Giuliani renews talks with Special Counsel. TRANSCRIPT: 4/25/2018. The Rachel Maddow Show
Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW
Date: April 25, 2018
Guest: Leo Shane, Ronan Farrow
CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: Another piece of news today is that the
Republican governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, is going after the now-retired
Republican Congressman Blake Farenthold, right, who had an $84,000 sexual
harassment settlement paid by public money, right, to pay – not only pay
that, but to pay for the cost of a special election –
STEVE KORNACKI, NBC NEWS: Which is coming up.
HAYES: Which is coming up.
Steve Kornacki, Jess McIntosh, and Cornell Belcher, thank you all for
That is “ALL IN” for this evening.
THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right now. Good evening, Rachel.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Thanks, my friend. Much
HAYES: You bet.
MADDOW: And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.
It`s one of those days. We have the news meeting for the show, like early
afternoon today. Finished the news meeting, planned the whole show and
then I just turned and looked at my producer as well as the staff who works
on my show and said, doesn`t that feel like a whole bunch of other stuff is
about to break? Some day, we`ll do that show that we have planned to do in
the early afternoon today, but everything has changed since then.
All right, lots going on. President Trump hired former New York City Mayor
Rudy Giuliani six days ago, to be his personal lawyer, specifically to
represent him in the Russia investigation. And that was fascinating for a
lot of reasons. First and foremost, the news was, wow, hey, finally,
somebody said yes. All right? The president has had a lot of trouble
filling out his Russia legal team. By our latest count, just based on
public reporting, as best as we can tell, we think the president has asked
and been rejected by at least 12 different lawyers, just in the past few
Now, in a normal presidency, even a normal troubled presidency, it would be
very unusual for a president to not be able to get anyone he wants to come
represent him as a lawyer, right? It`s the president of the United States.
It`s a great honor. You don`t say no.
It has not gone that way for President Trump, though. He hasn`t been able
to get any high-profile lawyers to represent him on the Russia case. So,
that was part of the big Rudy Giuliani news, right? Rudy Giuliani is a
very high-profile person. He`s not necessarily a high-profile lawyer. I
mean, he is a lawyer, but he`s not high-profile because of his lawyering
But Trump did get a yes from him. And frankly, when Mr. Giuliani was
hired, he quickly made clear that he wasn`t exactly planning on spending a
lot of time in court on the Russia issue. The day he was hired, he told
CNN`s Dana Bash that his role on Trump`s legal team would be, quote,
limited. He told her, hey, he knows Mueller from back in the day. That
should help him bring the Russia investigation to a quick conclusion. He
said it just, quote, needs a little push.
Mr. Giuliani, how soon will you be able to bring this Russia investigation
to a close? His answer, quote, maybe a couple of weeks. OK! Well, tick-
tock then. I mean, almost done. Should be wrapped up on Thursday next
week, if he`s on schedule.
Well, tonight we learned that Mr. Giuliani has just had his first meeting
with special counsel Robert Mueller, and it`s not over yet.
“The Washington Post`s” Robert Costa and Carol Leonnig report tonight,
quote: The face-to-face discussions illustrated how Rudy Giuliani is now
functioning as Trump`s chief liaison and lead negotiator with the special
counsel. The meeting renewed talks that have largely faltered since the
resignation last month of John Dowd, a veteran lawyer, who had been serving
as Trump`s lead outside attorney on the Russia investigation. Both
Giuliani and Mueller were joined at the meeting by members of their teams.
They met at Mueller`s office in southwest Washington. Giuliani pressed
Mueller for clarity on when the probe is expected to end.
Well, unless Robert Mueller`s answer was, oh, some time in the next eight
days, that would indicate that Mr. Giuliani`s two-week prediction might
have been a little bit off. I should say, though, just as a separate
matter, as kind of my personal observation here, as part of this excellent
new reporting tonight from “The Washington Post,” we are now experiencing a
whole new round of renewed discussion about whether or not President Trump
is eventually going to sit down for an interview with Robert Mueller as
part of Mueller`s investigation.
That – you know, lots of people discussing newly reported details about
the content of those negotiations around the president`s potential
interview. Trump is now reportedly very resistant to doing an interview,
even though he used to really want to do the interview. Now his lawyers
feel one way about it, his advisers feel another. There has been so much
breath expelled on this question of how President Trump feels about the
idea of giving an interview to the special counsel.
Honestly, you know what? He`s either going to do an interview with Mueller
or he`s not. We will know once it happens or once they start fighting in
court about whether or not the president can be forced to do it. Until
then, all of this state of mind reporting about that subject, about who
really wants what and who has worries and who has what feelings about it,
as best as we can tell, all of that reporting is based on effort by the
people involved in these negotiations, somehow, to spin the negotiations by
changing public perception about them. Everybody has reason to lie and
spin on that subject.
My take on that subject is just wait and see what happens. If the
president is going to be interviewed, we`ll know it when we know it. Until
then, I don`t believe anything anybody says about it. Despite all of that
smoke on that particular subject, though, it does seem clearer than ever
that this is now a two-front war for the president. It`s the Mueller
investigation, all right, but it is also what`s going on in federal court,
in New York.
Well, prosecutors earlier this month executed a search warrant to raid the
home, the office, and the hotel room and the safety deposit box of Trump`s
personal attorney, Michael Cohen. Computers, phones, documents, business
records, e-mails, at least some of which relate to Mr. Cohen`s payment to a
porn star named Stormy Daniels right before the 2016 election, to keep her
from talking publicly about her alleged sexual affair with President Trump.
Now, Michael Cohen is a lawyer and he is a lawyer who represents the
president. And he`s been in court trying to stop prosecutors from going
through all the stuff that they seized. The president has also had his own
lawyer in court making similar arguments.
We got a filing today from Michael Cohen`s legal team, saying that the
federal prosecutor`s taint team, the prosecutor`s team that would go
through all of the seized documents and communications to weed out anything
that seemed to be protected by attorney/client privilege, Cohen`s legal
team is now arguing that that taint team shouldn`t be allowed to review the
seized documents. Instead, they want law firms representing Michael Cohen
and Donald Trump to go through the seized documents. And then they can
decide what`s privileged.
They can decide what documents pertain to Cohen and Trump having a
confidential attorney/client relationship, and therefore, they should be
shielded from prosecutors by attorney/client privilege. That`s what
Cohen`s lawyers and Trump`s lawyer want. They want to review that stuff.
They`re now suggesting that an independent special master could be
appointed to adjudicate disputes between them and the government about what
prosecutors are allowed see. The president`s lawyer today submitted a
lawyer to the judge saying that the president himself, personally, wants to
review the materials that were seized from Michael Cohen. Quote, our
client, that means, president Donald Trump, our client will make himself
available as needed to aid in our privilege review on his behalf. The
president himself is going to go through the document, so say his lawyers.
So, there`s a hearing tomorrow in federal court in Manhattan about all of
this. And technically, in a normal case, that would be sort of a
procedural thing, it would be boring. But at this point, anything about
this case could turn out to be very exciting, because this is a very high-
stakes thing. And as if to underscore just how high stakes it is, just a
couple of hours ago, Michael Cohen formally notified the judge in the
Stormy Daniels case, where Stormy Daniels is suing Michael Cohen and the
president over this agreement she signed about the alleged affair.
In that case, Michael Cohen has just pled the Fifth. He has just
officially asserted his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
Quoting from the filing: On April 9th, 2018, the Federal Bureau of
Investigation executed three search warrants on his residence, office, and
hotel room, respectively, without any prior notice. During the
corresponding raids, the FBI seized various electronic devices and
documents in my possession which contain information relating to the
$130,000 payment to plaintiff Stephanie Clifford, Stormy Daniels` real
name, at the center of this case and my communications with counsel
relating to this action. Based on the advice of my counsel, I will assert
my Fifth Amendment right in connection with all proceedings in this case
due to the ongoing criminal investigation by the FBI and the U.S. attorney
for the Southern District of New York.
The president`s personal attorney is pleading the Fifth in the Stormy
Daniels case. How was your day?
Now, this was not unexpected. Michael Cohen signaled that he might plead
the Fifth in the Stormy Daniels case earlier this month. But seeing it
written out this way in black and white in a court filing, it is a good
retirement of how much legal jeopardy the president`s personal attorney
seems to be in, which is probably why, when the attorney general of the
United States appeared before Congress today, there was a lot of talk about
the possibility of a pardon for the president`s personal attorney seems to
be in. Which is probably why, when the attorney general of the United
States appeared before Congress today, there was a lot of talk about the
possibility of a pardon for the president`s personal attorney, whether and
how the president might use that power to try to help Michael Cohen out.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D-MD), COMMERCE, JUSTICE, SCIENCE SUBCOMMITTEE: We
all have an interest in protecting the integrity of the Justice Department.
And as a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, you made a statement at
a hearing that I thoroughly agree with. And I`m quoting.
The power to pardon is a legitimate power. It is one that ought to be
exercised with great care. And then you ended saying, I believe in the
role of the pardon attorney, unquote. The pardon attorney is an office
within the DOJ, is it not?
JEFF SESSIONS, ATTORNEY GENERAL: It is a position in the department.
VAN HOLLEN: Did the pardon of Sheriff Joseph Arpaio go through the pardon
SESSIONS: I don`t believe it did.
VAN HOLLEN: Did the pardon of Scooter Libby go through the pardon office?
SESSIONS: I don`t believe it did.
SEN. CHRIS COONS (D-DE), COMMERCE, JUSTICE, SCIENCE SUBCOMMITTEE: Has the
president or anyone in the administration discussed with you the
possibility of President Trump pardoning Michael Cohen?
SESSIONS: I am unable to reveal the contents of any communications I might
have with the president of the United States or his top staff.
COONS: Given the previous conversation you had with Senator Van Hollen,
it`s my hope that if President Trump proceeded to pardon Michael Cohen in
violation of long-standing policy and did not consult with a pardon
attorney, did not consult with DOJ, that you would express strong objection
to that and would consider resigning if that step were taken. Hopefully,
it will not come to that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Hopefully it will not come to that.
But just as the – just as in the Mueller investigation, the separate and
now looming investigation into the president`s attorney, Michael Cohen, has
had this big question hanging over it. Will the president try to fix this
for his personal attorney by using his pardon power? The president has
already pardoned at least a couple of people without going through any kind
of Justice Department process.
There is a whole process at the Justice Department for dealing with
pardons. He has not used that. He`s just pardoned people when he felt it.
Will he do the same thing about the possibility of a Michael Cohen pardon?
Would that even help Michael Cohen get out of this fix? Good questions.
The other question hanging over the Michael Cohen investigation is whether
Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, should have any role in overseeing
that case. Remember, Michael Cohen is being prosecuted by the special
counsel`s office. He`s being investigated by federal prosecutors who work
under the purview in the Justice Department, the federal prosecutors in the
Southern District of New York under the guidance of the U.S. attorney in
Jeff Sessions is recused from any matters having anything to do with the
2016 campaign, including the Russia investigation. But on Cohen, there is
a lack of clarity about whether in this case, he should also be recused, or
if he is recused, should we even know about it? There`s sort of been
reporting in both directions. There`s been arguments from the Justice
Department that the Michael Cohen case doesn`t fall under Sessions` recusal
from all matters related to the campaign.
It`s also been argued that part of what prosecutors are going after Michael
Cohen for is campaign finance violations related to the 2016 presidential
race. So, is that close enough to make this something that falls within
Jeff Sessions` recusal? We don`t know. It`s very woolly.
And Attorney General Jeff Sessions is not really saying. He refused to
answer senators` questions about this today. Are you overseeing the
Michael Cohen probe, sir? No answer on that.
And you know what, procedurally, that`s probably kosher from Jeff Sessions.
You`re not necessarily supposed to go into public detail about why you are
recused from any particular case for any particular reason. Those details
about your recusal might explain important details about the case that
shouldn`t be publicly disclosed.
But in the Cohen case, it`s hard not to ask that question, right? With the
president clearly feeling so threatened about the Michael Cohen case, with
Michael Cohen`s lawyers declaring in open court that the Cohen search
warrants were specifically looking for documents related to Donald Trump.
There is the prospect that Attorney General Jeff Sessions, if he`s not
recused, if he still has an oversight role as attorney general over that
case – well, could he potentially brief President Trump on what`s going on
in that case?
That issue of Jeff Sessions` involvement in oversight in the Michael Cohen
case is red hot for a bunch of reasons. And at this point, I`ve got to
tell you, it is still super unclear.
There`s also the issue of Trump`s appointee to the U.S. attorney in the
Southern District of New York, where these prosecutors are investigating
Michael Cohen. Trump`s appointee to lead the Southern District of New York
is named Geoffrey Berman.
He`s a Trump donor. He`s somebody who worked on the Trump transition.
He`s somebody who took a personal interview with Trump for the job, before
he was named to it, which is not the kind of thing presidents typically do
with U.S. attorneys. He`s also not incidentally Rudy Giuliani`s law
Because of all of those things, it was not the world`s greatest shock when
we learned that Geoffrey Berman, also, despite the fact that he leads this
office, he is not involved in the Michael Cohen case. We learned that
right after – we learned recently that right after he took over the
Southern District of New York`s U.S. attorney`s job in January, Mr. Berman
notified Justice Department officials in Washington that he had a possible
appearance of a conflict of interest in the Michael Cohen case. Those
officials at DOJ in Washington reportedly determined that Geoff Berman
shouldn`t oversee the Cohen investigation, even as he took this job in the
Southern District of New York.
Now, what that conflict of interest is, specifically, we don`t know.
Again, the recusal process is opaque in part because it`s hard to report
on, but in part because there are rules around how much they`re supposed to
disclose about this stuff. But there`s a question about with the Cohen
stuff now getting super red hot and with Rudy Giuliani trying to negotiate
an end to the Mueller investigation, a week from tomorrow, with the
president promising that he`s going to personally review documents –
personally review documents that were seized from his attorney`s office
earlier this month.
This recusal issue about Jeff Sessions as attorney general and also about
the local U.S. attorney, Geoff Berman, they`ve been – they are intriguing.
And the fuzziness around those recusal issues remains a newsworthy point of
interest. There had been worries that Geoff Berman`s role, his status as
the interim U.S. attorney in the Southern District, his recusal, his not
being involved in that Michael Cohen case, there had been worries that
maybe the White House might try to use that as some sort of bargaining
He`s the interim U.S. attorney. He has been appointed. He hasn`t been
formally nominated to the Senate. The Senate has not confirmed him as U.S.
attorney. As an interim U.S. attorney, Geoff Berman`s tenure in the
Southern District of New York is scheduled to end next week, scheduled to
end as of May 4th unless the Trump administration stepped in to formally
and properly nominate him for the job.
So, it`s been this question hanging over the Cohen case. When his
appointment expires next week, and all of a sudden, he can`t hold that job
anymore without Trump`s say-so, might President Trump take that opportunity
to appoint somebody else to lead the Southern District of New York, who
wouldn`t have to take themselves out of running the Cohen case, who
wouldn`t have a conflict of interest when it came to Michael Cohen? Was
there any pressure one way or the other on whether Geoffrey Berman should
be recused from the Cohen case? It`s been a real point of intrigue.
Well, today, a little bit of resolution. A week ahead of that deadline,
the judges of the district court in the Southern District of New York
unanimously appointed Geoff Berman to hold that job indefinitely. It`s one
of the things that judges can do in this instance. They essentially
removed that looming deadline hanging over the U.S. attorney`s office.
And that poured some oil on these very turbulent waters, where there`s lots
and lots of intrigue, lots and lots of muddiness now. And this current
appears to be moving very fast. Probably not fast enough for Giuliani to
keep his promise to end the Mueller investigation by a week from tomorrow,
but, still, fast.
MADDOW: Today was supposed to be the confirmation hearing for the
president`s pick to lead the V.A. Instead of that, we got this, a two-page
summary of fairly lurid accusations against Dr. Ronny Jackson, accusations
that have ended up with the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. Montana
Senator Jon Tester is the top Democrat on that committee. His staff says
they spoke to 23 of Ronny Jackson`s current and former colleagues, most of
them are still in uniform, because the White House medical office staffed
by active duty military personnel.
I`m just going to read you straight from this report what, according to the
Veterans Affairs Committee, what colleagues of Ronny Jackson had to say
about their boss.
Jackson was described as, quote, the most unethical person I have ever
worked with. Quote, flat-out unethical. Quote, explosive.
Quote, 100 percent bad temper. Quote, toxic, abusive, volatile. Quote,
incapable of not losing his temper.
Quote, the worst officer I have ever served with. Quote, despicable,
dishonest. Quote, screaming tantrums and screaming fits.
Dr. Jackson`s military colleagues described him as someone who would,
quote, lose his mind over small things, who was vindictive, belittling.
Quote, the worst leader I`ve ever worked for.
The report goes on, as Jackson gained power, he became intolerable. One
physician said, quote, I have no faith in government that someone like
Jackson could end up at the V.A. One nurse stated, working at the White
House medical unit should have been the highlight of my military career,
but it was my worst assignment. Another nurse told the committee that
working at the White House medical unit was, quote, the worst experience of
These would be really bad things to hear about the White House doctor if he
wasn`t up for a big promotion.
A lot of accusations in this new report from Senator Tester have already
got a familiar ring to them. Allegations that Dr. Jackson was reportedly
drunk while on duty in traveling with the president. In one incident, he
was allegedly found passed out on an overseas trip with President Obama.
But there are some new accusations in this report we just got tonight, as
well. Quote, missing Percocet – pain pills – missing Percocet once threw
the White House medical unit into a panic. It turns out Ronny Jackson had
provided a large supply of Percocet to a White House military officer
Quote: Jackson also had private stocks of controlled substances. Quote,
one nurse said he wrote himself prescriptions. When caught, he had someone
else, his P.A., do it.
This summary today of allegations against the would-be head of the V.A. is
wide-ranging, but also brutally concise. This is the last line. Quote, at
a Secret Service going-away party, Admiral Jackson got drunk and wrecked a
Now, NBC News talked to Ronny Jackson about that today. He says he has
never wrecked a car. We checked with D.C. police. They say they do have
two accident reports on file involving Ronny Jackson, one in 2013 and one
But we don`t have any other information at all about those accidents or
what caused them or how he was involved. We are still trying to find out
more about that. We will keep you posted on that if we learn it.
The White House for its part spent the day defending Ronny Jackson,
reportedly pushing the Senate to reschedule his confirmation hearing. But
they`re not making it easy for the senators who are in charge of this
nomination going along if it`s going to. Trying to give his nomination a
boost last night, the White House gave reporters a stack of reports about
Ronny Jackson`s time working in the White House.
In that stack of records was a whole bunch of good stuff, but also an
inspector general report about the White House medical unit when he was one
of its two leaders. It was written during the time he was in a leadership
position there in 2012 and the report details a power struggle between
Ronny Jackson and another doctor in the office. It also includes a whole
bunch of quotes from Ronny Jackson`s subordinates and colleagues at the
time that are terrible. And that sound a lot a like – well, what we read
in today`s report, as well.
From the I.G. report in 2012, quote, worst command ever. Senior officers
are not leading. Quote, passive-aggressive behavior is exhibited by
leadership. Quote, command climate is terrible. Quote, the leaders are
That was a weird thing for the White House to hand to reporter ifs they
were trying to salvage Ronny Jackson`s nomination, right? But the other
weird thing about the White House handing out those records to reporters on
purpose last night is that when they released them last night, they hadn`t
actually given them to Congress, who was supposed to be vetting Ronny
Jackson for this job. They`d never given them to the people in charge of
vetting and confirming him for the V.A. job. They just gave them to the
Leo Shane from “Military Times” reports tonight that the Senate had not
seen those documents until the White House handed them out and the press
started reporting on them last night. Well, now, finally, the Senate does
have those documents as well as this bulleted list of accusations against
Ronny Jackson from the missing Percocets to the wrecked government vehicle
to the staffer who called working for Ronny Jackson the worst experience of
an entire working life. The list takes up the better part of two pages,
Publicly, Ronny Jackson said he isn`t withdrawing his nomination, but “The
Washington Post” reports tonight in private, he`s saying something
different. Quote: White House physician Ronny Jackson has grown frustrated
with the nomination process and has told colleagues he may remove his name
How much longer is this going to go on? Hold that thought.
MADDOW: So we just got in some breaking news from “Reuters” about Ronny
Jackson`s nomination to lead the V.A. Reuters has a source tonight telling
them that as of about 15 minutes ago, Ronny Jackson was seen in a meeting
at the White House, discussing, quote, whether to withdraw, as Trump`s
nominee to head the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Now, I do not have the same source that “Reuters” does. I can tell you
from this live picture that the lights are not all off at the White House
tonight. Hey, you guys. Flash the light if you`re watching. It`s a live
shot. Go on.
Joining us now is Leo Shane, deputy editor from “Military Times”. He
covers veterans affairs and the White House.
Leo, it`s really nice to see you. Thank you for being here.
LEO SHANE, DEPUTY DIRECTOR, MILITARY TIMES: Thanks for the invite.
MADDOW: So what`s your understanding of what`s happening now with this
nomination and what`s likely to happen over the next day or two?
SHANE: I`m not sure I can predict a day from now. It seems to be changing
minute by minute.
Look, the White House came out very strong this morning saying they were
still behind Dr. Jackson, they wanted the nomination to go forward, they
wanted to see a confirmation hearing. But there`s also been a lot of
pressure from the White House saying the Senate Democrats are behind this,
they`re making up allegations, these things.
So, that`s where we saw that document you put up earlier, from Senator
Tester saying, look, this is not just Democrats trying to create something.
This is a series of military officials, current and former, saying that
they have serious problems, serious allegations against him. And almost as
important as the allegations, this is stuff that the senators didn`t have
any knowledge of, just days away from a confirmation hearing.
So, what I`m hearing on Capitol Hill right now is there`s not a lot of
appetite to have one of these, short of, they could – they could try and
schedule one from two weeks from now or three weeks from now, but it feels
like they`re really far away from feeling comfortable enough to bring him
in front of a hearing and vet him to be the V.A. secretary.
MADDOW: And, Leo, you know these things much better than I do, but my
impression of the veterans committee in the Senate, which is the entity
that has to make a decision about whether or not they`re going to have a
confirmation hearing on him, my impression is that that committee does not
like or expect to be surprised.
They expect to be consulted on the senior leadership of the V.A. They
expect to have lead time. They expect decisions to be consensus,
essentially. Not just bipartisan, but they expect to have consensus
decisions with the administration and within the committee on these things.
And this seems just like a 180-degree departure from that, including the
fact that the Senate didn`t have this I.G. report before the White House
released it to the press last night.
SHANE: Right. Now, you`re absolutely right. I mean, this – none of the
committees like to be surprised by things, but usually, when there`s some
critical issue with any of the nominees, you know, we know that ahead of
time. You know, the senators have gotten some heads up, they sort of know
where the questions are going to go, things can go along party lines.
The Veterans Affairs Committee in the Senate and in the House operate on a
really bipartisan basis. You know, it`s not a good – not a good look to
be against veterans. So, both sides really do find a lot of common ground
And in this case, while the White House has been lashing out at Democrats,
the Republicans also agreed to delay this confirmation hearing. This
wasn`t something Democrats forced on them. Republicans stepped back and
said, this is – we don`t feel comfortable with the information we have.
We don`t feel comfortable putting him in front of the public to be the face
of V.A. and question him on this.
So, a lot of concern up here about what this next step is if he stays in.
You know, I guess, I guess the White House can continue on this path where
they say that it`s allegations, it`s not proof, but there sure is a lot of
folks coming out of the work to talk about him right now.
MADDOW: Leo Shane, deputy editor of “Military Times,” covering veterans
and the White House, the preeminent veterans affairs reporter in Washington
and in the country – Leo, thank you for your time tonight. I really
appreciate for your time tonight. Appreciate you being here.
SHANE: Thank you.
MADDOW: I will say, Leo`s point there about bipartisan on the veterans
committee is for real. However this gets resolved, and this is an intense
drama around Ronny Jackson, however this gets resolved, in terms of him
being White House doctor, in terms of him being this nominee, in the best-
case scenario, Jon Tester and Johnny Isakson, that top Republican and top
Democrat, they come out together and make a unanimous decision and
unanimous announcement about what happens here.
But veterans affairs, veterans policy is a bipartisan thing in Washington.
We should all hope that this is not something that`s going to wreck that.
All right. We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: In January, “The New Yorker” had a scoop about presidential son-
in-law Jared Kushner. This is before Kushner was downgraded in terms of
his security clearance, before the White House stopped allowing him to have
access to highly classified information.
But Evan Osnos and Adam Entous at “The New Yorker” in January, they were
able to report out for the first time a bunch of stuff about Jared Kushner
that was unnerving in terms of national security. That`s where we first
learned that despite Mr. Kushner`s inability to get a permanent security
clearance, he nevertheless was receiving the president`s daily brief from
the intelligence community every day. That`s where we learned that it
wasn`t just the president who was throwing intelligence protocols out the
window, holding conversations with foreign leaders on his own, with no
note-taker, no staff present, no briefing, it was also Jared Kushner doing
the same thing.
That “New Yorker” report that said that, in particular, Mr. Kushner was
known to repeatedly take unstaffed meetings with the Chinese ambassador to
the United States, including at least one occasion which they met alone,
which you`re not supposed to do.
That article is where we learned that Jared Kushner did this sort of thing
with the Chinese ambassador and kept doing it, even though he was warned
personally by the top counterintelligence official at the FBI that he,
Jared Kushner, personally, was the target of a Chinese influence operation
by Chinese intelligence. Ahead of the Chinese president going to Mar-a-
Lago in April last year, U.S. surveillance intercepted Chinese officials
saying that in meetings preparing for the Mar-a-Lago summit, Jared Kushner
had discussed his own business interests with the Chinese ambassador along
with U.S. policy. Quote: Some intelligence officials became concerned that
the Chinese government was seeking to use business inducements to influence
Last fall, in November 2017, Jared went along on the president`s trip to
China. After they all came home from that trip, in December 2017, quote,
U.S. intelligence agencies briefed a wider circle of Trump administration
officials, telling them that a member of the president`s family was being
targeted by a Chinese influence operation.
So, just a blockbuster story from “The New Yorker” in January. Jared
Kushner still works at the White House. Can`t fire someone from the job of
son-in-law, right? But he reportedly no longer has access to classified
And now apart from turning up at places like last night`s state dinner, Mr.
Kushner has been playing a much lower profile. Well, now, new scoop.
Fresh off winning a Pulitzer Prize last week for his reporting on Harvey
Weinstein, Ronan Farrow, who also writes for “The New Yorker”, has a new
book out, which has a whole bunch of scoops in it.
The one that rings like a bell for me in terms of national security worries
in this White House is a scoop about Jared Kushner. And it arrives right
in the middle of a story about Rex Tillerson screwing something up.
Here`s the story. It starts on page 290 of Ronan`s book. Quote, during
Tillerson`s first trip to China as secretary of state, he and President Xi
Jinping sat in matching taupe leather armchairs in front of a mural of
Chinese pastoral beauty, cranes soaring over pristine valleys and forests.
They wore matching red ties and dark jackets. And in a move that left
close followers of U.S./Chinese relations agape, they used matching
language. President Xi urged the United States to expand cooperative areas
and achieve win-win results. Tillerson agreed. The U.S. side is ready to
develop relations with Chinese based on the policy of no conflict, no
confrontation, mutual respect, and win-win cooperation.
A lay observer might have blinked and missed it, but Asia experts at the
State Department and beyond saw something unusual immediately. Tillerson
had all but copy and pasted earlier statements from by Xi, who just a few
months before had expressed hope that President Trump would uphold the
principles of non-conflict, non-confrontation, mutual respect, and win-win
cooperation. That`s exactly what Tillerson said.
That was the most recent of many examples of Xi and other communist
officials using that coded sequence of terms to describe a new balance of
power, with China as an equal to the U.S., and the U.S. deferring to
Chinese prerogatives on contentious issues from Taiwan to territorial
disputes in the South China Sea. State-run Chinese media instantly picked
up on the dog whistle.
Quote, Tillerson has implicitly endorsed the new model of major power
relations, crowed the communist affiliated “Global Times”, saying Rex`s
language had given U.S. allies in the Asia Pacific Region an impression
that China and the U.S. are equal, as Barack Obama refused to do.
So, why did Rex Tillerson do that? Whether or not you care about us and
China, one basic thing to understand about the fundamental relationship
between us and the most populist country on Earth, this other rising super
power, is that China wants us to butt out of everything that interests
them. They want to be seen as big and powerful and rich and influential
enough that we should never deign to say anything about them about their
actions. We should let them operate at will. That`s what they want from
the United States.
And no, we`re not going to war with China. But in foreign relations and
diplomacy and foreign policy, they`ve got this coded language they have
been seeking from the United States to show, OK, we agree. We capitulate
to that idea. You do whatever you want. We`ll stay out of it.
So, it`s a really big deal that Rex Tillerson went over to China and used
that coded language. He recited their script, word for word, exactly what
I mean, that we know from public reporting. But then Ronan, reporting in
this book, he gets an interview with Tillerson for the book. He also gets
an interview with Tillerson`s sort of right-hand guy at the State
Department. And Ronan asks him, point-blank, quote, did Tillerson intend
to mirror the language, I asked?
Ryan Hook (ph), quote, he`s not intending to mirror their language. But is
he aware that`s what he did? Answer, he signs off on every statement he
So it kind of seems like Rex Tillerson might not have known. Rex
Tillerson`s top staff seems surprised to learn that what Rex Tillerson said
in China was a script from the Chinese government, with the U.S. agreeing
to treat them a way we have never agreed to before. But that they have
I mean, Rex Tillerson went over there and gave into that demand, without
seeming to know that he was doing it. So where did that come from? Where
did that script come from? How did that language get into Rex Tillerson`s
prepared remarks for his China trip?
Back to the book, page 291. Quote, several officials told me, the State
Department`s regional experts, attuned to the significance of such language
have not been consulted on Tillerson`s statement in China. Instead, it had
been drafted by the White House. According to several sources there, it
was drafted by the office of Jared Kushner.
Oh. It seems like a big deal. Particularly where we also know about
repeated FBI counterintelligence warnings to the White House about Mr.
Kushner as a target of Chinese foreign influence operations.
We also learn in the book that Rex Tillerson blames Jared Kushner for
pushing him out as secretary of state, apparently because Rex thinks Jared
ultimately wants the secretary of state job himself, which will be a hard
one with no security clearance.
But oh, wait, there`s more.
MADDOW: In Ronan Farrow`s new book, “War on Peace: The End of Diplomacy
and the Decline of American Influence” – I`m holding page 262 open with my
finger – we get a big rip-roaring argument about America giving up on
diplomacy over time. And what made America a weak enough institution and
by the time Donald Trump got there to kill it, Rex Tillerson was an easy
and effective tool for doing that job.
This book will make Ronan Farrow lots more enemies. Nobody comes off
great. But it does also have a bunch of scoops.
We learn, for example, this incredible new detail on page 262, about how
Rex Tillerson handled one particularly timely and sensitive part of his
job, quote, when the United States initiated strikes on Syria, the
administration entirely skipped the conventional step of notifying NATO
allies. Tillerson received a flood of calls. An officer in the State
Department`s operation center, who spent months connecting Tillerson`s
calls told Ronan, quote, when news broke, alarmed allies were calling,
saying, I would like to speak with Secretary Tillerson. It was early on a
Sunday afternoon, and Tillerson was in Washington and unoccupied.
The operations officer said, quote: We were told the secretary had had a
long weekend. He was going to go home and have dinner with his wife and
call it a night. No calls. The operations officer exasperated, said, we
just bombed Syria without telling our allies, you might have to do some
phone calls, even from home. That floored me, end quote.
Ronan Farrow`s new book is called “War on Peace: The End of Diplomacy and
the Decline of American Influence”. It`s good in part because Ronan knows
what he`s talking about on this subject. He`s a former State Department
It`s good in part because he`s got a bunch of new scoops, and it`s good in
part because he`s interviewed every living secretary of state and got them
all to weigh in on what`s happened in the State Department disaster we are
living through now that we will have to someday explain to the next
generation when they wonder where it went and why we got rid of it.
But mostly, it`s good because he gets people like – I kid you not – the
person connecting Rex Tillerson`s phone calls to talk to him about what`s
really happening. And those, of course, are the people who always actually
know what`s really happening.
Joining us now is my friend Ronan Farrow, fresh off his new Pulitzer Prize.
Congratulations on this new book, Ronan.
RONAN FARROW, AUTHOR, “WAR ON PEACE”: Thank you for having me, Rachel.
MADDOW: Sure. This is – this is a big deal. This is a big argument and
a big piece of reporting. Congratulations.
FARROW: And I think an important untold story for a whole variety of
MADDOW: Well, you`re writing about a lot term front here about diplomacy
getting under cut, foreign service getting under cut, the military taking
over everything instead. The one thing I didn`t know when I got to the end
of the book is, do you believe that process is complete? Is this
essentially an obituary for the State Department?
FARROW: It is not.
FARROW: And here`s why I think that: administration after administration
comes in and shortchanges diplomacy. It`s happening at a vastly accelerate
rate now, it is not unprecedented, but it is at a new extreme. The results
are devastating, they`re generational.
You have Colin Powell in this book on the record saying, Rex Tillerson tore
the guts out of the State Department. This is mortgaging your future. And
the reason it has a generational impact is the people who should be
ambassadors 20 years from now aren`t even entering into the system. We are
denigrating and sidelining the profession in a way that will take time to
However, you can look at for instance at the second term of the Obama
administration, where again senior officials in that administration are on
the record in this book saying we screwed up. We had a culture of
celebrity generals. It overtook our Afghanistan review process and other
policy processes. But then they refocused, and –
MADDOW: The Iran deal.
FARROW: – then they had a few good years, and you got the Iran deal, for
all its controversy, a very serious diplomatic endeavor, the thawing
relations with Cuba, the Paris climate change accord, and that took just a
few short years. So, as much as the picture is dire, and this really is a
crisis that is making us less safe, all of the whistleblowers were brave
enough to speak here and say that they are hopeful. That they feel right
now, potentially even under Mike Pompeo, there is the power to reverse
course, to pull out of this nose dive.
MADDOW: Well, of course, we`re at this incredible moment, you couldn`t
have known this when you timed the publication of the book, but Pompeo`s
confirmation hearing is likely to be tomorrow. Is the expectation at State
and people who are champions of the State Department, champions of
diplomacy, is the expectation there that he`s there to finish the job, that
he`s there to continue this ripping the guts out that Tillerson has been
already engaged in?
FARROW: That is the desperate fear right now.
FARROW: And what we know about Mike Pompeo`s track record is, you know,
look, I think no one ever questioned whether he would get through
confirmation, he`s a skilled politician, but he`s much more lockstep with
the president than Rex Tillerson was. Rex Tillerson gleefully and, you
know, he says now partly due to inexperience, in this book he says that to
me, provided over the cuts to the State Department but he also pushed back
on efforts to get out of the Iran deal. He thought with the president.
In the announcement of the choice of Pompeo, the president said
specifically, he`s the guy who`s on the same wavelength. This is a guy who
has matched the president tweet for tweet on every statement about the Iran
deal. So, there is a lot of fear, but this department desperately needs
leadership. So, there`s also this hope.
MADDOW: Well, I mean, I would – I feel like reading this, putting it more
bluntly. I think there`s a question whether the Republican Party,
continues to believe that there ought to be diplomacy, continues there
ought to be a Department of State. I mean, killing it this way is one way
to do it. Abolishing it will now become the pledge for people who are
running to the right of Republican nominees in the future primaries.
FARROW: And that is one of the saddest parts of the story for me because
there`s a fundamental cultural problem where on the campaign trail,
politicians on both parties, but I do think that there`s somewhat more of
it of late on the Republican side, denigrate what are really brave men and
women serving the country without a lot of pay in very dangerous places and
as you pointed out earlier, making it a lot safer, making our diplomacy
more professional less vulnerable to influence and exploitation, saving
American citizens around the world in a literal direct sense. They`re not
getting credit for that.
MADDOW: Last question, briefly, does Jared Kushner deny he wrote
Tillerson`s remarks in China, when Tillerson went over there and parroted
the Chinese government?
FARROW: No comment from them.
MADDOW: Ronan Farrow, fresh off is new Pulitzer Prize, the author of “War
on Peace: The End of Diplomacy and the Decline of American Influence”,
remarkable reporting. Thanks.
FARROW: Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: Great to see you.
FARROW: Great to be here.
MADDOW: All right. We`ll be back soon. Stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REX TILLERSON, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: Since the historic opening of
relations between our two countries more than 40 years ago, the U.S.-China
relationship has been guided by an understanding of non-conflict, non-
confrontation, mutual respect and win-win cooperation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: So, heads up about tomorrow`s news schedule. Tomorrow should be
fun. EPA administrator Scott Pruitt will be testifying in open session in
two congressional committees tomorrow on your TV machine. Do you think
members of Congress will have any hard question about troubling matters
related to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt? Maybe his 24/7, 20-person
security detail and his armored SUV seat covers? Perhaps his preference
for first class travel so that people can`t say mean things to him? Will
they want to talk to him about the condo he rents from an energy lobbyist
for $50 a night while that energy lobbyist is doing business before the
EPA? The $43,000 sound proof phone booth any of it?
Pruitt has largely avoided the press since these scandals descending on him
like a waterfall pouring into a deep pool. Tomorrow, he will face members
of the Congress in two separate committees on TV in open session for hours.
Like I said, tomorrow should be fun.
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.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY
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