Transcript 12/8/17 The Rachel Maddow Show
Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW
Date: December 8, 2017
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Thanks for joining us this hour. Nice to have
We have a special report for you tonight on a story we`ve been working on
for a very long time now. For going on a year and a half, we`ve been
digging into the Russian attempt not just to interfere in this election but
interfere for the benefit of Russia`s chosen candidate.
That candidate of course, is now the president. And his administration has
been dogged since before day one by questions of whether his campaign was
involved in the Russian intelligence operation that tried to influence our
Two members of the president`s campaign including the former national
security advisor have now plead guilty to lying to the contacts about the
Russians. But tonight, we`re going to take a step back to intriguing and
in many ways president document at the heart of Trump Russia story.
We`re going to step back and look at the 35-page Trump Russia dossier. And
depending on which way the news is blowing, the allegations contained in
this document can sound outlandish or they can sound freakishly spot on.
Where did this dossier come from? Have we learned from it? Does it yet
have to say?
This is some of what we learned.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Are there any Russians here
tonight? Any Russians?
MALCOLM NANCE, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: They`ve conducted Watergate 2.0.
VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (translated): All this stuff is
TURMP: This fake dossier was made up.
DAVID CORN, MOTHER JONES: I don`t use the term dossier. These were field
MICHAEL ISIKOFF, YAHOO NEWS: Is there something here that I could verify?
TRUMP: I call it the Russian hoax. It`s all fake news. I am not involved
in Russia. The president of the United States.
SUBTITLE: The Dossier: TRMS Special Report.
MADDOW (voice-over): It started in the spring of 2016 with a former
British spy whose name was almost too James Bond to be true. Steele.
TRUMP: And we will make America great again.
Thank you, everybody.
MADDOW: If you were looking to investigate Donald Trump`s alleged Russia
connections, Christopher Steele would seem like the perfect fit.
NIGEL WEST, WRITER/HISTORIAN: He can tell you off the top of his head, the
leading members of Russian mafia, people who have influence in the Kremlin
and so on.
MADDOW: Nigel West knows Christopher Steele. He`s a writer and historian
whose specialty is British intelligence. West says that Steele was MI6`s
man in Moscow in the early 1990s.
WEST: Thereafter, he ended his career as the head of the train of new
entry and intelligence officers and that`s considered to be an important
MADDOW: After retiring, Steele started a new company called Orbis Business
Intelligence located in this building in London. Orbis specialized in
getting corporate executives deep targeted intel on foreign countries they
were dealing with. Steele`s specialty was Russia.
WEST: I have listened to his presentations, what he calls the kleptocracy.
This is the Putin regime and the way that it has effectively looted the
former Soviet Union and he`s the go-to guy. If there is anybody that wants
to conduct due diligence investigations, he knows every personality.
MADDOW: Jonathan Winer is a former deputy assistant secretary of state for
law enforcement in the Clinton administration. He says he first met
Christopher Steele in Washington in 2009.
JONATHAN WINER, FORMER DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE: He knew more
about Russian organized crime, Russian financial crime, Russian money
laundering, Russian corruption than I did and I knew quite a bit.
MADDOW: According to Winer, Steele occasionally provided reports on
developments inside Putin`s Russia to his colleagues at the State
WINER: The people working Russia all the time valued the reports. They
thought they were well-sourced. They thought they were remarkably timely.
MADDOW: The State Department wasn`t the only U.S. agency to rely on
WINER: I understood he had a relationship with the FBI relating to the
FIFA soccer scandal and had been a significant source for them in making
cases in that area.
MADDOW: In 2016, though, the Americans calling Christopher Steele weren`t
FBI agents. The call he got in 2016 was from a small Washington research
firm called Fusion GPS. Fusion GPS was founded by former “Wall Street
Journal” reporters. This is how one of Fusion`s founders Glenn Simpson
described his company`s mission when he spoke at a 2009 symposium on
investigative reporting at the University of California at Berkeley.
GLENN SIMPSON, FUSION GPS FOUNDER: We`re hoping that people who have an
interest in bringing things out do something about corruption and fraud,
will come to us. They don`t necessarily have to have completely pure
motives. You know, frequently there is people who are in business and sick
of competitors who cheat and want to see things exposed. That`s, you know,
that`s a sort of model for our new project.
MADDOW: Fusion had first been hired by a conservative Website called “The
Washington Free Beacon”. That Website and its funders were opposed to
Donald Trump during the Republican primaries.
TRUMP: I hear they are all going after me. Whatever, whatever. I hear
MADDOW: Once Trump appeared to clinch the nomination, those initial
conservative funders at the Free Beacon lost interest in the Trump project.
Soon, though, new clients agreed to pay for Fusion`s research – the
Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton campaign.
HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Friends don`t
let friends vote for Trump.
MADDOW: At first, Fusion concentrated on Trump`s business career. His
casinos. His multiple business bankruptcies.
TRUMP: I`ve used the laws of the country to make good deals for myself.
MADDOW: But they soon noticed that Trump`s organization seems to do a lot
of business with Russians, particularly at times when Trump`s businesses
might have been strapped for cash.
JAMES HENRY, ECONOMIST/LAWYER: Trump is experiencing extreme financial
difficulties. June 2008.
MADDOW: James Henry is an economist, lawyer and investigative journalist
who has written extensively about post-Soviet Russia and Donald Trump`s
HENRY: The only way that he survives is by calling on new sources capital,
basically or money pouring out of places like Russia and former Soviet
Union states like Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan.
MADDOW: There was nothing to suggest anything illegal about that, but the
investigators working for Fusion GPS thought there might be more to know.
So, they went looking for someone who knew Russia, someone who had sources
in Russia – someone like Christopher Steele.
WINER: At some point in the summer of 2016, I heard from Mr. Steele he had
this project relating to Russia, which implicated contacts between Russians
and people associated with President Trump`s campaign, or candidate Trump`s
MADDOW: Steele had barely begun his investigation of Trump`s Russia ties
when a very big Russia story broke in the United States. It was June 14th,
2016 and “The Washington Post” reported that the Democratic national
committee had been hacked. Security analysts suspected Russia was behind
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This was a clear espionage attempt by the Russian
government to steal information about the U.S. political process.
MADDOW: Malcolm Nance is a former naval intelligence officer and an MSNBC
contributor. He wrote a book called “The Plot to Hack America” about
NANCE: Putin views Russia as missing its place as the number one
superpower in the world even though it`s economically on par with Italy.
But to do it, you can use soft power. You can use hybrid warfare, which is
a melange of political warfare, propaganda, uniformed special operations,
everything short of war to disable your enemy. And in the case of the
United States, the easiest thing to disable is democracy because Russia
does not believe in democracy.
MADDOW: Six days after “The Washington Post`s” first story on Russia
hacking, Christopher Steele sent his first report to Fusion GPS. It was
the first page that set the tone for all of the memos and for all of the
controversy that followed. Steele wrote on that first page, quote, Russia
regime has been cultivating, supporting and assisting Trump for at least
five years. Aim endorsed by Putin has been to encourage splits and
divisions in western alliance.
According to Steele`s unnamed sources, Trump`s inner circle had accepted a
regular flow of intelligence from the Kremlin.
But there was also something else, Steele went on to say that Russia had
enough embarrassing material on the now Republican presidential candidate
to be able to blackmail him if they so wished.
Steele`s memo asserted that some of Russia`s alleged embarrassing material
on Trump had been gathered back in 2013 when Trump brought his Miss
Universe pageant to Moscow.
That salacious claim about Trump`s time in Moscow was a small part of the
first Christopher Steele memo. When the full Steele dossier later became
public, that claim would be the headline. But it was Steele`s broader
assertions about Russia`s aims, Russia`s methods and Russia`s relationship
with Trump that would end up slow burning through the whole first year of
the Trump presidency.
MADDOW: For 20 years, Christopher Steele has kept his head down and held
his secret close to the vest. But the things he was hearing from his deep
cover sources inside Russia during the summer of 2016 changed all that.
According to Jonathan Winer, Steele felt at the Russians intended to meddle
in the upcoming American election, the FBI should know about it.
WINER: That is the kind of thing the FBI needs to know and to assess
professionally impartially in order to protect our country. That`s how I
felt about it. I believe that`s how Mr. Steele felt about it.
MADDOW: In late June, with the permission of his clients at Fusion,
Christopher Steele met with an old FBI contact in the U.K. His intel was
raw and unverified but his concern was real.
WINER: You don`t gather information like this and not pass it onto the
FBI. That would be wrong. Passing onto the FBI would be the right thing
MADDOW: The FBI had interacted with Steele before on the FIFA soccer
bribery scandal and other matters. Christopher Steele was a known quantity
to the bureau, and they were interested in what he had to say about Trump
and Russia. After that first meeting, the bureau told Steele they wanted
more. Steele promised to keep them in the loop.
Weeks later on July 19th, 2016, Steele sent off the second Trump memo.
This was the headline, Russia: Secret Kremlin meetings attended by Trump
advisor Carter Page in Moscow. According to Steele sources, the meetings
involved a move to lift Ukraine related Western sanctions against Russia.
CROWD: USA! USA!
MADDOW: On the day, that report was filed, the Republican National
Convention was getting underway in Cleveland, Ohio. At the time, a few
American journalists were starting to see the vague outlines of a Trump-
Russia story. Trump`s appointment of Paul Manafort as the campaign chair
raised eyebrows because Manafort had spent years working for politicians.
ISIKOFF: What started to give the Russia story some traction was Paul
MADDOW: Michael is an investigative reporter that writes for Yahoo News.
Trump put Manafort in charge of managing the convention.
ISIKOFF: It seemed odd that the Trump campaign had this senior official
who was so closely associated with a government that had become a foreign
MADDOW: For Isikoff, that was the first red flag.
ISIKOFF: Then the Republican convention`s platform is changed to remove
language that had been proposed that would offer lethal assistance to the
Ukrainians who were fighting Russian intervention in their country.
MADDOW: From Isikoff`s perspective, that was red flag number two.
ISIKOFF: And then you had Michael Flynn who was emerging as perhaps the
chief foreign policy national security advisor to the Trump campaign.
MICHAEL FLYNN, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: Lock her up. That`s
right. That`s right. Lock her up.
ISIKOFF: I interviewed Flynn that day, the afternoon of his speech.
You flew over to Moscow –
ISIKOFF: And one thing I pressed him on was the trip he made to Moscow in
December 2015 and I asked an obvious question, which was, why did you take
the trip and who paid for it?
FLYNN: I didn`t take any money from Russia, if that`s what you`re asking
ISIKOFF: Well, then, who paid you?
FLYNN: My speaker`s bureau. Ask them.
It`s like what`s going on here? Everybody knows the way these things work.
The speaker`s bureau was a conduit, it takes a cut, sets up the speech, but
the money comes from the client, the client here was RT, the Russian
TRUMP: I humbly and gratefully accept your nomination for the presidency
of the United States.
MADDOW: The final red flag came on the day after Donald Trump accepted the
Republican nomination. On July 22nd, 2016, days before the Democrats were
to open their convention, WikiLeaks published thousands of stolen
Democratic Party e-mails.
ISIKOFF: That was something new. That was something we had isn`t seen
before and it clearly shook up the Democrats.
MADDOW: Malcolm Nance says it was the moment he knew America was under
NANCE: When WikiLeaks released the information, the first thing I thought
was, this is an old style KGB political warfare operation but it`s been
modernized with computer technology and that they conducted Watergate 2.0.
MADDOW: Soon after the WikiLeaks dump, Christopher Steele filed another
Trump memo, quote, Russian regime behind the leak of embarrassing email
messages emanating from the Democratic National Committee to the WikiLeaks
platform. One of Steele`s sources described as an ethic Russian close to
Donald Trump told Steele this.
Quote, there was a well-developed conspiracy of cooperation between them
and the Russian leadership. This was managed on the Trump side by the
Republican candidate`s campaign manager Paul Manafort using policy advisor
Carter Page and others as intermediaries.
At this point, American journalists knew nothing of Christopher Steele or
his reports, but there was a rumor making the rounds that had its origins
in Steele`s first memo to Fusion GPS. The rumor was that Russia had
something compromising on Trump. There were whispers in D.C. reporting
circles about a sex tape with prostitutes at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in
KEN DILANIAN, NBC NEWS INTELLIGENCE AND NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: So,
people associated with the Democrats were pedaling that story.
MADDOW: NBC`s intelligence and national security reporter Ken Dilanian.
DILANIAN: I mean, we did hear things like look, if you did anything at the
Ritz Charlton Moscow, that whole place is wired by Russian intelligence for
video and sound. So, it`s perfectly plausible that anybody who engaged in
embarrassing activities there would be on tape and Russian spies would have
that tape, but there was really no way you can prove it.
MADDOW: Alongside those swirling rumors were other new questions about
Trump and Russia, questions sparked by Trump`s own public remarks and his
own behavior on the campaign trail.
TRUMP: Russia, if you`re listening, I hope you`re able to find the 30,000
e-mails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily
by our press.
MADDOW: On October 7th, 2016, the presidential campaign entered the final
stretch when three stories broke within minutes of each other. The first
came at 3:30 Eastern Time, that Friday afternoon. The directors of
homeland security and national intelligence declaring for the first time
that the Russian government was behind the DNC hack and the weaponization
of the stolen e-mails.
But the WikiLeaks dump of those DNC documents was part of a Russian
government operation ordered at the highest level.
PETE WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: And this statement is very
dramatic. It says that the U.S. intelligence community is confident that
the Russian government directed the recent compromises of e-mails from
Americans and U.S. institutions, including U.S. political organizations.
MADDOW: Just 30 minutes later, “The Washington Post” sees the news cycle
when it posted the now notorious “Access Hollywood” tape.
UNIDENTIFEID MALE: And some breaking news, this coming in just in the last
few seconds. NBC news has just became aware of a video capturing Donald
Trump making vulgar comments about women back in 2005.
TRUMP: When you`re a star they let you do it. You can do anything.
BILLY BUSH: Whatever you want.
MADDOW: Then 30 minutes after that, WikiLeaks appeared to counter-punch
with the release of e-mails hacked from the personal account of Clinton
campaign chairman John Podesta.
MITCHELL: This is another hack, a hacking organization that has alleged
ties to the Russians.
MADDOW: In the middle of that wild news cycle in October, investigative
reporter David Corn of the left leaning “Mother Jones” magazine got wind of
something big, something unprecedented, if it was true. His sources told
him that Russia had something on Trump, and the details were written down
in a series of secret documents.
CORN: I was told about the memos in great detail.
MADDOW: David Corn discovered who wrote the memos. A former British
intelligence officer named Christopher Steele.
CORN: I was able to do some research on him and find out at the very least
he was who he said he was and that he had the intelligence pedigree that he
– that I`d been told that he had.
MADDOW: By mid October, Christopher Steele had filed 15 of the 16 memos
that would later be called the dossier. David Corn saw several of the
CORN: I don`t use the term dossier because it`s not really a dossier.
That gives the impression of sort of a finished product that was compiled
into one single, you know, entity, one document. These were field reports.
It was very much the way a reporter in the field would send notes to an
MADDOW: To try to verify the credibility of Steele`s memos, David Corn
started calling his own sources. Malcolm Nance was one of them.
NANCE: David Corn, the first one to receive the Christopher Steele dossier
contacted me and he wanted to ask me some questions about how do you
evaluate this information?
MADDOW: After doing his own due diligence, Corn arranged to do an
interview via Skype with Christopher Steele himself.
CORN: Our agreement at the time was that I could, you know, quote him but
I would not identify him by name.
MADDOW: The former spy didn`t want publicity. He wanted action.
In the interview, Steele told Corn this is something of huge significance,
way above party politics. He said: I think Trump`s own party should be
aware of this stuff, as well.
Corn had his scoop, but he knew he had to be careful.
CORN: I wasn`t going to take specific allegations, particularly the
salacious ones, because even Donald Trump is owed a degree of fairness but
also just for journalistic integrity, you don`t want to report allegations
about anyone that you can`t verify that aren`t true.
MADDOW: Still, Corn believed Steele`s reputation and the FBI`s interest in
the broader outlines of Steele`s story gave it credibility.
CORN: The FBI, you know, having said get lost, they will give us more
MADDOW: A few minutes before midnight on Halloween 2016, “Mother Jones”
posted David Corn`s article under this headline: A veteran spy has given
the FBI information alleging a Russian operation to cultivate Donald Trump.
It was the public`s first glimpse of a story that a handful of reporters
had been chasing for months, a candidate with a murky relationship to a
hostile foreign power, a Russian plot to tamper with our election.
Possible Trump campaign collusion with the Kremlin.
The story was potentially huge and intriguing. But it was vague. Who was
this veteran spy? And what was the Russian operation? How serious were
Ultimately, David Corn`s article was swamped by the news cycle. Days
earlier, the FBI had reopened an investigation of Hillary Clinton`s use of
a private e-mail server while secretary of state.
LESTER HOLT, NBC NEWS ANCHOR: The FBI dropped a bomb in the race for
president this afternoon.
MADDOW: That story and reaction to it would dominate the headlines right
up to Election Day.
TRUMP: Very proud that the FBI was willing to do this, actually. Really.
MADDOW: When the calendar finally flipped November 8th and election day
arrived, Donald Trump won enough electoral votes to become president of the
AUDIENCE: USA! USA! USA!
MADDOW: The election may have been over, but the hard work of finding out
what role the Russians played in the 2016 election, that work is just
MADDOW: In the dwindling days of 2016, President-elect Donald Trump went
about choosing his cabinet and his White House staff. David Corn`s October
scoop about those Trump memos from a Western spy, that was long forgotten
until, 10 days before the inauguration, that story came roaring back when
CNN reported that both President Obama and President-elect Trump had been
briefed by the intelligence community on a two-page summary of the
Christopher Steele dossier.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: The information was provided as part of last
week`s classified intelligence briefings regarding Russian efforts to
undermine the U.S. election.
MADDOW: That report set off alarm bells in the New York offices of
“BuzzFeed News”. As was true at several other news organizations,
reporters at BuzzFeed had obtained a copy of Christopher Steele`s memos.
BEN SMITH, BUZZFEED: We looked at things that seemed confirmable.
MADDOW: Ben Smith is “BuzzFeed`s” editor-in-chief. He says BuzzFeed was
not able to verify claims in the dossier, but Smith felt that the fact that
such a dossier was being taken seriously by U.S. intelligence, that itself
SMITH: We knew that this document was being circulated and acted upon at
the levels of government, and you see important decision-makers making
decisions about how they are relating to the administration, how about they
are thinking about Russia that are explained by this piece of dark matter.
MADDOW: Ben Smith and others at “BuzzFeed” felt it was time to let their
audience in on what was fast becoming the worst-kept secret in Washington.
SMITH: The question we ask ourselves is why would we keep this from the
MADDOW: At 5:20 p.m. on January 10th, “BuzzFeed” hit publish. All 35
pages of the dossier went online with a warning that the allegations are
unverified and the report contains errors.
SMITH: That was really our main goal in our summery of it was to say very,
very clearly we haven`t verified this, there are some minor as you say,
minor but real errors in it that could give you pause, and here is what we
know about where it comes from.
MADDOW: It was explosive stuff and not just the lewd allegations. There
were other serious charges, names named in black and white. The public was
seeing it all for the first time. According to the dossier`s unnamed
sources, campaign chairman Paul Manafort managed a conspiracy of
cooperation with the Russians. Foreign policy advisor Carter Page served
as an intermediary with the Russians. Trump`s personal lawyer, Michael
Cohen, traveled to Prague to meet with Russians trying to cover up the
MATTHEWS: Damaging allegations about Trump and his dealings with Russians.
MADDOW: The reaction from the Trump camp was immediate and furious.
REINCE PRIEBUS, FORMER RNC CHAIRMAN: The “BuzzFeed” memo is total complete
garbage is what it is.
MADDOW: The Trump associates named in the dossier vehemently denied any
wrongdoing. Paul Manafort said the allegations were a Democrat Party dirty
trick and completely false.
CARTER PAGE, TRUMP CAMPAIGN AIDE: It`s so crazy that it`s laughable.
MADDOW: Carter Page admitted he had been to Russia but gone on personal
business, not as Trump`s Russian go between.
PAGE: I had no dealings in Russia that would directly lead – that had
anything to do with the Trump campaign.
MADDOW: As for Michael Cohen, Trump`s lawyer, he tweeted a picture of his
passport and said he had never been to Prague, and even though it is common
to travel in Europe without a passport stamped in every country visited,
Cohen`s passport tweet was touted by the president-elect as a definitive
repudiation of the entire dossier.
TRUMP: It`s a disgrace what took place. It`s a disgrace and I think they
ought to apologize and start with Michael Cohen.
MADDOW: At the press conference, the president-elect attacked not just the
dossier itself, he accused the U.S. intelligence community of leaking it.
TRUMP: I think it was disgraceful, disgraceful that the intelligence
agencies allowed any information that turned out to be so false and fake
out. I think it`s a disgrace and I say that and I say that and that`s
something that Nazi Germany would have done and did do.
MADDOW: Trump also lashed out at “BuzzFeed”.
TRUMP: “BuzzFeed”, which is a failing pile of garbage.
MADDOW: On top of the criticism from the president-elect, “BuzzFeed” also
took heat from journalists for having published admittedly unverified
CHUCK TODD, MODERATOR, MEET THE PRESS: Are you knowingly spreading false
SMITH: I mean, I think as with the Obama birth certificate during the
Obama campaign, this is an incredibly difficult balance that everybody in
our business navigates every day.
MADDOW: Because “BuzzFeed” did not redact all personal identifying
information for people mentioned in the dossier, several Russians named in
it later said they had been libeled by its publications. Those Russians
are now suing “BuzzFeed”, Christopher Steele and Fusion GPS.
David Corn feared that “BuzzFeed” put at risk the lives of Christopher
CORN: One concern I had was, you know, that this could put some sources
into trouble and, you know, maybe even put Steele into some trouble, as
MADDOW: Days after “BuzzFeed” published the dossier, “The Wall Street
Journal” publicly identified Christopher Steele as the dossier`s author.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The reports compiled by former British spy Christopher
Steele and published by “BuzzFeed”.
MADDOW: Within hours of being outed, Steele went into hiding with his wife
WEST: The media were all over him.
MADDOW: Christopher Steele`s friend Nigel West.
WEST: The expedient he adopted was absolutely the correct advice anybody
in reputation management would give, which is say nothing and disappear.
MADDOW: In the days immediately after the dossier`s publication, anyone
interested in Russia`s role in the 2016 election had read it, including
Christopher Steele`s old friend Jonathan Winer.
WINER: I looked at it like I look at all reports which is you look at the
professionalism of the person gathering it, their background, the care with
which they operate. And you say this is serious stuff. But intelligence
is not evidence. These are two very different things.
MADDOW: Now that the dossier was public record and fierce political
controversy, the core question remained, were the allegations in it true?
Intelligence professionals like former British officer Glenn Mortimer
Harvey (ph) wondered if perhaps the Russians might have deliberately fed
Steele some bogus information.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The thing depends on who indeed Christopher Steele
sources were. They might indeed have genuine access of the kind he talks
about, and 70, 80 percent of what they are telling him was true. However,
there might be that 20 percent actually comes from Putin`s administration
and it is information they want to put over. It`s not necessarily correct.
MADDOW: The truth, deliberate lies, weaponized half-truths, it would be up
to investigators to sort those out.
On the Russian side, though, their response was clear and consistent from
the beginning. Deny everything.
Dmitri Peskov is Putin`s press secretary.
DMITRI PESKOV, PUTIN`S PRESS SECRETARY: But I can ensure you that the
allegations in those – in this paper and so-called report, they are untrue
and they are all fake.
MADDOW: Fake may have been the word for it in Moscow but in Washington,
the dossier and some of its allegations were starting to bare out under
scrutiny and thus began an unprecedented national security scandal that
threatened to end a presidency as it was beginning.
TRUMP: I, Donald John Trump, do solemnly swear that –
MADDOW: After Donald Trump took the oath of office in January 2017, a
steady barrage of news reports started to reveal the character of the
Russian campaign to influence the American presidential election, the
circulation and hyping of internal Democratic Party documents that had been
stolen by Russian hackers. Fake social media profiles pushing divisive
story lines and attempting to drive support for Trump.
Thousands of Russian bought online ads targeting and trying to sway
millions of American voters. And alongside those revelations, time and
again, previously unreported meetings between Trump associates and Russians
linked to the Putin government, both during the campaign and during the
HOLT: A storm of controversy swirling around national security advisor
BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST, THE 11TH HOUR: We`re staying with breaking
news that Donald Trump`s attorney general met with the Russian ambassador.
CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST, ALL IN: Jared Kushner met with the Russian
ambassador in secret.
MADDOW: In response, the president would invert the revelations about
Russia flooding propaganda and disinformation into the campaign. He
flipped that. He denounced mainstream American journalism as fake news.
TRUMP: The leaks are absolutely real. The news is fake, because so much
of the news is fake.
MADDOW: By late January, the White House had been warned that the
president`s national security advisor Michael Flynn had been compromised by
his undisclosed contacts with the Russian ambassador. In February, Flynn
MIKA BRZEZINSKI, MSNBC HOST, MORNIGN JOE: National security advisor
Michael Flynn is OUT.
MADDOW: In March, Attorney General Jeff Session was forced to admit he
also had unreported meetings with the Russian ambassador.
JEFF SESSIONS, ATTORNEY GENERAL: I haven now decided to recuse myself from
any existing or future investigations.
MADDOW: And in May, the most stunning turn of all, the president fired FBI
Director James Comey, a man who had been leading the counter intelligence
investigation into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia –
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), SENATE MINORITY LEADER: President Trump called
me and informed me he was firing Director Comey. I told the president, Mr.
President, with all due respect, you`re making a big mistake.
MADDOW: In an interview with NBC`s Lester Holt, Trump acknowledged that
the Russia investigation was one reason for the firing.
TRUMP: When I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, you know,
this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made up story.
MADDOW: Under oath, Comey would later testify on four separate occasions,
the president had pressured him over the FBI`s Russia investigation. The
president firing James Comey did not derail that investigation. It led
instead to a special counsel taking the reins. Former FBI Director Robert
Mueller. In March 2017, after two months of hiding, Christopher Steele
CHRISTOPHER STEELE, EX-BRITISH SPY: I`m really pleased to be back here
working again at the offices in London today.
MADDOW: But he left it to others to solve the puzzle his dossier created.
STEELE: Just to add I won`t be making any further statements or comments
at this time. Thank you so much.
MADDOW: True to his word, Steele stayed out of the public eye but has
reportedly been interviewed by the investigators working for special
counsel Robert Mueller. And in a November 2017 book by Luke Harding, a
reporter for “The Guardian” newspaper, Harding says Steele has told friends
that he believes his dossier is 70 to 90 percent accurate and it will be
vindicated by Robert Mueller`s investigation.
According to Harding, Steele said, quote, I`ve been dealing with this
country for 30 years. Why would I invent stuff?
Now, more than a year after the presidential election, Steele`s memos are
an object of fierce controversy. Some elements of the dossier have been
verified. A number remain neither verified nor proven false, but none so
far have been publicly disproven.
The ranking Democrat on the Intelligence Committee in the House is
California Congressman Adam Schiff.
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: When you look at just
what has become public, some of the public information is very much in line
with what is reported in that dossier.
MADDOW: MSNBC contributor John McLaughlin spent 40 years analyzing the
dark arts of counter espionage. He says that while the broad themes of the
dossier seem to be bearing out, collusion is a hard thing to prove.
JOHN MCLAUGHLIN, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: If you`re looking at the fact pattern
we have here involving a number of figures in the Trump administration
having had one interaction or another with the Russians whether financial
or otherwise. You know, if you`re in the intelligence business, that still
amounts to smoke.
MADDOW: It may be only smoke, but there seems to be a lot of it billowing
up from places that Christopher Steele first pointed out in 2016.
MADDOW: It began as a hunch, a feeling among Donald Trump`s political
opponents that his frequent praise of Vladimir Putin –
TRUMP: I respect Putin. He`s a strong leader, I can tell you that.
MADDOW: – might be based on something more than mutual adoration.
TRUMP: Putin did call me a genius and he said I`m the future of the
MADDOW: That is what Christopher Steele was hired to check out. Now,
nearly a year after he filed his last report, his dossier has become
virtually a road map for anyone investigating the Trump campaign and
Russia`s role in our 2016 election. According to Steele sources, the
Kremlin had been feeding Trump and his team valuable intelligence on his
opponents, including Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton for
A new link has surfaced between the president`s namesake and a Russian
We now know at least nine Trump associates had contacts with Russian
officials during the campaign or the transition. Meetings happened in New
York, in Washington, in Europe, in Russia, former Trump advisor Carter Page
has now told congressional investigators that despite his previous denials,
he did meet with high ranking Russians in Moscow in July 2016. Christopher
Steele had reported this much at the time in the dossier.
DILANIAN: He`s been forced to acknowledge that he had encounters with
senior Russian officials. Now, he continues to this was meaningless and it
wasn`t about collusion and the thing asserted about him in the dossier are
not true. But nonetheless, the account has significantly changed from when
we first heard about this trip.
MADDOW: What is now the notorious Trump campaign Russia meeting happened
in June 2016 at Trump Tower. Donald Trump, Jr., Paul Manafort, and the
president`s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, met with a group of Russians with
Kremlin connections. A now public e-mail chain shows that the Trump camp
accepted that meeting on the understand that they`d be given Russian
government provided dirt on Hillary Clinton.
One e-mail read: This is part of Russia and its government`s support for
The president`s son, son-in-law, and former campaign chairman have all
denied that anything of significance happened at that meeting. Here`s what
Donald Trump, Jr. said about it on Fox News.
DONALD TRUMP JR., PRESIDENT TRUMP`S SON: I can`t help what someone sends
me, you know? I read it, I responded accordingly, and if there is
something interesting there? I think it`s pretty common.
CORN: And the Trump people refused in a lot of ways to recognize the
significance of this. When revelations and disclosures come out like this,
it`s often just the tip of the iceberg. And this was the tip of the
iceberg, that iceberg must be damn big.
MADDOW: A Russian lawyer who attended the meeting, Natalia Veselnitskaya
now says that Donald Trump Jr. indicated his father`s administration would
consider lifting economic sanctions on Russia if he won the presidency.
So, point one, like Steele had said, Russia had been feeding information to
Trump and his team.
Point two, according to Steele sources, the Russians hoped their election
meddling would shift U.S. policy consensus on Ukraine. We know now that at
the Republican National Convention in Ohio, the Trump campaign intervened
to soften the language of support for Ukraine in the Republican Party
platform. And we know once they won the e election, they did take action
on Russia`s sanctions.
NBC`s Ken Dilanian.
DILANIAN: The sanctions are really biting the Russian economy. It remains
a main goal of the Russian government to get those lifted.
MADDOW: We know now as soon as they arrived in Washington, they directed
the State Department to start working on plans to lift the Russian
sanctions. Senior State Department personnel pushed back, alerting both
Capitol Hill and the press.
NORAH O`DONNELL, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: What was concerning to those
state department officials who talked to our colleagues, they felt this was
not in the best interest of the U.S. and was too premature to be concerned.
MADDOW: So, Steele`s point one, intel from Russia to the Trump campaign.
Steele`s point two, the Trump camp acting to help Russia on both Ukraine
and on sanctions. Point three, before U.S. intelligence agencies made
public their conclusion that American democracy was under an orchestrated
attack from Russia, Christopher Steele had reported in the dossier, quote,
Kremlin behind recent appearance of DNC e-mails on WikiLeaks.
The intelligence community now says that is true. We also now know that
the Russian hack of the DNC and the weaponization of stolen Democratic e-
mails through WikiLeaks, that was only part of the Russian campaign to
influence our election.
DILANIAN: Russia was buying ads, setting up fake accounts using Twitter
bots to push divisive messages. It fueled misinformation, it fueled fake
news. They were designed to drive turnout in favor of Trump in some areas,
in favor of Democratic opponents to Hillary Clinton in other areas. And
what U.S. intelligence officials have said is this is the most
sophisticated information operation they`ve ever seen.
MADDOW: Point four, Christopher Steele reported that Trump`s campaign
chair, Paul Manafort, was managing the Trump campaign relations with the
Russians. We now know in October 2017, a federal grand jury indicted Paul
Manafort and another top Trump campaign officials on multiple accounts of
money laundering, perjury and conspiracy against the United States.
At the same time special counsel Robert Mueller also announced that a third
Trump campaign advisor, George Papadopoulos, had pled guilty to lying about
his own contacts with Russian operatives.
Then, a month later another person mentioned in the Steele dossier pled
guilty to lying. It was Trump`s former national security advisor Michael
Flynn. Flynn has agreed to become a Cooperating witness in the Mueller
Above all else, we know this about the now famous dossier: Christopher
Steele had this story before the rest of America did. And he got it from
Russian sources. And whether or not the compromised, the alleged
American/Russia conspiracy at the heart of Steele`s narrative is ever
proven out, our understanding of what Russia did and why and how well they
did it and whether they had help, it`s all still in its early stages.
WINER: What is important is that the American public gets the truth, the
full truth and nothing but the truth about what happened in our elections
MADDOW: It took an ex-British spy to give us our first look into what
Moscow might have been up to. American investigators and journalists and
prosecutors will now have to fill in the rest of the picture.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY
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