The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 8/18/17 Bannon out – was he ever in?
Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW
Date: August 18, 2017
Guest: Jane Mayer
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: I want to tell you that the nation and my
family joins me in prayer that Sunday you will have a day off. Or even
half a day off.
JOY REID, MSNBC HOST: Now, wait. I must correct one thing. You mean our
MADDOW: Our family.
REID: I`m a Maddow, remember. Yes.
MADDOW: That`s right. You are an honorary Maddow at this point, and
literally, I get calls from close family members of ours, asking when you
get a half day off. So –
REID: Next week, I`m on vacation. Bye.
MADDOW: Stay strong. You got to make it through this weekend. Thank you,
my friend. Well done.
REID: Good night.
MADDOW: All right. And thank you at home for joining us this hour. You
know, the good thing is just talking to joy about like having some time
off. You know, being able to relax a little bit. I mean, this is a
difficult job daily production, you know, you got to do stuff.
Luckily, Fridays in August nothing ever happens. So, pretty much everybody
phoned it in today, nothing`s going on, right?
All right. Starting in middle school, there`s a thing you can do called
model U.N., model United Nations. It`s an educational thing. They do it
for college kids. For kids in high school and for kids in middle school.
It`s a very cool idea. You get assigned to represent a country and then as
the delegate for that country, you learn about diplomacy and international
relations and the workings of international institutions by you acting out
your assigned country`s best interests, along with all the other kids that
are assigned to be all the other countries in this mock U.N. environment.
It`s cool. Some schools do debate club. My school did mock trial. Some
schools do model U.N. It`s a cool thing.
Last March, when he was zipping his way through the Republican primaries,
on his way to the nomination to be the Republican Party`s candidate for
president in 2016, last March, then-candidate Donald Trump sat down with
the editorial board of “The Washington Post”. And in that meeting, he
finally answered a question that reporters had been bugging him about for
He was becoming the front runner for the Republican nomination for
president, but despite having made it that far politically, nobody really
knew where to place him on the number line of Republican politics,
particularly on issues like national security and foreign policy. So,
people kept asking him, Mr. Trump, Mr. Trump, who is your foreign policy
team? People have been asking him that for weeks and they started to make
fun of the fact that he didn`t seem to have a foreign policy team.
Well, on that day in March at “The Washington Post`, the kind of a dramatic
flourish, he produced a piece of paper that had a list of five names on it.
He made a big show out of getting the paper from one of his aides, then he
spread it out and he read off the paper to “The Washington Post” editorial
board. And in so doing, he announced his list of five people who he said
were his foreign policy advisors.
And nobody had ever heard of any of them. And as a whole, they turned out
to be very strange choices.
For example, one of them turned out to be a guy named Carter Page, a small-
time business guy who had worked for Merrill Lynch in Russia for a while.
He had also turned up in an FBI investigation of a Russian spy ring that
was operating at a New York bank. He turned up in that investigation as
somebody who had provided information to the Russian agents.
Another person on the list was a guy who said on his resume that he had
taught for years at the National Defense University, when in fact he had
not taught for years at the National Defense University.
Another one of the five people on this list listed on his resume that among
his awards and honors, not only had he participated in model U.N., in model
U.N., he`d been the representative for the United States. Hey, you know,
if you`re going to advise an actual U.S. president someday, that`s probably
pretty good practice, right? And what luck presumably if that kid had been
assigned to be the delegate for Liechtenstein at model U.N., then he
wouldn`t have turned up in the U.S. presidential election as a foreign
policy adviser a few years later down the road.
So, Trump with this flourish pulls out his list of five names. He unveils
his five-person foreign policy team and it was a weird thing and it
continued to be a weird thing.
Carter Page ended up under scrutiny for his travels to Russia and his
meetings in Russia in the middle of the presidential campaign, which is now
under scrutiny for its contacts with Russia during that time.
The kid who listed model U.N. on his resume to be a Trump foreign policy
advisor, he made the news this week because among the 20,000 pages of
documents the Trump campaign is now handed over to congressional committees
investigating the Russia issue, there are records of at least a half dozen
times when the model U.N. kid wrote to other people on the Trump campaign
insisting that he was able to get them all meetings with high-level
Russians, including his efforts to set up a meeting with Putin himself.
Where did these guys come from and how did they end up as part of Trump`s
campaign? I mean, Trump doesn`t seem to have known George Papadopoulos,
the model U.N. kid or Carter Page, the guy who was in with the Russian
spies. I mean, he doesn`t seem to have known these guys before he was
running this campaign for president. How did they end up on his
presidential campaign and what the candidate described as these senior,
very important roles as his foreign policy team?
Same question applies to the guy who ran his campaign for a while, Paul
Manafort. He wasn`t connected to Donald Trump before he mysteriously ended
up running the Trump campaign last year. It has been unequivocally
confirmed to us that as late as January of last year, Paul Manafort and
Donald Trump had no relationship. But by March of last year, Paul Manafort
was running Donald Trump`s convention operation and by May, he was running
the whole Trump campaign. Where did he come from?
Out of all the people in the country, out of all the Republicans in the
country, why did Trump pick this guy who he didn`t know, who had been out
of American politics for decades while instead he was doing business and
political work for Putin connected oligarchs and dictators, why pick him of
And then once Trump won the election, why did he end up with this guy in
charge of foreign policy running the State Department? Rex Tillerson had
never met Donald Trump before the presidential election.
Rex Tillerson`s selection as secretary of state is explained now as having
been a recommendation to Trump from Condoleezza Rice and from Obama`s
defense secretary, Bob Gates, as if Trump was taking tons of advice from
people like that when he was setting up his cabinet.
I mean, remembered Trump installed his bankruptcy lawyer as ambassador to
Israel. He put his top fundraiser in as treasury secretary. He put his
son`s wedding planner in charge of federal housing in New York and New
Jersey. He named his son-in-law and his daughter as senior presidential
advisors. He made his bodyguard the director of oval office operations.
He put Newt Gingrich`s wife in Rome as the ambassador to the Vatican.
You really think he held out on the job of secretary of state until he
found someone Condoleezza Rice approved of?
I mean, it remains a strange thing that Donald Trump picked Rex Tillerson
to be secretary of state. But Tillerson did have decades of experience
with Vladimir Putin. He`s thought to be closer to Putin than almost any
Putin pinned Russia`s highest civilian honor on Rex Tillerson lapel just a
few years ago, around the time that Tillerson`s company and Russia
completed the largest oil deal in the history of the world, a half trillion
dollar oil deal between Russia and Exxon that is off now but could be back
on in an instant if only those U.S. sanctions on Russia could be rolled
So, this is this thing that nags at me and has been keeping me awake on and
off for like more than a year now. Where these folks come from? How do
these people find their way into that inner circle?
I mean, there have been a whole bunch of people in the Trump campaign and
in the Trump administration who are, forgive me, weird choices for the jobs
that they have had and for the roles that they have played. In terms of my
sleep schedule, it`s almost comforting now. It`s at least clarifying now
to look at all those weird choices and realize that some inexplicable
connection to Russia and Russian interests appears to be the common
denominator and all of those weird choices. There`s at least a theme,
With this one other guy though, he doesn`t fit the theme. He was an
equally weird choice but he doesn`t fit that same theme. You can`t explain
him the same way. This is the trailer for the Val Kilmer movie he once
produced about a mad scientist who locks people in a steam room and holds
them hostage there while the girl hold each other and take off their bikini
tops at random times.
It sounds kind of corny, it is. But the message of the movie is about the
mad scientist`s murderous crazy scheme which is to convince people through
this hostage crisis in the bikini sauna that there is such thing as global
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why are you?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hundreds of millions of people are going to die, that`s
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hundreds of millions of people will die, how?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Global warming.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That`s how you know he`s crazy.
This one guy who doesn`t fit the sort of pattern of a weird choice for the
Trump campaign in the Trump administration, he produced that the mad
scientist kills people because he believes in global warming sexy sauna
scene horror movie.
He also produced a movie that is supposed to be nonfiction, a documentary,
that shows and proves that one of the guys from “Duck Dynasty” isn`t just a
guy who has an amazing beard and sells duck calls, he`s a living prophet
here on earth. He is the torchbearer sent here from heaven to show
humanity the way.
That one, that movie, that documentary of his actually has so much footage
of people being actually killed and stabbed and run over by tanks and stuff
that I can`t show you the trailer for that film. I can only show you the
stuff from the main part of the movie that really does make a case that
maybe the “Duck Dynasty” guy is the next Jesus.
The same guy from the administration and the campaign is the one who worked
for a time at Biosphere 2. Biosphere 2 is a Texas billionaire`s experiment
in the `90s to try to make humans live for years in giant terrariums, with
no link to the outside world.
Steve Bannon`s time running Biosphere 2 ended in a lawsuit or one of the
female terrarium dwellers accused him of screaming at her that he would
take her safety concerns about the Biosphere and, quote, ram them down your
F-ing throat. Bannon actually admitted to saying exactly that in the court
And that was just a couple of years before police were called to his home
and he ended up charged with domestic violence and battery, as well as
charges that he was trying to interfere with his wife`s ability to testify
against him in that domestic violence case. Those charges were later
dropped when in fact his wife didn`t turn up to court to testify about the
That was also before we learned about the reported meth house that he
rented and where he received his mail in Florida and now that mention that,
that was before we learned about him being registered to vote in multiple
states at the same time while also leading a crusade in the Trump White
House against supposed voter fraud. I mean, there are a lot of people who
were weird choices in the Trump campaign and in the Trump administration
once they won – people who just don`t make sense in terms of where they
came from and where they ended up. But at least with most of them, there`s
this common thread that they all have unusual ties to Russia and we`re
working on unraveling that one and explaining it all in the end.
But with Steve Bannon, he`s the weird tie himself. One year ago,
yesterday, Steve Bannon was brought on board to replace Paul Manafort at
the head of the Trump campaign he and Kellyanne Conway came on as a package
deal. Both of them had been working for pro-Trump outlets of different
kinds that were both funded by the same reclusive right-wing billionaire
Robert Mercer who was the single largest donor overall to the effort to
elect Trump president.
Even though Bannon was taking over the campaign chairman role from Paul
Manafort, he insisted instead on being called the campaign CEO. OK. Once
he was installed as senior White House strategist, Steve Bannon insisted
that it be made publicly known that his chief strategist role was of equal
rank to being White House chief of staff. He then named himself to the
National Security Council before that national security adviser, the first
one got fired, and the new one kicked him out of there.
Well, now, as of today, he`s gone from the White House altogether, with a
flourish of random contradictory information about how exactly he left, how
much he jumped and how much he was pushed. The line they`re trying to sell
now from the Bannon inside is that it was an orderly goodbye, that it was
on his terms, that he filed his notice that he would leave two weeks ago,
or maybe it was 10 days ago, or maybe was a week ago. He at least
definitely had already decided to leave on his own terms a long time ago,
and everybody knew he was leaving including him.
And that`s all fine, you`re going to try to sell that line, except for the
fact that three nights ago, he made an unsolicited call to the “American
Prospect” to brag about all the people in the administration who he`s about
to fire, who he Steve Bannon is going to be firing really soon. None of
those people are fired but Bannon is declaring victory all the way.
So, obviously, this is another landmark moment in the disillusion of the
Trump administration, but we`ll be talking about that over the course of
the next hour, and I just want to focus on a few things that we`re chewing
on right now and trying to answer, stuff that hasn`t been answered yet that
I`m hoping we might get answered over the course of this evening.
Number one, when do we get normal sleepy Fridays back? When can we have a
slow news day, particularly on a Friday ever? Never? OK, so that`s one.
Two, Carl Icahn just left the administration tonight as well. He left the
administration quit his job literally moments before “The New Yorker”
magazine published this piece about billionaire Carl Icahn using his
position in the Trump administration to make potentially hundreds of
millions of dollars for his own companies, moments before that was
published tonight at “The New Yorker`s” Website, Carl Icahn resigned. Is
that resignation by Carl Icahn, a standalone Carl Icahn, potential
corruption story or is his resignation tonight tied in any way to Steve
Bannon departure earlier today?
Also, who else is leaving the administration right away? Either just to
take advantage of the smokescreen created by Steve Bannon`s departure or
because they were tied to Bannon and now that Bannon is gone, they don`t
have any political means of staying.
Number three, Erik Prince, the billionaire brother of Education Secretary
Betsy DeVos and the founder of the military contractor Blackwater.
Politico.com reports tonight that that big meeting on Afghanistan today,
which was the supposed reason Mike Pence had to fly home early from his
overseas trip, “Politico” reports now that Erik Prince, the Blackwater guy,
was due to be at that Afghanistan meeting in person today at Camp David, to
pitch his idea in person that the Trump administration should pay him $10
billion a year to run the Afghanistan War from here on out as Erik Prince`s
own for-profit private enterprise instead of something being run by the
According to this new reporting tonight, Steve Bannon was the one who was
Erik Prince`s chief ally in favor of this idea. Once Steve Bannon got
fired today, Erik Prince was blocked from attending that Afghanistan
meeting at Camp David that he was otherwise going to be at. The person who
blocked him reportedly was national security adviser H.R. McMaster.
Is that true? Are there other cockamamie schemes the administration was
rolling along with under Bannon`s leadership that will now change course or
stop because he`s gone?
We`re sort of chewing on all that tonight. But here here`s my big question
tonight, which I think we actually might be able to figure out what the
right reporting, in just a moment. Why was Steve Bannon there in the first
place? What was he there to do and at whose behest was he there? And
whatever he was sent to do, did he leave no because he accomplished it?
There were a lot of other inexplicable people in the Trump campaign and now
in the Trump administration and those people fit another pattern entirely -
- Russia, Russia, Russia – as to how they got their place and why they`re
there. But Bannon really is different. Bannon came on a year ago, out of
blue, to run the Trump campaign despite the fact that with his personal
background, he probably couldn`t get a commercial driver`s license, let
alone control of a major party presidential campaign.
But he got that gig specifically because the people who funded Bannon at
“Breitbart”, and who funded all of his other ventures, including his insane
movies, by that point, those same people had become the single largest
funders of the Trump campaign, and those the people who are who installed
him on top of the campaign a year ago, and who ultimately got him into the
White House into the Oval Office and this senior role that ended today.
Why did they want him there? Did he accomplish what he was supposed to do?
And what do they want to do next with Bannon out of the White House and now
working on the outside?
We`ve actually got expert reporting on that next from the reporter who has
done more than anybody else in the country to explain the single funder who
made this all happen in the first place. Stay with us. That`s next.
MADDOW: When it was announced one year ago yesterday that Steve Bannon was
taking over the Trump campaign the announcement was weird for a few
reasons. First, new campaign chief at a weird late time in the campaign,
the third person running that campaign in a very small number of months,
that itself was weird. Second, he was announced as part of a package deal
where he and Kellyanne Conway both got installed at top at the top of the
campaign at the same time, amid the strange and still unexplained departure
of Paul Manafort as the previous campaign chair.
Kellyanne Conway was named campaign manager. Steve Bannon was named
campaign CEO, which is weird itself. Campaigns don`t have CEOs.
And, you know, they seem like this kind of odd couple politically speaking.
Kellyanne Conway is this very personable, polished – based on the rest of
her career you could say sort of a normal Republican who went on TV and
talked about Donald Trump as though he were a normal Republican.
Steve Bannon, on the other hand, was not that at any level, really not.
But despite their very distinct differences, both of them actually came
from the same place. Both of them have made a very good living off of one
reclusive conservative hedge fund billionaire. Before becoming Donald
Trump`s campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway ran a super PAC. A super PAC
that supported Ted Cruz in the Republican presidential primary. That PAC
was almost entirely funded by New York City hedge fund billionaire Robert
Then once Trump won and Cruz dropped out, that billionaire Robert Mercer
and Kellyanne Conway who worked for him, they decided they would switch
horses. Conway stayed on stayed in charge of Mercer`s PAC, but they
changed its name, and they started running anti-Clinton ads to help Trump,
instead of running anti-Trump ads to help Ted Cruz.
Robert Mercer put many millions of dollars into that effort. It became the
largest known single donor to the effort to elect Donald Trump president.
At the same time, Robert Mercer was also reportedly the single largest
funder of Breitbart.com, which Steve Bannon ran before he signed on with
the Trump campaign and where he has apparently returned tonight already
after his seven months in the White House.
Steve Bannon was a strange pick, right, as we have been talking about. A
strange pick to run a campaign. A strange pick for a very high-profile
political job given his past.
A strange pick to run the campaign of the Republican presidential nominee
given that in his previous job, he had done everything humanly possible to
unseat the Republican Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who in fact was primary
doubt of his job. He did everything humanly possible to kick the
Republican House Speaker John Boehner out of his job. And in fact, John
Boehner did leave his job as House speaker.
And at the time, Steve Bannon got picked to run the Trump campaign, he was
doing everything humanly possible to unseat the next Republican House
Speaker Paul Ryan, the one who is still there despite Steve Bannon`s best
efforts. That`s what the Mercer family had Bannon using “Breitbart” to do,
before they took him away from “Breitbart” and send him over to the Trump
campaign and the Trump administration.
Now that he is done with the administration and back at Breitbart as of
tonight, is he going back to that war he was waging on the Republican Party
or is there some new idea? What happens with the secretive billionaire
Mercer family as a factor now, now that they`re back to paying Steve Bannon
salary instead of us taxpayers?
Joining us now is Jane Mayer staff writer for the New Yorker. Her article
earlier this year, the reclusive hedge fund tycoon behind the presidency,
which was just an incredible piece of reporting that I`m sure puts you on
the Mercer family Christmas list forever.
Jane, thank you very much for being with us tonight. I really appreciate
JANE MAYER, STAFF WRITER, THE NEW YORKER: Glad to be with you.
MADDOW: From what you understand about the Mercer family and their
intentions, why they funded Trump to the degree that they did, why they
facilitated the movement of Steve Bannon and Kellyanne Conway over to the
campaign, why they`ve supported Breitbart all these years, given all your
understanding of all those things, do you have a sense of what their role
will be now that Bannon is out?
MAYER: Well, first of all, what their intentions were in the campaign was
Bob Mercer is a kind of, as you say, very reclusive, kind of kooky
political conspiracy theorist who was driven by hatred of Hillary Clinton
during the campaign. So, I mean, he would literally believed that the
Clintons had murdered people and was susceptible to all kinds of kind of
right-wing kooky theories.
And so, when he you know, at this particular point, he is now playing both
an inside game and an outside game. He met with Bannon on Wednesday for
several hours at his estate in Long Island, and they are planning life
after the White House for Bannon, where Bannon will be kind of captain of
this movement that is to push the Republican Party in a more sort of
At the next night, Bannon, excuse me, Mercer had dinner with Trump and sort
of pledged support. So, he`s both an inside supporter, but also going to
be funding this hugely powerful outside movement to pressure Trump to go in
the direction that he and Bannon wanted to go into.
It`s a very strange role. I mean, he`s an incredibly wealthy man with an
unusual amount of power over this White House.
MADDOW: And is the goal to try to continue to shape the White House in
Bannon`s image, his sort of nationalist image, despite the fact that Bannon
is not in it anymore? I mean, is that – is that is that the idea, to try
to get the other people who are opposed to Bannon`s vision out of there and
to get more people like Bannon close to Trump now that Bannon is out? You
could see why things sort of backwards.
MAYER: Well, one way to look at this is, is Bannon did all he could as he
sees it inside the White House. He didn`t get his way on an awful lot of
things, particularly having to do with economic nationalism, you know, all
kinds of things having to do with trade policy and they didn`t build the
wall and he is hell-bent to try to get his way by pushing from the outside
of the White House and the Mercer fortune will be behind him pushing this
I think one of the first showdowns we`re going to see in the fall, it`s
going to be over funding that wall and I can imagine. I think you`re going
to see probably Breitbart, which is largely owned by the Mercers and
Bannon, which was an incredible propagandist, pushing to get funding for
building that wall. And if they don`t get it, I think they`ll probably see
if they can shut down the government, or do – you know – play hardball
the way they did with Boehner before and Eric Cantor.
MADDOW: Jane, I`m thinking about the role of Breitbart and the decision by
the Mercer`s not just to fund that but then to take Bannon out of there and
move him over to the Trump campaign when they felt like the time was right.
You know, there are a lot of ideological news outlets out there in the
world that are funded and supported by rich people who want to use them for
crusading. I mean, Breitbart`s been pretty effective but they`re I
wouldn`t describe them as a juggernaut in terms of being able to dominate
the media landscape. They`re one factor among a fractured media landscape
that`s changing all the time.
Do you expect that that sort of outside game, even if it does involve
Breitbart, will also involve new efforts new types of media new types of
influence operations besides that one publication?
MAYER: I think I have heard that there`s some interest of by Bannon and
seeing if they can kind of launch Breitbart TV of some sort. I mean,
there`s – they`re certainly not going to be you know alone in this field
and as you say – I mean, you can take a look at Rupert Murdoch`s media
empire and see that he also has a tremendous amount of quite a bit more
power probably and he was in there lobbying to get Trump to get rid of
Bannon. So, you know, they certainly won`t be alone in this.
But I think you know the thing that`s interesting about Bannon is he is –
he`s a political pugilist. He is a very powerful propagandist when he gets
going. I think he added a lot of anger and edge to Trump and gave him a
kind of a – you know, sort of cast him as a coherent political figure that
really I`m not sure the Trump is at all.
And so, you know, I mean I think he`s good at propaganda and it`ll be
interesting to see what he can do. But what they`re going to try to do is
whip up anger from outside and get the – you know, the base really angry
and pushing hard against what Bannon sees is sort of the globalists and the
MADDOW: Which will now be – his targets will be inside the administration
that he just left to a significant –
MAYER: Absolutely. I mean, of course, he made – you know, I mean, he
made a big mistake and some – if he thought that he could cross the
children of – the family, the Trump family. I mean, he was at war with
Jared Kushner and with Ivanka Trump, and that that was not going to be a
And in fact, really, Bannon has been telling people for almost a year that
he would be out in August. So, you know, whatever the final game plan was
in the end, and who said get out or whether he said you can`t fire me, I
quit – either way, I think he knew he wasn`t going to be lasting as an
insider view for the long term.
MADDOW: Yes, and actually good stylistic all of us. Whenever you leave
anything under any circumstances, always declare victory as you were
walking out the door, even if somebody`s pushing you while you`re going.
Jane Mayer, staff writer for “The New Yorker” – thank you for being with
us tonight, Jane. I really appreciate your time tonight.
MAYER: Glad to be with you.
And I will just note, when it comes time to it, in weeks ahead when I`m
here again on a Friday night, when I`m expecting it to be sleepy and stuff
as crazy as it has been, you will be able to look back at this night and
say you know what, Jane Mayer said the night they fired Steve Bannon the
things we`re going to get less coherent from here on out. Let`s just stick
a pin in that we will need to come back to that in the future, less
coherence, coming up.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: In addition to Steve Bannon leaving today as White House chief
strategist, now today, one of his “Breitbart” hires, a special assistant to
the president, Julia Hahn, she also hit the exits and left the White House.
Also out today, the White House`s director of public liaison, which is a
title that sounds like it means nothing, but for reference, in the Obama
White House, that was the position held by Valerie Jarrett. That guy left
Then tonight, Carl Icahn left as well. Carl Icahn, billionaire investor,
will no longer serve as a special adviser to the president on regulatory
reform, though this blistering long piece in the “New Yorker” tonight from
Patrick Radden Keefe suggests that Carl Icahn may have some criminal legal
concerns that follow him home from that job that he quit tonight. OK. So,
that`s this evening, who`s left the Trump administration.
Anybody else? Where`s my phone?
Before tonight, in addition to losing his national security adviser and his
chief of staff and his press secretary and his chief strategist. the
president also saw the departure of not one but two communications
directors and his deputy White House chief of staff and his deputy national
security adviser and the deputy chief of staff at the National Security
Council and his assistant press secretary. The president has also replaced
the top lawyer on his private legal defense team. He`s also seeing the
spokesman for that legal team resign.
This is in addition to all of the staffers and cabinet nominees who
withdrew in the face of various controversies before ever even formally
joining the administration. And all of these people have fled before Labor
Day. I mean, what started as a shoestring campaign run by family members
and people who worked at his business seems to be reverting back to just
But in addition to the administration hollowing out like a dead tree that`s
being picked clean by woodpeckers, there is one other piece of staffing
news that for me really sticks out right now and it`s a staffing story that
is actually not from inside the administration technically. It`s from
inside the special counsel`s office.
On Wednesday of this week, ABC News published a provocative report that the
FBI`s top counterespionage official have become not only the first
investigator to be removed from the Robert Mueller investigation, but
according to ABC News, he had also been busted down the ranks of the FBI.
Peter Strzok had initially been the FBI`s lead supervisor on the
investigation into the Russia attack. That investigation was rolled up
into the Robert Mueller special counsel inquiry. And so, Peter Strzok
moved over to the special counsel`s office to become part of that
But ABC reported this week that Strzok is not only out of the Mueller
investigation now. In addition to that, he`s no longer running the
counterespionage section at the FBI. He`s now reportedly working in the
FBI`s human resources department, which is really different than running
the counterespionage of the FBI.
So, that very provocative news was on Wednesday. No other news
organization has matched that reporting over the course of this week until
today when we managed to confirm that, in fact, Peter Strzok is now working
at human resources at the FBI now, don`t ask me how we confirmed it. I
will tell you over a beer some time, but we did confirm it. He`s out and
he`s in the human resources now.
The question remains, why?
The well-sourced reporter Natasha Bertrand at `Business Insider”, she
raises two interesting possibilities about this. The first is the question
of that ongoing investigation by the Justice Department`s inspector
general, which is looking into how the FBI handled Hillary Clinton`s emails
in that investigation during the election. There`s an inspector general
investigation of how that was handled. Peter Strzok was the FBI official
who oversaw the FBI investigation into Clinton`s email. So, is it possible
that Peter Strzok got caught up in the findings of that inspector general
investigation about the Clinton email stuff? We don`t know.
Second possibility is that Strzok`s departure may have had something to do
with the enlightening “Washington Post” report recently that the FBI had
raided former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort. Specifically, there`s
this question of whether somebody in Robert Mueller`s team might have
leaked the details of that search to reporters. And if so, did somebody
get a really big demotion because they got caught doing that leak?
Those are – honestly, who knows? All we have is speculation at this point
because nobody will tell us. But this seems like an important piece of
This is the first sign of the ship rocking over at the Mueller inquiry. A
lot of people in this country think about the Bob Mueller inquiry every
day, and think that a lot of the future of our country depends on the
quality of that inquiry. Is something wrong at the Bob Mueller inquiry?
This is the first sign of anything seeming hinky, so we really want to
understand how serious it is and we want to know an answer to the broader
question of whether the Mueller inquiry is having any serious problems, we
don`t know. We only have this provocative little piece of staffing
MADDOW: Do you know who I want to talk to tonight?
I want to talk to NBC News presidential historian Michael Beschloss. He`s
here in person.
Michael, thank you for being here.
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS, NBC NEWS PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: I`m delighted. Great
to see you.
MADDOW: This is disorienting news today. I think that Steve Bannon has
been a sort of disorienting figure for those of us who look at presidential
politics in terms of things that have happened before in presidential
MADDOW: He seems like an ahistorical figure already. His departure now
seems like both a shock and also something that`s sort of hard to
Can I just ask you – historically speaking, has it ever been a landmark
moment? Has ever been a key turning point when a White House staffer left?
BESCHLOSS: Almost never, and that`s why I think this is a really big deal
tonight. And the one moment I think would qualify would be in 1985 when
Jim Baker left as Ronald Reagan`s chief of staff, very competent, really
helped Reagan deal especially with Congress, knew Washington in a way that
Reagan had not and gave way to Donald Regan who had been secretary of the
treasury, was domineering. He called himself Reagan`s prime minister.
Really screwed up that staff and to some extent Regan`s changes led to the
Iran-Contra scandal, which almost led to Reagan`s impeachment.
But if you look at other White House staffs, you know, Washington you know
you always hear, it`s so important. You know, this guy is leading or this
person is leading or this person is coming, they usually don`t amount to
very much. I think the departure of Bannon is going to turn out to be a
very big deal.
MADDOW: Why do you think that it`s potentially a standout moment like
that, that change for Reagan? What is it about Bannon that tells you that
his departure is going to be a big deal?
BESCHLOSS: Because this is a guy who had his own constituency and his own
public profile, you almost never see that in a top place on a White House
staff. We never saw a president choose the chief strategist, that you
don`t see that job title and every other administration. But most of all,
Donald Trump was able to sort of bridge this gap between, you know, the
globalists and the nationalists if you want to call them that, economic
nationalists, and perhaps white nationalists represented by Bannon.
As long as he was inside the White House, he could bridge those two because
he didn`t have to worry about Bannon denouncing him to the public. It`s
sort of like what LBJ said about J. Edgar Hoover, that I`ll clean this up
for our general audience, better to have him inside the tent and outside
the tent because –
MADDOW: Right. Yes.
BESCHLOSS: – someone who might differ with you can do a president a lot
of damage. Tomorrow, for the first time, Donald Trump has to deal with the
very real possibility that Steve Bannon will go out and use “Breitbart”
and, you know, his other the other institutions that he helps to command to
put real pressure on the Trump presidency and perhaps try to break off
certain parts of the people who support Donald Trump.
MADDOW: That`s such an interesting idea about him having his own
constituency and not being a unique kind of form – a unique power but also
a unique form of leverage on the president, something that made it
difficult for him to be in that sort of a senior role. I guess that leads
to the question of whether he`ll be replaced. It also for me, it seems
important to note that nobody knew who he was a year ago.
BESCHLOSS: That`s exactly right.
BESCHLOSS: And Donald Trump sort of made him.
BESCHLOSS: And he is now a huge figure, especially in that movement and in
a position if he`s angry at Donald Trump, you know, either because Trump
fired him or because he`s angry, but Trump seems decided with New York
globalists so-called, he`s in a position to do Trump real damage. There`s
like out of a novel.
MADDOW: It`s fascinating. You know, this is what Sarah Palin wanted.
Since Sarah Palin quit as Alaska governor she thought that she could have a
bigger impact on politics by leaving politics, and she quickly dissolved in
the comment section of Facebook.
MADDOW: But, you know, Bannon`s got more juice than she did, even having
been a vice presidential candidate, and we just now have to see what he`s
going to do with it.
BESCHLOSS: No, we will be watching carefully.
MADDOW: NBC presidential historian Michael Beschloss, it`s great to have
you here my person, my friend.
BESCHLOSS: Great to see you. Be well.
All right. We`ll be right back. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Hey. So, “THE LAST WORD” is live tonight, after we wrap here this
hour. And then at 11:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Brian Williams is here live on
“THE 11TH HOUR” tonight. This is obviously a huge day in American
politics. There`s a lot going on right now.
Of course, as we get later into the evening, everybody`s wondering who else
might quit the White House tonight, if there`s anybody left to quit who`s
not a member of the Trump family. Presumably we`ll know that by the end of
Brian`s show, maybe. So, there`s plenty of reason to stick with us here at
I will tell you that we have one more story before we go tonight. And it`s
the best new thing in the world and that`s next. Stay with us.
MADDOW: March 27th, 1961, a young man named Joseph Jackson Jr. walked into
the local library, the Jackson Municipal Library in Jackson, Mississippi,
and he asked to check out a book. He was there with eight friends from the
local college, from Tugaloo College. They walked into that library. You
can see Mr. Jackson there all the way on the left the glasses.
He went up to the circulation desk. He asked to check out a philosophy
book that he needed for class at college, and Joseph Jackson Jr. was told
no. He was told he could not check out that book. The woman working at
the library told him, to use the city`s other library down the street,
because the Jackson Municipal Library was the white library for white
And if Joseph Jackson and his friends wanted to check out a book, they
should try the library for black people. The librarian told him, quote:
There`s a colored library on Mill Street, you would be welcome there.
But Joseph Jackson Jr. and those other eight students from the college,
they did not leave. They stayed in that whites-only library, they held a
read-in. They sat silently reading, refusing to go anywhere unless Joseph
Jackson was allowed to check out that philosophy book that he had come for.
Eventually, the staff, the all white staff of that all-white library, they
called the police. Police came into the library. They walked the students
out the front door. They put them into squad cars, and they drove them to
For reading in the library, those nine kids from Tugaloo College were
arrested and charged with breach of the peace. They were jailed for two
days. This was 1961, at a time when challenging racial law meant risking
Joseph Jackson, the one who asked to check out the library book says he
remembers being scared those two nights in jail. He and the rest of those
students were worried that somebody that, the Klan or somebody would come
after them once they got out.
That was 56 years ago in Jackson, Mississippi. At the time, it was a
catalyzing event for other students to join the civil rights movement. But
the read-in itself, that event, has been almost forgotten. But as of now,
if you visit the old Jackson Municipal Library, you will see this – it`s a
new marker funded by the Jackson Library Board in honor of the Tugaloo
At the bottom, it says the library sit-in inspired activity by black youth
across the state to integrate public parks, swimming pools, stores and
This has been a tough last few days in terms of our national conscience and
dignity on very difficult issues related to race, but this new marker in
Mississippi which the library raised the money to put up and just new
recognition of what those nine kids did that day in that library for
themselves – come on, best new thing in the world today. And you know you
It`s true that what happens in national politics affects the whole country,
that`s why it`s national. But it`s not just the stuff that happens in the
White House, that happens everywhere. Sometimes what happens in the little
corners of the country affects all of us, too. Best new thing in the world
That does it for us tonight. We will see you again Monday.
Now, it`s time for “THE LAST WORD”. The great Ali Velshi is in for
Ali, it`s great to see you. Thanks for being here.
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