Pruitt denied knowing about staff pay raises. TRANSCRIPT: 04/06/2018. The Rachel Maddow Show
Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW
Date: April 6, 2018
Guest: Tim Dickinson; Chris Lu
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Happy Friday. Thanks for joining us tonight.
This is a live news show right now. It’s Friday night and this era in
America news and politics, that means keep your tray tables stowed and your
seat in a upright position because anything could happen. And in fact we
do need to start tonight with something new to report concerning the EPA
Administrator, Scott Pruitt. Who appears to be hanging on to his job in
the Trump cabinet, not just by a thread but by a thread that is invisible.
That has been cut and retied and several times inexpertly and either
actively frayed or on fire. Right now depending how you squint at it. One
of the elements of controversy around Scott Pruitt has to do with the
upper level staffing that he’s done at his agency at EPA. When “FOX News”
reporter Ed Henry this week interviewed Scott Pruitt, that was the part,
the staffing part was where they got into their biggest fight.
(VIDEO CLIP BEGINS)
ED HENREY, FOX NEWS REPORTER: Why did you go around the President in the
White House to give pay raisers to two staffers –
SCOTT PRUITT, EPA ADMINISTRATOR: I did not. My staff did. And I found
out about that yesterday and I changed it.
HENREY: Was somebody being fired for it?
PRUITT: That it should not have done. And admit it –
HENREY: So who did it?
PRUITT: There will be some accountability about it.
HENREY: A career person or a political person?
PRUITT: I’ll have to - I don’t know.
HENREY: you don’t know who did this?
PRUITT: I found out about this yesterday and I corrected the action and we
are in the process of finding out how it took place and correcting it.
HENREY: Hang on, both of these staffers who got these large pay raises are
friends of yours. I believe, from Oklahoma, right?
PRUITT: They are staffers here in the agency.
HENREY: Then there from Oklahoma? They’re friends of yours?
PRUITT: Well they serve a very important person.
HENREY: And you didn’t know they got these large pay raises?
PRUITT: I did not know that they got the pay raises until yesterday.
HENREY: OK, one got a raise of let’s see $28,000 and the other was
$56,000. Do you know what the median income in this country is?
PRUITT: No what was it?
HENREY: $57,000 a year.
HENREY: So one of your friends from Oklahoma got a pay raise that’s the
PRUITT: They did not get a pay raise.
HENREY: They did.
PRUITT: They did not get a pay raise. No they did not. I stopped that
HENREY: You stopped it. Are you embarrassed that –
PRUITT: It should not have happened, it should not have happened. And the
officials that were involved in that process should not have done what they
(VIDEO CLIIP ENDS)
MADDOW: I love the part where he says there are staffers here in this - so
hang on, these staffers their friends of yours from Oklahoma, right? Their
staffers here in the agency, their friends of yours? And then Scott Pruitt
says they serve a very important person. They’re his staff. Yes they do
serve a very important person. But the substance of that public
explanation from EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is he had no idea about
these big pay raises, $30,000, $50,000 pay raises that went to his
We later found out that the money for those pay raises came from the Safe
Drinking Water Act, where it is in the law that an administrator can do
that because the EPA is supposed to be able to hire engineers and
scientific experts quickly to respond to drinking water emergencies. That
is not what Scott Pruitt used that money for. Now he’s saying publicly he
had no idea how this happened, he only found out about it in the press this
week. It was news to him. He definitely didn’t do it himself. He says
he’s not even sure who might have done it but when he figures it out, their
going to be in trouble.
Well “The Washington Post” now reports now that Scott Pruitt not only knew
about those pay raises for his staffers, he signed off on them himself.
The Post sighting three Trump Administration Officials confirming that
Scott Pruitt endorsed the idea last month of giving these substantial pay
raises to two of his new staffers. So according to this multiply sourced
report in The Post Scott Pruitt is lying publically about one of the things
he’s been caught out for in this scandal avalanche. That has currently
turned him into a rolling EPA Administrator snowball.
But here’s something new on top of that, last week we talked a little bit
about the amazing trip to Morocco that Scott Pruitt took in December. It
was amazing for lots of reasons. First of all he took seven staffers
with him on the trip. Including one of the Oklahoma staffers who he gave
the giant raise to and he’s now denying it anything to do with giving her a
raise. But including her, he brought seven staffers plus his security
Now “The Associated Press” reports just a little while ago tonight, just
within the past couple hours. That Pruitt’s security detail was, we now
know a multi million dollar affair. According to new documents reviewed
tonight by “The Associated Press” quote EPA Chief Scott Pruitt’s concern
for his safety came at a steep cost for taxpayers. As his swollen security
detail blew through over time budgets and at times diverted officers from
investing environmental crimes so those officers could instead protect him.
All together the agency spent millions of dollars for a 20-member security
detail. That is three times the size of his predecessor’s security
contingent and hers was only part time. So we don’t know exactly how many
members of Scott Pruitt’s 20-person full-time security team got to go on
the trip to Morocco. But it was Scott Pruitt, seven staffers plus the
security team flying international first class, paid for by us, the
Happily that trip came with a Saturday night layover in Paris, France. We
learned yesterday that after the Saturday night layover in Paris, Pruitt
and company didn’t actually show up for their Sunday morning connecting
flight from Paris to Morocco. Oops. That meant another day and night in
Paris on the taxpayer’s dime. Finally on Monday they did manage to catch
another flight where Pruitt got down to the business of the trip.
And the business of the trip inexplicably was that Pruitt went to Morocco
to lobby government officials there. That they should change their
National energy strategy and start importing liquefied natural gas from the
U.S. That’s not his job. It is not the job of the environmental
protection agency to talk other countries into importing American natural
gas. That is not anywhere near what the American EPA is supposed to do.
Now we talked about that story last night. The reason we focused on that
last night is because at the time of that inexplicable lavish taxpayer
funded trip. There was only one company operating and export terminal in
the whole United States for liquefied natural gas, a company called
Cheniere. The controlling shareholder of Cheniere was Carl Icahn. Former
Trump White House Official who left his position as Trumps regulatory
advisor amid very serious reports that he had used that position to benefit
companies he was invested in. And just to flat out make himself money on
Carl Icahn also reportedly got Scott Pruitt his job running the EPA.
According to Patrick
Radden Keefe last year in the “The New Yorker” after Scott Pruitt
interviewed with Trump at Trump Tower. Trump asked Pruitt to seal the deal
by walking two blocks north to Carl Icahn’s office. Because Trump told him
Carl had some questions for him before Scott Pruitt could be green lit for
the job. Carl Icahn apparently asked his questions, Pruitt gave the right
answers, he got green lit, he got the EPA job.
And soon thereafter, Pruitt went to Morocco and hooked up Carl’s company
with a big policy ad that had nothing whatsoever to do with the EPA. So
that Morocco trip is also amazing story because the top lobbyist for
Cheniere Energy company is the lobbyist whose house Pruitt has been living
in, in Washington D.C. for $50 a night. So this Morocco thing is an
astonishing circumstance in lots of ways. But check this out. Put this in
your liquefied natural gas pipe and smoke it.
One of the people on that amaze-balls trip was a newly hired senior counsel
at the EPA named Samantha Dravis. In the middle of this scandal swirling
around Scott Pruitt, this EPA staffer Samantha Dravis, she quit. We found
out this week she was quitting. And nobody was quite sure why when he
first got word that she was quitting. But then we learned that this letter
had been sent to the EPA’s Inspector General ahead of Samantha Dravis’
Senator Tom Carper of Delaware is the top Democrat on the environment
committee. And he sent this letter this week asking the Inspector General
at Pruitt’s agency to investigate reports that this Senior staffer for
Scott Pruitt, the person whose actually said to be his closest aide at
the agency. According to Carpers letter, there are reports she was being
paid full-time for that Senior Counsel job at the EPA even though she was
not actually showing up for work, for three months.
According to Carpers letter, she did not show up for work despite being
paid full-time in November 2017, December 2017, and January 2018. If
that’s true, that’s an amazing gig, right? I mean look at that timeline.
If what Senator Carper is asking about is true, that would mean that Scott
Pruitt’s Senior Counsel at EPA was getting paid for a full-time gig.
And that included her getting to go on the Morocco trip where she got to
fly international first class for - to Paris for the weekend and then on
to morocco. And she got to avoid that awkward thing where you come back
from the awesome trip and get dirty looks from your co-workers. That heard
how awesome it was but didn’t get to go. And so you don’t really know if
you can talk to them.
She didn’t have deal with any of that because she actually didn’t have to
go to work, for months. So that Senior Counsel again described as the
closest staffer to Scott Pruitt at the EPA, she has now resigned in the
middle of this scandal. I said Carper sent that letter this week. He sent
it last week. We’ve learned about her resignation this week. Scott Pruitt
is still in his job, she’s gone.
But we’ve got new information about this issue with Pruitt’s Senior Counsel
that may show this to be a bigger problem than it’s understood to be. This
new information tonight comes from the committee where Carper is the
ranking Democrat to the Senate Environment committee, a staffer on the
committee tonight gave us some of the back ground of what lead to this
request from Senator Carper.
Just so you know this is exactly how Carper put it. This what Carper said
to the EPA Inspector General. Quote I write to request that the Inspector
General conduct an immediate review of EPA’s efforts to prevent fraud
related to employee time and attendance. Including an investigation into
potential fraud committed by Scott Pruitt’s political staff.
Specifically the Senator says I have been informed that Ms. Samantha Dravis
did not attend work or perform her duties for much if not all of the months
of November 2017 though January 2018. I am additionally informed that Ms.
Dravis was likely compensated as a full-time employee throughout that time.
Well now we can report what led to this sort of remarkable claim is that
this committee, the environment committee in the Senate was contacted but
multiple sources on this matter over a period of four to six weeks.
Multiple sources contacted the committee via calls, e-mails and in person
meetings all raising the same issue about Samantha Dravis being the Senior
Counsel at the EPA, but her not being at work. The sources were told
include former EPA political appointees, current EPA political
appointees, as well as current EPA staff. We’re told all sources that
contacted the committee expressed similar concerns.
So tonight, 64 democratic members of Congress signed a statement calling on
Scott Pruitt to resign. That was before the new reporting from the AP
about the multimillion dollar security costs. And that was before this new
reporting tonight about his Senior Counsel and multiple staffers including
current political appointees raising the issues with the Senate Staff -
Senate Committee that oversees the EPA.
Raising this question of whether or not Dravis actually had to come to work
in order to earn her Senior Council salary working for Scott Pruitt. But
like I said, she has resigned. As of this second, Scott Pruitt is still
in his job in Donald Trump’s cabinet. But the night is young and stuff
happens on Fridays. The one very high profile person who is definitely
leaving Washington tonight is H.R. McMaster.
I hope you saw this footage today. Did you see this today? This
remarkable footage of West Wing Staff and Security Counsel Staff coming
outside onto the grounds of the White House to cheer for him and applaud
for him, as he left the White House for the last time. General H.R.
McMaster was fired by President Trump about two weeks ago. Today was his
last day. And he went out with this remarkable show of support from his
colleagues and from White House staff today.
But he is now gone. And the new National Security Advisor, the President’s
third after Mike Flynn who is awaiting sentencing and H.R. McMaster, the
new National Security Advisor John Bolton is due to start on Monday. You
probably want to stick a pin in that for now because there are questions
about john Bolton starting on Monday. Real questions out of today’s news
and we’ll get to that in a minute with “Rolling Stone” reporter Tim
But before we get to the substantive issue of John Bolton taking this job
and the question of if that’s going to work, also just consider the
immediate timeline here. And when we got those – that footage today of
McMaster leaving and all the staff coming out and applauding him and
everything, that was not a show. He left. He’s actually gone. John
Bolton we’re told is due to start first thing Monday morning. Is anybody
For the weekend there’s no National Security Advisor I guess? Hold tight.
Hold tight particularly because there is a lot of international eye poking
going on right now. including the President trying to start this trade
war with China. You saw the markets go off a cliff today, again because of
that. The President of Mexico has previously been pretty even keeled about
He’s now making stern nationally televised denunciations of the U.S.
Government over the President’s most recent remarks insulting Mexico and
insulting Mexicans. And of course there’s what’s going on with Russia.
And a whole bunch of really important stuff happens today when it comes to
Russia and that’s next. Stay with us.
MADDOW: During the Trump era we are used to any confrontation with Russia
happening not so much through the U.S. Government, it more often happens
through the Special Counsel’s office. Robert Mueller and his team of
prosecutors in the Special Counsel’s office went after Russia directly for
their interference in the 2016 Presidential election. When in February
they indicted 13 Russians, including a billionaire Russian oligarch, who
Putin gave all the kindering contracts for the Russian military in Russian
This is a guy close to Putin. People call him Putin’s chef. Robert Mueller
straight up indicted that guy in February. Those Russian indictments by
Mueller in February, those ended up becoming the basis for the first
significant U.S. government sanctions against Russia for the election
interference issue in the Trump era. It happened a few weeks ago. Mueller
was the one who picked those targets, named them and literally brought
Federal Criminal charges against them. Then the Trump administration just
kind of gloomed on to the indictment and said OK yeah, we’ll sanction them,
Since then, Robert Mueller hasn’t just charged, he also secured his first
prison sentence in the Russia scandal for a Dutch lawyer. A Dutch lawyer
who speaks fluent Russian, he is the son-in-law of another Russian oligarch
who is close to Putin. In our country neither Alex van der Zwaan the
lawyer, nor his father-in-law German Kahn are high profile figures. But
German Kahn absolutely is in Russia and in the Kremlin.
And so the jailing of his son has to have some kind of residence in Russia.
Since then we have also learned thanks to a fascinating “CNN” report from a
couple of days ago that Mueller and his prosecutors have also been stopping
Russian oligarchs at U.S. airports, including in at least one instance
searching the electronic devices of an oligarch when he landed in the U.S.
in a private plane.
So up until today, it’s kind of been the Special Counsel’s Office who has -
- that’s been responsible in the United States for punching back at
Russia on behalf of the American people. Whose election was interfered
with by Russia in 2016. And they’ve done so in some ways that have been
quite provocative. Well, now today, on H.R. McMaster’s last day in office,
as National Security Advisor, today the Treasury Department announced what
experts in this field consider to be a real list.
A substantive list of newly sanctioned Russian individuals, and entities as
punishment for Russia quote attempting to subvert Western democracies.
They got close to saying it. I think they are including messing with our
democracy, in that but couldn’t explicitly say it. Don’t upset the
President. Whether or not that preamble matters in terms of the exact
verbiage, the list that they put out today for these new sanctions its
aggressive. It includes Putin’s son-in-law.
Who he set up with billions of dollars worth of shares in formerly state-
run entities when this young man married Putin’s daughter several years
ago. It also sanctions the head of the Gazprom, which is the gigantic
Russian natural gas company, which is a key source of energy to Western
Europe. There are also a couple people on the list who sanctions experts
and Russian experts describe not just as obvious choices but as clever
choices. For example, there are sanctions announced against Igor
Igor Rotenberg is not a famous person but his dad is. His dad and his
uncle are among the richest guys in Russia and among the closest oligarchs
to Putin. They’ve been given gigantic construction and building contracts
by Putin’s government. The contracts they tend to get are both very large,
and very, very well padded. Because Putin’s government has used
Rotenberg’s dad and uncle to accomplish government aims, because they have
been so enriched by Putin’s government.
Igor Rotenberg’s dad and uncle were both put on the very strict sanctions
list. The U.S. and European sanctions list in 2014 that happened after
Russia invaded Crimea. Well when those guys, when Igor’s dad and uncle got
sanctioned back in 2014 what they did was they transferred all of their
assets and their companies to the kid. They just gave everything to Igor,
right? There still believed to materially control all these assets but
Igor’s not sanctioned so put everything on him.
Well today Igor is the one who got sanctioned. So both him, and his dad,
and uncle are all in a position where their assets are not stripped but
quite internationally constrained. There’s two last things to know here
about this. First, is that the person who appears to be hardest hit by
these sanctions today is somebody who is a very familiar figure from the
Russia scandal. And in particular the scandal surrounding indicted Trump
Campaign Chairman Paul Manafort.
His name is Oleg Deripaska, and like all these other guys who got
sanctioned today, he’s a very, very rich Russian oligarch close to Putin.
He runs the biggest aluminum manufacturing concern anywhere in the world,
outside of China. Oleg Deripaska is sanctioned personally today on top of
that there are 12 oligarch controlled companies that got sanctioned today.
Of the 12, eight are companies controlled by Oleg Deripaska. He’s really
Now aside from his business influence, Oleg Deripaska has become well-known
to us here in the United States because of his long standing business
dealings with Trump Champaign Chair Paul Manafort. Who’s not awaiting
trial on multiple felonies. The AP reported back in March of last year
that in 2006, Manafort signed a $10 million a year contract with Oleg
Deripaska to promote the interests of Putins government in the United
States, and around the world.
Manafort denies he ever did that, but the AP has stood by that reporting.
Court records indicate that beyond that $10 million a year reported
contract, Deripaska and Manafort at least tried multiple business ventures
together. I say tried because part of the way we know that is that
Deripaska has sued Manafort in multiple jurisdictions trying to get back
millions of dollars that he says Manafort stole from him.
While he thought they were doing business together. Then in the past year,
“The Atlantic Magazine” turned up e-mails from when Manafort was running
Trump’s Campaign. And in these e-mails Manafort appeared to link his job
on the Trump Campaign to his outstanding unsettled business matters with
Manafort e-mailed a business associate of his own, asking if Oleg Deripaska
had seen the press clippings about Manafort becoming Trumps Campaign Chair.
He asked if there was some way we could - he could use that to get whole
with Oleg Deripaska. He offered private briefings on the campaign to
Deripaska. Manaforts business associate, somebody who says Muellers
prosecutors say asses as having current ties to Russian intelligence.
Manaforts business associate then e-mailed Manafort to say he spent five
hours meeting with Oleg Deripaska. And that he had several important
messages from Deripaska that he needed to deliver in person to Manafort.
He said those messages concerned the future of his country, meaning Oleg’s
Deripaska’s country, meaning Russia. So Manafort and his business
associate then met up. In New York in early August 2016 to discuss
whatever those messages were from Oleg Deripaska.
At the time, Manafort was Trump’s Campaign Manager. Well, Oleg Deripaska
is now sanctioned by the U.S. Government and his business empire has just
had an anvil dropped on it by these sanctions today. And he is close to
Putin and nobody knows how the Russian government is going to respond to
this. They say they’re gonna respond in kind. But there is no Russian
equivalent to locking multibillionaires out of the U.S. Economy. Not when
your country is economically weak as Russia is. Russia’s the biggest
country on earth by land area. They got an economy the size of Italy.
In part because it’s so freaking corrupt that they have to create oligarchs
to do their work everywhere. So nobody really knows what Russia means when
they say they’re going to retaliate in kind. Hopefully they won’t do
anything to get a new National Security Advisor in place Monday morning.
Russia doesn’t work week ends, do they? That’s all before we get to the
problem, the other big problem with the new sanctions list, which is a
problem for the new guy who is supposed to start as National Security
Advisor on Monday. And that story will curl your hair. And that’s coming
up next. Stay with us.
DAVID KEENE, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE NATIONAL RIFLE ASSOCIATION: The NRA
has 5 million members. We work with everyone both in the United States and
of course here in Russia. There are no more people that are more alike than
Americans in Russians. We’re hunters, we’re shooters, we do all the things,
we value the same kind of things and we need to work together.
MADDOW: No peoples are more alike than the Americans and Russians. NRA
President David Keene. That happened during a visit when David Keene and
other NRA officials traveled to Moscow to attend a conference put on by a
group called The Right to Bear Arms.
Now the Right to Bear Arms is purportedly a gun rights group founded by a
senior member of Putin’s political party which is called United Russia.
What’s funny about that concept is that Vladimir Putin and his party,
United Russia, they don’t actually support gun rights in Russia. So why did
they create this group that purports to promote that?
A deputy governor of the Russian central bank, a former senior member of
the Russian parliament and a close ally of Vladimir Putin and ranking
member of his party started this gun rights group in Russia. now, they
didn’t actually do much to promote gun rights in Russia. Now didn’t
actually do much to promote gun rights in Russia at all. They also named
themselves the right to bear arms, which has a lot more residence in the
English language than it does in Russian. What they did do is they started
making lots and lots of connections to the American NRA.
Aleksandr Torshin was this United Russia Party official. He started
cultivating ties with the NRA in 2010. He became a NRA member. He and a
charismatic female prot‚g‚ who you see him with here, they started
attending the NRA’s yearly conferences in the U.S. every year. They met
with top NRA officials, they cultivated friendships with them. They met
with lots of Republican Party big wigs. They sought out Republican
politician introductions whenever they could, and they twice got senior NRA
officials and NRA-affiliated celebrities to visit Russia, all expenses paid
as guests of this Putin-affiliated fake gun rights group, that honestly
wasn’t actually promoting gun rights in Russia.
Now among the U.S. officials who personally promoted this Russian group is
John Bolton who is supposed to start on Monday as National Security
Advisor. Here he is as you’ve never seen him before with Russian subtitles.
JOHN BOLTON, UNITED STATES NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: Thank you for this
opportunity to address the Russian people on the 20th anniversary of the
adoption of the Russian constitution. Today you’re engaged in a historic
debate about the possible expansion of your freedoms. Should the Russian
people have the right to bear arms?
MADDOWS: They’re not actually engaged in that debate. To be clear,
Vladimir Putin and his political party do not believe the Russian people
should have the right to bear arms. These people from his political party
wanted to appear to be promoting that in Russia, they appear to have been
doing so for effect - for effect on an American audience. They were trying
to cultivate ties between the American political right and Putin’s
government. McClatchy (ph) reports that the FBI is now investigating
whether this group and Aleksandr Torshin used this relationship they built
with the NRA to funnel foreign cash into the U.S. to support the election
of Donald Trump, and that of course is awkward for John Bolton starting as
National Security Advisor on Monday if in fact that’s an active counter
intelligence FBI investigation.
All of these contacts form part of a new article in “Rolling Stone” called
the “Decade’s Long Campaign”, excuse me, “The Decade’s Long Russian
Campaign To Infiltrate the NRA and Eventually Help Elect Donald Trump.”
Quote, Russian experts believe Torshin’s interest in U.S. gun culture
masked a dark ulterior motive.
Steven Hall that served as CIA Chief of Russia Operations told the magazine
quote, the idea of private gun ownership is anathema Putin. So then the
question is why? Why was a pro-gun campaign being hatched by a leader in
Putin’s own party?
As I mentioned before a few weeks ago, McClatchy reported the FBI is
investigating whether any NRA money went to help Trump through what appears
to be this Russian op targeting the NRA. The NRA spent a record $55
million on the 2016 election; that’s triple what they spent
on the previous presidential election. Central to that reported FBI
investigation is the head of the fake Russian gun rights group, Aleksandr
Torshin. You know it’s funny, since this is generated a little scandal for
the NRA, the NRA has grudgingly admitted to taking foreign money but they
say they don’t do so for election purposes. The one foreign donation the
NRA has admitted to in the middle of the controversy is a $1,000 payment
from Aleksandr Torshin for his own personal life membership in the NRA.
They say that’s the only Russian money – it’s just – that’s - Well
Aleksandr Torshin, as of today, finds himself unable to enter the United
States or attend any more NRA conferences or do any business with any of
his American friends because he’s just been named on the Treasury
Department list of 17 top Russian government officials who are now
sanctioned by the U.S. government because of Russia’s interference in the
election in 2016.
Will our new National Security Advisor John Bolton have to ask for his
video back? Joining us now is Tim Dickinson, “Rolling Stone” contributing
editor and he wrote this article, “Decades Long Russian Campaign to
Infiltrate the NRA and Eventually Help Elect Donald Trump.” Mr. Dickinson,
thanks very much for being with us. I really appreciate your time tonight.
TIM DICKINSON, CONTRIBUTING EDITOR FOR “THE ROLLING STONE”: Great to be
MADDOWS: So one of the things I’m curious about is why Aleksandr Torshin
ended up on this sanctions list today – this sanctions list today in terms
of what it said it was about. I’m not sure how that connects to Torshin
and what he’s known for doing in Russian politics.
DICKINSON: Well, I think one of the things missing in this talk about
Torshin is how big a figure he was in the Russian Senate. He was number two
and briefly rose to be the acting chairman. He was briefly Mitch McConnell
essentially. And Aleksandr was there in 2014 when Russia was officially
annexing Crimea and so Torshin helped steer that legislation and appeared
at the Kremlin signing ceremony with Vladimir Putin.
This is a big - this guy’s a big deal in Russian politics far apart from
any of the scandal we’re talking about. There was a plausible reason to
sanction him back in 2014. That didn’t happen to (inaudible) and other high
level Russian officials were sanctioned then, so the question I guess this
raises for me is why now? Why is he getting targeted now and Steve Mnuchin
the out-going Treasury Secretary talked in pretty specific terms, broad
terms about Russia’s malign influence including its influence and
interference in western elections.
It seemed to me that I think the right question is does someone in the
administration have other information that’s come to light that makes this
person of significant interest now to be seeking to punish.
MADDOWS: And on the why question here, I think if we can agree that it
would be unnatural to the point of impossible to exist in nature that there
could be a Putin-supported Russian gun rights group that was actually going
to aggressively promote gun rights in Russia and private gun ownership in
Russia the way the NRA does here.
If we can set aside the possibility that’s actually what that group is for,
is it clear to you from your reporting and what you understand from the
investigations here what exactly they were after in cultivating the NRA
this hard and running what is an op to try to get lots of visits on both
sides and cultivate friendships and turn it into relationships with
American politicians. What was it about?
DICKINSON: We’re looking through a glass darkly here. We don’t have all
the information. Having gone back through years and years of social media
posts, you know, just extensive research, what you’re describing is
absolutely right. What we see is a sophisticated influence campaign where
Torshin and his prot‚g‚ Butina are seeking to open the NRA as a conduit to
do Russia’s bidding in American politics.
So the NRA conventions and reciprocated on the other side in Moscow but in
America they become a conduit to meet people like David Keene, who’s a
conservative everywhere man. He ran for many years the organization that
runs CPAC, all roads of conservatism lead through this guy. He’s one of the
most connected guys in Washington and is likely the reason that John Bolton
appeared in this video. The only public discussion we had of this that
David Keene asked Bolton to record this video for his friends in Russia and
Bolton unwittingly sort of agreed is the story we’ve heard.
But the idea that Bolton is mixed-up in this speaks to the depth and
success of this Russian effort to influence the NRA and to open these doors
and these pathways. And so what this allowed was for Torshin to in 2015 to
back-channel through another operative, a deputy of Keenes named Paul
Erickson to extend an invitation to the Trump campaign to try and broker a
meeting between Putin and Trump.
So this is the pathway that was open. This is a level of communication that
was open. Torshin claimed he met Trump personally in 2015 and eventually
ended up meeting at the NRA Convention in 2015 in Louisville where Trump
received the endorsement of the group. He met with the President’s son just
weeks before the infamous Trump Tower meeting where Trump, Jr., is meeting
with other Russians and in fact just a couple weeks after that Torshin
receives very interesting medal from the FSB, which is the successor
organization to the KGB. Now maybe this is a lifetime achievement medal,
but it gives the impression that this is a reward for something much more
MADDOWS: Well done. They - when we saw Kislyak come back to Moscow after
his term as Ambassador was done after his remarkable turn in the Trump
campaign. They basically crowd surfed him from St. Petersburg to Moscow,
meanwhile the NRA guy is getting the FSB medal. Remarkable .
DICKINSON: Well then go back to 2012 because Torshin is meeting - Torshin
is an observer in the 2012 election between Obama and Romney and he’s
thinking about American politics deeply at that point. After that trip he
goes and visits NRA headquarters and he goes and visits Sergey Kislyak.
What’s going on here? It’s really – I suspect on some level the NRA got
the wool pulled over its eyes here. What we’re left to understand is that
there may have been a way for the Russians to steer money through the NRA
without the NRA necessarily being aware.
MADDOWS: They should probably be aware with the sanctions of Torshin.
Tim Dickinson, Contributing Editor at “Rolling Stone,” congratulations on
this reporting. Thanks for joining us.
DICKINSON: Appreciate it.
MADDOWS: All right. We got much more ahead tonight, just stay with us.
MADDOWS: So we have some breaking news at the top of the hour tonight,
news that multiple current staffers of the EPA including both career
staffers and Trump Administration political appointees have come forward to
the committee that has oversight over the EPA to complain to that committee
that embattled EPA administrator Scott Pruitt hired a senior staffer at the
agency for what was essentially a no show job.
According to these whistle-blower EPA employees who have come forward to
the Senate Environment Committee, the allegation is that a senior staffer
working for Scott Pruitt was hired for a job that came with full pay but no
responsibility to actually go to work for what is reported to be a three
We’ve got more on that breaking news coming up, stay with us.
MADDOWS: It was one of the weirdest con jobs you have ever heard about in
government. The kind of thing you can’t believe somebody actually pulled
off particularly for as long as this dude did. His name is John Beale.
He was a career staffer at the EPA. He worked for the EPA for over 20
years, one of the country’s leading experts on climate change. While he
was doing that expert work, he was also pretending to be moonlighting as a
CIA agent. For more than ten years, John Beale told his EPA supervisors,
hey I’m going to need some time off because I’ve got some highly secret
work to do for the CIA. And apparently everybody just believed him. They
apparently really believed that he
he was involved in some covert operation and so best not to call too much
attention to it by calling anybody and checking it out. So this started as
a few days here and there for my secret operations then it turned into a
six month stretch where John Beale didn’t show up to work at all.
Then an 18 month long stretch where again, he just didn’t show up to work
and the EPA was apparently fine with it. They kept paying him. He kept
getting paid and he actually kept getting promoted. He ended up becoming
the highest paid official at the EPA. He at the end he was getting paid
more than the head of the EPA. Gina McCarthy was the EPA administrator;
John Beale was getting paid more. What did he say he did with all the time
once he got caught? He was quote working around the house, riding his
bicycle and reading books.
MADDOWS: Basically he’s my hero. John Beale was eventually caught, he
pled guilty in 2013 to defrauding the U.S. government of like a million
dollars. He was sentenced to a lot of time in prison. But it still kind
of boggles the mind that a real live person, not a character in a movie,
could pull off something that - anyway – something of that magnitude for
as long as he did.
But tonight the “Yes That Really Happened” adventures of that one
magnificent EPA conman. Those adventures are back in the news because of
news that among EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s mounting pile of scandals,
is word that multiple EPA staffers, both career staffers and Trump
political appointees have apparently come forward over a period of 4 to 6
weeks by phone, by e-mail and in person meetings.
They’ve come forward to alert the Senate committee that has oversight over
the EPA that there is another scandal of this type at the EPA, another
senior no-show staffer. In this case, it’s a senior council to Scott
Pruitt someone who he hired. She is an official who is said to be the
closest aid to Scott Pruitt at the agency. She has resigned in the past
week but according to these EPA staffers who have come forward to the
Senate Environmental Committee, she was allegedly being paid full time,
even though she wasn’t turning up at work for months at a time – for three
months between November and January. Joining us now is Chris Lu. He’s
managed President Obama’s first term cabinet. He’s now a senior fellow at
the University of Virginia Miller Center. Mr. Lu, thank you for being here.
It’s a weird story.
CHRIS LU, FORMER UNITED STATES DEPUTY SECRETARY OF LABOR: You know it is a
weird story but it’s part and parcel of a culture of anything goes and
we’ve seen with Pruitt the excessive spending, the first class travel, the
salaries that he gave to a couple of his officials, so when you have a
culture of misconduct this is not surprising at all.
MADDOWS: When you were managing the cabinet in the Obama Administration,
if you got word of some alleged scandal involving not necessarily the
administrator him or herself but a senior staff, something weird about some
hiring, there’s some money that was paid to augment someone’s salary
radically where it looks like that’s not where the money should have come
from. There’s an allegation about a no show job in this case. Is that the
sort of thing you would expect the administrator to fix the cabinet
official to fix or is that something where the White House might get
LU: Well look, you know and that’s the important point, we in the Obama
Administration all salary increases for political appointees had to be
cleared by the White House and that’s to insure that there’s parity not
only within the agency but across agencies as well. And so whether it was
scrutinizing trips, spending, all of these things came to the White House
because we had the tone of ethics, because president Obama set that tone.
You have Donald Trump who frankly not only is indifferent to ethics but has
been frankly blatantly hostile to it. They clearly haven’t set up the
processes to check these kinds of abuses.
MADDOWS: On – on the staffing issue, those large raises we are
discussing, the way that’s been reported out and I should say that Scott
Pruitt denies all of it; denies knowing about it; denies having signed off
on it. The way this is being reported out is it looks like the White House
may have not cleared some of the people who he wanted to hire and,
therefore, the administrator, Scott Pruitt, seems to have decided with his
senior staff that he would use the Safe Drinking Water Act as a way to
circumvent that White House - the White House turning them down to get
those people hired anyway. Is that the sort of circumstance defying or
circumventing – going behind the White House’s back. That would seem to
be a fatal offense in any cabinet just because of insubordination.
LU: Yes and that’s right. To an outsider this seems like inside baseball,
but there are processes in place and those cabinet members that are trying
to follow the rules and are submitting their salary increases, some get
approved, some get turned down, don’t take well 7
to somebody who goes around the process and gives unilaterally these salary
increases. And what’s egregious is that he uses the authority under the
Safe Drinking Water Act and one of these people is a former chemical
lobbyist. And so it’s not even clear that this person qualifies, and so
yes, that deliberate flouting of the White House process in and of itself
should mean that he gets taken to the wood shed by the woodshed by the
White House Chief of Staff.
MADDOWS: And Chris we saw 64 House Democrats, Democrats. There have been
three House Republicans who have called for Pruitt’s resignation. Sixty-
four House Democrats came out in a joint statement today. Does Congress
have any recourse here?
LU: Well look, yes, they do but what we have found in this Administration
is that the President has been fairly defiant of Congress, and as i said,
he’s turned a blind eye to ethics. And frankly as long as Scott Pruitt is
doing serious damage to clean air, clean water, turning a blind eye to
climate change, he’s doing exactly what Donald Trump wants him to do. We
can never normalize this disregard of ethics and we have to keep talking
about it, and I do think at some point there is something that’s going to
be the final straw, but what it is I’m not sure.
MADDOWS: Chris Lu, Former White House Cabinet Secretary under President
Obama, someone who’s been there but never quite had to confront something
like this. Thank you Chris, nice to see you.
LU: Thank you.
MADDOWS: We’ll be right back. Stay with us.
MADDOWS: “The Cook Political Report” is the gold standard of tracking
elections and they don’t just pop up at election time. They’re around all
the time. So right now, seven months out from the midterm elections, you
might look at “Cook” as a handy way to gauge which way the political winds
are blowing this second. Today the “Cook Political Report” changed their
ratings on 13 different congressional elections for November, there are
races all over the country. They changed their prediction for how these
races would go and for all 13 of them today, they shifted those races, to
lean more in the direction of the Democrats, meaning for all 13 of these
seats, if they were kind of leaning Democratic, they’re leaning more so.
Seats that were leaning solidly Republican are looking less solidly
The list of races moved by “The Cook Political Report” toward the Democrats
includes one congressional seat in purple Wisconsin. That is resonating
right now because Democrats and Progressives have been winning upset
elections there. In January, a Democrat won a Wisconsin Senate set in a
district that had gone for Trump by 17 points. Last week a liberal-leaning
candidate for the Wisconsin Supreme Court won a 10-year term. That was the
first time a candidate backed by a liberal
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