campaigning on that, the political consequence of that
in terms of this national security issue is that the Obama administration
apparently felt constrained in terms of how dramatically they could respond
to this attack and how much they could even talk about exactly what they
knew the Russians were doing. Because with that stage having been set by
Trump, this is all rigged, they want to interfere in this election to help
Clinton, with that stage having been set in terms of our domestic politics,
the Obama administration believes that whatever they said an whatever they
did about the Russian attack on our election would have been called, you
know, proof – proof of what Trump has been saying all along. They have
made up this story. This is how they`re going to rig the election and
steal the election for Clinton and they`re going to blame it all on this
So, that was the constraint driven by domestic politics. And I think it`s
not purely craven, right? The other thing you have to think about when
you`re the president of the United States, when your public servants and
intelligence agencies serving the good of the people of the United States,
that you don`t want to end up in a situation where a significant portion of
the country thinks they have got great reason to believe that we didn`t
just have an election, right? That it was all rigged. That it was stolen
and they should, you know, turn to some other means to install their
leader, right? You don`t want to mess with that.
So they tried not to. And they felt constrained in their response to the
Russia attack because of that worry. That was the domestic constraint.
The other constraint they apparently felt is something that is like less
sort of exasperating about our politics and sort of just more straight
ahead scary. According to “The Post`s” report, one of the reasons, the
other main reason the Obama administration, quote, ruled out any pre-
election retaliation against Moscow is because they feared what Putin might
do in response about the election. They feared that Putin, quote, was
prepared to go beyond fake news and e-mail dumps.
Quote: The FBI had detected suspected Russian attempts to penetrate
election systems in 21 states. And at least one senior White House
official assumed that Moscow would try all 50.
Michael Daniel, who was cyber security coordinator at the White House,
tells “The Washington Post,” that, quote: We turned to other scenarios that
the Russians might attempt.
Quoting from “The Post,” As brazen as the Russian attacks on the election
seemed, Obama and his top advisers feared that things could get far worse.
Moscow`s meddling to that point was seen as deeply concerning but unlikely
to materially affect the outcome of the election. Far more worrisome to
the Obama team was the prospect of a cyber assault on voting systems before
and on Election Day.
Worrisome to the Obama team was that prospect. So, part of the reason they
didn`t throw everything they had at the Russians, which appears to be a
considerable amount of stuff they could have thrown, part of the reason
they didn`t do anything to Russia about this before the election was
because of how it would play politically here in the United States. This
question, an important question of whether Americans would have confidence
that our election was not being rigged by the outgoing administration in
order to install someone who had been secretary of state in that
administration as the next president, right? There was that domestic
But the other part of their reticence to do anything before the election
was driven by the fact that they believed, apparently, that Russia could
blow up the election if they wanted to. That beyond the bots and the
propaganda and the stealing the documents from the Democratic Party and
releasing them in a way designed to cause damage, despite – beyond all of
that stuff, which we all know about now, apparently, the Obama
administration believed that whatever Russia did with the voter rolls and
all those probes of election systems and all the other poking around that
we were told that they did in counties in dozens of states before the
election, the Obama administration apparently believed that maybe the
Russians were capable of melting the whole thing down on Election Day. So
Americans couldn`t vote, where the votes couldn`t be counted or the vote
could be disappeared or changed in some kind of catastrophic way.
Learning that that fear is what constrained the Obama administration`s
reaction, honestly that`s the way we learned as a country today that the
Obama administration apparently believed that Russia could do that, that
Russia had that capacity. They could have absolutely blown up our election
if they had wanted to. And if they had that capacity last year, presumably
that means they still have it, for whatever they want to use it?
So, there`s a lot that “The Washington Post” has just broken here. Like I
said, it`s like they took ten, one – ten-page one scoops and they put them
all in one big story, with that fascinating framing in terms of how the
Obama administration responded.
We`re going to be speaking with reporter Ellen Nakashima from “The Post”
about that in just a moment.
Before we get to her, though, I do want to do something else. I want to
share with you something that is a little bit of a scoop that we just got
tonight. At the start of this week, you might remember “The New York
Times” ran a story about the CIA Director Mike Pompeo. He`s a Trump
appointee, former Republican congressman.
Not every CIA director is involved directly in things like the president`s
daily brief. Not every CIA director is at the White House every single
day. In this administration, though, Mike Pompeo apparently has been.
And what “The Times” was able to report out at the beginning of this week
was that when Sally Yates, acting attorney general, came to the White House
during the second week – no, the first week actually of the Trump
administration in January to give them that dire historically unprecedented
warning that Mike Flynn, the national security advisor, was lying about his
contacts with the Russian government, he was compromised by Russia, he was
vulnerable to blackmail or coercion by Russia, “The Times” was able to
report out at the beginning of this week that that warning by Sally Yates,
that wasn`t something that the upper echelons of the Department of Justice
concluded and worked on in isolation.
What “The Times” reported at the beginning of this week is that the CIA,
CIA officers were also involved in forming that assessment about Mike
Flynn, in reviewing the evidence that led to that warning. CIA officers
had apparently reviewed the intercepted communications between Mike Flynn
and the Russians. They had seen those intercepts directly.
Even so, despite that direct involvement of his agency, despite the CIA
being in on what was so worrying about Mike Flynn, Mike Pompeo apparently
never talked to the president about it himself. An even beyond that, Mike
Pompeo, director of the CIA, kept discussing sensitive intelligence matters
with Mike Flynn in the room at the White House, even after all of these
concerns had been raised about Mike Flynn, including by Mike Pompeo`s own
There are a lot of questions that have yet to be answered about why the
White House as a whole was still OK with keeping Mike Flynn in his role as
national security advisor for 18 days after they got this dire warning
about him and him being compromised by a foreign power. It`s one thing,
though, to ask those questions about the president and the White House that
he is running. We will get to the bottom of that at some point.
It`s another thing to ask those questions about the guy who`s head of the
CIA, right? The CIA, after all, is the holder of very, very, very
sensitive, very secret information. Like, oh, by the way, we`ve got an
intelligence source right next to Vladimir Putin way inside the Kremlin,
right? The CIA holds that information. If they`re being cavalier about
somebody who`s been compromised by a foreign power still getting access to
tons of top level intelligence, that`s a different level of worry than if
it`s some, you know, novice group of brand new people in the White House.
So, “The Times” reported that at the start of this week. Right after that
report on Wednesday, Democratic Congressman Elijah Cummings, top Democrat
in the Oversight Committee, he wrote to the White House, wrote to White
House chief of staff Reince Priebus demanding to know how the White House
had handled the issue of Mike Flynn`s security clearance after they had
been formally notified by the Justice Department that Flynn was a security
We have posted Cummings` letter at Maddowblog.com in case you haven`t seen
it. In case you want to see it – detailed, granular, times, dates,
people, places. I think it`s going to be one of those things that kind of
ends up being an important reference document, if nothing else, if Mike
Flynn and the White House handling him of national security advisor stays
at the center of these inquiries into the Russian attack.
In addition to Cummings` very pointed questions about Flynn and why he was
still able to listen in on the most sensitive intelligence our government
has, in addition to that, in this letter, Elijah Cummings and the Democrats
on the oversight committee also raise the question of the security
clearance not just for Flynn but also the one that had been issued to Jared
Kushner, the president`s son-in-law. Because although Mike Flynn and Jared
Kushner are different breeds of cat, they do both have multiple high level
contacts with Russian officials that have yet to be explained, that they
didn`t publicly disclose until they were forced to by press reports. And
importantly, the Russian contacts that both of them had were apparently not
included on their applications for their security clearances from this
And so, Congressman Cummings, top Democrat on the oversight committee,
raises this question of whether or not Jared Kushner should also be keeping
his security clearance, especially since he`s a currently serving official
now. I mean, given his meetings with Russians, given what was apparently
an effort to keep those meetings secret, given him not disclosing them on a
security clearance application. That`s all interesting stuff, right?
Congressman Cummings raises really interesting points.
As I say, we`re going to post that letter online tonight so you can read it
for yourself. It`s granular, detailed. He makes a very good case.
But you know, he`s just a Democrat and the Oversight Committee in the
House, like every committee, is controlled by the Republicans. And
honestly, the Republicans on the Oversight Committee do not want to
investigate Russia, and they do not want to talk about anybody in the Trump
administration having secret meetings with the Russians or maybe not
deserving their security clearances. They do not want to talk about any of
So, a Democrat on the committee writing a letter is – even if it`s a good
letter raising good points, it`s just – it`s just a Democrat on a
committee writing a letter.
And that brings us to our teeny tiny little scoop tonight, which is this.
I`m going to skip right to the signature page at the end. It`s actually
important part here. This is a letter that we have obtained tonight. As
you see on the right side there, it`s signed by a couple of Democrats.
Right side on the bottom is Sheldon Whitehouse, senator from Rhode Island.
Right side on the top, that`s Dianne Feinstein, senator from California.
But looky-loo on the left, those are Republicans. Lindsey Graham, Senator
from South Carolina, Republican, chairman of the Subcommittee on Crime and
Terrorism. And above him, Chuck Grassley, Republican, senator from Iowa,
chair of the Judiciary Committee.
And what all four of them, including the chair and the ranking member and
the chairs and ranking member – and the chair and the ranking member from
the relevant subcommittees, what they are signing there is a bipartisan
letter written to the acting director of the FBI and to the White House, to
Marcia Lee Kelly, deputy assistant to the president and director of White
House Management and Office of Administration.
Dear Ms. Kelly, dear Acting Director McCabe, quote: We are writing to
request information related to Jared Kushner`s security clearance.
And they lay it all out about Kushner not disclosing his meetings with
foreign officials, including Russian officials, his application for top
security clearance, not including those meetings.
Question one: what is the status of Mr. Kushner`s security clearance? What
is the nature of his clearance? What level of information has he been
cleared to receive? What are the dates on which major decisions concerning
his security clearance were made?
Number two, check this one. Did President Trump or any other official in
the White House intervene in or overrule any decision concerning Mr.
Kushner`s background investigation? Any determination that he was eligible
for a clearance or at any other point in his security clearance process?
And it goes on from there. Question three, four, five, six, seven, eight.
They have CC`ed their letter to Jared`s lawyer. They say they want their
answer by July 6th.
But, again, bipartisan leadership of the Judiciary Committee, including
Republican Chairman Chuck Grassley demanding that the White House hand over
information on Kushner`s security clearance, including the question of
whether or not President Trump or any other White House official intervened
in the decision to grant it to him, and to conduct his background
Again, we will post this online tonight, as the news continues to unspool
this Friday evening.
Ellen Nakashima from “The Washington Post” joins us next.
MADDOW: It was Wednesday this week when Homeland Security officials
testified that they knew of 21 states that got some of their election
systems targeted by the Russian attack last year. At that hearing on
Wednesday, there was a keen moment that made me gulp but that didn`t get
much pickup. It`s real quick, check this out.
It`s Maine Republican Senator Susan Collins – watch what she asks here and
then watch the response from the FBI guy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R-ME), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Is there any evidence
that the Russians have implanted malware or back doors or other computer
techniques to allow them easier access next time to our election systems?
BILL PRIESTAP, FBI ASSISTANT DIRECTOR OF COUNTERINTELLIGENCE DIVISION: I`m
sorry, Senator, I just can`t comment on that because of our pending
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: No comment on that? You can`t just say, no, we don`t believe so?
She`s asking, did the Russians put malware or backdoors or anything else in
our computer systems, our election systems that will allow them easier
access next time? No comment.
We are all delighted that whatever the Russians were doing messing around
in the voting systems of more than 20 states last year, at least they
didn`t blow things up on election day as far as we can tell. But could
they? Could they have last year? I mean were they putting malware in
there so they could do it in the future if they want to? That was on
Now, today, there`s this from “The Washington Post.” This opus which among
many other things lays out the concern by the Obama administration that if
they had retaliated against Russia for the Russian attack before our
election, Russia might do something to our election that`s far worse than
what they have done already. They were worried about that because
apparently they believed that the Russians could have blown up our election
if they wanted to.
Joining us now is Ellen Nakashima. She`s national security reporter for
“The Washington Post”, one of the reporters who wrote this blockbuster
piece today at “The Post.”
Ms. Nakashima, congratulations on this opus today, this real achievement.
Thanks for being here.
ELLEN NAKASHIMA, THE WASHINGTON POST NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Thank
MADDOW: So, one key piece of your reporting, and this is a complex piece,
is that the Obama administration was very worried as to what the Russians
might do in response if there was a strong American pushback, a strong
American response to the attack before the election.
Is it clear that the Obama administration had a clear understanding of the
Russians` capabilities, about what the Russians could do if they really
NAKASHIMA: So, in fact, the White House did undertake a pretty in-depth
review of what the vulnerabilities of the electoral system were last
summer, and they had the top sort of voting system elections expert in the
country heading up that team.
And what they found was because there`s something like 3,000 voting
jurisdictions in the country, almost each one with its different type of
election system or voting system, it would in fact actually be quite
difficult for anyone to come in and hack a voting machine and change the
results across the country. Or even change the results in any large area.
It would be because of the heterogeneity of systems, it would be a little -
- it would be quite difficult.
So, with that, they turned to other scenarios that they thought might
actually be more plausible, such as mucking with the voter registration
systems. And as you heard this week, there were efforts to target at least
21 states. They were not successful in actually getting in and
compromising many of these systems. In fact one of my sources at the
Department of Homeland Security said there was hard evidence of only one
state in which a voter registration system was compromised and that was in
But be that as it may, the White House was very concerned that they could
still do some – they could still do damage by going in and, let`s say,
deleting a voter`s name, flipping two digits in his address so that when he
came to the polls, his voter registration didn`t match up and he might be
turned away. That sort of thing could cause confusion and ultimately
could, you know, cause doubts about the integrity of the outcome.
MADDOW: And presumably, if they could do that on a large scale, again,
it`s hard to do anything industrial scale in our election system because it
is so heterogeneous, but if they could do it on some replicable scale, in
some mechanized way, presumably that kind of confusion could materially
MADDOW: But again, that was just a hypothetical worry for them.
NAKASHIMA: And take this as a test run. The Russians were probing and
probing and we know they`re going to come back and try again. And so, they
could keep improving their skills and their sophistication.
MADDOW: Can I ask you also about the very dramatic opening to this piece
today at “The Washington Post,” the description about the intense secrecy
around this information that the U.S. government had. The CIA treating as
intensely, intensely secret the information that they had last summer about
what was going on with the attack and the authorship of it, basically who
could be blamed for it.
Was that secrecy driven in part – or driven entirely because of the source
of the intelligence, how they knew? The way that you guys wrote the story
today, it makes it seem like there may be very sensitive intelligence
sources close to Putin, whether or not they`re U.S. intelligence sources,
and that the CIA was willing to go to very extreme lengths to keep those
NAKASHIMA: Look, this was very highly classified information, and I – for
that matter, I also don`t want to get into – I can`t go much beyond what
we say in the story as to the sources because we don`t want to – we were
asked to withhold some of that information to protect the sources and
methods of that.
But yes, it was very sensitive, very highly classified and so was
restricted initially in fact to just the president and three senior aides.
MADDOW: Ellen, one last question for you on this. I have to – because
there is so much new in this reporting today that we haven`t seen and so
much of it is stuff that it`s hard to believe we`re getting reporting on,
not just that initial sourcing question that I just asked you there but
also the matter of the president signing this covert authority to develop
the capacity to hurt Russia through cyber technology means, through cyber
warfare means I guess you`re supposed to say, has the – since you
published today, has there been pushback? Has there been anger? Are the
intelligence agencies upset with this much being known?
Obviously, the question about what people talk to reporters about is a very
hot issue in Washington.
NAKASHIMA: We`ve had no pushback, heard nothing from any of the
intelligence agencies about that. You know, we – before we ran the story,
we check with the agencies, we included their no comments. I think we got
no comments from the FBI, NSA, CIA, the White House on that.
MADDOW: Ellen Nakashima, national security reporter for “The Washington
Post,” part of this reporting team that did this epic piece today on what
happened last year and how our government dealt with it. Thanks for being
with us tonight, congratulations.
NAKASHIMA: Thank you, Rachel.
All right. We`ve got more to come tonight. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Today, Republican Senator Dean Heller of Nevada became the fifth
Republican in the Senate to come out against the Republican bill to kill
Obamacare. That`s important because Dean Heller is number five to say no
and if only three of them say no, the bill dies. And now, after Heller on
top of those five who say no, two more Republican senators, Senator Susan
Collins of Maine and Rob Portman of Ohio, they`re also now saying they have
grave concerns about the bill, although neither of them is coming out and
saying they`re a no.
Again, Republicans can only lose up to two senators on this thing or it
will fail. We`re now looking at five to seven Republican senators who are
either no or gravely concerned.
So, as you might imagine, in that environment, with the math that tight,
the pressure is turning up, and that means people are turning up. In Maine
today, protesters showed up at three of Senator Susan Collins` local
offices, her home state offices, urging her to say no, to oppose the bill.
On a rainy afternoon in Ohio today, Senator Rob Portman`s constituents laid
down on the wet sidewalks in protest of the bill. That was outside of four
of his district offices in Ohio. Protesters also showed up at the airport
in Washington, D.C., yesterday thinking that might be an interesting
bottleneck spot to try to catch senators on their way home so they could
tell them to vote no on the bill.
In Pennsylvania, where Senator Pat Toomey says he so far supports the bill,
Toomey`s constituents held a series of 24-hour long vigils throughout the
state. They stayed outside his offices through the night and into the
This afternoon, constituents showed up at Senator Jeff Flake`s office in
Phoenix, Arizona, in the scorching heat. They were chanting for the
senator`s staff to please get him on the phone so he could – phone him,
phone him, so he could tell them which way he plans to vote.
This is from outside one of Senator Tom Cotton`s offices in Arkansas today
that posted Tom Cotton, we`re outside your office. Talk to us about the
bill that will take away 300,000 Arkansas` health care.
Senator Cotton has so far been silent on whether he supports the bill or
not. There`s a lot of that, and a lot of silence and reviewing and
considering and having concerns going on among Republican senators, but
time for that is running out.
Republican leadership in the Senate says they want to vote next week. Do
they have the votes? Do they not? A lot of that will depend on what
happens, I think, in their home offices or their home state offices and on
their phone lines over the next five days.
Watch this space.
MADDOW: If you live overseas, depending on what country you`re from, if
you want to visit the United States, you might need a visa to do so. You
have to explain to the U.S. government why you want to come here before you
get permission to come here.
And the visas are really oddly specific. You can apply, for example, as a
religious worker. You can apply as a temporary agriculture worker. You
can apply as a treaty trader. Also, what`s a treaty trader?
Whatever the case, you pick up the type of visa that you need. The U.S.
consulate looks at your application, decides whether or not to let you into
the United States. Last year, before our presidential election, the people
in the U.S. government whose job it is to look over all those visa
applications, they reportedly noticed something new. They noticed a big
uptick in a certain visa request from a certain country.
This is from today`s blockbuster story in “The Washington Post.” Quote:
Officials at the State Department and the FBI became alarmed by an unusual
spike in requests from Russia for temporary visas for officials with
technical skills, seeking permission to enter the U.S. for short-term
assignments at Russian facilities.
That surge of requests for that super specific visa caught the attention of
the FBI, who apparently put the kibosh on it. Quote, At the FBI`s behest,
the State Department delayed approving those visas until after the
What`s that all about?
Joining us now is Ned Price. He`s a former spokesman and senior analyst at
the CIA. He was a spokesman and senior director at the National Security
Council under President Obama.
Ned, it`s nice to see you. Thank you for being here.
NED PRICE, FORMER NSC SPOKESMAN & SENIOR DIRECTOR: Good to see you, too.
MADDOW: One of the things that “The Washington Post” reports here is that
there was this uptick in visas. They also report that the U.S. government
believes that some of the Russians who participated in the attack were here
on U.S. soil when they were doing that work.
Does that make sense to you in terms of what we understand about the
attack, why Russians would need to physically be here for what we think of
as an attack that happens, you know, in the cloud, in the Internet?
PRICE: Well, to my mind it does, Rachael. This detail about an uptick in
visas that “The Post” reported, it`s a reminder that in some ways, perhaps
in small ways, but in some ways, nevertheless, spies are just like us. In
order to travel overseas for work, they have to apply for visas. In this
case, they probably applied for diplomatic visas.
And they did so under the theory of traveling under official cover, what`s
called official cover. That is the most common usage of cover. That is to
say, cover legends that intelligence services around the world use.
Now, not always do intelligence officers travel under official cover.
Sometimes, they go under what`s called non-official cover. And the
Russians are pretty adept at this. You may recall that in 2010, the FBI
rounded up ten so-called Russian illegals. That is to say Russians who had
illegally assumed American identities and had been living here in some
cases for decades collecting intelligence in an effort to send it back to
In this case, though, it sounds like the individuals came here under
official cover requesting diplomatic visas. Of course, they`re not going
to say, I`m a Russian intelligence officer. They may say, for example, I`m
with the ministry of defense or the ministry of foreign affairs, but in
doing so, it made it much easier for the FBI to spot this uptick and to
deny the visas, at least until the election was over.
MADDOW: And this is reported as something that was concerning to both the
FBI and the State Department in terms of the way these things normally
work. Are you surprised to hear or unsurprised to hear that the FBI would
have noticed this uptick, the State Department might have recognized
there`s some strange surge in those kind of applications? Is that the kind
of national security monitoring that those of us outside the business
PRICE: I think it`s certainly in our interest and Americans should expect
that the appropriate authorities are closely monitoring Russia`s entering
this country, especially on diplomatic visas, because the thing is, the
Russian intelligence services are singular in terms of their sophistication
and their hostility. So if we see an uptick like that, especially before
the election, when we have a growing body of intelligence indicating to
Vladimir Putin`s plan to delve (ph) in our election, that surely should
send off red flags.
If it didn`t send off red flags, our national security community would be
derelict. But as “The Post” reported today, they were on top of it. They
flagged this trend and they stopped it before it could become more of a
MADDOW: Ned Price, former spokesman, senior analyst with CIA, former
spokesman and senior director of National Security Council – Ned, thank
you for being here on a Friday night and helping us understand this.
Really appreciate it.
PRICE: Thank you.
MADDOW: All right. You know, I read as many spy novels as the next guy,
but some of this stuff, I had no idea this is the way it worked. I feel
like I got – I feel like a got a lot smarter today just reading this one
thing in “The Washington Post.”
All right. We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: You are going to have a good weekend, I think. I mean, to the
extent I am capable of forecasting your weekend through the TV screen, I
hereby insistently forecast that you are going to have a good weekend, or
at least you should definitely try to because I also hereby forecast that
you`re going to have a nervous Monday. I`m not – at least a nervous start
I`m not quite sure why this isn`t on the news radar yet. I know there`s a
lot else going on. But what`s going to happen on Monday morning ought to
be on your news radar. It`s going to happen fairly early on Monday
morning. It`s a reason to set your alarm. It`s going to give a lot of
people shpilkes that day.
My best warning about it and how to prepare is our closing story tonight,
and that`s next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TOM BROKAW, NBC NEWS ANCHOR: Good evening.
Justice Lewis Powell, a courtly Southerner, surprised almost everyone today
by announcing his retirement from the U.S. Supreme Court. His decision
touched off a flurry of speculation on who the president will appoint as a
replacement and how that will affect the direction of the court and, of
course, the country.
As NBC law correspondent Carl Stern reports tonight, what makes the
retirement of the 79-year-old justice so significant is the special role
that he played on the court.
REPORTER: Since Lewis Powell put on the robe 15 years ago, it was often
his vote that made the difference. Whether voting conservative as
President Nixon hoped when he appointed him, or liberal, Powell has been
the so-called swing vote.
The court didn`t change much when Ronald Reagan named Sandra Day O`Connor
to replace conservative Potter Stewart, and Antonin Scalia had roughly the
same philosophy as the person he replaced, Warren Burger.
But Powell`s departure gives President Reagan his first big chance to shift
the court solidly toward the right if the Senate approves.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell unexpectedly announced his
retirement in 1987. He did so on the final day of the Supreme Court`s term
that year. And his retirement gave President Reagan a chance to shift the
Supreme Court solidly to the right. And President Reagan tried to do that.
He nominated an ultra conservative named Robert Bork, and famously that did
not pan out. Bork didn`t get the seat.
Justice Powell`s seat ultimately went to a more moderate justice named
Anthony Kennedy. And not only did Anthony Kennedy take over Lewis Powell`s
seat, he also continued the tradition of that seat being the swing seat,
the swing vote on the court.
Justice Powell`s announcement that he was retiring happened 30 years ago
this upcoming Monday, June 26th, 1987. And it just so happens that this
coming Monday is also the final day of this current Supreme Court term.
And end of the term is sometimes when retiring justices like to make that
announcement that they`re going.
So, heading into Monday, there`s some shpilkes 30 years after Justice
Powell`s announcement, his replacement, Justice Kennedy, the current swing
voter on the court. Maybe if he`s going to retire, that might conceivably
be the day he`d announce it. That would leave President Trump, of course,
with yet another pick for the Supreme Court and an opportunity to shift the
court significantly to the right if he can confirm someone significantly
more conservative than Kennedy.
Justice Kennedy is 80 years old. The top Republican senator on the
Judiciary Committee Chuck Grassley has been hinting he expects someone on
the court to retire this summer. So, Monday could be interesting. Set
That does it for us tonight. Have an excellent weekend. We`ll see you
again on Monday.
Now, it`s time for “THE LAST WORD” with Ari Melber, sitting in for Lawrence
Good evening, Ari.
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