Trump fires VA Secretary, nominates WH doctor. TRANSCRIPT: 03/28/2018. The Rachel Maddow Show
Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW
Date: March 28, 2018
Guest: Bob Bauer, Paul Rieckhoff
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: And thanks to you at home for joining us this
hour. Happy to have you here.
Do you remember when he was going to hire his personal pilot to be the head
of the FAA? Sure, why not? Trump air operations during the campaign
included one plane tearing off the runway and almost careening onto a
highway and shutting down LaGuardia Airport. Also, different incident, a
hired pilot who nobody noticed was a fugitive from justice actively wanted
on multiple violent felonies.
But Trump likes the guy who flew his airplane during the campaign and isn`t
there something in the federal government that has to do with airplanes?
So, sure, why not?
That idea came up just last month so who knows? It might yet happen, maybe
Trump will put his personal pilot in charge of the FAA.
Today, we got pretty close to that idea and today it wasn`t just something
being floated. Today, we learned of this as a fait accompli and admit it,
admit it. When you first heard today that the president had named his
personal physician to be the head of the V.A., admit it, first guy you
thought of was this guy, right? It`s not that guy. Not that guy.
What was amazing about that guy Trump`s personal physician in private life
it was not just that he himself was an incredible character, it`s that he
submitted a physician`s report on the health of this presidential candidate
Donald Trump that was like a cross between refrigerator poetry and North
Korean state media articles about the dear leader`s 300th birthday, right?
Remember that – remember that thing he wrote? Trump`s laboratory test
results were astonishingly excellent.
Anything that astonishes a person in a lab usually bad. His physical
strength and stamina are extraordinary. If elected, I can state
unequivocally that Mr. Trump will be the healthiest individual ever elected
to the presidency. That was a very strange iteration of the traditional
doctor`s note about a presidential candidate`s health.
But then Trump did get elected and that history with his private doctor
meant there was a little more excitement and intrigue than usual
surrounding the president`s first physical exam by the chief White House
physician, by a Navy admiral named Ronny Jackson.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the president`s unbiased, 100 percent accurate
health assessment. At the time of examination, the president was 71 years
and seven months young, his wrist and heart rate was a cool 68 BPM, his
weight, a very svelte 239 pounds. He has a gorgeous 44-inch Coke bottle
waist, 75 inches with legs that well they seem to go on forever. Size 12
shoes, so you can fill in the blanks there.
It`s my expert medical opinion but the president`s got a rocking bod with
the perfect amount of cushion for the pushin, and give him the chance I
would. Are there any questions?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That was not the actual White House physician. That was the
“Saturday Night Live” version of the White House position because there had
to be one. After the actual White House position gave his press briefing
on the president and his health and it was so – it was so excitedly
positive, it left reporters who were also doctors like CNN`s Sanjay Gupta
feeling like they had to re-translate for the American public the
information that Admiral Jackson was providing, because maybe somebody
should take the hearts off the eyes.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: How would you characterize the president`s health to an average
71-year-old American male?
RONNY JACKSON, WHITE HOUSE DOCTOR: I`d say, based on his cardiac
assessment, hands-down, there`s no question that he is – he is in the
excellent range. I`m from a cardiac standpoint. And that`s not me
speaking. That`s objective data.
You know, you can look at the data that was collected and he will
definitely fall into that category. Overall, he has very, very good
health, excellent health.
REPORTER: Just to be clear, though, Dr. Jackson, he is taking cholesterol-
lowering medication. He has evidence of heart disease and he`s borderline
obese. Can you characterize that as an excellent health?
JACKSON: I mean, I think based on its current cardiac, you know, study –
I mean his heart is very healthy. Those are all you know things that we`re
looking at with regards – well, you know, you`re a neurosurgeon, there`s
their stroke issues there too. But you know –
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: President Trump has just announced that White House physician,
Admiral Ronny Jackson, will be his nominee to head the Department of
Department of Veterans Affairs is the second largest agency in the
government. It`s one of the largest organizations of any kind on earth.
It serves 20 million veterans. It serves health care needs, 9 million
Dr. Jackson is beloved as a White House physician, not just by the Trump
administration but by previous White House occupants as well. He was White
House physician for George W. Bush and for Barack Obama as well. People
loved him in that role.
He has never run any large organization of any kind before. Honestly
though, I want to stress, people do really like him, people who have worked
in the White House say he`s a great White House doctor and he`s really
nice. We know for sure that he definitely likes the president, so there`s
that. We`re going to have some expert advice in just a second as to
whether or not this new appointment seems like a good idea.
But for now, it means we have to add another name to the departure board
for only the third time, we have to put a Senate-confirmed cabinet
secretary up there. The first cabinet secretary to go was Tom Price at
Health and Human Services. Then, it was Rex Tillerson at the State
Department. Now, we can add, I don`t even know which way to look, this
way? This way. Three, two, one – secretary of veterans affairs, David
Like lots of Trump cabinet secretaries, including Tom Price and Ben Carson
and Ryan Zinke and Scott Pruitt and Steven Mnuchin and, and, and – David
Shulkin, the now fired secretary of veterans affairs, he too had
embarrassing ethics troubles, including lots of taxpayer spending for what
looked very much just like an expenses paid long European vacation for him
and his wife. But like I said, there are lots of Trump cabinet secretaries
who have that particular kind of embarrassing problem, even worse than he
does. But now, he`s the one who`s out.
And part of this maybe just another instance of the president seeming to
enjoy doing his shopping on TV. It may be that when everybody else saw,
you know, over-the-top, hyper obsequious to the point of pleasant
homoerotic tension, the president saw, hey, I like the way that guy talks
on TV, right? I mean, we do know from weeks of reporting in multiple
outlets that the president really wanted to hire for this job, one of the
hosts of “Fox & Friends”. Once he soured on David Shulkin, there was a guy
at Fox named Pete Hegseth who the president wanted to put in the V.A. job.
There`s a number of reasons why that didn`t and couldn`t work out. We`re
going to have that story coming up in just a few minutes.
But the president isn`t hiding his light under a bushel when it comes to
his preference for hiring people off TV. He hires people for big jobs
because he likes watching the way they talk about those jobs on TV.
There`s Larry Kudlow, a CNBC personality, just hired by the president to
become White House chief economic adviser. Whether or not you liked Gary
Cohn, the previous chief White House economic adviser, he at least had been
president of Goldman Sachs. Mr. Kudlow comes from a TV show, right? After
he hired Mr. Kudlow off of TV, we soon learned that the new national
security adviser would also be someone who the president came to know
because he enjoyed watching him on TV this time. This time, it was a
contributor on Fox News, John Bolton. Although on that one, I have to tell
you we`ve got some news tonight that suggests there may be trouble ahead
for that national security advisor appointment. National security advisor
position does not require Senate confirmation, but we learned from Trump`s
first national security adviser Mike Flynn that there still can be trouble
if you try to keep somebody in that job who`s caught up in active FBI
investigations, particularly if they are active counterintelligence
investigations. So, stay tuned for that, we`ve got that story coming up
Shopping off your TV set isn`t always a great way to vet candidates for
senior administration positions and the cabinet. It turns out it can also
be trouble for the president`s efforts to put together a legal team to
represent him in the in the Russia scandal, in the Mueller investigation.
One of the more remarkable things that happened just in the last week, god,
it feels like years ago now, but just in the last week, the president`s
lead lawyer on the Russia scandal quit when it emerged that the president
had picked out two new Russia lawyers who he liked the look of on TV, Joe
diGenova and Victoria Toensing, a husband-and-wife team from Fox News.
They were going to go in to the president`s Russia legal team and so John
Dowd, the president`s lead Russia lawyer took himself out, quit the job,
That all happened though before the president had actually met these two
new lawyers anywhere then other through his TV screen. And when they
finally arrived at the White House on Thursday night, it turns out the
president didn`t like them as much as he had on TV. A White House official
described them as disheveled in their appearance when they arrived at the
White House. The president was said to be not as impressed with them in
person as he had been when they had the TV makeup on and the underlighting
and you can`t see their pants.
Anyway, that is that is how we have arrived at the president not really
having a legal team on the Russia scandal anymore. Jay Sekulow is his one
outside attorney now. He`s also a Fox News guy. He has been this – spent
this week trying to try to calm everybody down by saying it`s not just him
he`s got other people working with him from his conservative activist legal
group. That includes, we learned today, the author of this book,
“Byzantine Rome and the Greek Popes”.
He has a PhD in medieval history which according to a “Reuters” profile
published today, he pursued, quote, following a midlife crisis. He wrote
his book on the Greek popes. He eventually went back to practicing law,
mostly working as a sort of contract prosecutor for local D.A.`s in
In terms of big high-profile cases, back in the `80s, he was involved in a
Jews for Jesus case with Jay Sekulow, the Fox guy. But that`s pretty much
it, he says in terms of big cases.
It`s kind of great for this guy, right? Look at the headlight on “Reuters”
today. Spurned by top lawyers, Trump`s defense elevates Washington
outsider. I mean, it is great for this guy. I mean, think about it, one
day, you`re burned out working for county prosecutors in Georgia. You`re
having a midlife crisis you end up trying to get your monograph published
on the byzantine era popes. The next day, you`re a lead attorney
representing the president of the United States on the biggest national
security scandal to ever afflict the presidency. When you`ll have no
experience whatsoever in anything like this. I mean, well done for him.
But for the presidency, it`s a weird situation, right? Especially since
things do seem to be taking a bit of a serious turn in this big national
security investigation that is swirling around the president. Lawyers for
the special counsel`s office and for attorney Alex Van der Zwaan have now
exchanged court filings in advance of what`s expected to be Mr. Van der
Zwaan sentencing next week in D.C. federal court. This follows his guilty
plea for lying to investigators.
Mr. Van Der Zwaan`s lawyers in this filing today literally argue, I`m
quoting here, his days are empty and lonely. They provide a testimonial
from his mother including the all-caps statement, Alex is the only support
and joy of my life. Testimonial from his mother saying how much she loves
There`s a lot of detail from his pregnant wife and how much she loves him
as well, his soul mate. He`s said to be very sorry, quote, Alex has
learned his lesson and there is no risk that he will reoffend. Those are
the kind of arguments that Alex Van Der Zwaan`s lawyers were making today
to the court in response to those arguments, the special counsel filed
their own document with the court in which they tore Mr. Van Der Zwaan`s
The fact that your wife is having a baby isn`t reason for you to get
leniency from the court. The fact that you stopped lying and pled guilty
after we caught you that isn`t cause for leniency either. Quote: that he
did not further obstruct justice is not a mitigating factor. He does not
deserve credit for adhering to the law.
The special counsel`s filing on the Van Der Zwaan thing literally ends, its
last sentence, with suggesting that if he really wants to get home for the
birth of his first child, maybe he should hurry up and get to prison now to
start serving his time.
Special counsel`s office is not messing around. And it`s important to
remember that even though Alex Van Der Zwaan has pled guilty, he`s not
cooperating. He has not agreed to cooperate with the Mueller
investigation. He pled and he wants them to be lenient because he pled,
but he`s not cooperating with them. So, presumably, this very hardball
effort by the special counsel`s office is an effort by the special counsels
office to get him to change his mind about cooperating.
But – this is important – while they are ripping Van Der Zwaan`s head off
in this filing, they also make explicit something that I think ought to be
unnerving to this White House even if the president does doesn`t
necessarily have lawyers anymore who could explain this to him. Quote:
among the topics about which the defendant lied were his communications
with Trump deputy campaign chair Rick Gates, his communications with a
Ukrainian business associate of Manafort and Gates, person A, and his
failure to produce an email between himself and the Ukrainian business
associate, all important matters in the investigation.
The lies and withholding of documents were material to the special council
offices investigation that Gates and person A were directly communicating
in September and October 2016 was pertinent to the investigation. FBI
special agents assisting the special counsel`s office assess that person A
has ties to a Russian intelligence service and had such ties in quote
during his first interview with the special counsel`s office, Van Der Zwaan
admitted he knew of that connection, stating that Rick Gates told him
person A was a former Russian intelligence officer with the GRU. That`s
all in the Alex Van Der Zwaan sentencing stuff that`s gone back and forth,
part of the story of those sentencing documents is Van Der Zwaan pleading
for leniency and the special counsel not at all indicating that they are
down with that with.
But the other part of it is the special counsel`s office showing their hand
this is something they`ve got.
Dear Mr. President with no legal team these filings from the special
counsel`s office now spell out explicitly that during your presidential
campaign, your campaign manager and your deputy campaign manager were in
frequent contact with – what`s the phrase? What`s the phrase? With a
person the FBI assesses to have had current ties to a Russian intelligence
service, and they couldn`t have been unwittingly duped into doing this
because your deputy campaign manager is on record telling other people at
the time, hey, call this guy, he`s GRU, he`s Russian military intelligence.
And that`s not as guessing at what the special counsel`s office is looking
at, that`s them telling us what they`ve got in court filings, where they`re
also going super aggressively at a guy they already got to plead guilty,
they`re still trying to get the court to throw him in prison even after his
So, the president likes turnover. He likes watching TV. He likes maybe
hiring people from TV. He likes firing really senior people all the time
and keeping everybody on their toes.
The president not having a Russia legal team anymore doesn`t even make this
list, but the investigation is getting explicit and aggressive and it seems
like it very well – it may very well be about collusion with Russia
directly. We`ve also now got the first report that the president may have
been offering pardons to at least two of the people who ultimately got
charged. There`s chaos in this young administration, sure, and that is
interesting for all sorts of reasons. I don`t think though that you can
separate that from the fact that there is also now a legal hurricane
swirling around a basically unreinforced, undefended president.
MADDOW: “New York Times” is first to report today that President Trump`s
lead Russia lawyer until recently, John Dowd, “The Times” reports that last
year, he raised the possibility of the president issuing a pardon for Paul
Manafort and for Michael Flynn. According to “The Times” John Dowd raised
that prospect last year in discussions with Manafort`s and Flynn`s lawyers.
“The Times” citing three people with knowledge of the discussions in its
Quote: The discussions came as the special counsel was building cases
against both men, and they raised questions about whether the lawyer John
Dowd was offering pardons to influence manta fort and Flynn`s decisions
about whether to plead guilty and Cooperate in the investigation.
Of course, Manafort and Flynn made very different decisions on that score.
Manafort pled not guilty. He`s now fighting more than felony counts from
the special counsel. He`s looking at life in prison if convicted.
Flynn pled guilty and he`s not cooperating. If the president`s lawyer was
talking pardons with them last year before they made those decisions, then
why didn`t either of them end up with a pardon? And is the president or
his lawyer potentially in trouble for doing this?
If the pardons were offered as a way of trying to dissuade these guys from
cooperating with Mueller`s investigators is that a big deal, and is that
potentially criminal? Obviously, the president has the power to pardon,
it`s in the Constitution. But if he offered it that way to try to dissuade
someone from testifying or cooperating in an investigation, might that be
looked at as potential obstruction of justice.
Joining us now is Bob Bauer, former White House counsel to President Obama.
Mr. Bauer, thank you very much for being here. I really appreciate it.
BOB BAUER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL TO PRESIDENT OBAMA: It`s a pleasure.
MADDOW: First of all, am I asking the right questions here? It seems to
me both as a matter of strategy that it`s interesting if these
conversations happened that neither Flynn nor Manafort got a pardon. But
then there`s also this question of whether this was a – these were proper
conversations to have.
Do those seem like the right questions to be asking?
BAUER: Yes, very much the right questions to be asking and I think it`s
very clear they were improper conversations to be had. There is no way
that the president United States` lawyer acting on his behalf shortly with
his presumptive authority should be exploring a pardon with individuals who
have testimony to touch and directly on his personal legal affairs, that
either was a an exceptionally foolish thing for Mr. Dowd to do as reported,
or B, it was part and parcel of an ongoing plan that the president had to
try to dissuade them from giving unfavorable testimony by offering them the
opportunity or the potential for a pardon.
MADDOW: When a president lawfully and normally exercises the pardon power,
are there sort of firewalls set up, communication firewalls are is the
president`s isolated in terms of the amount of communication he`s able to
receive and from the right kind of people in terms of respectfully and
legally considering somebody`s pardon in the right way?
BAUER: Very much so. Over time, pardons have been prepared in the first
instance in the particular office of the Department of Justice, and there`s
a real attempt for the White House to articulate the standards for granting
pardons and for the Department of Justice to use those standards to prepare
recommendations for the president of potential beneficiaries of pardons.
All of this is coordinated between the Department of Justice and the White
House counsel`s office, and it`s meant precisely to lend the appropriate
sobriety and regularity to the president`s consideration of pardons.
For the president`s personal counsel in a legal case to discuss pardons
with potential witnesses is really extraordinary.
MADDOW: And we should say that that John Dowd denies this in a pretty
blunt way. He told “The Times” today that their story is not true. “The
Times” standing by their story and by their reporting, but Dowd for his
part says there were no discussions, period, as far as I know, no
discussions. It doesn`t sound like a – you know, over-lawyered, careful
denial, it seems like a blunt denial, and we should be clear that that`s
how he – that`s how he`s talking about this.
I don`t quite know what to make about that blunt denial from him. I don`t
– I`m not inclined to believe that he would blatantly lie about something
BAUER: I have no reason to believe that he`s lying. I don`t have any
information to suggest that. But I would point out first of all that he
says, if one wanted to parse his comments, that there were no discussions
of pardons. He may have raised it and then there was no ensuing discussion
because the lawyers for Mr. Flynn decided not to pursue it further. So,
there may have been no discussions but it may have been raised with him.
And then secondly, there`s the odd suggestion that as far as he knows,
there were no discussions. Well, he was directly involved in the
discussions and either he knows he was involved in them or he doesn`t. So
it sounds to me a little bit like a variant on the “as far as I can
recall”, except it`s not stated quite that way.
MADDOW: It`s hard for me to separate controversies and reporting like this
from the ongoing – the ongoing troubles the president is having,
assembling a stable and talented legal team to defend him and represent him
in this scandal and related matters. What do you make of the fact that the
president`s legal team has been so in flux and that now it appears to be
quite small and it doesn`t appear to involve anybody who`s got relevant
BAUER: The president certainly has had difficulty attracting the people
who have the most experience. He`s also lost some of the lawyers that he
started with. Mr. Kasowitz left, though he apparently is consulting with
Mr. Trump by phone and now Mr. Dowd has left.
And one wonders, has the president concluded because of his view of his
constitutional authority that maybe having lawyers of that kind of
experience isn`t all that important? He`ll have the lawyers he can work
with. He`ll direct them in how he wants him to behave.
Worse comes to worse, he will take the position that Mr. Sekulow has
articulated and Mr. Sekulow was still on the team, that the president
cannot in fact be prosecuted for obstruction of justice and failing that
he`ll issue pardons in the belief that he has absolute pardon authority and
he can`t be questioned about the issuance of pardons.
And if you have that regal view of your office, who needs lawyers?
MADDOW: You would – I suggest – I`m reading into the tone of your
comments that you think that that regal view of his office would be
BAUER: I think it`s entirely mistaken and I know that maybe Mr. Sekulow
believes it. He`s articulated it. Some of Mr. Trump`s lawyers have
articulated that view from time to time. I think it`s extremely ill-
advised for them to count on that.
I think that we have seen over time that when those arguments are brought
before the courts by presidents looking for special exemptions from legal
liability, the courts have typically ruled against them.
MADDOW: Bob Bauer, former White House counsel to President Obama – thank
you for your clarity and your time tonight, sir. Much appreciated.
BAUER: Thank you. Bye-bye.
MADDOW: Yes. Not to put too fine a point on it, he`s essentially saying,
try that. Go ahead. Try it.
We`ll be right back. Stay with us.
MADDOW: There`s a man named Pete Hegseth who`s a host on the Fox News
Channel. He`s perhaps most well-known for the time he accidentally threw
an axe at a West Point drummer on live television. Thankfully, the drummer
was able to walk away with a few it`s just scrapes and cuts nothing too
But the TV mishap, whoa, with the axe is not the most controversial thing
about Pete Hegseth. He used to run a group called Concerned Veterans for
America. They were funded lavishly by the Koch brothers. The reason
Concerned Veterans for America came into existence, their flagship issue
was to privatize the V.A., to essentially abolish the V.A.
The V.A. is a second largest agency in the federal government. It provides
healthcare and other important services to million American veterans and
because the V.A. is essentially an NHS style single-payer socialized
medicine system, it is a conservative fantasy to kill it off and it has
been for a long time.
Killing off the V.A. is of course a radically unpopular idea, most of all
among veterans. But the Koch brothers picked it as a project and they
funded Pete Hegseth and his veterans group specifically to make that
radical policy position a mainstream option for Republican politicians. A
lot of Republican candidates in 2016, including Donald Trump came out in
support of privatizing the V.A., thanks in large part to intense lobbying
by Pete Hegseth and his very well-funded group.
Mr. Hegseth soon became a very frequent face on Fox News, and then a host
on Fox News, which is maybe why it should not have come as a total surprise
when we started seeing multiple reports that President Trump wanted to get
rid of the existing V.A. secretary and replace him with that great-looking
veteran guy he liked from Fox.
As of this morning, Pete Hegseth was still reportedly the president`s
number one pick to take over for now outgoing V.A. Secretary David Shulkin.
The president had been telegraphing through the press for weeks that he
wanted Shulkin gone and that he was going to replace him with TV`s Pete
But then this dropped into our inboxes today, courtesy of American public
media. Quote: Pete Hegseth`s experience as a combat veteran and
commentator on Fox would seem to appeal politically to the president, but
his appointment could extend to disruptive narratives already playing out
in the White House: marital infidelity and nepotism.
Hegseth engaged in two extramarital affairs with coworkers during two
marriages and paid his brother who had no professional experience $108,000
to work with him while chief executive of a veteran`s nonprofit. And while
running a political action committee in his native Minnesota, Hegseth spent
a third of the PAC`s money on Christmas parties for families and friends.
And so, maybe that is the reason that took the president so long to
officially announce he was replacing his V.A. secretary, because the guy he
really wanted, the guy he found so attractive on the TV machine – well,
they were about to be some public issues with him that would be a hypocrisy
problem for that young man given his public stern family values, anti
divorced statements, including while he was running for office now that
he`s just had a new baby with a nice lady he works with even before
divorcing the second wife.
Well, today, the president announced that he is firing V.A. Secretary David
Shulkin but he announced a surprise replacement, Dr. Ronny Jackson. He`s
the president`s personal physician at the White House. If this president
really does pick cabinet officials from the TV machine, Dr. Ronny Jackson
has not been all over Fox News like his new colleagues. He`s a serving
Navy admiral. He`s made just one TV appearance since the president took
office but it was a memorable one.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DR. RONNY JACKSON, WHITE HOUSE PHYSICIAN: Good afternoon, everyone.
All right. So to start with, what I`m going to do is I`m going to read to
you the summary of the president`s physical vitals as follows: age 71 years
and seven months at the time of the exam. Height, 75 inches. Weight, 239
He has a history of elevated cholesterol and is currently in a low dose of
Crestor. All clinical data indicates that the president is currently very
healthy and that he will remain so for the duration of his presidency.
OK. With that, I`ll take some questions.
REPORTER: Explain to me how a guy who eats McDonald`s and Kentucky Fried
Chicken and all those Diet Cokes and who never exercises is in as good of
shape as you say he`s in.
JACKSON: It`s called genetic. I don`t know. I would say the answer to
your question is he`s got incredible genes and that`s the way god made him.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: You can imagine the president watching that, right? The only
thing the only words he heard were good genes, excellent health, blah,
blah, blah. White noise.
Dr. Ronny Jackson is a real admiral – rear admiral in the Navy. He served
as White House physician for the past three administrations. He is by all
accounts beloved in that position. He has no experience running any kind
of large organization or federal agency, but today, the president picked
him to run the V.A., the second largest agency in the entire federal
government. Good genes.
Joining us now is Paul Rieckhoff, who is the founder and CEO of Iraq and
Afghanistan Veterans of America, who never knows what I`m going to say
before I bring him on television, and he should not be associated with any
of my comments.
PAUL RIECKHOFF, IRAQ AND AFGHANISTAN VETERANS OF AMERICA CEO: Good to see.
Sooner or later, you knew I`d be here.
RIECKHOFF: This conversation.
MADDOW: Well, there`s been so much swirling around Shulkin for so long.
Let me ask you about your reaction to his ouster, but also disappointment.
RIECKHOFF: Well, let`s take a bigger step back, right? The carnage and
disruption and chaos of the rest of Washington has finally come to V.A.
RIECKHOFF: Right? In many ways, it was kind of this isolated oasis but
also it was just brewing below the surface. There`s been a lot going on a
V.A. that would have been front-page news any other year, except this. So
there`s been a battle going on all around the V.A. before the presidency,
now into the first year the president, and probably for the next 10 years.
The very soul of the V.A. is at stake. Whether or not to privatize it, how
much, and all the special interests that are swirling around it.
And David Shulkin was always in the middle of that. From the moment he was
appointed – you know, you and I think talked about this. We thought his
shelf life would be pretty short.
He was a holdover. He was an Obama holdover. He probably wouldn`t last
more than a year is what we predicted. So, this was probably going to
happen at some point.
Now, here we are he had had a couple of I.G. investigations he started to
lose favor with the president but also with veterans groups and the V.A. is
tough to manage to begin with so once that started to hit the news it was
only a matter of time before the president pulled the trigger now what
about Ronny Jackson getting this nomination that`s a surprise. I mean,
obviously, the president likes to, you know, look around in a room, see
somebody who he can imagine in the job and sometimes it`s a surprise. In
his case, he`s a serving Navy admiral that never run a large organization,
knows the president, has a good relationship with them, is beloved in
Again, nobody`s got a bad word to say against him, but it seems like a
RIECKHOFF: It`s a total surprise pick for sure.
RIECKHOFF: He wasn`t on the short list last time, this time, any time.
And as a doctor in the military, you know, it it`s going to feel like he
was driving a sports car compared to driving the V.A. which is like an 18-
wheeler that`s broken down and going through a combat zone with bad
I mean, this is where you know top leaders go to fail. I mean, this –
we`ve had a V.A. secretary resign now or be fired the last three
presidencies. We had Nicholson under Bush. We had Shinseki under Obama
and now we`ve got Shulkin.
So, this is a tough job for anybody. We say it`s the second hardest job in
Washington to begin with. But going into this environment, he`s an unknown
so the confirmation hearings are going to be absolutely critical. We know
where he stands.
Is he an empty vessel? Does he have strong political views on
privatization or on other things, and how is he going to tackle women`s
issues, post-traumatic stress disorder and reforming the second largest
budget in the federal government? We`re talking about $200 billion and
over 300,000 federal employees, who right now don`t know what`s going to
That`s important to think about good hard-working people the V.A. haven`t
no one was going to happen for weeks and they don`t know what the future
looks like and incredibly intense political winds blowing around everything
that he does. I mean, the reason I highlighted that stuff about this guy
who might have been chosen had not things not gone the way they did is
because there has been incredible lobbying to try to turn the V.A. into
something very different than what it is. There`s – that`s been the
undercurrent for a lot of things going on around Shulkin in the past.
The veterans committees in Congress certainly are being buffeted by those
winds as well.
Do you feel like that should be a central question that he has to sort of
stake a claim for or at least show so the show is familiarity with –
MADDOW: – in order to get confirmed?
RIECKHOFF: It`s the central issue.
RIECKHOFF: I mean, ultimately, he`ll probably get confirmed we`ll see
unless there`s a surprise and that`s the opportunity and putting a flag
grade officer in is it`s probably someone who`s more likely to be
MADDOW: Just kind of deference to his military experience.
RIECKHOFF: Yes, that`s just happened before. I mean Shulkin went through
a hundred to nothing. It was the easiest confirmation hearing in recent
time. So, they have the advantage of the rank and the status that military
officers have, but this is one of the most important confirmation hearings,
you know, that I`ve seen in recent memory because it has to do with the
fate of a huge of our government.
And in a political battle, that`s much bigger than V.A. this is about what
the future of government looks like.
RIECKHOFF: When it`s good, it`s the GI Bill. When it`s bad, it`s the
Phoenix scandal and that battleground – we`ve been saying for a long time
it`s kind of like game of thrones winter is coming the winter is here and
now, people are going to go to their corners and they`re going to rally.
And the veterans groups are really going to be in the middle here trying to
hold the line and to really illuminate – you know, add some light to all
the heat that`s been surrounding these issues.
MADDOW: Paul Rieckhoff, founder and CEO of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans
of America – so I feel like I`m never having you here on good news days,
Paul, it`s always like some crazy help me through it.
RIECKHOFF: There`s been a lot of bad news.
MADDOW: Yes, thank you, my friend. Appreciate it.
RIECKHOFF: Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: All right. We`ll be back. Stay with us.
MADDOW: I mentioned at the top of the show that there`s some new reporting
that suggests there may be a problem with the president`s appointment of
yet another Fox News personality. This one his choice for national
security adviser. That new reporting about John Bolton, a potential
problem for his appointment as national security adviser that`s next. Stay
MADDOW: Here`s the business website of a man named Tim Glister. He`s
British. He works for, or at least he used to work for the British parent
company of Cambridge Analytica, a firm called SCL. And you can see here
that this British guy brags on his website he touts his experience working
in the U.S. in the 2014 midterm elections, specifically working to elect
Thom Tillis to be a Republican senator from North Carolina.
Mr. Glister says on his Website, quote: In 2014, I spent three months in
North Carolina with an SCL consultancy team helping Thom Tillis – helping
Thom Tillis is successful senatorial campaign create highly targeted
advertising that harnessed SCL`s national database of voter issue
sentiments and psychographic profiles. In an extremely crowded market, we
helped the Tillis campaign create a raft of communications across platforms
that engaged voters with the issues they personally cared about and
delivered victory against the prediction of traditional polls.
And then he – on his Website he shows an ad from that election to
illustrate his work on behalf of Thom Tillis during that election, which is
weird because from what we can see, this guy is not American. He`s
British. An American law says only American citizens are allowed to
directly or indirectly participate in U.S. political campaigns at any sort
of level that involves decision-making about the campaign. You can – you
can hire non Americans to lick envelopes or whatever, but hiring them to –
what does he say, to help Thom Tillis` senatorial campaign, create highly
targeted advertising harnessing SCL`s national database of voter issue
sentiment and psychographic profiles. Having somebody not American do
that, that might be a little much for American law.
So, first of all, this raises question of foreigners working on U.S.
campaigns. But second of all, this is about Cambridge Analytica, the data
firm for the Trump campaign.
And put that same quote up again. This is – this guy is bragging about
the harnessing of the Cambridge Analytica database, the national database.
According to Cambridge Analytica whistleblowers, that database is the one
they obtained illicitly from Facebook. They took private data from more
than 50 million Americans without permission, thanks to a stealth software
package put together by a professor who was jointly employed by Cambridge
University and a university in Russia.
Cambridge Analytica founded and funded by Trump donor Robert Mercer worked
on a whole bunch of Republican campaigns in 2014. They then went on to be
the data firm for the Trump presidential campaign in 2016.
Over the last week and a half, Cambridge Analytica and their parent company
SCL, they`ve come under intense scrutiny. They`ve ousted their CEO, they
got kicked off of Facebook they had their London offices raided by British
authorities, they come under formal investigation not just by British law
enforcement and parliament but also by the European Union.
And then there`s this: yesterday, British parliament held an emergency
debate and took testimony on allegations that companies linked to Cambridge
Analytica may have been used to dump tons of illegal money into the British
Brexit campaign to leave the European Union. Now, part of that allegation
from a disgruntled co-founder of Cambridge Analytica, its former research
director, part of that allegation is that these companies linked to Robert
Mercer were systematically set up used as a way to hide money that was
going into campaigns.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JULIAN KNIGHT, BRITISH MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT: Did you so it mention almost
as an aside and there`s a couple of times actually, we had seen an in –
one invoice or more than one invoice with the word you keep on it, is that
CHRISTOPHER WYLIE, FORMER CAMBRIDGE ANALYTICA RESEARCH DIRECTOR: Yes, I
don`t – I don`t have it but I can show you.
KNIGHT: OK, and it`s just it`s just interesting because you could quite
famously the most colleagues will now have absolutely no money whatsoever.
So I just wondering when they were doing in terms of to actually sort of
pay for this particular –
WYLIE: Well, you have to remember, part of the brilliance of Cambridge
Analytica is that it doesn`t like – it doesn`t need to make money, because
it`s Robert Mercer`s project, right? So, Robert Mercer doesn`t – he`s a
billionaire, he doesn`t need to make money, right?
So – and further if you – if you as an investor of a company put money as
a shareholder, as an investor into that company, that`s not classed as a
political donation, right? That`s an investment in a company that you`re
the owner of, right? I`m improving R&D; I`m expanding our, you know,
teams. I`m doing – but you can do that more pointedly, you know, and
continue to invest purposely into a company so that it can also work for
particular entities at a subsidized rate or indeed in some cases for free.
So, one of the things that I`d also just point out is that just because
there`s, you know, a bill with a particular number on it with (INAUDIBLE),
it doesn`t mean that that`s the genuine value of the work that we have
produced, because part of the brilliance of the setup that Robert Mercer
created was that it becomes very easy to actually get around campaign
finance laws in terms of declarations because it`s an investment. It, you
know, he`s a shareholder, he can invest.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: So, what`s emerging out of this investigation overseas into the
workings of this company that went on to be the Trump campaign`s data firm,
it`s an allegation from a whistleblower at the company that the way this
data firm worked is that they did lots and lots of work for campaigns, but
they had the luxury of not really very much for it. Robert Mercer, one of
the richest men on earth, could afford to just fund this company up the
Wazoo, and then the company could therefore afford to charge a campaign
almost nothing for their work no matter how much work they actually did.
Presto change-o, right, Robert Mercer`s money funding these companies and
entities in real life becomes Robert Mercer illegally over funding a
campaign, right, without anybody on either side disclosing it.
That`s the allegation for the Brexit campaign in the U.K. By implication,
that`s the allegation for Republican campaigns in the 2014 midterms here in
the U.S. where they also allegedly had foreign workers coming over here to
work on those campaigns as a sort of dry run, a practice run for the 2016
presidential race. And then, of course, that`s a question about the 2016
election itself when the Trump campaign paid Cambridge Analytica just under
$6 million for running the campaign`s data operation.
Senator Amy Klobuchar brought that up on our show a few days back that
maybe people should start looking at the smallness of that number.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D), MINNESOTA: There are all kinds of potential legal
violations here. The first and foremost is Cambridge Analytica itself and
how that works with the Trump campaign and is that truly the value a couple
million dollars compared to what I think someone has said maybe a hundred
million dollars in value. That`s a potential major election violation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: So, if these allegations about basically unreported outsized
campaign contributions are true, the question for us now is how exactly did
they do that if they did it? What are the mechanisms they use to make
these kinds of contributions and to move this money around in American
campaigns, what should we look for to try to find out if this money was
moving this way in our politics?
Well, that brings us back to Thom Tillis and this British guy who`s been
bragging online about all the work he did on Thom Tillis` campaign in 2014,
including on this campaign ad he features in the Thom Tillis section on his
Website. Let`s watch this. This is the very end of that ad that he`s been
(VIDEO CLIP PLAYS)
MADDOW: See the bottom part there? This is an ad that a British guy is
bragging about having worked on dreamed up for the Thom Tillis campaign,
while he was working for the parent company of Cambridge Analytica. But
according to the disclosure there at the end, it`s paid for by the John
Bolton super PAC. John Bolton super PAC also funded by Robert Mercer, who
also funded Cambridge Analytica, which is now facing missile whistleblower
allegations that the company sent foreign workers into the U.S. to work on
Republican campaigns and that these connected companies and entities were
set up basically as a way to funnel Mercer`s money into campaigns without
it being seen.
John Bolton super PAC appears to have been one of the links in that alleged
operation and, of course, he has just been named national security advisor.
I should tell you, since we first got a look at that British consultant`s
Website bragging about the 2014 election and Thom Tillis, couple of things
have happened. I`ll tell – I should tell you, the British guy didn`t
answer our emails at least in the form of an email reply. But after we
asked him about the John Bolton super PAC ad that he posted for his show
and tell, he changed his Website. He took down the John Bolton super PAC.
Now, he`s just put up in its place a very exciting picture of Thom Tillis,
which may be the British guy also helped with I don`t know.
And now, instead of saying that he helps Thom Tillis is successful
senatorial campaign create highly targeted advertising harnessing SCL`s
national database a voter issue sentiment and psychographic profiles,
instead of all that, now that he`s had the better part of four years to
reflect on it, now since we started asking questions about that last night,
he`s changed it to say that really he was just helping a local political
party with something a lot simpler, none of that highly targeted
psychographic profile stuff that`s in all the headlines now.
So, that`s the first funny thing that happened when we started asking about
this. Second thing is that the Campaign Legal Center now says they intend
to file this complaint with the Federal Elections Commission. We have a
draft of the complaint. It alleges that the Bolton super PAC was making
illegal unreported and excessive in-kind contributions to that Thom Tillis
Senate race in 2014 – John Bolton with all the Robert Mercer money.
It hasn`t even been a full week since the president named Bolton as his new
national security adviser, but if the idea was to not end up in a Michael
Flynn situation again, Bolton might have been an odd pick. Here`s Bolton
in a Russian gun rights video for a group whose founder is reportedly the
subject of an FBI investigation into whether he illegally funneled Russian
money into the Trump campaign by way of the NRA.
Now, here`s Bolton`s showing up and reporting about Cambridge Analytica,
which Robert Mueller is also reportedly investigating over the 2016
election and now comes this watchdog complained about Bolton`s PAC in the
2014 election. We are six days out from the announcing of Bolton for this
incredibly sensitive job. Heck of a choice, heck of a way to get started.
MADDOW: I am terrible at this. Last night, I was early, tonight, I`m
It is 19 seconds past time for “THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL.”
Good evening, Lawrence. I`m sorry.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY
Copy: Content and programming copyright 2018 MSNBC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
Copyright 2018 ASC Services II Media, LLC. All materials herein are
protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced,
distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the
prior written permission of ASC Services II Media, LLC. You may not alter
or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the