The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 8/29/17 Hurricane Harvey shelters
Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW
Date: August 29, 2017
CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST, ALL IN: That is ALL IN for this evening. THE
RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right now.
Good evening, Rachel.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Admiral honesty from Ben Wittes at the end
there. I – not only would I tell you if I knew, but if I did, like I pass
MADDOW: Appreciate it. All right. Thanks my friend. Appreciate it.
And thanks to you at home for staying with us at this hour. OK. This was
– remarkably, this is an incredible time to have footage like this. But
this is real footage from 1935.
Look at this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: The streets of Houston, Texas, the whole city turned into a
maelstrom of flood. People clinging to roofs and awnings. A hundred
residential blocks and 12 business streets inundated, raging flood waters
12 feet deep. Suburbs like an inland sea, clinging to life by a tree, life
saving by life boat. Castaways on rooftops.
Like a rescue at sea, people taken out of windows. A hundred thousand
acres flooded, 2 million in damage, a score of lives lost. In the heart of
Houston, guests in a hotel are marooned without food for 40 hours. A cable
line is rigged between electric light poles and aerial lines to carry
All this was caused by a tremendous downpour, 15 inches of rain. Buffalo
Bayou runs through the heart of Houston. It drew seven inches an hour.
And when the bayou does that, Houston is in for a flood. This one, the
worst and wildest Houston has ever had.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That was 1935 in Houston, Texas. And as you heard the announcer
say there, all that was caused by 15 inches of rain.
What Houston tonight is coping with is more like 50, 5-0, inches of rain.
As of today, this storm in Houston has produced the single largest rainfall
amount from a single storm that has ever been recorded in the continental
When Texas broke that record today, it surpassed the previous record which
has stood since 1978 which was also a storm that hit Texas. Texas has a
history, a geographic destiny to be the target of major tropical storms in
this country that can be incredibly damaging and that in particular can
cause huge flooding.
But after that gigantic flood in Houston in 1935, and actually that one in
`35 had followed another catastrophic Houston flood six years early in
1929. After it happened twice in six years, after 1935 Houston was so fed
up that they decided to make a significant change to how that city could
cope with these challenges. In 1938, they passed the Rivers and Harbor Act
in Texas. The Rivers and Harbor Act.
And that created, among other things, the Harris County flood control
district. And in the 1940s, that local authority in Harris County, where
Houston is, and the Army Corps of Engineers, they built two gigantic dams
far out west from central Houston. They built these two dam to hold back
big reservoirs in what was then a couple of unpopulated corners of Harris
County and Fort Bend County.
Today, those areas are no longer unpopulated areas. Housing development
and suburban sprawl has pushed people that far west from Houston and
beyond. But those two dams are still there. One of them is 11 miles long,
one of them is 13 miles long.
And when the storms still inevitably come and the rain falls and the rivers
rise in southeast Texas, those two dams are still at the heart of how
Houston copes. The two manmade reservoirs that build up behind those dams
that they built in the 1940s, those are still what protects Houston from
the uncontrollable inundation of flood water.
And those reservoirs are now famous nationwide because of what`s happening
in Houston with the largest rainfall event in U.S. history. The two
reservoirs behind the two dams, they`re called the Addicks Reservoir and
the Barker Reservoir. Today, the Addicks started overflowing this morning.
It`s the first time that`s ever happened, at the Addicks Reservoir. The
other one, the Barker Reservoir, they thought that that might start
overflowing tomorrow. Authorities say they expect that to happen tonight.
And everybody has been reporting for the last couple of days now on how
authorities had to make this very difficult decision in Houston, to relieve
pressure, relieve the buildup of water in those reservoirs by allowing
water to be released downstream. And, of course, downstream is Houston.
So, those releases worsened the already devastating flooding downstream in
Houston and its western suburbs.
But now, it`s actually a different matter. Now, it`s the reservoirs
overflowing. So, it`s no longer a matter of deciding to let the water out
of the reservoirs. Now, it`s getting out on its own regardless of what
humankind chooses to do with it.
Again, the Addicks reservoir already started overflowing. The Barker
Reservoir is expected to start overflowing tonight. Tonight, this giant
storm will make landfall for the second time. It`s had an unusual and sort
of cruel pattern. Harvey came ashore Friday night, parked itself over
Texas for the duration of the weekend, and then went back offshore.
Tonight or early tomorrow, the storm will come back again out of the gulf
and make landfall for a second time. We`re told to expect that at the
Now, the length of time this storm spent hunkered down over this region is
absolutely key to understanding the magnitude of its devastation. How much
of an impact it will ultimately cause, how much damage it will ultimately
cause and how hurt the people of Houston will be by what has just happened
In a couple of minutes, we`re going to talk about the shelter conditions
that people are facing in Houston tonight as they continue to ride out the
storm that is not done yet and where the flood waters are not yet receding.
But even apart from the issue of how the human population of Houston is
coping in this, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, fifth day of
this crisis, with what`s happened here today, it`s become clear that while
it`s amazing that they are already suffering through their fifth day of
this, the worst may be yet to come in a few very specific ways. There are
a few critical things to be watching tonight and into the overnight, and
into tomorrow morning in terms of how bad this is and how bad it`s going to
One of them, the thing to watch obviously is the amount of rain, the amount
of water that continues to fall. We will be watching those 70-year-old
dams that are holding back those now giantly overfilled reservoirs west of
The Army Corps of Engineers says that the dams are not at risk of failure.
They want people to be clear that the uncontrolled release of water from
the reservoirs is not the same as the dam breaking. The dams are fine.
These reservoirs are still intact, they`re just too full.
That said, other critical infrastructure that was protecting parts of
southeast Texas has failed today. The Brazos River runs here, through
Brazoria County. It was a beautiful part of Texas, right between Houston
and the Gulf of Mexico. Brazoria County put out this all capital letters
exclamation message today as that county`s residents were waking up to
another day of the storm.
As you can see there, the levee at Columbia Lake has been breached. Get
out now. That message from Brazoria County this morning.
This is a levee on the Brazos River in Brazoria County. When that levee
breached, the county could not have been more clear in that instruction or
more urgent in terms of what they needed people to do to save themselves.
That said, Brazoria spokeswoman later explained to reporters that despite
the danger posed by the levee breach, despite the urgency of the
instruction to get out, the county didn`t have any unflooded evacuation
routes to which they could send people in the county when they ordered them
to get out.
So, you know, again, this is unsubtle, right? Get out is a direct command,
whether or not it`s followed by multiple exclamation marks. But, frankly,
it`s and obstruction if there are no means for you to get out even if you
want to try.
Local officials now say 20 percent to 30 percent of all of Harris County is
under water. Harris County is gigantic. The county that includes Houston
proper. Houston is a gigantic city.
The only cities larger are New York, L.A. and Chicago. And Houston is
Houston is also magnificently large in terms of its geographic area. It
has a gigantic sprawling wide spread metro area. Taken all together,
what`s considered to be the Houston metropolitan region is an area that`s
literally bigger than the state of Connecticut, bigger than the state of
And that part of Texas also happens to be not just a regional hub, not just
a national hub, but a global rub hub for some industries that can be very
dangerous in the face of natural disaster. Houston area and the Gulf
Coast, this part of the country being hit by this storm is a global hub for
oil, petroleum, chemical, gas, refineries, infrastructure, plastics.
Galveston Bay alone accounts for one quarter of all the capacity of
petroleum refining in the United States. If you broaden that out to the
refinery capacity, not just in the Galveston Bay, but in the Gulf Coast,
the Gulf Coast has half of the refinery capacity in the United States.
Major refineries in this part of the country have been shutting down
throughout the storm day after day, over the last five days, including the
largest refinery in the United States in Port Arthur, Texas, being shut
down this afternoon in the face of significant flooding on site. Chemical
plants as well have been shutting down over the past several days because
of flooding and damage from the storm or in some cases because their staff
can`t get there to operate the plants.
Now when it comes to chemical manufacturing, chemical storage, some of this
industrial infrastructure isn`t that easy to shut down. In some cases when
it involves chemical manufacturing and processing, sometimes shutting down
itself can be a very dangerous thing. And that`s why one of the things
we`re watching closely right now is a major chemical plant in Crosby,
Can we show Crosby, Texas on a map please? Part of Harris County. That`s
kind of a wide map there but you get the point.
There`s – you can take that down. That`s not much help. Crosby, Texas is
in Harris County. There is a chemical plant there. I don`t know, you can
take this map down. Thank you. Thanks.
The name of the plant, it`s run by a company called Arkema, I think that`s
how you say it. Arkema is a French company, a chemical company. It`s
headquartered near Paris in terms of global headquarters. U.S.
headquarters are in Pennsylvania, in King of Prussia. But in Crosby,
Texas, which is in Harris County, they operate a relatively small plant
According to Arkema`s Website, it produces organic quality peroxides. It`s
chemicals they say they are used to make acrylic resins and other plastics.
This is stuff that goes into the manufacture of polystyrene, polyethylene,
Arkema says its plant in Crosby, Texas, has 57 employees when it is fully
staffed. Well, they`ve been operating at a skeleton crew since the storm.
And their plant in Crosby, Texas, lost power in the storm like everybody
did. They planned ahead for that eventuality. On site, they had backup
generators to keep the plant powered. Unfortunately, on Sunday, those
backup generators got swamped and that turned off the backup power as well.
They`ve had no power source of any kind since Sunday at this chemical
After the back-up generators got swamped, the company said they moved the
chemicals on site to diesel powdered refrigerated containers. But they say
that the continuing rising water at the plant has compromised those
containers as well, particularly their ability to be kept cold. And the
reason this is an issue potentially of serious concern right now is because
whatever chemicals they use to produce liquid organic peroxides, those
chemicals have to be kept cold. They must be refrigerated. Not just to
keep them from spoiling but to keep them from exploding.
That`s why there was backup power generator capacity on site. That`s why
they went to the trouble of moving these chemicals into diesel-powered
containers after the back-up power failed. If these chemicals can`t be
kept cold, if the diesel powered refrigeration fails in this containers,
there is a risk of a spontaneous chemical reaction, which would mean fire
The company put out a statement tonight saying this, quote: The situation
at the Crosby site has become serious. In order to ensure the safety op
our ride-out team, meaning the skeleton team, they`re riding out the storm,
in order to ensure their safety, all personnel has now been evacuated from
Quote: We are working with the Department of Homeland Security and the
state of Texas to set up a command post in a suitable location near our
site again. So, again, they`ve got homeland security setting up a command
post nearby. Local news is reporting that a one and a half mile radius has
been evacuated around this chemical plant.
And the company is being blunt about what`s happened here. According to
the company, refrigeration on some of our backup product storage containers
has now been compromised due to extremely high water.
Quote: Arkema is limited to what we can do to address the site conditions
until the storm abates. They say, we are monitoring the temperature of
each refrigeration container remotely.
At this time, while we do not believe there is any imminent danger, the
potential for a chemical reaction leading to a fire or explosion within the
site confines is real.
So, again, this is happening right now. One of just a gazillion chemical
plants in the affected region. This one happens to be in Crosby, Texas,
and there has been an evacuation one and a half miles around that plant.
It is an additional complication for this disaster that Houston and this
region is the most concentrated energy infrastructure in the world, as well
as a hub for some of the most dangerous chemical and industrial facilities
anywhere on earth. And that`s dangerous in the best of times. It`s
particularly dangerous now.
So unlike a disaster in another part of the country here, in order to
understand the potential impact, you have to keep your eye on the Houston
ship channel and on the biggest refineries in the country and on the
densest concentration of chemical plants in the country. And we got to
watch those dams on those western reservoirs and on the levees along the
rivers. Local officials started to warn today about roads and bridges
starting to fail.
Today is the 12th anniversary to the day of Hurricane Katrina. Tonight it
is starting to feel like a national test of whether we learned what we were
supposed to learn from that disaster 12 years ago.
Joining us now from Cleveland, Texas, is NBC News correspondent Stephanie
Stephanie, thank you for being here. I appreciate you joining us on a
STEPHANIE GOSK, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: You`re welcome. Thanks for having
MADDOW: First of all, Stephanie, I know you`ve been on the road today.
Can you tell us what you`ve seen today? First of all, where you are in
Cleveland, Texas? What things are like there? What you`ve seen – what is
your sense of the scope of what Texas is dealing with right now?
GOSK: Sure, Rachel. You know, we had one goal today and our goal was to
go from Houston to Beaumont.
Now, if you`re not familiar with Texas, Beaumont is due east of Houston.
On a good day with the sun shining, it should take a little over two hours
to get to Beaumont. Today, we never got to Beaumont. And just to get out
of Houston was an unbelievable trial.
To go east, we first had to go all the way west and up north. And by the
time we turned east, we were easily twice as far away from Beaumont as
Houston is. Then we tried to come east and drop north.
And that`s when we wound up in a place called Plum Grove, and that is
literally where the road ended. We had no chance of going anywhere because
a nearby river had completely flooded. And we saw there a scene that we`ve
come used to see in Houston but is actually playing out all across this
part of Texas. We saw rescue teams – these are local people with local
boats on this river going in and rescuing people, bringing out families
from this one community.
We were told that there were about 500 families that they needed to rescue
because the river rose so quickly and so high. This is an area of Texas
that is basically marshland. And the people here get floods. They know
that the water rises.
But there is no one that we`ve spoken to who has been able to wrap their
head around just the vastness of this disaster. I mean, the people that
had the boats that were rescuing people, the fire chief that we spoke to
today was really stunned at how quickly that water rose. And now, you have
this storm moving east and the city of Beaumont that we couldn`t get to,
another city of 100,000 people, facing floods and evacuations tonight,
MADDOW: And, Stephanie, you were talking about – we`re seeing incredible
images of people in private boats doing what they can for their friends and
neighbors. I have to ask if it`s a well-integrated effort.
Is there a place to bring people particularly when it`s not officials
rescuing them or the National Guard who is rescuing them, it`s just their
friends and neighbors? Is there a place to bring people? Are these well-
coordinated efforts? Do you get the sense that resources are being
deployed in a way that seems rational?
GOSK: I think people are doing the best that they can. And I think it
really has to be especially in the community that we were in today, it has
to be a local effort. It has to be neighbors helping neighbors, churches
We spoke to the police chief today – rather the fire chief. And he
actually told us – this gives you an idea of just how big this flooding
is. He said they set up a shelter on Monday afternoon. They started
piling people in that shelter and it was pretty orderly.
Well, Monday night, the shelter flooded and it filled up. They had to
scramble to get those people out of that shelter and up to higher ground to
a new shelter. Where we found today, they were actually at a local church,
a sprawling thankfully local church and people had gathered there –
MADDOW: NBC News correspondent Stephanie Gosk on the road all day in
Houston and now in Cleveland, Texas – Stephanie, good luck getting to
Beaumont and thanks for being with us tonight. I really appreciate it.
GOSK: I don`t know if I`m going to make it.
MADDOW: We want to be the first to know when you do.
All right. We`ve got much more to come tonight, including interesting a
new question out of the Trump-Russia investigation.
We`ve got a live look at what some of the shelter conditions are for our
fellow Americans who are hunkered down tonight in very crowded shelter
locations in Houston. That live report coming up. Stay with us.
MADDOW: This is the George R. Brown Convention Center in downtown Houston.
This is an image from inside that shelter before tropical storm and then
Hurricane Harvey came in and hit the city. Red Cross workers, you there,
assembling rows and rows of sleeping cots. They`re prepared at the
convention center for 5,000 people.
It turns out that was not enough. Tonight, every cot is full and then
some. As I said, they were set up to house 5,000 people. But the George
R. Brown Convention Center tonight is home to about twice that number. The
mayor saying tonight that that shelter is housing 10,000 people even though
they only had cots for 5,000.
Without enough resources and sleeping cots to go around, obviously that
means thousands of our fellow Americans tonight are sleeping on folding
chairs or on the floor. And that`s if people can make it through the
struggle to get to the convention center in the first place. Today, we
have watched as people lined up for hours to board buses to try to get to
that shelter. People have really gotten themselves there any way they can,
including by dump trucks if necessary, but any vehicle that can get through
or around or over the flood water.
At times today, there was just gigantic logjam at the front door. Evacuees
clamoring to get in. And you know, it has been worth it to try to get in,
for people who are in very dire straits. At least it`s a way to get access
to dry cloths and towels and blankets and hot food.
The Red Cross has been promising that no one will be turned away. But the
George R. Brown Convention Center in some obvious ways is getting to be
stretched beyond the limit.
Well, tonight, the mayor of Houston has announced that they will open
several more, at least one more, maybe more, maybe two or three more, large
scale shelters for evacuees.
The first new one will be the Toyota Center, which is where the Houston
rockets play. They`re hoping they can get that one open right away and
shift people from the overcrowded George R. Brown Convention Center to the
Rockets arena, the Toyota Center to alleviate the crowding at the
convention center. The mayor also says they`re going to announce the
opening of a second large scale shelter very soon. But we don`t have yet
have details on that this year.
Joining us is NBC News correspondent Maya Rodriguez. She`s inside the
George R. Brown Convention Center in downtown Houston.
Maya, thanks very much for joining us. I really appreciate you taking the
MAYA RODRIGUEZ, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Sure thing, Rachel.
MADDOW: So, we`ve seen these top line numbers with the mayor announcing
tonight there have been 10,000 people sheltering at the convention center.
Even though it`s only set up for half that number. Are those numbers
showing any signs of getting worse or better? Can you tell us what the
conditions are like there now?
RODRIGUEZ: Well, I can tell you that earlier this evening we were out
there just about an hour ago. There were a couple hundred people waiting
to get in. Now, remember, when they come in here, they need to be screened
first. They basically go through a security check, then they have to
register with the American Red Cross.
And there were a couple of hundred people out there. The good news, it had
stopped raining if are the first time today, which was a welcome relief,
because otherwise, you`re standing out there in the elements. Again, you
mentioned a logjam when you first come into the convention center. That`s
what we were seeing because people did have to go through the security
Right now, things are very quiet. People are getting ready to go to bed.
It`s been a long day for many of them. As you can see, this area is not in
the hall proper. This is outside of the convention center halls. People
have done what they`ve can. Some of them have inflatable mattresses, just
sort of setting up here trying to get a little bit of a good night`s rest.
Beyond these walls though, there are literally thousands upon thousands of
people inside the convention center. Again, people that were plucked from
their homes, places that were five feet, ten feet under water. They were
picked up either by helicopter, high water vehicle or an airboat or a flat
boat, brought to relatively dry land, put on a bus and brought over here.
But at this point, it appears to be very organized. Things are very quiet.
There`s a heavy police presence here, definitely a lot of security here.
There are some people that do appear to have mental health issues. There
are a lot of doctors, a lot of medical professionals that have come here to
volunteer their time. In fact, we have seen hundreds of volunteers here,
wearing their name tags, making their way up and down, these hallways,
trying to do what they can for their fellow Houstonians – Rachel.
MADDOW: Maya, what do you expect in terms of this plan to start shifting
people into the Toyota Center? The mayor has been talking about that as
the next step plan to try to alleviate the crowd there. Have you seen any
signs of that shift starting to happen? Do we know anything about how
that`s going to work?
RODRIGUEZ: So, what we`ve been told is that the Toyota Center will be
opening but it will be for families only. The families that will normally
be coming here to register and it will come here to register first, will
then be taken to the Toyota Center. And that`s where they`re going to be
placed. This is again according to the mayor`s office. And we do have a
number of families here – Rachel.
MADDOW: NBC News correspondent, Maya Rodriguez – Maya, I really
appreciate you joining us tonight. Keep us apprised. Thank you.
We`re going to – I should also let you know that the mayor of Houston, who
Maya was talking about there, tonight did just announce a new curfew for
the city. There have been some sporadic reports of looting in Houston. It
was – the curfew was initially announced for 10 p.m. to 5:00 a.m.
But the mayor then changed that, pushed it back to allow people to do the
work they need to do in the streets to try to rescue people. The mayor
announcing via Twitter that he`s modifying the curfew to start at midnight,
instead of 10:00 p.m. It will still end at 5:00 a.m.
Obviously, that`s being put forward as an anti-looting measure. There are
questions as to whether they may hinder any ongoing rescue plans or
people`s efforts just to try to get themselves to dry land or to shelter.
More ahead tonight. Stay with us.
MADDOW: September 9th, 1965, Hurricane Betsy hit Grand Isle, Louisiana,
with 160-mile-an-hour winds. In New Orleans, the flooding from Betsy hit 9
feet deep in the streets. Hundreds of thousands of people evacuated. More
than 80 people died because of that storm.
The following day, September 10th, 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson was in
between meeting at the White House when he got an urgent phone call from a
senator from Louisiana, Senator Russell Long.
And we`ve got the tape of what the senator told the president on that call.
Check this out.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
SEN. RUSSELL LONG (D), LOUISIANA: Mr. President, aside from the Great
Lakes, the biggest lake in America is Lake Pontchartrain. It`s now drained
dry. That Hurricane Betsy picked up the lake up and put it inside
Jefferson Parish and the third district. Mr. President, we`ve had it down
there and we need your help.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MADDOW: Now, at the time, presidents were not expected to turn up at the
site of natural disasters, but LBJ couldn`t say no when Senator Long called
him with that entreaty. LBJ broke precedent with how all other presidents
dealt with disasters like hurricanes. He left for New Orleans within a
couple of hours after he hung up with Senator Long.
When he got to New Orleans, President Johnson visited an elementary school
in the Ninth Ward that was being used as a shelter. It was sweltering hot.
There`s no water to drink. Tap water had been contaminated by the flood.
The place had no electricity.
It was so dark. People were so traumatized they didn`t realize who was
there in the shelter with them. And what all of this commotion was about.
So, in that visit, LBJ grabbed a flashlight and lit his own face up with
the flashlight so he could show people that it was him.
This is your president. I`m here to help you.
The day LBJ returned to the White House, he sent a telegram to the mayor of
New Orleans. It was a 16-page long telegram outlining new federal plans to
help the city. Ever since LBJ`s trip to New Orleans that day in September
of 1965, it has since become an expectation that presidents will show up in
areas of devastation around the country. Hopefully in ways that don`t
divert too many resources or distract too much attention from the disaster
President Trump today went to Houston to speak to first responders and
survey the damage of the still ongoing storm there. At one point, I do
have to mention, he incongruously congratulated himself on what a good
crowd he got at the disaster.
Putting that aside. Does the LBJ model still hold? Does it survive intact
into this era, in the post-LBJ tradition, what does history tell us about
whether it`s a good idea when and if a president should show up on site at
a disaster. What counts as good presidential leadership in the face of
this kind of challenge?
Joining us now is Michael Beschloss, NBC News presidential historian.
Mr. Beschloss, a real pleasure to have you here tonight. I want to ask you
about White House response to disasters. I also have a question or two
about other major news concerning this president. I`m super glad you`re
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS, NBC NEWS PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Me too. Thank you.
MADDOW: I highlighted that LBJ president because it`s the Gulf Coast.
Because he`s a Texan, because it was the decision that set the standard for
how presidents are supposed to show up at moments like this. Is there any
way to look at that standard, the tradition now to figure out if it`s a
good thing, to figure out if it materially helps the country?
BESCHLOSS: I think it`s really expected as long as the president`s
presence there is not going to take away from the efforts to help the
people. You know, two years before Johnson did that, John Kennedy was
dealing with Hurricane Carla which killed 43 people. That was in Texas.
Kennedy was not hard hearted. He felt that he could do the effort from
Hyannis Port, where he had his house. If he did that nowadays, people
would be furious because they would think that the president didn`t care.
You saw with Katrina what happens when a president, in that case, George W.
Bush, seems to be a little more distant from this.
MADDOW: Based on what you observed today from President Trump and his
visit, is he upholding this tradition in the way that it`s supposed to be
done, in a way that`s more constructive than it is destructive? How do you
think he did today?
BESCHLOSS: He did what he should. I don`t think LBJ in 1965 went to New
Orleans with the lights out and said is this is a great crowd and this is a
great turnout as President Trump did. But this is now expected.
The irony is when Johnson did that, that was the first year of the Great
Society. One reason he went down to New Orleans was to show that like
other things he was trying to do, the government can help and the president
can be the spearhead of that. Interestingly, Donald Trump is almost the
diametrical opposite of that because this is a president who talks about
the deep state, and talks about the federal government almost as his enemy.
MADDOW: Michael, the other big news story that everybody has been covering
this week alongside this disaster now, and it`s a complicated media
environment in which we`re trying to get a sense of what`s going on with
this natural disaster and also focus on what else is making news, and there
has been dramatic reporting about the president having secretly pursued a
massive business deal reportedly to be financed by the Russian government
during his campaign for president. We talked about that in some detail on
the show last night. We`ve got a little more news on it tonight.
But I just want to ask you, does that have any historic parallel? Is there
anything that we can look at to give us a guide as to the magnitude of that
BESCHLOSS: Yes, we should. And the answer is, it`s never happened. You
know, what if Abraham Lincoln in 1860 when he was running for president had
business deals going with the South. Or let`s say if FDR when he was
running in `32 or `36 was having business deals with Germany as some
American companies at the time did? How can we be sure that they would
have been acting on behalf of American interests?
And in Trump`s case, a couple of things here. Number one, we`re finding
that his desire to get this Trump Tower in Moscow may have caused him to
turn pro-Russian. Number two, he certainly wanted the Russians` help, so
it`s been demonstrated by recent reports, in getting elected president in
2016. So, you know, that is beginning to tighten the sense that there was
a much too close relationship between Donald Trump and a hostile power.
And the final point is, you know, politicians don`t change. He`s 71 years
old. Who is to think that just because he was doing that during the
campaign, that that`s stopped since then? You know, there`s a question
here. If he goes to Turkey, if he goes to the Philippines, if he goes to
Saudi Arabia, can we be sure that`s 100 percent trying to pursue American
interest rather than another half of his brain thinking about business
deals that he might do?
MADDOW: NBC News presidential historian Michael Beschloss, thank you for
your time tonight, Michael. I really appreciate it.
BESCHLOSS: Thank you, Rachel. Be well.
MADDOW: I should mention to Michael`s last point there, which sent a chill
down my spine – did you remember that politico.com story from earlier this
summer where they reported that TrumpTowerMoscow.com, that URL, was just
renewed by the Trump Organization last month? TrumpTowerMoscow.com, maybe
he`s still working on it.
More to come. Stay with us.
MADDOW: We`ve got more ahead tonight on the situation in Texas and
Louisiana with Hurricane Harvey expected to make second landfall tonight.
We`ll be returning to that story again this hour.
But I do also want to give you an update in the meantime on something a
little strange that appears to be going on with the Paul Manafort part of
the Trump-Russia investigation. Paul Manafort was Trump campaign chairman
from last spring until this time last year. Manafort left the campaign
amid a storm of reporting concerning his business ties to the former Soviet
Union and his financial ties to various Russian oligarchs.
Paul Manafort has had basically zero public profile since he left the
campaign, but he`s nevertheless emerged as a central figure in the Robert
Mueller special counsel investigation into what happened between Trump and
the Russian government while Russia was attacking last year`s presidential
Now, there are a lot of people who have reason to sweat that inquiry. A
lot of people have been asked to provide information, or been subpoenaed.
Certainly, people have been subject to a lot of scrutiny in the media. But
with Paul Manafort, something is a little different. And it`s been this
way for a few weeks now, specifically when it comes to his treatment by the
Just a few weeks ago, we learned that the FBI executed an early morning
raid on Manafort`s house in Virginia. Tactically, that`s unusual for this
scandal. It`s the first time we`ve heard the FBI raiding anyone. And
Manafort`s case, it was apparently dramatic, them banging on his door, and
storming into the house, waking him up in the predawn hours to go through
his house and seize documents. So, tactically, that was unusual.
The timing was also unusual. July 25th, Manafort had given congressional
testimony in the Russian investigation to the Senate Intelligence
Committee, and then this raid happened basically that night. It was early
morning on the 26th, predawn on the 26th after he testified on the 25th.
So, on the 25th, he gave his testimony, went to bed that night after
having, you know, spoken to the Senate Intelligence Committee, before his
alarm went off the next morning to wake him up, the FBI was in his house
pounding on his bedroom door.
Now, could be a coincidence that Paul Manafort`s house was raided hours
after he finished his first testimony. But we don`t know. That committee
appearance by Manafort on July 25th had not been publicly announced before
he did it. Manafort`s spokesman just proclaimed that it was done, that
Manafort had given testimony and handed over the documents, once the deed
was ladder done on the morning of the 25th.
The fact that less than 24 hours later the FBI was raiding his home raises
the prospect that the special counsel`s office was unhappy to learn that
Manafort was testifying to the Senate, that he was handing over documents
to them. If we believe Manafort`s account of that raid, the documents
seized from his house weren`t things that Mueller had requested from him or
subpoenaed from him. The first time that Manafort knew that Mueller wanted
them was when the FBI agents showed up with a search warrant and took them.
That lends credence to the idea that the Mueller investigation was sort of
blindsided by Manafort turning up at the Senate. They maybe wanted to make
sure that Manafort wasn`t handing over anything to the Senate that was
going to screw up their prosecution strategy toward him, so they just
jumped. They didn`t bother making a request or getting a subpoena. They
just got a search warrant, went in and grabbed what they could.
So, the circumstances around that FBI raid which we learned about a few
weeks ago, we don`t exactly know why that happened. He seems to be the
only person that happened to. You could surmise from the circumstances
around it that Manafort may have turned into a source of frustration or
surprise for the Mueller inquiry, their tactics toward him, the timing of
their treatment of him suggests that he may be a different cat here, right?
Maybe he`s being investigated for things that are radically different than
the whole rest of the cast of characters involved in this. May just be
that he`s a confounding adversary. But the Mueller team is treating him
differently compared to how they`re treating everybody else.
That happened before today. What was reported about Paul Manafort today is
even stranger. According to new reporting from Evan Perez at CNN, which
NBC has not verified, the Bob Mueller special counsel inquiry into the
Trump-Russia investigation just issued a subpoena to Paul Manafort`s
Now, this is not like they wanted to subpoena Paul Manafort so they gave
the subpoena to his lawyer. No, they`re actually giving the subpoena to
the lawyer. This is one of Manafort`s lawyers. She reportedly works at
Akin Gump, big D.C. law firm.
CNN reports that she got a subpoena requiring her to hand over documents
and to give testimony to the special counsel inquiry. And what`s weird
about that is, A, she`s just one person who has been in Manafort`s large
stable of lawyers in this inquiry. This isn`t a subpoena to the firm he
just severed ties with, WilmerHale, where Mueller used to work. It`s not a
subpoena to the new tax lawyer that Manafort hired after the FBI raid.
This is yet another lawyer who is working for Manafort from another high
priced D.C. firm.
And regardless of how many lawyers she`s cycled through in this legal
defense, it`s unusual for one of them to get a government subpoena and it`s
unusual for the government to subpoena somebody`s lawyer, period. I mean,
if you`ve watched one episode of “Perry Mason”, you know how weird this is,
right? When lawyers and their clients talk to each other, those
communications are protected by attorney-client privilege. Trying to force
an attorney to testify about something related to his or her client, that
is very unusual.
The Mueller inquiry is treating Paul Manafort in an unusual way anyway,
compared to everybody else caught up in the investigation. This new
development reported by CNN, if it bears out, if it proves to be true, this
will be yet further evidence of that. We don`t know why this is happening
in general or in terms of the specific strange new subpoena from Manafort`s
lawyer, but we`re trying to figure it out. We know it`s atypical, we`re
trying to figure out why she`s getting that atypical treatment.
I should also mention that CNN further reports that beyond Paul Manafort`s
lawyer, his spokesman was also just given a subpoena by Bob Mueller`s
inquiry, which is also a little bit weird but there`s no attorney-client
privilege between a man and his spokesman that the subpoena will be bumping
up against in the case of Jason Maloni.
So, something is cooking on the Paul Manafort side of the Trump-Russia
investigation that is making the Mueller inquiry behave very differently
toward Manafort than it`s treating everybody else. We`re working on
figuring it out.
While we`re at it, we`ve also gotten an unusual follow up to yesterday`s
big news about Trump signing a letter of intent to build Trump Tower Moscow
while he was in the middle of his presidential campaign. We`ve got new
news on that bombshell story from yesterday, coming up next.
MADDOW: During the Republican presidential primary, they held lots of
debates, lots of them were entertaining, lots of them weren`t. But the
third one of the 2016 cycle was held in Boulder, Colorado, at the end of
October. Which is standard contentious Republican primary debate, Marco
Rubio got some headlines, Ted Cruz got some headlines.
Oddly, though, Donald Trump was not really a factor in that debate at all.
He had dominated the first two debates, absolutely hogged the press
coverage out of them. But in Boulder, in that third debate, he was like
negative space on the stage. He made zero headlines out of it, made zero
impact on the proceedings. Maybe he was distracted.
We now know that that third debate, October 28th, 2015, that was held on
the same day that Trump had just signed a letter of intent to pursue a deal
to build Trump Tower Moscow, which his company wanted to be the biggest
building in the world. That deal had reportedly been lined up with
financing arranged from a bank called VTB, which is under the direct
control of the Russian government. The day of that debate, Trump signed a
letter of intent to proceed with that project.
Now, we know these new details because a Trump Organization executive named
Michael Cohen yesterday handed over documents about that deal to the House
Intelligence Committee. He appears to have released some of those
documents and a fulsome statement about them to some reporters, presumably
to put his best spin on the content of those documents that are now being
handed over to Congress. Now, we thought – I think everybody`s thought
that those documents were being handed over to Congress ahead of Michael
Cohen having to testify to Congress. So, whatever spin he was putting on
them by leaking them to the press, he`d eventually have to answer tough
questions about them from the Congress, congressional investigating
committees, even if that testimony was going to be behind closed doors.
Back in June, Michael Cohen confirmed to Bloomberg and also to Reuters that
he was going to be testifying before the House Intelligence Committee on
September 5th, which is a week from today.
We believe these explosive documents about Trump Tower Moscow were handed
over by Michael Cohen yesterday in advance of that testimony next week.
But maybe it`s not going to happen.
When we called Michael Cohen`s lawyer today to confirm that his appearance
is still scheduled for next week, he notably declined to confirm that.
Cohen`s lawyer, Stephen Ryan, would only tell us that his client, quote,
will continue to cooperate fully with the congressional inquiries in both
the House and Senate. He also told us, quote: We have produced documents
in the course of their investigation.
But pressed on whether Michael Cohen will still be appearing to testify at
the House Intelligence Committee next week, no answer. Silence. He would
neither confirm nor deny.
We then followed up with the House Intelligence Committee. We followed
with the Republicans on that committee and the Democrats on that committee
– silence. They will neither confirm nor deny.
So, we think that Trump Tower Moscow story broke yesterday because Cohen
had to hand over those documents in advance of his testimony. I`m no
longer so sure there`s going to be testimony.
Watch this space.
MADDOW: Correction from a couple of minutes ago when I was talking with
Michael Beschloss about President Trump visiting Texas today to check on
the response to the storm. I said that President Trump was in Houston. He
wasn`t in Houston. He was in Corpus Christi and Austin but not in Houston.
I`m sorry about that misfire on my part.
Tonight or early tomorrow, this storm is set to make its second landfall at
the Louisiana/Texas border. We`ve got eyes on that tonight and also eyes
on Houston itself as they try to open up a second mega shelter as that
convention center teams with twice as many people as they were set up for
We had a report earlier from there, a live report from there earlier this
hour about people not getting into the main part of the convention center
and sleeping around its periphery and people not able to get into that
building. Hopefully some of that crowding will be alleviated with the
second shelter opening up in the arena where the Houston Rockets play.
All right. That does it for us tonight. We will see you again tomorrow.
Now, it`s time for “THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL”.
Good evening, Lawrence.
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