Gulf nations cut ties with Qatar. TRANSCRIPT: 03/21/2018. The Rachel Maddow Show.
Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW
Date: March 21, 2018
Guest: Mark Mazzetti, Sarah Chadwick, Jaclyn Corin, Emma Gonzalez
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Thanks to you at home for joining us this hour
Not long after the United States was attacked by al Qaeda on 9/11, the
United States did something that was actually one of al Qaeda`s most
specific complaints and demands about the U.S. government. Less than two
years after 9/11, the U.S. government pulled American troops and American
bases out of Saudi Arabia.
And it is an awkward thing in U.S. foreign policy that hasn`t get talked
about all that loudly. People who are part of the George W. Bush
administration or supporters of that administration particularly don`t like
to talk about the fact that after 9/11, bin Laden got the most specific
item on his list of grievances against the United States, got it checked
off the list by the George W. Bush administration. It`s awkward, but that
that is what happened.
I mean, back during the First Gulf War, when George W. Bush`s dad was
president, over half a million American troops, over half a million
coalition troops had been – had been based in Saudi Arabia. Saudi bases
were the launching pad for attacks to defend Kuwait against the forces of
After the first Gulf War was over, thousands of U.S. troops stayed on those
Saudi bases thereafter. But in 2003, less than two years after 9/11, Saudi
government asked and the U.S. government acceded and the U.S. government
pulled out of Saudi Arabia, gave up those bases, handed over the keys to
the Prince Sultan Air Base, that base that had hosted tens, even hundreds
of thousands of U.S. troops.
Where the United States decided to move its big new permanent airbase in
that part of the world was out of Saudi Arabia after 9/11 and instead into
the nation of Qatar. The Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar is now the home of
CentCom. That`s where U.S. Central Command is based. There are thousands
of U.S. troops there at any one time.
And Al Udeid is not in a war zone, but this is the permanent site of U.S.
military headquarters for the Middle East, Qatar.
Qatar is a small country. It`s a very rich country and for years now, it
has been home to this incredibly important strategic U.S. military
headquarters, not just a base, a headquarters.
And since the Trump administration has been in office, one of the unusual
and as yet unexplained U-turns taken by this administration and this
president in particular has to do with Qatar, almost on a dime basically
with no warning, the Trump administration decided that they were going to
take a remarkably hostile turn against this country where we`ve got this
giant base. They were going to take this sudden dramatic non-previewed
surprise turn against Qatar.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LESTER HOLT, NBC NEWS ANCHOR: We turn now to the diplomatic crisis
erupting in the Middle East. Five nations cutting ties with Qatar accusing
that country of supporting terror. And though Qatar is a key U.S. ally in
the fight against ISIS, today, President Trump appeared to side with its
We get more from NBC News chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea
ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Tonight,
only weeks after the president heralded his success at uniting the Arab
world in Saudi Arabia, a growing diplomatic crisis among those same Arab
leaders. Back then, the president lavishly praising the emir of Qatar.
But today, the president turning against him, praising the Saudis who in a
sudden move are leading an Arab coalition cutting off Qatar by air and sea,
including no commercial flights. The Saudis claim Qatar supports Islamic
extremists, which Qatar strongly denies.
The president today siding with the Saudis. The crisis critical to the
U.S. Qatar, home to a key U.S. base with 8,000 U.S. service members,
flying airstrikes against ISIS and missions in Afghanistan.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: What was not just unexpected but a little weird about that hard
turn by the president against Qatar was that it sort of felt like it came
out of nowhere not just for those of us observing from the outside, but
even from inside the U.S. government. I mean, it was the policy of the
U.S. government to oppose that blockade of Qatar.
Rex Tillerson, the secretary of state, had publicly stated the U.S. was
against that blockade on Qatar. Rex Tillerson had called for the countries
that were blockading Qatar that they shouldn`t do it, but the president
just blew that up. It was a surprise to people outside the administration.
It was a surprise to people inside the administration.
This is a dramatic “Associated Press” report about what happened at the
time. Quote: Aides to President Donald Trump were in deep talks about how
to defuse tensions between Qatar and other Arab nations, when the door to
the secure room at the White House burst open. The urgent message: Trump
had just tweeted about Qatar.
One advisor read the tweet aloud and with that, the policymakers in mid-
conference call had no other choice but to rework their plans, to reflect
the president`s tweeted assertion that Qatar, host to some 11,000 U.S.
troops, was funding terrorism. It was an accusation against a close U.S.
ally that had never been voiced so publicly and with such indelicacy.
So, whether or not you care about American policy toward various Middle
Eastern countries and who we side with and who we side against, this was
just a strange moment in Trump administration year one. What was all that
about? What was that big, fast, abrupt turn against Qatar?
We`ve got this base in Qatar. It`s U.S. policy to support Qatar. It`s a
U.S. policy specifically to try to hold off other countries that are giving
Qatar a hard time. And then the president just do-whoop, 180, out of the
blue, hostile turn. Now, we`re going to support this blockade by Saudi
Arabia and UAE against Qatar.
Why was that?
Any number of possibilities have since emerged. It has since emerged for
example that Jared Kushner`s family real estate company had repeatedly
approached Qatar to try to get hundreds of millions of dollars out of them
as financing for the Kushner family real estate business. One approach
which the Kushner`s reportedly worked on for a couple of years was to a
former prime minister of Qatar, and they thought they were going to get
They reportedly thought they were going to get a half billion dollars from
this former Qatari prime minister. But those talks fell early last year
and the former prime minister said no.
President Trump`s friend, Tom Barrack, was reportedly familiar with some of
those negotiations. He`s since said publicly that Jared`s dad, Charles
Kushner, was, quote, crushed when the Qatari former prime minister turned
down that request for funds. They thought that was going to be a half
billion dollars and then it was nothing.
The Website “The Intercept” then reported on a second meeting after the
inauguration April 2017, once again between Jared`s dad and the Qataris,
but this time it was with the serving finance minister of Qatar. “The
Intercept`s” reporting was that Jared`s dad Charles Kushner had again asked
for a big Qatari investment in Kushner family real estate, hundreds of
millions of dollars and “The Intercept” reported that the Qataris again
said no, turned Kushner down.
Interesting, Charles Kushner just confirmed two days ago to “The Washington
Post” that, in fact, that meeting in April 2017 between him and the Qatari
finance minister, he just confirmed for the first time that that meeting
did actually take place. But he has a different explanation for why that
meeting happened and what it was all about. He`s now telling “The
Washington Post” that he didn`t go to that meeting to ask the Qataris for
money. He went to that meeting to turn them down when they were trying to
give him money and he didn`t want it.
Quoting from “The Washington Post” two days ago, Jared Kushner`s father
Charles Kushner met with Qatar`s finance minister three months after
President Trump`s inauguration. A meeting at the St. Regis Hotel in New
York City, at which funding for a financially troubled Kushner family real
estate project was discussed. However, Charles Kushner said he turned down
He told “The Post”, quote: Even if they were they`re ready to wire the
money, we wouldn`t have taken it.
It seems a little – is awkward the right word? Kushner Companies would
spend a couple of years trying to get millions of dollars out of Qatar
being crushed when they`ve been turned down and then a couple months later,
Qatar`s ready to offer them more money and the Kushner Companies takes the
meeting just to say no, we don`t want it, we don`t need it.
It`s like – it seems a little – seemed strange. But that`s their line.
They`re sticking to it and, you know, it is bizarre to have to consider the
family real estate interests of a White House adviser when you`re trying to
figure out weird American foreign policy decisions.
But these are the times we`re in now. We are in incredibly unusual times
and there is incredible practical overlap between the Kushner family
business and their efforts to secure foreign financing for their New York
City real estate holdings, right? There`s incredible overlap between that,
an ongoing international effort, and the countries that Jared Kushner has
been dealing with in a foreign policy capacity since he became a White
Because of that overlap, it – however crazy it feels to talk about it,
it`s impossible to dismiss out of hand the prospect that maybe the reason
the U.S. government took this radical and sudden unexplained turn against
Qatar, it`s because Qatar wouldn`t give Jared`s family any money when they
asked for it and they wanted it. They thought they were going to get it
and then they said no, and then Jared and his family are mad at Qatar and
so, then it`s U.S. policy and all of a sudden be against Qatar? It`s
impossible but that`s what happened.
I mean, maybe that`s one possibility. Maybe that is one potential
explanation. If that`s true, that would be an explanation about money that
people inside the Trump administration reportedly wanted but they were
denied. Well, now, tonight, there is another potential explanation from
reporters David Kirkpatrick and Mark Mazzetti in “The New York Times”
tonight, and that explanation is not about money being denied to people in
the White House. It`s about money flowing into the White House, foreign
money flowing in, in great quantities.
And this new reporting from “The Times” derives from the Robert Mueller
investigation. Just a couple of weeks ago, we got these seemingly out of
the blue new reports about a new cooperating witness in the Mueller
investigation. This was also Mazzetti and Kirkpatrick`s reporting. They
introduced America to a new guy, a new figure in the Mueller investigation
whose name hadn`t been widely previously known – George Nader.
But in the ensuing couple of weeks since George Nader first got his name in
the paper, we`ve all had to learn a lot about him and it turns out he is
linked to some stuff that we had known about before that did seem like it
might turn up in Mueller`s enquiries. For example, Mr. Nader was
reportedly involved in that meeting that took place during the presidential
transition in the Seychelles Islands. This is the meeting involving the
founder of Blackwater, Erik Prince, who`s the brother of Education
Secretary Betsy DeVos. He`s also a major Trump donor.
That Seychelles meeting during the transition appeared to be an effort to
set up some sort of back-channel communication between the Trump transition
and Vladimir Putin`s office. Erik Prince was reportedly there as an
emissary from Trump and the head of a Russian investment fund was
reportedly there as an emissary from Putin. This new cooperating witness
for the Mueller investigation, George Nader, was reportedly involved not
just in setting up that meeting, he was reportedly there at that meeting.
So, OK, that`s one way in which he factors in. We`d previously heard about
that meeting, that makes sense that a guy involved in setting up that
meeting would turn up. But this new reporting about this new character
George Nader also brought up a whole bunch of other brand new characters
and dynamics and story lines that we`d never heard before, that we`d never
heard about certainly related to the Mueller investigation before these
last couple of weeks.
George Nader is reportedly an advisor to the crown prince, the de facto
ruler of UAE, of United Arab Emirates. Robert Mueller, according to “The
New York Times”, has been using George Nader as a cooperating witness in
his investigation because he`s been looking at the possibility that money
has been flowing into Donald Trump`s political operation from UAE, from
United Arab Emirates, that`s a whole new idea for this scandal.
George Nader also turns out to be linked to a man named Elliott Broidy, who
we see on the right there. He was a colorful figure already on the fringes
of Trump world. Mr. Brody once pled guilty to a felony bribery charge in
New York, in a very famous scandal, where he paid huge bribes to New York
state officials in order to get business for his Wall Street firm those
well – New York officials went to jail, he became a cooperating witness
for the government and initially pled guilty to a felony later that was
reduced to a misdemeanor, but he was the guy who paid the bribes. That
made it a minor scandal when Elliott Broidy turned up as a major Trump
donor and then he was named a deputy finance chair the RNC. The bribery
But now in this George Nader era that we`re in, in this new era of George
Nader-related reporting here, that same guy, Elliott Broidy turns up as a
defense contractor. He`s a defense contractor now? I thought he was a
Wall Street briber.
He turns up as a defense contractor now who has recently, very recently
received hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts from UAE, from United
Arab Emirates, arranged by his new friend, George Nader, who he just met at
the Trump inauguration. Boy, that`s a quick turnaround. Trump wasn`t
inaugurated all that long ago you didn`t know this guy before the
inauguration and now he just set you up with hundreds of millions of
dollars in defense contracts? How long ago did you plead guilty to that
Why is this Trump fundraiser, this deputy finance chair of the RNC, a guy
who headlined a fundraiser for the president, which the president appeared
at in person just last week, why is this guy Elliott Brady, all of a sudden
getting hundreds of millions of dollars from the UAE, and why is the Robert
Mueller investigation investigating money potentially flowing from the UAE
into President Trump`s political operation? And why is the Mueller
investigation`s latest cooperating witness, a guy who was an advisor to the
government of the UAE?
And as the Trump administration takes this inexplicable hard, out of the
blue turn against UAE`s archenemy in the Mideast, Qatar, does that have
anything to do with this strange new influence of UAE in the Trump
Well, “The New York Times” sort of breaks this open tonight. Quote: A
cooperating witness in the special counsel investigation worked for more
than a year to turn a top Trump fundraiser into an instrument of influence
at the White House for the rulers of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab
Emirates, citing interviews and hundreds of pages of correspondence between
George Nader and Elliott Brady.
“The Times” says what`s revealed here is, quote, an active effort to
cultivate President Trump on behalf of Saudi Arabia and UAE, these two oil-
rich Arab monarchies. High on the agenda of the two men, George Nader and
Elliott Brady was pushing the White House to remove Secretary of State Rex
Tillerson, and to back a confrontational approach to both Iran and Qatar.
Rex Tillerson, of course, was fired last week and the president has adopted
tough approaches to both Iran and Qatar. Quote: Mr. Nader tempted the
fundraiser Elliott Broidy with the prospect of more than one billion
dollars in contracts for his private security company and he helped deliver
deals worth more than $200 million from the United Arab Emirates the times
has reportedly seen documents not only supporting these huge contracts
which Nader has reportedly arranged in very short order for this Trump
fundraiser, they also described a $2.7 million payment from Nader to Broidy
through a variety of pass-through companies.
Now, what these two were reportedly working on according to their
correspondence was number one, getting rid of Rex Tillerson, check. Number
two, taking a hard, hard new line against Qatar, check, despite the fact
that we`ve got a base there with thousands of U.S. troops at it. Among
other things, “The Times” reports that they also discussed blocking a
veteran U.S. diplomat named Anne Patterson from taking a top Pentagon job.
Now, the key question here is not just whether these guys have been, you
know, able to get what they want out of the Trump administration. All
sorts of people get all sorts of things that they want for all sorts of
reasons that are more or less legal, right? But if we`re talking about a
foreign government paying for those outcomes, that`s very blatantly
illegal, and if that`s the case, if a foreign government has been paying
off Trump administration or top Republican Party officials to get what they
want from the U.S. government, you would need somebody close to that
scheme, right, you need somebody close to the inside of that kind of an
operation to help prosecutors follow the money.
Well, the other news that David Kirkpatrick and Mark Mazzetti break in “The
New York Times” tonight is that not only has George Nader become a
cooperating witness for Robert Mueller`s investigation, according to “The
New York Times” tonight, Mueller`s prosecutors have just called him back
for an additional round of testimony. Nader was apparently overseas when
they called him back.
George Nader`s lawyer confirm to us today that Nader has been back and
forth between the United States and United Arab Emirates recently, even has
he`s been cooperating with Mueller. Mueller`s prosecutors reportedly
called him back from overseas for a second round of testimony as of last
week and they add this crucially, quote: Mr. Nader has been granted
immunity in a deal for his cooperation with the special counsel.
I believe this is the first time we`ve had any reporting about Mueller`s
investigators offering immunity to anyone in exchange for something other
than a guilty plea.
Joining us now is “New York Times” Washington investigative correspondent
Mark Mazzetti, one of the reporters bylined on this scoop.
Mr. Mazzetti, thank you very much for your time tonight.
MARK MAZZETTI, WASHINGTON INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT, NEW YORK TIMES:
MADDOW: So, you and your colleagues at the times introduced me to the
concept of George Nader in the first place. I feel like it`s been a couple
of weeks where we`ve had a big influx of reporting about him and we`re
still trying to understand what role he may be playing in this
investigation being carried out at the special counsel`s office. Let me
ask you if I screwed anything up in that summary and what you think is most
important about this new reporting.
MAZZETTI: No, it`s pretty thorough set up. I think that what we report
tonight – one of the most interesting things is this sort of year-long
campaign of influence that was going on with George Nader and Elliott
Broidy, to steer the Trump administration on critical issues of foreign
policy in the Middle East, on Rex Tillerson, on Qatar, on Iran, basically
how the Saudi Arabian government and the Emirati government used these two
guys to try to influence the Trump administration.
And in turn, the correspondent shows that Broidy, who`s the deputy RNC
finance chairman, got very rich with hundreds of millions of dollars in
contracts with these governments.
MADDOW: Now, what`s illegal here? Obviously, influence in Washington is
something that people pay a lot of money to pursue through a lot of
different means. If as seems clear in your reporting, at least this seems
clear in the materials that you say that you`ve reviewed, if this was money
that may have come from the government of United Arab Emirates through this
advisor to that government, Mr. Nader being paid to people close to the
Trump administration, is that necessarily illegal?
MAZZETTI: Right. Well, the laws about foreign lobbying and the influence
of foreign governments are fairly murky and as we`re learning from the Paul
Manafort saga, not often enforced. You know, you have to register as a
foreign agent if you`re taking money on behalf of a foreign government, and
you`re directly lobbying. But there`s all sorts of ways around these
Elliott Broidy did not register as a foreign agent for his work and he says
in a statement to us that he was not lobbying on behalf of these
governments. He was acting as a patriot and he believed in these issues,
so he did not need to register.
Now, there is clearly a real gray area on these laws and what we`re also
learning, of course, from the Manafort episode is that the government may
take a greater interest in this and maybe in fact the Mueller investigation
may take a greater interest in this.
MADDOW: Last question for you, Mark. You report that Mr. Nader has been
offered immunity in a deal for his cooperation with the special counsel.
As far as I know, that`s the first time that we`ve heard of anybody being
offered immunity in this investigation other than people who pled guilty in
federal court, and it was formerly worked out as part of their plea deal.
Are we clear that Mr. Nader hasn`t been charged? Is it possible that
there`s a sealed indictment against him that he`s got some other legal
entanglement here with the Mueller investigation? Or is this just a
straight cooperation for immunity deal?
MAZZETTI: We believe it`s straight cooperation. We believe that he is a
witness, not a target of the investigation. As we reported, he`s being
called back for more questioning. He is a – I don`t want to say a central
figure but he seems to be an important witness in this investigation, not
only for questions about what happened before the election, before
President Trump was elected, but what`s been going on in the first year of
the administration in terms of how foreign governments were trying to
influence the White House in steering foreign-policy.
MADDOW: “New York Times” Washington investigative correspondent Mark
Mazzetti – Mark, thank you for joining us on short notice. I know this
just broke tonight. Thanks for rushing to the studio to talk to us about
MAZZETTI: Thanks, Rachel.
MADDOW: All right. Lots going on tonight and we`ve got a bunch more
people here tonight for what has been a busy day of news. Stay with us.
MADDOW: NBC News justice correspondent Pete Williams just taped an
extensive interview with the FBI Director Chris Wray, which is fascinating
on a whole bunch of levels. What you might have seen on “Nightly News” is
that Chris Wray tells Pete that President Trump has never personally
pressured him about the Russia investigation. It seems very important to
have him on the record about that.
Director Way also goes on at length about what he sees as the important,
non-partisan nature of the FBI and the crucial independence of the FBI.
That also seems important right now to have him on the record about that,
especially after the firing of the FBI`s deputy director following months
of pressure and taunting of him by the president.
We`re going to post those comments from Chris Wray online tonight at
MaddowBlog.com, if you want to – if you want to see that.
We don`t hear from the FBI director all that often, except when he`s doing
congressional testimony. So, just that one level it`s very interesting
there and put that stuff in his own words.
But in addition to him talking about those big foundational issues for the
FBI, at this remarkable time for the bureau at the White House and the
president himself attacking the FBI regularly, Chris Wray also has had some
very blunt, very specific remarks about something the FBI and the Homeland
Security Department jointly announced and warned about just a few days ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PETE WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS: You and the Department of Homeland Security put
out a report last week detailing Russian efforts to hack into
infrastructure, power plants, utilities, the power grid, water systems.
What do you think the Russians were up to there? Were they trying to say,
see what we can do so you don`t try it with us? So, what was happening
CHRISTOPHER WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR: Well, the cyber attack that you`re
referring to, Pete, I think first, I would say it was the real deal. It`s
something we take very seriously. I don`t know that I want to – and we`re
very confident in our attribution of it to the Russian government.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: The director the FBI calling the Russian government hacking into
American power plants the real deal, saying that the FBI is taking it very
The FBI and Homeland Security issued this urgent technical alert about that
Russian attack on U.S. power plants. It described Russian government
entities hacking into U.S. power plants so Russia could basically have the
ability to turn the American electric grid on and off at will. That alert
was issued less than a week ago.
And as you saw Director Wray say there, the attribution from the FBI here
is that this is a Russian government attack and that attribution is rock-
solid. We are very confident in our attribution of it to the Russian
government. Because of the timing, because that was such a recent alert
from FBI and homeland security, because of how serious the thing this is
that they gave us this alert about and because of that rock-solid
attribution of it to the Russian government, it is notable, it is of
interest that when President Trump made his surprise congratulatory phone
call to the Russian president yesterday, apparently, that didn`t come up at
We also know, thank to this – thanks to this freaking unbelievable
reporting from “The Washington Post” last night that in Trump`s briefing
materials for that call to Putin, his national security advisers included
one instruction in all capital letters, do not congratulate. Nevertheless,
he persisted. He offered his congratulations anyway.
And we`re also told that before this call with Putin, Trump was directed by
his national security advisers to make sure that he condemned Putin for
that poisoning in the U.K., that poisoning of a former Russian spy and his
daughter with a powerful Russian nerve agent on the streets of Britain, an
attack that the U.K. and the European Union and the U.S. government have
all concluded was carried out by the Russian government.
The White House admits that President Trump also didn`t follow that
instruction. He just didn`t bring that up at all.
So, we had that remarkable reporting last night from “The Washington Post”
and a couple of things have happened since then. “Washington Post”
reporter Carol Leonnig broke that astounding story. She told us on the
program last night that there was basically a panic in the White House
after the call between Trump and Putin. She called it an OMG moment of
what are we going to say about this call. White House trying to come up
with ways to explain what happened, to justify what happened, to clean up
Well, one of the things that has happened since that reporting broke last
night is that we have apparently now seen some of the fruits of the cleanup
effort. The White House today put out a very brief readout about a call
between President Trump and Emmanuel Macron, the president of France.
Look at this, this is the whole readout. Quote, President Donald J. Trump
spoke today with President Emmanuel Macron of France. The president`s
reiterated their solidarity with the U.K. in the wake of Russia`s use of
chemical weapons against private citizens on British soil, and they agreed
on the need to take action to hold Russia accountable.
So, he talked to Russia yesterday, didn`t say anything about the poisoning.
But then today, he talked to France, and he said, hey, France, we got to
make sure we`re going to be super tough on Russia about that poisoning,
right? French president like, it wasn`t me. Hey, tough guy!
The other thing that has happened today after this remarkable do not
congratulate reporting is it reported freaked out about it in the White
House, not just about the president`s behavior but about who leaked it, who
leaked this very specific detail about the president`s briefing materials,
about what the president was told to say in that conversation with Putin
who told reporters about what was on the president`s note cards. I mean,
honestly that`s not the kind of material that circulates all that widely.
There aren`t all that many people who have access to not just the content
of the president`s briefing materials but like the font size and
capitalization of the words in those materials.
And it`s an interesting personnel and palace intrigue story as to who might
have called a reporter to exclaim over what had just happened and how the
president defied this advice from his national security advisors, but the
bigger plot point here is not just who leaked it, who did it, but why? I
mean, it is a small circle of people close to the president who would have
had access to those specific briefing materials. From within that small
circle this looks like somebody leaked it to basically alert the public
about what the president actually just did in that call. This looks like
somebody close to the president pulling the fire alarm.
Have we ever seen anything like that before in American governance?
I have just the person to ask, next.
MADDOW: The reason we know that the president ignored his national
security advisors` explicit warning not to congratulate Russian President
Vladimir Putin on his quote election this weekend is because somebody very
close to Trump, somebody with access to his briefing papers for that call
apparently leaked that fact to the press.
Why did a presidential advisor do that, we don`t know. I think we can
answer the question though of whether we have seen anything like that
before, in terms of an American president having his advisors basically
pull the fire alarm on him on a matter of national security, basically
alerting the American public to a national security problem that derives
from the president. Has that ever happened before?
Joining us now is Michael Beschloss NBC News presidential historian.
Mr. Beschloss, nice to see you. Thank you for your time tonight.
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS, NBC NEWS PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: My pleasure, Rachel,
MADDOW: So, are there parallels? Have we ever seen anything like this
before, a president diverging pretty extremely from his national security
team and it then being aired publicly in the newspaper?
BESCHLOSS: Occasionally, a president will go a little bit off message and
occasionally as we well know, you know, people around a president might
leak something. But a call of this kind of importance and to leak it so
quickly and to basically say everyone had agreed that the president would
call up Putin then and not congratulate him on this horrible rigged
election, and he did exactly that congratulated him. So, something this
extreme we haven`t seen before.
MADDOW: If people around Trump, if there`s at least one person in the
White House and a national security role who is basically to pull the fire
alarm here, to alert the public to his actions, is there anything that we
can extrapolate from to understand what kind of effect that might have on a
president and his decision-making process?
BESCHLOSS: I think it might make him more suspicious of those around him
and even less willing to take advice from people who may disagree. But the
other thing is that whoever you know pull the fire alarm, that`s a perfect
metaphor, Rachel, is worried that this is a president who is so pro-Russian
that he can barely even see that, you know, this is someone who departed
from the tradition of earlier presidents.
You know, Sarah Huckabee Sanders trying to defend that said, we don`t get
to dictate how other countries operate. Well, that would have been really
news to an awful lot of presidents who tried to nudge other countries in
the direction of democracy, especially Russia.
MADDOW: Yes, would have even been news to the vice president of the United
States right now, who right now is in Venezuela chastising them or – right
now is chastising Venezuela about their departures from democratic norms.
BESCHLOSS: You were so right.
MADDOW: The presidents make alliances of a convenience with all sorts of
jerks and despots. They all do it for various reasons, strategic or
personal or short-sighted or long-sighted.
The Putin love affair for Trump seems different, but big picture, is it
possible that this is just the latest iteration of what lots of presidents
have done with lots of bad guys over the years? Is there something that is
qualitatively different in terms of him cultivating a guy and overlooking
the scary or despotic things about that guy, but it`s really in the
BESCHLOSS: Qualitatively different. I mean, even when you had for
instance, you know, presidents like FDR dealing with someone like Joseph
Stalin with whom he didn`t exactly all the time disagree, he wasn`t always
in lockstep saying that Stalin was wonderful all the time, Donald Trump
never criticizes Putin and we`re – you know, we always have to ask, why is
this happening? You know some people are saying maybe Putin has something
and the Russians have something on Trump. I think it may be something
You know, this is a month when two other leaders became leaders for life.
One is Vladimir Putin and that so-called election and the other was
President Xi in China. And one of the ideas that Donald Trump talks about
is America first with this idea that maybe the Chinese will have a sphere
of influence, the Russians will have their sphere. We`ll have ours.
He joked about being president for life, Donald Trump did, said it was a
joke. I think we always have to be suspicious that maybe in his mind, this
is not such a joke.
MADDOW: That is dark and probably necessary to hear.
Michael Beschloss, NBC news presidential historian – thank you for that
very scary big-picture discussion, my friend. Thanks.
BESCHLOSS: My pleasure. Be well.
MADDOW: All right. We`ll be right back. Stay with us.
MADDOW: You know how I never have more than one person on at a time on the
show? As a general rule, one of the time, single-file. It`s one of the
things that we do here that is a little weird for the cable news business
but that`s our general rule.
That little rule of ours is out the window. Next, we`ve got three people
here all at the same time, but we`re breaking the rule because you really,
really, really, really want to meet these people. In fact I`m almost a
hundred percent sure that you already admire the heck out of them and
they`re here live next. Stay with us.
MADDOW: On March 10th, former President Barack Obama and former First Lady
Michelle Obama sent a handwritten letter to the survivors of the shooting
at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, which killed
17 people. The Website Mic got a copy of the Obama`s letter and it is very
It reads: To the students of Parkland, we wanted to let you know how
inspired we have been by the resilience, resolve and solidarity that you
have all shown in the wake of unspeakable tragedy. Not only have you
supported and comforted each other, but you`ve helped awaken the conscience
of the nation, and challenge decision makers to make the safety of our
children the country`s top priority. Throughout our history, young people
like you have led the way in making America better.
There may be setbacks. You may sometimes feel like progress is too slow
and coming, but we have no doubt you`re going to make an enormous
difference in the days and years to come and we will be there for you. And
it`s signed Barack and Michelle Obama.
Mr. and Mrs. Obama wrote that letter to Parkland just ahead of school
walkouts around the country for gun reform, now. In just a few days, on
Saturday, more than half a million Americans are expected at a rally
against gun violence in Washington, D.C., with another 800 satellite
demonstrations planned not just around the country but around the world,
from Boise, Idaho, to Munich, Germany.
Students of Parkland came up with the idea and they have been the driving
force behind it – this March for Our Lives this week.
Joining us now are three students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High who
have been forces of nature in terms of making the March for Our Lives a
national movement. Emma Gonzalez, Jaclyn Corin and Sarah Chadwick.
Thank you all so much for being here.
I`m really honored to meet you all three of you.
EMMA GONZALEZ, JACLYN CORIN AND SARAH CHADWICK, STUDENTS, STONEMAN DOUGLAS:
Thank you for having us.
MADDOW: So let me ask you first about that compliment from the president
and – the former president the former first lady and I know that you`ve
heard it from not just them but a lot of people feel like you`re sort of
not just impressive, you`re sort of the hope. I wonder if that feels more
than just good. I wonder if that feels stressful,
CORIN: Yes it would – his letter was much appreciated. He`s shown so
much respect that a lot of current politicians have not shown. So, it was
And we all have hope because we`ve so we`ve seen it from kids younger than
us also, and I think I think our generation is going to be the change
because we`ve grown up with this and we`re not going to let the future
generations grow up with it also.
CHADWICK: And at the same time, it`s really stressful because we all – we
have all this pressure on our shoulders to make a change and we`re only
teenagers. And we shouldn`t have to be the ones who have to make this
change. It should be the politicians who are in power right now. But
unfortunately, it`s fallen down to our shoulders.
But now that we do have this responsibility, we`re going to make sure that
we get it done.
MADDOW: But it`s interesting though, the reason that that pressure is on
you guys is because you earned it in a way, not – it`s not an – it`s not
an automatic thing that kids who are survivors of some tragedy like what
happened at your school are expected to then become leaders of a national
movement around it. You guys made that happen yourselves in the way that
you decided to respond and I guess I want some insight into how that
happened and why your school is the place where it – where it came out
GONZALEZ: It kind of started with David. He really pushed for speaking
with Fox, speaking with anyone who would listen, anyone who`s actually at
the school. He just kept the door open enough for the rest of us to show
up and he gave people`s names. And Cameron showed up and Alex showed up
and everyone who`s a part of the movement now was like there.
Everybody decided, we know how this is going to end up. We know that the
politician is going to say thoughts and prayers. They`re going to say
those words and that`s all they`re going to do and that`s not what we want
to happen this time around.
We want this to stop. We`ve seen this before. It`s time to break the
The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and
expecting different results. And if there are people who think that
they`re mentally ill people who are, quote/unquote, crazy who don`t deserve
to have guns and maybe those people who are claiming that thoughts and
prayers are the only things that can solve this and yet also claim that the
Second Amendment is the most important thing to them rather than children`s
lives – well, maybe they should get a background check.
CORIN: And Parkland is a community with an immense amount of togetherness
like communities like Orlando and Las Vegas, it wasn`t a centralized
location that had happened and all the people couldn`t relate to each other
and join together for a common goal. But that`s something that Marjory
Stoneman Douglas did have, and we can also think our education – we`ve
grown up with amazing teachers and amazing faculty that we had the ability
to use the voices that they helped create to make the change.
MADDOW: There have been some unexpected changes – I say unexpected from
the big perspective in terms of policy, since you guys started this
movement. There were changes in Florida law, signed into law by a governor
who previously who`ve been bragging about his A-plus rating from the NRA.
In the omnibus bill that`s going forward at the federal level right now,
there are very, very modest but real gun reforms that are included in that
bill, including the CDC being allowed to study gun violence as a public
And these are things that people have been fighting about for a long time
and it felt impossible and with a Republican-controlled Congress and a
Republican president, it felt doubly impossible. Now, those things seem to
And so, does that give you satisfaction? Does that give you a sense of
what you want to do next? Do you know how this sustains and how it moves
CHADWICK: It`s a baby step towards the right direction. I mean,
obviously, we`re pushing for stricter gun reform and in these bills we
haven`t really seen that, but we`re really thankful that we have gone what
we`ve gone done, because it`s only been a little over a month. And this is
as much as we`ve seen politicians do after a tragedy like this in this
amount of time.
And so, we`re really thankful for that, we`re really thankful for the baby
steps we`re taking, but it`s honestly not enough in our opinion, and we`re
going to keep fighting until we get what we want.
CORIN: Yes, and we do want to address the fact that Rick Scott did defy
the lobby group that he is endorsed by with the new bill, but that might
have not happened if he wasn`t running for reelection, and we need to
address that, because people just do it to get reelected and just to sit in
their chair and do nothing again for an entire term. So, we do understand
that it is a step in the right direction but it`s not enough right now.
MADDOW: What`s it been like to be personally the focus of so much negative
attention, so much the backlash? I opened up by talking about this
admiration expressed for you by the former president and first lady,
certainly a lot of the conversation I know on this show and on this network
which leans more to the left of another then say Fox News has been about
being impressed by your activism, what you`ve been able to accomplish.
But I know that there`s also been a lot of negative personal attacks.
Emma, in particular, I know that you`ve really been singled out. How have
you guys been coping with that?
I mean, it`s not really hard to cope with it. It`s not really a question
of coping. It`s a question of – that was kind of funny, let`s move on, or
maybe I can make a joke about that, maybe somebody else will laugh, you
Like it`s not – we don`t really take it personally, most of us don`t
really take it personally because like, at the end of the day, it`s a
stupid comment. We don`t need to dignify it with a response and when we do
want to dignify it with a response, we`re going to make it funny.
And, you know, that`s the best way we can deal with this stuff.
CORIN: And it`s comical because they criticize us as individuals rather
than what we`re actually preaching, because they can`t see a fault in what
we`re saying. So, they have to direct us go after us directly. Yes.
MADDOW: Has it created any tensions among you guys? Obviously, you`re a
fluid group and there`s a lot of different leaders from your school. But
as this thing has gone forward over this course of these weeks, you all
have to decide what you`re going to do individually. You three are here
together, everybody`s pursued this in their own ways.
Has it created tensions or do you guys have sort of a tacit agreement
amongst yourselves as to how you stay together?
GONZALEZ: I don`t think there`s really any tension other than like, you
ate my muffin?
High school like every day in the workplace, there`s going to be little
spits/spats or whatever. But at the end of the day, we`re all going to end
up cuddling on the couch watching the office, trying to calm down from
anything that happened recently, you know?
CHADWICK: And even though we`re like everywhere all the time like a lot of
us never we`re never all together in the same city, which I think it`s been
like really like mind-blowing, because we`re either like in Washington or
New York or L.A. or Parkland, and we do somehow we manage to keep in touch
with each other really well, and we do organize with each other really well
even though like we`re apart for so long and like some of us haven`t seen
some members of our group in like weeks.
CHADWICK: So, it`s been crazy but we`re still in touch when we still
MADDOW: Well, I wish you guys success. I wish you resilience. I wish you
the continuing and lifelong ability to laugh at people who use opinions you
don`t care about.
Anyway, thank you. Thank you for what you`ve done.
CHADWICK: Thank you so much.
MADDOW: Thank you for coming in tonight. Good luck. Good luck this
All right. They`re right here. I`m kind of star struck.
All right. Sarah Chadwick, Jaclyn Corin and Emma Gonzalez right here,
they`re here with me.
All right. We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: One simple piece of political news tonight to leave you with
before we go. It has been a week in a day since a Democratic candidate
named Conor Lamb appeared to flip a Republican congressional seat in
Pennsylvania, in a district that had gone for Trump by 20 points. So, it`d
be a big deal for a Democrat to flip that seat. Conor Lamb finished ahead
by just over 600 votes on election night and then in the official count
once everything was counted, he was up by just over 800 votes.
Still, the Republican in that race refused to concede until tonight. Conor
Lamb just tweeted: just got off the phone with my opponent Rick Saccone who
congratulated me and graciously conceded last Tuesday`s election. I
congratulate Mr. Saccone for a close, hard-fought race and wish him the
Conor Lamb will be sworn in next month as Pennsylvania`s newest member of
Congress. He`ll serve out the year after winning this special election.
Already, he and Rick Saccone are campaigning already for what will come
next in a newly drawn congressional district in Pennsylvania. This has
been the race of the year thus far in the House and we might get a rematch.
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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