Mueller indicts 13 Russians. TRANSCRIPT: 2/16/2018. The Rachel Maddow Show
Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW
Date: February 16, 2018
Guest: Joyce Vance, Mike McFaul
CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST, “ALL IN”: That is “ALL IN” for the hour.
THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right now. Good evening, Rachel.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Thanks, my friend. Much
HAYES: You bet.
MADDOW: Thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.
So I think the biggest thing that we learned today is that this guy has
quite a lot of rabbits stuffed into that hat. It`s always a surprise with
the special counsel. On day one, it`s not quite a surprise when the
special counsel Robert Mueller turned in his first multi-count felony
indictment against Paul Manafort. He had to pick a guy in the Trump
campaign orbit who might getting in trouble in the special counsel Russia
It wouldn`t be crazy to pick Paul Manafort. He was a really high-profile
figure. He`d been campaign chairman. He left the campaign over a cloud of
suspicion over his doings in the former Soviet Union.
And actually, we got some Paul Manafort news tonight. Mueller is actually
making new criminal charges against Paul Manafort just this evening on top
of everything else he`s doing. But even on that first day when the
criminal charges were unsealed against Paul Manafort, even that day there
was already a surprise from Paul Manafort because in addition to the
charges against Paul Manafort, hey, who is that guy?
Even now months later when we show file footage of this man Rick Gates,
people think we`re showing file footage of some random clip art model or
maybe he`s a cop or a bodyguard. Rick Gates, that was the surprise
indictment on day one from Robert Mueller in October. Nobody knew who Rick
Then the next time we heard from the special counsel, again, maybe nobody
was all that surprised to see Michael Flynn turn up in court since he, too,
had been very high profile and he, too, had had to bow out famously under a
cloud of suspicion and intrigue over his surreptitious contacts with the
Russian government. But even on the second of the indictment days, even
when they hauled in Flynn, again, there was a surprise from the special
counsel. Flynn`s guilty plea. Flynn is pleading guilty and he`ll be a
cooperating witness for the prosecution? That was definitely a surprise.
On that same day, surprise again because, hey, who is this guy? George
Papa – who is also pleading guilty? Who on god`s green earth is George
Not a high profile guy from the campaign. If George Papadopoulos and Rick
Gates were two guys out of three in a lineup, what are the odds you pick
either one of them out without a name tag?
There have been surprises from the very beginning. There is so much
attention, so much keen interest, so much intense reporting pressure on the
details of the Mueller investigation and it turns out they do not leak, and
we really have no idea ever what the special counsel is about to do in this
case next. And if you talk to anybody who tells you today that oh, yes,
they saw today`s indictment coming, they saw this indictment coming, they
saw this new guilty plea and cooperation agreement coming, they could have
told you this is happening before it happened, you should break up with
that person because that person lies to you.
There is nobody outside the special counsel`s office who knew before today
we were about to get what we got. We were about to get a guilty plea and
cooperation agreement from Richard Pinedo. He signs his name Ricky. But
that`s all we know.
His guilty plea is for identity fraud. He`s an American citizen. The
statement of the offense in his case spells out that he basically bought
and sold bank account numbers online. So people could set up fraudulent
payment accounts online under fake identities. His lawyer later in the day
put out a statement admitting the crime that his client had pled guilty to
but giving an apparently rushed explanation why his guilty plea isn`t as
bad as it sounds in this context.
He said, quote, Mr. Pinedo had absolutely no knowledge of the identities
and motivation of the purchasers of the information he provided. To the
extent that Mr. Pinedo`s actions assisted any individuals including foreign
nationals from interfering the American presidential election, was done
completely without his knowledge or understanding.
You know what he means even though the statement is a little screwed up.
Lawyers basically saying, hey, listen, my guy, he`s pleading guilty. My
guy just makes money online trafficking and identity theft but I swear, he
didn`t know he was helping the Russians attack us.
Richard Pinedo pleading guilty in cooperating with the special counsel now.
The major indictment unsealed today, though, against a whole bunch of
Russians makes it pretty clear how the Ricky Pinedo`s online trade and
stolen identities in fact really did help the Russians attack us. Whether
or not Mr. Pinedo knew that`s what was going to happen with the information
that he was selling. The Russians, according to the big indictment today,
they used stolen credit card numbers, stolen bank account numbers, stolen
identities, including from real Americans to open online accounts, online
payment accounts to facilitate the financial part of their attack, their
financial part of what Mueller and his team of prosecutors lay out today as
a large, well-coordinated, expensive, thorough operation to try to swing
the 2016 presidential election to Donald Trump.
So, why was this one American guy arrested and charged and flipped into a
cooperating witness n conjunction with this case today? Why did Mueller
bring these charges today against these 13 Russian individuals and the
Internet research agency they worked for in Russia and two of the companies
in Russia that were used to fund the operations of that Internet research
agency? I don`t know. I don`t know why this all happened today and
frankly, neither do you.
But there is a ton of new information that we just learned today from this,
yet another surprise move from the special counsel. So, we`ve been able to
surmise, just civilians watching this story, right, we`ve been able to
surmise from the beginning that there were three prongs to the Russian
attack. Three ways that they attacked us.
Number one, they attacked our actual election system. They hacked into the
voting roles in more than 20 states. Two, they attacked the Democratic
Party. They hacked into and stole documents and emails from the Clinton
campaign and DNC. And three, they attacked us, the public or at least they
targeted all of us.
When they decided that they wouldn`t just steal those Democratic documents
and use them for spying purposes, instead, they would turn them around and
release them back into the U.S. in a weaponized way to try to hurt our
perception of one side in the election. They targeted us with those
documents that they stole. They targeted us with propaganda. They
targeted us with considerable effort to manipulate the American social
media environment and all sorts of different online discussions about our
election, to try to change our perception of our own politics and political
Now, we`ve been able to see that from the outside and in terms of that
third prong of the Russian effort, the part where they were targeting we
the public, there is a lot of really good public reporting on how that last
part of the Russian attack played out. That`s how we know about the
Russians buying online ads to try to influence the election and the Russian
Twitter bots and the Russian fake Facebook groups and Russian fake online
personas that were designed to look American and they were designed to make
our political discourse even more toxic and extreme and polarizing than it
already is, and frankly, they were designed to boost Donald Trump`s chances
in the election and to weaken Hillary Clinton.
There has been – you`ve been hearing this story for the past year because
there`s been a bunch of really good journalism about those Russian efforts
in the past year. But that was just one prong of the three-pronged attack,
right? They attacked the election system. They attacked the Democrats and
they targeted the public against the other two prongs of that attack, they
are breaking into the DNC, breaking into the voter rolls, you know, who
would have thought the first part of this three-prong attack to result in
real criminal charges against Russians wouldn`t be hacking into the
Democratic Party, wouldn`t be hacking into state voter rolls, it would be
this third prong, the stuff they did to try to influence public opinion
I, at least, would not have predicted if there were going to be Russian
criminal charges here, criminal charges against Russian citizens. I
wouldn`t have predicted they would be for that part of the attack. But
now, they brought these criminal charges and thanks to this very detailed
indictment, we`ve got a ton of new information about exactly what the
special counsel believes Russia did and why the special counsel believes
it`s not just an American – not just America being victimized by a Russia
intelligence operation. Now, we`ve got all this detail why the special
counsel thinks that what Russia did in terms of targeting the U.S. public
is an actual crime.
Now, I have no idea how Mueller and his team got the kinds of documents
they got to put together this indictment. But they have got a lot of
primary source material. They have direct quotes from internal reviews
from inside this internet research agency from which the Russians were
running this campaign. This is a quote from the indictment.
Quote, on or about September 14th, 2016, in an internal review of an
organization-created and controlled Facebook group called Secure Borders,
the account specialist was criticized for having a quote, low number of
posts dedicated to criticizing Hillary Clinton. The specialist was told,
quote, it`s imperative to intensify criticizing Hillary Clinton in future
How did the Mueller team get that – those direct quotes from an internal
review about one of these Russian created Facebook groups? How did they
get that? They quote from internal documents saying that the goal for the
Russians setting up these fake American online personas was to create
leaders of public opinion in America quoting from the internal documents at
the Internet Research Agency. How did they get direct quotes and documents
like that out of this Russian operation inside Russia? How did they get
the exact internal structure of the Russian team that was working on the
operation to attack the U.S. election?
They got them all listed by job title, by their full names, by their rank
in the organization and who they reported to. They know the internal name
that the Russians were using for the U.S. election operation inside this
organization. They called it the Translator Project.
Special counsel also appears to have obtained personal e-mails, personal e-
mails from at least one individual Russian who they are charging today.
One individual Russian who they say was involved in the attack on our
election. Quote, defendants and their co-conspirators destroyed evidence
for the purpose of impeding the investigation. On or about September 13th,
2017, Viktorovna Kaverzina wrote in an e-mail to a family member: We had a
slight crisis here at work. The FBI busted our activity. Not a joke. So,
I got preoccupied with covering tracks together with the colleagues.
Kaverzina further wrote: I created all these pictures and posts and the
Americans believe that it was written by their people.
How did Mueller and his team get this kind of material? How did they even
get just the real names of all the people working inside this organization
in Russia, these people who have created these pictures and posts where the
Americans believed it was their own people? I mean, the whole part and
parcel of this attack was that they disguised their identities, they made
themselves appear as if they were operating from within the United States.
They covered their tracks, used false information and false identities in
order to cover their financial track. How did they get these people`s
individual e-mails, names and work products from inside this Russian
The indictment today claims that two of the named defendants Anna Bogacheva
and Alexandra Krylova traveled to the United States in person in 2014 to
collect intelligence for this operation.
The president today, President Trump today exclaimed about that date
because 2014 was before he had even declared that he was running for
president. The implication of his tweet today was that he should be seen
as in the clear. As he says at the end of his tweet there, no collusion
because the Russians started this operation even before he was technically
Well, if the indictment is correct, the Russians did start this operation
before he was technically running. Look at from another angle, you can say
they started their operation right after he returned from his trip to
Moscow in November 2013 for the Miss Universe pageant. I don`t know if
that`s relevant. I don`t know if this was pegged to when he was going to
start running or anything else about his relationships with Russia if
that`s at all relevant.
Honestly, in this indictment, if that`s what you`re looking for, you`re not
going to find it. There is nothing in this indictment either way when it
comes to the question of whether any Americans knowingly colluded with this
Russian operation. The indictment doesn`t make any allegations about that
What this indictment is, is a ton more information and serious criminal
charges concerning what the Russians did. And you can tell from the guilty
plea of the one American guy they charged today and you can tell from a lot
of the specificity in the indictment that parts of how they were able to
trace all of this was clearly money. I mean, the Russian operation paid
out a lot of money to do what they did. They paid for online ads that were
pro-Trump and anti-Clinton. The Russian operation paid for real, live
Americans who apparently didn`t know they were participating in a Russian
op. They paid Americans to set up pro-Trump and anti-Clinton rallies.
They paid to buy supplies for protests and marches.
They paid for – well, on more than one occasion, this unusual thing,
quote, on or about August 18th, 2016, defendants and their co-conspirators
sent money via interstate wire to a real U.S. person recruited by the
organization using one of their false U.S. persona. They sent this money
to a real U.S. person to, quote, build a cage large enough to hold an
actress depicting Hillary Clinton in a prison uniform.
Elsewhere in the indictment, quote, for example defendants and co-
conspirators asked one U.S. person to build a cage on a flatbed truck and
another U.S. person to wear a costume portraying Hillary Clinton in a
uniform. Defendants and their co-conspirators paid these individuals to
complete the requests.
Now, it`s amazing thing to know that that kind of anti-Hillary Clinton prop
was a Kremlin-funded operation on an American street. But it also looks
like the payment trail there is one that was found and followed by the
special counsel and his prosecutors. And so, now, we`ve got these criminal
charges against 13 different Russians and the Russian Internet Research
Agency, the troll farm, and two Russian organizations used as funding
sources for that op.
And in addition to these charges, we`ve got chapter and verse, not just on
the Russian game plan but how it can be charged as a criminal matter in
U.S. federal court. By not reporting these expenditures to election
authorities, by making illegal expenditures as foreigners trying to
influence our election, by obtaining visas to visit the U.S. under false
pretenses. Those are crimes. Those are alleged crimes now in this
So, they are saying this isn`t just something the Russians did which we
should see in a spy versus spy context, what the Russians did was a
criminal conspiracy that involved a number of chargeable criminal acts they
believe they can prove in court. Totally new advance in this special
counsel investigation and it brings me to some questions.
Question one, how did they get all this stuff? Question two, I thought, I
mentioned this a moment ago, I thought if they were going to bring criminal
charges against any Russians, it would be for hacking into the Democrats`
computers or maybe for hacking into state voter roles. Given that those
things are not in this indictment at all, should we expect those things
won`t be charged or should we expect more Russians will be criminally
indicted for the hacking attacks, as well?
Third question, the indictment says a number of times that there are other
people associated with the conspiracy who aren`t named in the indictment.
Like this – quote, from in or and around 2014 to the present, defendants
knowingly and intentionally conspired with each other and with persons
known and unknown to the grand jury to defraud the United States by
impairing, obstructing and defeating the lawful functions of the government
through fraud and deceit for the purpose of interfering with the U.S.
political and electoral processes, including the presidential election of
2016. Defendants knowingly and intentionally conspired with each other and
with persons known and unknown to the grand jury.
Who are these persons known and unknown? Especially who are these persons
known to the grand jury who conspired with defendants? And if the grand
jury knows who they are and the government knows that they conspired with
the defendants, why aren`t those other people in the indictment? And are
those people going to turn out to be Russians or Americans?
And that brings me to my big question here, that brings me to the reason I
cancelled my day off today in the middle of my day off today and veered off
the highway and drove to the studio instead of taking Susan away for a nice
long weekend like I was planning to today. I`m sorry, honey.
Here is my question and why I`m here tonight: why bring charges like this
against a bunch of Russian people who, frankly, you`re not going to get
into a courtroom? Why do that? And why do it now?
Legally, if in the future you`re going to charge other people, you`re maybe
going to charge Americans with being part of this operation as a criminal
conspiracy, does it help the prosecutor to have initially charged the
conspiracy as a crime, to be laying down a law that there was a crime here
in the first place. If you`re going to charge other people with conspiring
in a crime later, does it help to have charged this as a crime in the first
That is actually a question I think we can get answered here tonight and
that`s why I cancelled my day off. But I will just say one other think
before we bring on the experts that can answer some of this stuff, there
has been and this is just my observation, I feel like there has been a
bunch of stern finger wagging today that this indictment shows that we
Americans should be more careful who we pay attention to online, that we
should take care to not be duped by foreign operations like this.
What this indictment actually shows if anything, was that this foreign
operation wasn`t some practical joke. This wasn`t a crank call. This
wasn`t a lark. This was a Russian intelligence operation. This was a
Russian intelligence at its most ambitious.
This was expensive. In the indictment today, they say that the budget for
this was more than a million dollars a month.
It was expensive. It was extensive. It was well thought out. It was run
by professionals and it was effective.
And so, yes, we need to harden ourselves as our own professionals, we need
the full force of the U.S. government going after these guys to protect us
against operations like this, to catch them when they do it, to stop them
when they mount operations like this that target the American public so
aggressively. I mean, this indictment today was a surprise in so many ways
just like all the other indictment days have had their surprises.
But the biggest surprise that I had after covering this story so closely
for this whole freaking year now, the surprise for me personally was that
hearing these charges and hearing what they were charging the Russians for,
it was the first time that I felt like finally, finally for the first time
since we realized this was happening, finally, it feels like someone is
defending us and going after them. And taking seriously what they did and
showing not incidentally, showing what this adversary is designed for and
capable of and still working on for our election this year.
Finally, somebody is defending us and taking it seriously and doing
something about it. That alone for me today is the biggest shock.
MADDOW: Even as we`re trying to digest this indictment from the special
counsel of 13 citizens and three Russian companies for what is now a very
well-spelled out series of allegations from the special counsel about the
Russian campaign to interfere in our election in 2016, even as we are
absorbing this big new indictment and the story that it tells, we`ve got
new breaking news tonight from one of the special counsel`s other
indictments. This has just happened.
Ever since former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort was indicted in
October on multiple charges including money laundering, his legal team and
special counsel`s office have been locked in ongoing wrangling about
basically his release package. His bail package and the terms of his house
arrest that are keeping him from being held in jail awaiting trial. Paul
Manafort has never been fully released from house arrest. The Mueller team
has not been satisfied with he has put up as security for the $10 million
bond the prosecutors are demanding for him to be let out.
They have gone back and forth on this for awhile. I mean, the basic idea
of the bond is you have to put up $10 million so if you run to evade
prosecution to skip out on your trial, we get to collect $10 million from
your life here and from your loved ones and from your – from everybody
that knows you. That`s the basic idea.
But honestly, the fighting over it is a little boring. It`s hard to follow
what they are fighting about and whether or not he can be released to go to
the gym, and, you know, whether he`s wearing an ankle bracelet and the rest
of it. It`s all these little details. It`s been a little boring. There`s
been a lot of it.
All of a sudden, tonight, it is not boring at all anymore because tonight
the special counsel`s team filed with the court what looked at first to be
their latest ping-pong response to Manafort on that issue, they`re laying
out the reasons they find their latest bail offer insufficient. But then
on page three of what they filed tonight, something very new and surprising
pops up. They are basically making new criminal charges against him or at
least describing them.
Quote: Further, the proposed package is deficient in the government`s view
in light of additional criminal conduct that we have learned since the
court`s initial bail determination. That criminal conduct includes a
series of bank frauds and bank fraud conspiracies, including criminal
conduct relating to the mortgage on Manafort`s property in Virginia, which
is part of the subject of the bail discussion.
Quote: The government has secured substantial evidence that Manafort
secured this mortgage from the Federal Savings Bank through a series of
false and fraud representations to the Federal Savings Bank. For example,
Manafort provided the bank with doctored profit and loss statements from
his company overstating his income by millions of dollars. At the next
bail hearing, we can proffer to the court additional evidence related to
this and the other bank frauds and conspiracies which the court may find
relevant to the bail risk posed by Manafort, as well as the risk that the
banks may foreclose on the real estate being proposed by Manafort to secure
his release. Respectfully submitted, Robert S. Mueller III, special
Now, that`s dramatic. It`s not clear from this filing whether Robert
Mueller intends to charge Paul Manafort in connection with these newly
discovered bank frauds and bank fraud conspiracies or if he`s just letting
us know that he knows about them, but this is an unsealed filing just
dropped tonight. Tonight. This comes after today`s special counsel
indictment of the 13 Russians.
Why are they unveiling new charges against Paul Manafort tonight? Why is
this all happening at once?
Joining us now is Joyce Vance, former U.S. attorney for the northern
district of Alabama.
Joyce, this is a lot to absorb. Thank you for helping us understand it.
JOYCE VANCE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: Sure, happy to be here with you.
MADDOW: I`m going to tell you right now that I`m going to stay after we
take a break because I want to talk to you more broadly about what we
learned from the Russia conspiracy indictment that we got today. There is
so much in it.
I first though want to ask you about this breaking news. I was not
expecting to see that we were getting not exactly new charges but
allegations of new criminal conduct against Paul Manafort from Robert
Mueller tonight. What do you make of this including the timing?
VANCE: It`s awfully interesting. I think one possible conclusion is that
this means that Mueller has concluded a plea deal with Gates and that Gates
is giving them new information. But it`s also real interesting because it
could be a prelude to Mueller seeking permission from the court to no
longer permit Manafort to stay out on bond and instead requiring him to be
held in custody pending trial. That could be interesting. It would
certainly mean that they meant business about the Manafort trial at this
MADDOW: Now, they don`t – as far as I can tell, even though – and again,
I`m not a lawyer. I look at the way this is described to the judge. This
seems like a fairly detailed threat of further charges to Robert Mueller
but this doesn`t actually represent the government, the special counsel`s
office bringing charges. I look at the way this is described to the judge.
This seems like a fairly detailed threat of further charges to Robert
Mueller but this doesn`t actually represent the government, the special
counsel`s office bringing these charges.
It`s just sort of alerting the court they may be brought in the future?
VANCE: That`s exactly right and because it goes to whether or not Manafort
has been honest with the court and forthcoming, about conditions that would
secure his release, it suggests that they are thinking about the judge
taking him into custody pending trial.
MADDOW: Wow. Well, CNN had that bombshell report yesterday that Rick
Gates was in fact pursuing a cooperation agreement and a plea deal if what
you say is correct, that this might be a sign that has been fruitful
already. If this means they`re going to try to put Paul Manafort to be
held – to change his life dramatically so he`ll be held in jail instead of
a house arrest, this is really turning the screws.
Joyce, as I promised, I would love to hold you over if you don`t mind. I
have a lot to talk with you about this Russian indictment. Thank you for
being with us tonight. Can you stay with us?
MADDOW: All right. We`ll be right back with Joyce Vance. Stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLPI)
REPORTER: Have you had any assurances from the Russians that they will
provide these individuals for prosecution?
ROD ROSENSTEIN, DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL: No communications with the
Russians about this. We`ll follow the ordinary process of seeking
cooperation and extradition. Thank you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein today talking about the
normal process of seeking cooperation and extradition with the Russians now
that 13 Russian citizens and three Russian organizations have been
criminally charged in the United States. The normal process, the ordinary
process means that those Russians will never ever see the inside of a U.S.
courtroom, raising the question of what the strategy is for bringing these
criminal charges against them today in this time and in this way.
Joining us once again is Joyce Vance, former U.S. attorney for the northern
district of Alabama.
Joyce, let me just get your top line reaction to this indictment.
Obviously, we had two things happen today in that courtroom. We had an
American citizen plead guilty and announced cooperation with the special
counsel after apparently having marketed bank account numbers and other
false identity documents online that were then used by the Russians.
And then we`ve got this big indictment of Russians who presumably will
never, ever face U.S. justice.
VANCE: That seems like a safe assumption here. It will be difficult, if
not impossible, to get them to the United States for trial. And, as you
say, this indictment is more of a novel than a Spartan indictment that
we`ve come to expect.
So, that makes you ask the question, who is this intended for? And that I
think is an interesting question here. It certainly will socialize the
American public to the idea that there was in fact Russian interference in
MADDOW: And that that Russian interference was a criminal matter, it
wasn`t just some sort of strategic standoff between adversaries and as a
form of international relations. Defining this as criminal conduct to me
was a surprise. I thought if any Russians would get charged here, it might
be for some of the hacking, sort of digital breaking and entering that
we`ve had described both towards the Democrats and state election roles.
But then I started wondering if as a legal matter, just as a legal
strategy, if it makes sense to define this as a crime so overtly in part
because you plan down the road to charge other people with conspiracy for
having participated in this criminal conspiracy maybe it helps, seen as
laying down a predicate in terms of preparing people for the fact that this
was a criminal act and anybody involved in it also participated in a crime?
VANCE: You know, I guess that`s a possibility but I would think that that
would be more of a byproduct of this indictment than its intent because the
core crime is it`s illegal for a foreigner to influence an American
election. I had always thought we might see Russians indicted but I really
expected we would see them indicted along with American counterparts.
So this is a little bit of a curiosity. It does have this impact of
clarifying for us that Mueller believes that this is an election-based
crime although there is a wire fraud and a banking fraud charge in here.
We`ve also got this aggravated ID theft charge that comes to light, but it
does definitely hint that there could be Americans down the road. We know
that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein was awfully careful today in
the press conference and indictment as of today does not involve Americans.
And we also there are unindicted co-conspirators who are included in what
the grand jury consider.
MADDOW: And is that normal to say that there were – defendants knowingly
and intentionally conspired with each together and with persons known and
unknown to the grand jury. If they knowingly conspired with persons known
to the grand jury, why aren`t those persons named in the indictment and
VANCE: So, that`s pretty typical language that prosecutors use. Sometimes
it means that for whatever reason, those co-conspirators will never be
indicted. Perhaps there is a failure of evidence. Perhaps they are
cooperating with the investigation and they`ll be charged by information
down the road.
But one thing that`s clear is that even though we don`t know who those
unindicted co-conspirators are, they know exactly who they are and this
could be Mueller signaling to them that it`s time to come in and cooperate
if they ever intend to.
MADDOW: Joyce Vance, former U.S. attorney from the great state of Alabama
– Joyce, clear and chilling, as always. Thank you. Really good to have
MADDOW: All right. Lots more questions and apparently news that continues
to develop over the course of this evening.
Stay with us. We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: The former U.S. ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul, right now is
at the Munich Security Conference. This is a big annual security
conference. It`s like Davos for security.
We asked him to stay up until 3:30 in the morning and join us on the
sidelines of the conference even though H.R. McMaster is going to be there
tomorrow. He has a lot of stuff he needs to be doing. We asked him to
join us live in the middle of the night because we`re absorbing the fact
that the special counsel has just brought criminal charges against 13
Russians today. We`re trying to figure out exactly what the strategy was
criminally and politically behind that.
But the only person I know to ask about how Russia might react to 13 of
their citizens being charged today in the special counsel`s investigation,
the only person I know to ask who I would absolutely trust his answer is
Mike McFaul and so he joins us now live from Munich.
Mr. Ambassador, it is really, really beyond the call of duty for you to do
this for us, but thank you for joining us tonight.
MIKE MCFAUL, FORMER U.S. AMBASSAOR TO RUSSIA: Glad to be here, Rachel, I
just got here yesterday so I`m still on California time. Good to be with
MADDOW: Oh, excellent. Good. We`ll keep you up for a few hours then.
MCFAUL: All right.
MADDOW: How do you think Russia would react to this indictment today?
Thirteen Russian citizens indicted. Nobody believes that the U.S. will
have an easy time getting them into any American courtroom maybe ever. But
how do you think Russia will respond to this?
MCFAUL: Well, yes, it`s going to be hard to get them to have Putin send
them to America but I think this is a pretty big deterrent effect for a
couple reasons. Number one, they are not going to be sent by the Russian
government but if they show up in London, if they are on the French
Riviera, if they`re anywhere that they want to go where we have closer ties
with those countries, they`re going to have real problems.
So, that`s a big deterrent. Their lives have just changed as a result of
And number two, what`s in my opinion very important that this document does
is it criminalizes this behavior in terms of interaction on – in our
elections, right, with bots, with buying ads, all these things that are
somewhat ambiguous in terms of our laws. Mr. Mueller has made it very
clear that these are breaking a law, and I think that will deter Russia
from doing this in the future.
MADDOW: Now, there aren`t people charged here who appear to be direct
employees of the Russian government, or at least it`s not clear. There`s
an agency that is charged. This sort of Internet Research Agency, which is
run by a close ally of Vladimir Putin. There are two other organizations
that are charged, which are business interests, which appeared to have been
funding sources for this agency.
And then there`s all these people who are charged, both that oligarch who
runs that agency and then another – a number of people who appear to have
been directly involved in the operation.
Does this, when you look at this indictment, does it look like a Russian
government, Russian intelligence operation or is something – something
hybrid, something particularly Russian? How should we see this?
MCFAUL: Well, everything in Russia is hybrid, right? They are cutouts and
ways that they can deny it and, of course, Mr. Putin and the Kremlin are
going to deny that they had anything to do with this.
But to me, I know this organization well. I know the leader of it very
well. He`s a very close confident to Vladimir Putin. He`s in the inner
And there is just no way that they would undertake such an audacious
operation inside the United States of America without getting approval from
the Kremlin and without getting approval from Vladimir Putin. I mean,
think about even our democratic society that`s highly decentralized. Can
you imagine some American entity doing this inside Russia without talking
to the White House? It`s just inconceivable to me that this was not green
lighted by the Kremlin.
MADDOW: Were you surprised by the scale of what they did, by the number of
different type the of operations that were described, the way in which they
were organized, the amount of money that was spent, the sort of way they
adapted tactics, depending on how they thought they were doing? Were you
surprised at the extent of it?
MCFAUL: I was to be honest with you. You and I have followed this for a
long time. Remember, Rachel, last week, you said is anybody else really
thinking about this Russia thing anymore? I think a lot of people are
thinking about it today. But even for me, the scale of what they did and
the various ways that they did it, I think were quite incredible.
But it`s also quite incredible that we discovered it all and I think we
should give a nod to Mr. Mueller and to the intelligence agencies because
I`m sure it was multiple that discovered what was going on. That`s really
good sign for our intelligence community.
MADDOW: Mike McFaul, former U.S. ambassador to Russia, Munich night owl
for us tonight. Again, sir, sorry to disturb your sleep first night there.
Thank you for joining us on short notice. Really appreciate it.
MCFAUL: All right. Thanks for having me.
MADDOW: We`re going to be joined next by a former special FBI agent who
was one of the first people to warn about what this indictment says
actually happened to our election and he warned about it in eerily
prescient detail months before any of the rest of us knew. He`s here next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CLINT WATTS, FORMER FBI SPECIAL AGENT: –hypothesis working in the
intelligence field is that there is some sort of Russian intel asset that
is funding them in one way or another through some sort of scheme. The one
thing that`s been misconstrued in the public discussion about Russian
influence is that it`s covert. You can hack stuff and be covert but you
can`t influence and be covert, you have to ultimately show your hand.
That`s why we`ve been able to discovery it online.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That was almost a year ago. March 2017, the Senate Intelligence
Committee held its first open hearing, one of its only open hearings as it
turns on Russia`s attack on our presidential election. One witness, former
FBI special agent and counterterrorism expert spoke so bluntly and we know
so presciently about what the contours of the Russian attack likely were,
got us wondering how Clint Watts saw this so clearly before the rest of us
did, particularly before we got this indictment today spelling out a
scenario for this Russian attack that almost exactly matches up to what he
said had likely happened almost a year ago.
Joining us now Clinton Watts, the man behind that warning, former FBI
Mr. Watts, thank you for being with us and thanks from trying to let us
know earlier than anybody else did.
WATTS: Yes, it`s been an interesting journey. It was hard to convince
people four years ago when we got started on this.
MADDOW: When you read the indictment today and there were so many things
about – that matched up with basically what you had described, what you`d
seen trails of online, what you surmised about how they might be being
controlled or coordinated within Russia, did you see anything in the
indictment that was truly a surprise or that made you think this was bigger
or different than you expected?
WATTS: There was only one thing. I mean, it was highly consistent with
what we saw. We started tracking them in 2014 and the reason we knew it
was connected to Russia is because they initially came to us in dialogue
So they would troll me about Syria. We would watch them over time. And
they kept shifting to pro-Russian positions until they descended on the
U.S. debate. And that was the end of 2014, they started talking about
social issues like you saw in the indictment.
The only real surprise that came through from the indictment that I didn`t
know about was the level of technical signature building they were doing to
mask themselves as looking like Americans. So, it`s one thing to make fake
accounts that look and talk like Americans, but it`s something different to
set up a VPN, a virtual network in the U.S. such that if you did just
rudimentary tracking, it would still look American. I think that`s one
thing that`s key is they actually sent people to do reconnaissance in
America and they set up technical apparatus in America to make it look
authentic. I thought that was a key revelation today.
MADDOW: Those in-person visits in 2014, there`s one spelled out in a lot
of detail, we get the two named Russian defendants who were described as
coming here to specific time about a three to four week period in the
summer of 2014, there`s also a reference to another in person visit by
another unnamed person in the indictment. And that`s described as
We had a list of states that those people – those defendants supposedly
visited. Do you have any sense of what kind of intelligence gathering that
might have been?
WATTS: What I imagine they were trying to do was a couple different
things, which I think is important to note in the indictment. One, they
took about personally identifiable information, which is called PPI, which
they used to make actual credit cards and accounts and set up payment
systems. So, they wanted to pay people for doing things. To do that and
to make it fluid, you would think, you can do that online but it`s a lot
easier if you do in-depth reconnaissance inside the states or maybe
purchases that way.
The other thing is setting up the infrastructure of where do we have our
servers at so it looks real. And the third step would probably be trying
to get a landscape and try and understand what the election was going to
look like in 2014, going into 2015. So, what does it feel like on the
ground? That`s what we would do in intelligence operations.
MADDOW: Do you think some of the financial building that you described is
how it was unraveled by the FBI and by the other intelligence agencies that
may have fed into this indictment today?
WATTS: Yes, it`s the key. I mean, you can see the influence online with
these fake social media accounts, but it`s always very tough to verify.
This account actually comes from the troll farm, but what does allow that
is when they make purchases and transaction. And that`s why when Facebook
revelation last October, when they came forward and said, we`ve actually
tracked these back to the Internet Research Agency, that was essential
because money transfers really nail it down as to who the real identities
are behind it.
It`s always why it`s more difficult to track to Twitter. I think it`s
easier to go to Facebook first and tracks Twitter, because on Twitter,
you`re not really making purchases and you don`t have to register the same
way to prove your actual authenticity as a person with those accounts. So,
I think it`s super important that the financial backbone is probably
brought this down and makes it so definitive.
MADDOW: Yes, and makes it all – I think it gives us a clearer sense, even
at a gut level, of how additional charges or at least clarification might
come to us if we can follow the financial and digital trails.
WATTS: Right. I think another key thing is that, just when I read the
indictment, it makes me think that they have interviewed somebody that`s
been there, they have someone on the inside or they have a really good
witness that has gotten some sort of fantastic, technical collection and
some sort of budget or manuscript which allows them to understand how that
place was operating because it was a very detailed indictment.
MADDOW: Very detailed. Yes, knowing what their monthly budget was by
September 2016 was just remarkable.
Clint Watts, a former FBI special agent, and a prescient learner for the
nation on this. Thanks for joining us tonight and thanks from your
WATTS: Thank you.
MADDOW: I want to bring into the conversation my friend Michael Beschloss,
NBC News presidential historian.
Michael, I feel like I don`t just want to talk to you tonight, I feel like
I need to.
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS, NBC NEWS PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Thank you, Rachel.
Pleasure to be with you always.
MADDOW: Has there ever been – what we got today from this indictment is a
very detailed, sort of lurid description at length with lots of details of
a foreign intelligence operation that targeted the U.S. public on a large
scale with large stakes. Has there ever been a foreign intelligence
operation that affected the U.S. public and U.S. politics in this way?
BESCHLOSS: Well, I think what we saw today, Rachel, really took a step
toward the possibility that this is the biggest covert operation – covert
action operation against American interests that we may have ever seen.
You know, it`s going to take a while to find out. But, you know, this is
something that undermined faith in our democracy, pitted groups against
each other, and maybe, we may know soon, may have decided who was the
president of the United States.
When you`ve got an election that was decided by 77,000 voters in three
states almost anything can affect it.
MADDOW: You talked in the past how previous presidents have worried about
whether or not Russia or other adversary nations were taking covert action
because you – I`ve heard you talk about presidents worrying about that,
not just because of the direct effect of a foreign covert action against
us, but because of the expectation that the United States government,
United States military would have to hit back so hard against something
like that that it might bring us to the brink of a real war.
BESCHLOSS: That`s absolutely true. And the biggest case of that was 1963
when John Kennedy was assassinated and a lot of people said maybe the
Russians were behind this. Oswald, the accused assassin, had been to
Russia, he had defected, came back, married the niece of a Soviet
And the person most worried was Lyndon Johnson, the new president, because
he knew if Americans thought the Russians were behind the killing of our
president and a change of power, there might be a huge demand among
Americans to retaliate against the Soviet Union in a way that might lead
quickly to nuclear war. And that`s one of the reasons LBJ did the Warren
Commission. He went to the chief justice and said, I hope you`ll find a
verdict that will resolve suspicions like this.
MADDOW: Which even in – even in its narrative explains the seriousness of
this kind of attack, historically how the United States would have reacted
potentially in extremis to something targeting the U.S. public like this,
this kind of major covert action. The contrast of what`s happening now is
BESCHLOSS: Well, you got President Trump today, didn`t respond, didn`t say
how he would protect us.
MADDOW: That`s why I wanted to talk to you, my friend. Michael Beschloss,
thank you for being here. It`s nice to se you.
BESCHLOSS: Be well. Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: It was a remarkable day of revelations from the special counsel`s
office. I will underscore the breaking news that happened during our hour
that in addition to this indictment against 13 Russians being unsealed
today, the government appears to be signaling criminal charges or at least
new criminal allegations against Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort. We
don`t know yet know what to make of that, but that just happened tonight.
See you again on Monday.
Now, it`s time for “THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL.”
Good evening, Lawrence.
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