New focus on who gets security clearance at WH. TRANSCRIPT: 2/12/2018. The Rachel Maddow Show
Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW
Date: February 12, 2018
Guest: Chris Lu, Michael McFaul
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Thank you, my friend.
And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. Happy Monday.
Imagine that you are national security adviser to the president of the
United States. The idea itself is stressful, right? You run the whole
gigantic National Security Council. You meet with the president every day,
sometimes multiple times a day. You`ve got access to the highest
classified information that anybody has access to.
Your job is to make sure that the president has everything that he or she
needs to make the best decisions possible on all sorts of national security
matters, including the most sensitive ones there are. You`re in charge of
a lot of different streams of information. You`re in a really powerful,
really stressful job already.
And then the 2016 presidential election happens. Our best allies in the
intelligence world, allies that – with which – with whom we have super
close, trusting, collaborative relationship, our allies, our intelligence
allies start reporting to us through multiple streams over a period of
months a whole bunch of different instances of people associated with one
of the presidential campaigns having contacts with Russians, with Russian
officials, with people linked to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
At the same time, you have access to American intelligence intercepts of
Russian officials talking with each other about their contacts with that
presidential campaign. At the same time, the U.S. intelligence community
starts to come to the conclusion that beyond our usual spy versus spy stuff
with Russia, Russia does appear to be interfering in our election in a
deliberate, organized way and trying to hurt the opposing campaign.
So, imagine you are the national security adviser while all this is
happening. You know all of this is happening. You have access to all of
this intel. The election ends. The side Russia was trying to help, in
fact, won the election.
How do you, as national security adviser then responsibly prepare to help
that campaign transition itself from a presidential campaign to the next
presidential administration? How do you as national security adviser think
responsibly about how you`re going to help them take custody of the
nation`s most sensitive intelligence, including intelligence on this matter
about how they maybe got to the White House in the first place.
I mean, the president decided, the outgoing president, President Obama,
decided, after the 2016 election, that the U.S. government had to take
action against Russia, had to punish Russia for the way they interfered in
our election, including hacking into state voting databases and all the
rest of it. The Obama administration decided that they would kick out
several dozen Russians who are here working in the United States for the
Russian government. They decided they would seize Russian diplomatic
compounds that the U.S. government believed were being used for
intelligence purposes by the Russian government.
And as they were contemplating these actions against Russia, to shove back
against Russia for what they had done with this unprecedented interference
into our election, it seems clear now that the Obama administration thought
they knew what to expect from Russia when they punished Russia in this
matter – but it also seems clear that they really didn`t know what to
expect from the incoming administration that had just won this election.
So, totally unprecedented situation. They have to decide what`s best for
national security and what`s best for the country and how to handle this
On this issue of the sanctions, the punishment for what Russia did in our
election, what they decided to do is that they would go ahead with those
sanctions, with that shove back against Russia, but they would do so
without giving a heads up to the Trump folks, without giving the incoming
Trump administration folks a heads up that they were going to do it. So,
President-elect Trump and his whole team learned about that, those actions
toward Russia, those new sanctions against Russia, the same time everybody
else did when announced in public.
The way Russia learned about those sanctions is that their ambassador at
the U.S., Sergey Kislyak, got summoned to the U.S. State Department and at
the State Department, they told him, this is what the Obama administration
is doing, in response to your country`s attack on our election. Kislyak
was reportedly enraged by that summons to the State Department and what
they told him.
Now, the Obama White House had to have been expected that, right? Decades
and decades of spy versus spy conflict with Russia, both during the Cold
War and after. We know how this works. We know that when we shove them,
or we sanction them or do something to punish them, we can expect tit for
tat response. In some way if they shove us or punish us for something,
they can expect tit-for-tat response from us. It`s been that way since
before I was born.
So, they took this big shove at Russia in December after the election.
They`re expecting, they know that Kislyak is mad and they are expecting
Russia to push right back. That`s not what happened. The Obama
administration announced those punishing sanctions on December 29th. On
December 30th, Vladimir Putin came back and announced there would be no
response from Russia, no retaliation, we`re good, we`re not bothered.
Surely, we are disappointed, but we`re not going to do anything in
That was totally out of keeping with what has happened between the United
States and Russia, not just recently, but forever. That is not what the
Obama administration was expecting to happen. So, they`ve got to figure
out, hey, why did that just go down that way? What happened there? What
explains that very unusual, even unprecedented response from Putin to what
we just did?
Well, if you`re the national security adviser to the president of the
United States, even to the outgoing president of the United States in this
case, you don`t have to just wonder, right? You can actually find out what
happened there, because you have access to all of these streams of
intelligence. And it turns out, yes, the FBI had been listening in when
Ambassador Kislyak walked out of the State Department, steaming, having
just been told that Russia is losing their compounds including the super
cute when that he really liked in Maryland. They`re having to shut down
that mansion they love so much in San Francisco, three dozen Russians and
their families are being sent home, out of this country, with no warning,
get out immediately.
The FBI was listening in when he picked up his phone and made a call after
he came out of the State Department meeting. What he did after he got that
news at the State Department on December 29th, he walked out of the State
Department and boop, boop, boop, called Mike Flynn, who was on vacation
with his wife in the Dominican Republic. They were on a beach.
FBI was listening to Kislyak`s conversation. And on that call, in that
conversation, Mike Flynn, the incoming national security adviser for the
soon to be Trump administration, he told Kislyak, basically, oh, yes, I
heard when you did about these sanctions, but don`t worry. Don`t react.
We`re going to be in there soon. We`ll take care of these problems. That
was essentially his message to Kislyak, or at least so we`re told.
So, if you`re the national security adviser to President Obama, how do you
deal with this information? Right? This is the transition, which means
you`re supposed to be transitioning the new guys in. Your counterpart from
the incoming administration is actively working to undermine the intent and
effect of U.S. government sanctions against Russia. Through secret
communications with the Russian government that he`s not coordinating with
the U.S. government or the State Department and he`s not disclosing them to
Flynn and the White House, the new Trump White House, in fact, would go on
to vehemently deny that these conversations ever happened or that these
were the topics that Flynn and Kislyak ever discussed. So, at this point
in a normal presidential transition, you, as national security adviser, are
supposed to be briefing the guy who gets your job, the new guy who is
coming in for your job. You`re supposed to be making sure there is a
seamless transition. You are supposed to be making sure the new guy is
totally up to speed.
Well, given what Susan Rice knew about Michael Flynn during the transition,
what is she supposed to do? How is she supposed to make a decision about
what to tell Mike Flynn? I mean, hypothetically, let`s say U.S.
intelligence had recruited human sources who were working as spies for us
inside Russia`s embassy in Washington. Would you give Mike Flynn the names
of those spies? They`re working at the embassy that`s run by his friend
Sergey who called him on vacation, the one with whom he engages in secret
conversations about undermining the U.S. government.
You give him the name of our spies? What if there`s a spy in Sergei`s
office? Going to tell Mike Flynn?
So, this all happened, this is all happening, you know, Christmastime, over
the New Year, into early January, right? After the election, so, late
2016, early 2017. On January 2nd, so, right after the New Year, that`s
when they reportedly got the transcripts of Flynn`s calls with Kislyak,
where Kislyak called Flynn. Flynn was on the beach. That call happened on
the 29th, we know that as of January 2nd, they had the transcripts of that
call and knew what Flynn was talking about with the Russians. They get
those transcripts January 2nd.
On January 3rd, it had been reported that there was going to be an
intelligence briefing for the president-elect, for the incoming president
about Russia having attacked our election. This got a lot of attention at
the time. This was anticipated as sort of a big standoff, a big summit
between Trump and the intelligence community, because at that time, he was
routinely dismissing the idea that Russia had done anything to affect our
election. He was going after the intelligence community and attacking them
for them saying that Russia had done anything to influence our election.
He said those claims were not true.
Well, in the White House, in the Obama White House, in the lead-up to that
briefing, they`re figuring out what they`re going say to Trump and his
team, what they`re going to say to Trump himself, his national security
team, his national security adviser. We have since learned that that was a
very intense time in the Obama White House, trying to handle this
Quote, on January 5th, FBI Director James Comey, CIA Director John Brennan,
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper briefed President Obama and
a small group of his top White House advisers on the contents of a
classified intelligence report showing that Russia intervened in the 2016
election to help Trump.
Quote: That`s when White House officials learned that the FBI was
investigating the Flynn/Kislyak calls. One former U.S. official said,
quote, the Flynn/Kislyak relationship was highlighted. The bureau, meaning
the FBI, made clear that there was an actual investigation under way, an
actual investigation of Flynn.
That was reported last year in “The Washington Post.” Now, today, we found
out what happened right after that briefing. Comey, Brennan and Clapper
are all briefing Obama and a small group of his top White House advisers on
what Russia did. They tell Obama and a small group of his top White House
advisers that the incoming national security adviser is the subject of an
FBI investigation, what happened next? What happened immediately
As of right now, we can tell you. Quote: classification, top secret. And
then you see top secret is struck through. It`s because this has gone
through a formal declassification process at the National Security Council.
This has been partially declassified.
What this is is an e-mail sent by Susan Rice, who was President Obama`s
national security adviser. The subject line is: note to file.
Here`s what it says. Quote: On January 5th, following a briefing by the
intelligence community leadership on Russian hacking during the 2016
presidential election, President Obama had a brief follow on conversation
with FBI Director Jim Comey and Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates in the
Oval Office. Vice President Biden and I were also present.
OK, so, it`s Obama, Comey, Sally Yates, Biden and Susan Rice in the Oval
Office. They`ve just had their briefing from the intelligence chiefs.
Quote: President Obama began the conversation by stressing his continued
commitment to ensuring that every aspect of this issue is handled by the
intelligence and law enforcement communities by the book. The president
stressed that he is not asking about initiating or instructing anything
from a law enforcement perspective. He reiterated that our law enforcement
team needs to proceed as it normally would, by the book.
From a national security perspective, however, President Obama said he
wants to be sure that as we engage with the incoming team, we`re mindful to
ascertain if there`s any reason that we cannot share information fully as
it relates to Russia.
Then the whole next paragraph is plus five, totally redacted. Then it
picks up at the bottom of the page. Quote: The president asked Comey to
inform him if anything changes in the next few weeks that could effect how
we share classified information with the incoming team. Comey said he
So, this was initially classified as top secret, it has been declassified,
formally, by the National Security Council. It was released to the public
Republican Senators Chuck Grassley and Lindsey Graham have written a letter
to Obama`s National Security Adviser Susan Rice about this now declassified
e-mail which they obtained in the senate. In their letter to Susan Rice,
they quote this e-mail back to her in full, and then they say this, quote:
It strikes us as odd that among your activities in final moments, this the
final day of the Obama administration, you would feel the need to send
yourself such an unusual e-mail. They send her a list of a dozen questions
they want to ask her about this newly declassified e-mail.
So, by releasing this today, right, these Republican senators have given us
an extraordinary window into what the Obama administration was grappling
with as they were getting ready to leave the White House, as they were
leaving. I mean, knowing that Russia had intervened to help Trump win the
election, knowing that senior members of the Trump campaign and the
incoming Trump national security team were lying about their contacts with
Russia, knowing there was an active FBI investigation of the incoming
national security adviser because of his contacts with Russia – President
Obama, in that moment, according to this new e-mail we`ve never seen
before, President Obama in that moment went to his national security team,
went to his top law enforcement, federal law enforcement officers, said,
I`m not going to interfere with anything in terms of law enforcement, do
that however you need to do that. But from a national security
perspective, can you tell us if there`s stuff we shouldn`t be briefing
these incoming Trump folks about, because we plan to brief them on
everything – is there something we should hold back? Would you tell us if
I think from their letter to Susan Rice about this tonight that Senator
Lindsey Graham and Chuck Grassley think this is a real gotcha. It strikes
us as odd. This is such an unusual e-mail.
Yes. What wouldn`t be odd? What wouldn`t be unusual? You`re the national
security adviser and your incoming replacement is Mike Flynn, who you know
is the subject of an FBI investigation, because of his ties to Russia.
Remember, Obama fired Mike Flynn.
When Trump came to the White House to meet Obama after the election,
President Obama reportedly warned President-elect Trump about two things.
One, North Korea. Two, Mike Flynn. And Trump decided to keep Mike Flynn
If you`re in charge of the transition, the part of the transition, the
national security adviser part of the transition, from yourself to Mike
Flynn, do you hand him all the intel you`ve got? Do you read him in on
everything? We`ve got a spy working in Putin`s office, would you tell Mike
Flynn the name of that person?
Might you memorialize in a note to file some of the decision-making
processes around this unusual time in American history?
In December, right after the election, President Obama, you`ll remember, he
ordered the intelligence community to conduct a full assessment of what the
Russians did. That assessment included, it turned up, tons of intelligence
reports about contacts during the campaign between Trump associates and
Russian officials. “The New York Times” last year previously reported on a
scramble inside the Obama administration in its closing days to preserve
the intelligence that had been collected about the Trump campaign and
Russia so it couldn`t be covered up or destroyed by the incoming
“The Washington Post” reported last year, quote: Senior Obama
administration officials said they felt so uncertain about the nature of
the Flynn/Kislyak relationship that they took it upon themselves to scale
back what they told Flynn and others on his incoming national security
team. We did decide not to share with them certain things about Russia.
As late as January 19th, Obama`s last full day in office, “Washington Post”
reports that there was a debate among the law enforcement and intelligence
chiefs about how much the incoming Trump administration could be told about
the ongoing investigations of the Russia attack, including the
investigations that touched on them, investigations that included at least
one senior member of Trump`s team, Mike Flynn. They were debating that as
of January 19th, the day before the inauguration.
But now tonight, we know that literally as of the next day, as of
inauguration day, as Trump was being sworn in, 12 minutes into his American
carnage inaugural address, Susan Rice hit send on this e-mail to herself
and to her assistant on the National Security Council, subject line, note
to file, top secret, record. Memorializing for the record, memorializing
for the future, for us, now, that we would know about President Obama
meeting with the top law enforcement and intelligence officials in his
administration, in the closing weeks they were there, to try to deal
responsibly with this totally unprecedented, remarkable situation.
As President Obama tried to separate the law enforcement function here from
the national security counterintelligence function here. For law
enforcement, he told them, do this by the book. You proceed independently.
I`m not instructing you at all.
The president stressed, he`s not asking about, initiating, or instructing
anything from a law enforcement perspective. Our law enforcement team
needs to proceed as it normally would, by the book. From an intelligence
and national security perspective, though, he wanted an organized, well-
informed approach. As to what these guys could be told, as to how much, if
anything, should be held back from these incoming Trump folks, including
the ones who were under investigation. Absolutely fascinating.
If you haven`t seen this thing that was just declassified tonight, we
posted it at maddowblog.com tonight. You can see it there.
And it is amazing that this is coming to light while the White House,
tonight, cannot disentangle itself from the questions around the White
House staff secretary, Rob Porter, the White House official in charge of
every piece of paper, including classified information that crosses the
president`s desk. Rob Porter was either fired or resigned last week,
depending on who is asking and when.
There are now increasingly serious questions about whether the White House
somehow gamed the security clearance process from the very start to allow
this guy access to classified information, even after the FBI let the White
House know that there were serious flags in his background check and they
told the White House that he would never be given a permanent security
clearance, because of serious domestic violence allegations against him
from his ex-wives. That controversy continues even tonight, with a
disastrous White House press briefing today, with continued questions now
about whether this president is about to lose his second White House chief
of staff in the form of John Kelly, with multiple White House officials now
telling reporters that John Kelly has asked them to lie publicly about this
John Kelly and Rob Porter scandal is getting more difficult for the White
House by the day. But we can now say with confidence that absolutely
unprecedented controversies about access to classified information are
turning out to be the alpha and the omega scandals, the day one to day 365
scandals of just their first year in office.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: Tuesday night, when the initial story came out, White House
praises Rob Porter. Wednesday morning, photos come out, White House stands
by itself statement. Wednesday afternoon, the White House continues to
praise Rob Porter. Chief of Staff John Kelly says he acted within 40
minute office knowing the allegations.
Can you explain that?
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: As I said, I`m going
to repeat what I said earlier, that we learned of the situation involving
Rob Porter, last Tuesday evening and within 24 hours, his resignation had
been accepted and announced. We announced a transition was going to happen
and within hours it did and in terms of timeline, I don`t have anything
else to add.
REPORTER: The chief of staff said 40 minutes. I don`t understand that.
Can you explain that?
SANDERS: I can tell you that a conversation took place within 40 minutes
and beyond that, I really don`t have anything else to add.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: More than a year into this presidency, the White House is
struggling to answer not just when they took action over allegations
against a top White House staffer, but why? Because for a year after
hearing that he would have trouble getting a security clearance because of
domestic violence allegations against him, they left that staffer in place,
handling the country`s most classified information. He managed the flow of
information across the president`s desk.
This scandal continues to unfold tonight as a newly declassified Obama
administration document shows how the outgoing Obama administration
struggled up to the last minute with the question how to handle classified
information with the new incoming administration, while they were the
subject of both a criminal and counterintelligence investigation at the
Tonight`s ongoing controversy about White House chief of staff John Kelly
and Rob Porter shows basically that this is a part of the national
responsibility of running the federal government, that they can`t quite get
their hands around at the Trump administration and well into year two now,
it doesn`t seem like it`s getting any better.
Joining us is Chris Lu. He ran the Obama transition in 2008. He later
became White House cabinet secretary. He`s now a senior fellow at the
University of Virginia`s Miller Center.
Mr. Lu, thanks very much for being with us. It`s nice to see you.
CHRIS LU, RAN 2008 OBAMA PRESIDENTIAL TRANSITION: Thank you.
MADDOW: So one of the things that I have struggled with, not necessarily
because I have a cable news show, but as an American, over the past year,
I`ve tried to keep my eyes on what counts as normal. I don`t want to
recalibrate myself as to what`s normal for now. I want to stay focused on
what counts as normal for our country. What`s the normal security
clearance process for somebody in a job like White House staff secretary?
Somebody in a senior job, how is that handled during the transition?
LU: Yes, let me tell you how we did it. We started planning our
transition six months before Election Day. And right before Election Day,
we submitted about 200 names to be cleared by the FBI. These are 200
people we thought would be in the Obama administration.
So, on day one, right after inauguration day, we had people ready to go and
to handle classified materials. Now, there is, obviously, a backlog and
there are delays in getting people cleared, but remember this. Rob Porter
had one of the most important jobs in the White House, and there`s a way
that you frontload those security clearances. So, you know, really within
a couple of months of the Obama administration, all of our senior people
had our clearances.
So, what`s happening here is not normal. Not only the delay getting him
cleared, but what you seem to have right now is, you have people like John
Kelly, Don McGahn, perhaps Joe Hagan, the deputy chief of staff, who may
have gamed the system to keep Rob Porter in place.
MADDOW: When you say gamed the system, who enforces the system?
LU: Well, the system is ultimately informed by at least in the Obama White
House, the deputy chief of staff, that would be Joe Hagan, in conjunction
with the White House counsel Don McGahn, and we know from press accounts
that as early as June, both of these gentlemen had a sense from the FBI
investigation that there were these allegations, which were then
substantiated in November. So, at that point, Kelly was on board. They
almost certainly told Kelly about that.
And I think the real question is whether it`s June or November, whether
they kept that secret from the president. I find that not credible at this
point, but even if they did, they still sat on this information for now two
to three months without taking action.
MADDOW: Once there was that determination from the FBI, again, what we`re
told is the FBI flagged these concerns in the background check to the White
House early on and then they substantiated them and informed the White
House this meant he was unlikely to get cleared for a permanent security
clearance. Obviously, as you point out, they kept him on in that role for
months thereafter. The only thing that seems to have spurred them to take
any action in this case, was when there are press reports in this matter.
Is there any legal concern about him having access for highly classified
information for which he was not cleared with just his interim clearance
during that interim before he was finally pushed out?
LU: Well, look, I think those are questions that need to be answered, and
certainly, if this were a normal time with a Congress performing oversight,
we would take a look at whether classified information was mishandled.
Recall the Republican outrage about the supposed mishandling of classified
information about Secretary Clinton. But even leaving that aside, his
interim security clearance should have lapsed at a certain period of time.
The fact he kept it meant that somebody proactively kept him in the job and
there need to be real questions asked about who made that determination.
MADDOW: Chris Lu, who headed up the 2008 Obama transition, thank you for
helping us understand this. Really appreciate having you here tonight,
LU: Thank you.
All right. Lots to come tonight. Stay with us.
MADDOW: If it happens eight times in a row, do we get to say it`s a
pattern? I mean, is this still a coincidence after eight straight times?
First time it happened was just a few days after President Trump was first
sworn in. Reports started to circulate, source to the Kremlin that the new
president would be having a phone call with Russian President Vladimir
Putin. The Kremlin spokesperson told reporters they were working with
Washington to nail down a date but the call would happen very soon. The
actual call in fact happened on January 28th, the first time we heard that
was going to happen was from the Kremlin. That was the first time, the
Then it happened again. This time it wasn`t a phone call, it was in
person. It was in the spring right after President Trump fired FBI
Director James Comey, Russia`s state news agency tweeted out this picture
of Donald Trump and Russia`s foreign minister shaking hands in the Oval
Office. The foreign minister brought along the Russian ambassador, as
Nobody knew about that meeting in advance, at least not in the United
States. U.S. journalists were kept out. The meeting was not on the
president`s official schedule.
When it happened, the press pool was taken totally by surprise, especially
when Russia state media started uploading their photos. The White House
later explained that President Trump decided to take that meeting in the
Oval Office because, quote, Putin asked him to. So, he said yes. And then
we had to learn about it from Russia. That was the second time.
The third time was in November. There was a flurry of reporting, again all
sourced to the Kremlin about how Trump was going to meet Putin at the Asia
Pacific Summit. The White House initially denied those reports, said they
wouldn`t meet, but then they met just like the Kremlin had said they would.
Met a bunch of times, actually all on that summit. That was mid November.
By the end of November, happened again. Russian news agency Interfax
reported that President Trump and Vladimir Putin were set to hold a call.
Nothing from the White House, but then, in fact, the call happened. That
was the fourth time we learned about the actions of the American president
from the Kremlin.
Fifth time was on December 14th, another Russian news agency tweeted out a
photo announcing that Putin had taken yet another call with Donald Trump.
Thanks for the heads up, Kremlin. We wouldn`t have known about it
The sixth time was literally three days later, December 17th. Russian
state-run news agency TASS first to report that Putin and Trump had another
heart to heart, because a call a week is not nearly enough.
We learned about all of those calls and meetings from Russia, Kremlin
notification of what the U.S. president has done when the U.S. media has
not been told.
Seventh time came at the end of last month, end of January. “Reuters”
citing the Russian state-run news agency TASS reported that Russia`s
foreign spy chief, who, I should note, is under U.S. sanctions and
therefore cannot legally travel to the United States, in fact, he came to
the United States the week before to meet with Trump administration
officials. We later learned that he did not come alone, but we first got
the news from Russian state media.
And today, it happened again, for an eighth straight time. Russian news
agency Interfax puts out a report that Vladimir Putin spoke to Trump today
on the phone.
Oh, really? Glad you guys can let us in on that. The Russian report was
quickly followed up by a statement from the Kremlin, along with a tweet
from the Kremlin and a Facebook post. They blasted it all over social
media for maximum effect, all before the U.S. was notified this was
happening, let alone before we got a readout from our own government on
So, it`s – eight times, by our count, eight times at least, maybe there`s
more that I`ve forgotten. There`s eight times that I can come up with off
the top of my head, that there was a meeting or call between this president
and the Russian government but we here in the United States had to learn
about it from Russia.
This does not happen with any other country. This does not happen with
leaders from any other government anywhere on earth. It`s never happened
before for an American president having to do with any other country, ever.
But it happens every single time with this one, for the eighth time today.
Why is that? And if some other country wanted to get in on that sweet,
sweet deal, how would you do it? What would you need to do?
MADDOW: Of course, it started with news that once again was not released
by our own government, news about our own government that we had to get
from Russia. It was the Kremlin bragging that all three of Russia`s
intelligence chiefs had all come to Washington. They did? We have to
learn this from you guys?
A couple of weeks ago, we learned from the Russian government, bragging
about it, that the head of Russia`s foreign intelligence service, the SVR,
which is basically the equivalent of CIA, and the head of the FSB, which
used to be the KGB, right, they came to the U.S. and they reportedly met
with the Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, and the head of the
CIA, Mike Pompeo. We also learned that the head of Russia`s military
intelligence service, the GRU, which is now famous in our country for
having been the lead Russian government agency responsible for attacking
our election in 2016, the head of the GRU also came to Washington.
Quote: Current and former U.S. intelligence officials could not recall so
many heads of Russia`s security apparatus coming to Washington at once.
What were they doing here? Well, we know that the SVR guy and the FSB guy,
roughly, the equivalent of our CIA and FBI, we know while they were here,
they met with the director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, the guy on
the left there, and the head of the CIA, Mike Pompeo, the guy on the right.
So, two of the three Russian spy chiefs that came over, we know both of
them took meetings with these two guys. But remember, there were three of
them. The GRU guy, the military intelligence guy, still a total mystery as
to what he was doing in Washington. We have no idea who he met with or
even where he traveled once he was in the United States.
Remember, it was the GRU, it`s his agency that led the attack on our
election. No U.S. official has admitted to meeting with him while he was
Who met with him? Who brought him over? What was he doing here? How long
did he stay? Did he enjoy himself?
I should tell you, the SVR guy, the guy who`s the head of the head of the
equivalent of our CIA, it`s also a legal mystery as to how he got in at
all. He`s sanctioned by the U.S. government. He is banned from entering
the United States under U.S. law. Who let him in?
Democratic senators first pulled the alarm about this a week and a half
ago. Democratic Senate leader Chuck Schumer wrote to the Director of
National Intelligence, Dan Coats, asking for an explanation, this was
almost two weeks ago now. We have been checking in every day to see if
there`s going to be any response to his questions, but still, there`s been
That said, put this in your calendar for tomorrow morning. Tomorrow,
senators will get to ask Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence,
and CIA Director Mike Pompeo in person about this and other matters. There
is going to be an open hearing n the Senate tomorrow with CIA Director
Pompeo, FBI director Chris Wray, and the Director of National Intelligence
It`s the worldwide threats hearing before the Senate Intelligence. It`s
going to happen tomorrow in open session.
Can I ask a question from the peanut gallery, please? Why did you guys all
meet with the Russian spy chiefs and why did we have to learn about it from
In the meantime, in the interest of re-establishing our sense of what is
normal, I have asked someone to be here tonight who may be able to shed
light on how unprecedented this all is. Joining us now is Mike McFaul.
He`s a former U.S. ambassador to Russia.
Mr. Ambassador, thank you very much for being with us tonight. It`s nice
to see you.
MIKE MCFAUL, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO RUSSIA: Sure. Thanks for having
me. Hope your question gets asked tomorrow.
MADDOW: Yes, because I just said it on TV, I`m sure it won`t.
MADDOW: But I have read, based on unnamed former officials, that it`s
really weird for all three Russian intelligence chiefs to be in Washington,
to be in the United States all at once, let alone for it to happen under
this cloud of secrecy. Is it – also seem to you that this is strange?
MCFAUL: Yes. Now, intelligence chiefs meet and travel from Moscow to
Washington all the time. When I was in Moscow, I had visitors like General
Flynn and Bob Mueller come in their previous jobs to meet with their
counterparts. So, that`s normal.
What is highly abnormal is for all three of them to come to Washington,
especially as you rightly pointed out, when one of them is on the sanctions
list. So, somebody went to a lot of trouble to organize that meeting, we
don`t know the agenda, we don`t know the substance, and, like you, I hope
somebody will ask some hard questions tomorrow about what that was.
MADDOW: On the specifics there, too, there is this interesting reporting,
there is three chiefs that came over, two of them we`re told at least had
meetings with Coats and Pompeo, but the head of the GRU, Russian military
intelligence, one of the agencies that led this attack against our
election, he was reportedly also here. And right now, I find it eerie that
we`ve got bragging from the Kremlin, bragging from Russia`s government that
he was here, but there`s no indication from our own government that he met
with any U.S. officials, nobody admits to taking any meetings with him. We
have no description or even where he traveled while he was here.
Obviously, the SVR guy, that`s an issue and a concern because of the
sanctions against him. With the GRU visit, that seems even more
MCFAUL: I couldn`t agree more. It`s very mysterious that we don`t know at
all what his agenda was. And just to underscore what you said earlier, the
GRU was part of the Russian government that violated our sovereignty in
2016, right? These are the guys that stole the data from the DNC and had a
massive effect on our presidential election.
So, for them to come and not have any agenda and any readout of what
happened with them is very strange. And to me, you know, deserves an
explanation about what is going on with the GRU being in the United States
MADDOW: Last question for you, Mr. Ambassador. I have been – I think I
might be the on person in America who is obsessed with this, but I can now
MCFAUL: I am, too.
MADDOW: OK, all right. Common cause.
MADDOW: I now count eight instances, and I think it`s all the instances
that we know of, where President Trump and President Putin had contact and
in every instance, we first learned about those contacts from the Russian
government. I don`t know if any other government that`s treated this way,
any other foreign leader that is treated that way, I wonder if you have any
understanding as to why that pattern might be now so solid, in terms of the
interactions between our president and theirs, and why the Kremlin and the
Russian government seems to have such glee at spreading this information
when American media and American government isn`t allowed to know it.
MCFAUL: It just makes no sense to me. Before I was in Moscow, I worked
three years at the White House at the National Security Council. My job
was to set up phone calls and write those readouts. Everybody knows it`s
going to be read out from the Kremlin, so, I really don`t understand just
the basic mechanics of why the White House somehow thinks that they can do
these calls and not talk about it.
I don`t know who is at fault there, but it makes us look silly. We use
these readouts, by the way, to advocate for our policies. We want to frame
the way that people like Rachel Maddow might be talking about the call, to
say that, for instance, President Trump expressed his concern about what
Russia is doing inside Ukraine, right? You can say that inside a
statement. Putin may not say that part. The fact they don`t take
advantage of it and play defense is surprising to me, and I just don`t
think it serves our own interest.
MADDOW: And, also, the matter of the timing, where they`re always telling
us first, is that something where there`s also a strategy around that, or
is that just – I mean, are we being nice to them by letting them announce
MCFAUL: I can tell you, when I was at the White House, we wanted to frame
the public discussion of these phone calls first. We always wanted to be
out front and we reached out to journalists to talk about them. I do not
understand what the tactical advantage is to waiting until the Kremlin
speaks first and we`re in the reactive mode. It just – it didn`t make
MADDOW: Mike McFaul, former U.S. ambassador to Russia – Mr. McFaul, thank
you for being here. It`s nice to see you.
MCFAUL: Yes. Thanks for having me.
MADDOW: See, it`s kind of nice. Sometimes I feel all alone and you talk
to somebody who is like, I`m obsessed with it, too.
We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: – President Trump installed to be a top official for conducting
the census is instead leaving the administration. So, yes, that`s another,
yet another senior Trump administration official who is leaving the
administration, we`re currently working on getting a bigger wall behind me
so I can continue to keep track of how many of them have left and we can
see them all on one screen. So far, we don`t have the appropriate font.
In this case, though, the thing you need to know about the census guy who`s
leaving is what he was famous before Trump named him to run the census was
this book, “Redistricting and Representation.” See the subhead there?
“Why Competitive Elections are Bad for America.”
Why competitive elections are bad for America. He was going to run the
Census, the Census, which is used to redistrict and set up re
representation to make sure that we have competitive elections in America.
So, he`s out. But he`s not the most interesting Trump administration
centrifugal force failure of the day. He`s not even probably not second
place. The best one is next. Stay with us.
MADDOW: In July in Canton, Mississippi, there was a traffic arrest that
ended up being a big embarrassment. Guy got pulled over for a seat belt
violation, they could see as he drove past that his seat belt wasn`t – I
never really get that.
Anyway, they pulled him over, no seatbelt. Police officers say they
detected a strong odor of marijuana. It started off as a seatbelt ticket,
ended up as a DUI and drug possession arrest.
The reason this was embarrassing is because the guy that got pulled over
wasn`t just your alleged pot smoking, no seat belt wearing weary commuter.
He was a police dispatch officer. And that, of course, is awkwardly close
to home for local law enforcement who made this arrest.
And so, they decided to call in professional public relations people to let
the public know what happened.
Took them a week and a half to release information about it. By the time
they did, they made sure the arrested guy had quit his police job so that
could be part of the story. They made a public statement about the
charges. They released the booking photo to the press and sort of
otherwise professionally handled it.
Well, that embarrassing seatbelt DUI drug possession arrest ends up not
just being embarrassing for local law enforcement in Madison County,
Mississippi. It ends up being a national embarrassment, because the PR
professional they called upon to manage press and public relations around
that arrest, at that moment, that guy running that little PR effort in
Mississippi, he was also supposed to be running a $1.7 billion federal
agency that is in charge of rail safety for our whole country.
Heath Hall was appointed last year by the president, the number two job at
the Federal Railroad Administration. He is the same Heath Hall who, during
his time in Washington, has been fielding press inquiries for Madison
County, Mississippi, law enforcement officials about embarrassing DUI
arrest and stuff.
Federal rail safety, obviously, a big worrying issue right now. There have
been four fatal Amtrak crashes just since December, including one that was
carrying all Republican members of Congress when it crashed into a dump
truck. The White House hasn`t been able to get their nominee to run that
rail safety agency through the Senate. So, there hasn`t been a confirmed
director for the agency for more than a year.
That left the deputy running the agency instead, as acting director. The
deputy is this guy, Heath Hall. He had once worked as an intern at the
rail agency, like when he was a kid, but other than that, he had no
expertise in rail safety whatsoever. He`s a political consultant and a PR
guy. That`s why he had a contract to be the public relations guy for a
sheriff`s department in Canton, Mississippi.
So, there`s one question as to how on earth he got the number two job in
rail safety for the federal government, especially because it resulted in
him having to be the director of that agency all year long when he has no
experience in the field whatsoever. But even if it did make sense to hire
him for this job in the first place, once he was in place at the agency, he
was definitely not supposed to keep his second job back home. Senior
government officials are not allowed to have second jobs.
Lauren Gardner has been on the show, this story at “Politico”. She`s the
one who broke this. Lauren Gardner reports that not only was this guy
working the second job the whole time he`s been responsible for running the
nation`s rail safety, staffers at the railway agency say one of the things
they`ve had to do with their jobs now is field public relations calls for
him, from his clients in Mississippi, because he`s still keeping that job
going on the side, with the help of your federal tax dollars, which are
paying for federal employees to help him out with his other business.
Most amazing part of this whole story is when “Politico” contacted the
government for government on this, the Transportation Department because
the railroad agency is within it, the Transportation Department`s response
was basically, no, he`s been doing what now? What is this?
This is the quote from the Transportation Department. Quote: We were
unaware of the information that`s being reported, but those allegations, if
they`re true, they`re troubling.
And here`s the next sentence. Quote: Heath Hall has resigned his position
at the department effective immediately.
So, happy infrastructure week from the Trump administration, where the
multibillion dollar agency for federal rail safety is being run by a former
intern with no experience or expertise in the field whatsoever, who was
also running a whole separate business in Mississippi which the
Transportation Department says they had no idea about even though their
employees were helping him run that second business on your tax dollars.
Happy infrastructure week from the Trump administration – where the phrase
only the best people has become a stomach churning insult.
That does it for us tonight. We`ll see you again tomorrow.
Now, it`s time for “THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL.”
Good evening, Lawrence.
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