Anniversary of Enemies list memo. TRANSCRIPT: 08/15/2018. The Rachel Maddow Show
Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW
Date: August 15, 2018
Guest: David Hickton
ALI VELSHI, MSNBC HOST, “VELSHI & RUHLE”: I joked if I didn`t end the show
on time I would incur the wrath of Rachel Maddow. I think you knew I was
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Yes.
VELSHI: But some people on the Twitter didn`t.
VELSHI: You are always gracious.
And unless someone is cheating, lying to or stealing from the American
people, there is no wrath for Rachel Maddow to incur.
MADDOW: Were people upset that I was actually –
VELSHI: No, no, no. You have a lot of friends on Twitter. How can you
say that about Rachel? I was kidding. I think she knows I was kidding.
MADDOW: I know you were kidding. And also, I do sometimes have wrath,
just almost never at work.
VELSHI: Enjoy your show.
MADDOW: Thanks, my friend. Much appreciated.
And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.
Today is August 15th, which means that tomorrow, August 16th, is the
anniversary of this amazing document.
You can see at the top there. It is dated August 16th, 1971. Then, it
says, the top line on the left there underlined, all caps, confidential. A
memorandum, subject: dealing with our political enemies.
This is a memorandum written on this date in 1971 by a man named John Dean,
when John Dean was working as White House counsel to President Richard
Nixon. So, the job Don McGahn has right now for Donald Trump, John Dean
had that job for Richard Nixon. And in that capacity, he wrote this
Quote: This memorandum address the matter how we can maximize the fact of
our incumbency dealing with persons known to be active in their opposition
to our administration. Stated a bit more bluntly, how can we use the
available federal machinery to screw our political enemies?
Now, that is not me giving you a snarky modern paraphrase of something that
appears more elegantly in this 47-year-old document. That`s literally what
John Dean wrote in this Nixon White House memo. How can we use the
available federal machinery to screw our political enemies?
And then, he`s got a proposal. Quote: After reviewing this matter with a
number of persons possessed of expertise in this field – really – I have
concluded that we do not need an elaborate mechanism or game plan. Rather,
we need a good project coordinator and full support for the project and in
brief, the system would work as follows.
And then there`s three bullet points. Number one, key member of the staff
and then he gives some examples including our old friend Pat Buchanan –
Colson, Dent, Flanigan, Buchanan, that`s Pat Buchanan, quote: should be
requested to inform us who they feel we should be giving a hard time. Wow.
Number two. The project coordinator should then determine what sorts of
dealings these individuals have with the federal government and how we can
best screw them. Forgive me but that`s literally what he says, how we can
best screw them.
For example, grant availability, if they have contracts, litigation,
prosecution, et cetera. Number three, the project coordinator then should
have access to and the full support of the top officials of the agency or
department in proceeding to deal with the individuals.
So, this was the first term of the Richard Nixon administration. This also
ended up sort of part and parcel of the re-election campaign effort in
1972. This White House operation, they eventually turned toward Democrats
who are running for Congress and the Senate. They turned to people who are
associated with Democratic presidential campaigns, in addition to the
enemies who they identified as people just critical of the administration
But this thing wasn`t just a vague concept or state of mind they had as the
presidential administration, this was a concrete plan with people assigned
their parts in helping to carry it out, including specific named people in
the administration who were charged with keeping up the target list,
keeping the target list up to date, keeping it constantly updated, so the
Nixon administration could, quote, maximize the fact of our incumbency.
They could maximize the fact that they controlled the federal government
and the presidency to hurt persons known to be active in their opposition
to our administration.
John Dean wrote that memo at the White House on tomorrow`s date in 1971.
Less than two years later, in the summer of 1973, John Dean decided he was
going to let the whole world know about that, not only the plan in general
but specifically the constantly updated lists of enemies.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN DEAN, FORMER NIXON WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: I do, of course, know and as
I have submitted in documents, other agencies were involved in seeking
politically embarrassing information on individuals who were thought to be
enemies of the White House. I might also add in my possession is a rather
– very much down the lines of what you`re talking about, is a memorandum
that was requested by me to prepare a means to attack the enemies of the
White House. There was also maintained what was called an “enemies list”
which was rather extensive and continually being updated.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I`m not going to ask who was on it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I`m afraid you might answer.
I wonder, are these documents that are in the possession of the committee?
DEAN: No. But I`d be happy to submit them to the committee. They didn`t
fit within the request that I had with counsel as to the documents he
wished to have produced. But if the committee does wish them, I`ll be
happy to submit them.
SAMUEL DASH, CHIEF COUNSEL, SENATE WATERGATE COMMITTEE: Mr. Chairman, I
think the committee would like very much to have a copy of that memorandum.
DEAN: All right, sir.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: All right, sir.
So, there`s John Dean, Nixon`s White House counsel, saying, hey, nobody
asked me about this. If you`re interested in all this like abuse of power
stuff, do you want to know about the enemies list that we`ve been
continually updating at the White House and the ways we have both been
scheming to and we`ve been using the power of the presidency to go after
people who we considered to be the president`s political enemies? Because
have I that. Would you – would you like that?
And you hear the gasps in the committee room when he announces it and
everybody`s looking around and they don`t know whether to laugh or barf or
what. But John Dean did end up handing those documents to the Watergate
committee and that whole scheme became part of the basis for second article
of impeachment against President Nixon, which is abuse of power.
So, Nixon got caught red-handed with that, no just using the power of the
presidency to, in their words, screw with his political enemies, but also
plotting overtly to do that, or at least plotting covertly to do that,
plotting among themselves, right? Writing these confidential memorandums,
talking about it in these terms within the White House staff, committing it
I mean, eventually, it became a perverse point of pride for people who
ended up on those Nixon enemies lists, right? It meant you were important
enough to – important enough to have attracted the president`s attention
if not affection. The opposite of love is not hate, it`s indifference.
So, it`s sort of like, oh, I didn`t know you cared aspect to being proud
for ending up on one of those enemies list. It meant you were important
enough to bother the president enough that he decided to use the power of
his office to come after you.
A point of pride for a lot of people in the end. I will venture a guess
that that maybe how it works the second time around now that we are living
through a new iteration of this story again in 2018.
Tonight, the White House announced that President Trump would strip former
CIA director, John Brennan, of his security clearance. But it turns out
this is not a John Brennan story today. It turns out there is a whole list
from this White House. John Brennan happens to be the first man on the
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Good afternoon.
I`d like to begin by reading a statement from the president. I`ve decided
to revoke the security clearance of John Brennan, former director of the
Central Intelligence Agency.
I am evaluating action with respect to the following individuals: James
Clapper, James Comey, Michael Hayden, Sally Yates, Susan Rice, Andrew
McCabe, Peter Strzok, Lisa Page and Bruce Ohr. Security clearances for
those who still have them may be revoked and those who have already lost
their security clearance may not be able to have it reinstated.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: To be clear, there are no specific allegations from the White
House about the mishandling of classified information or leaking of
classified information or anything else like that. Mishandling or leaking
classified information is a crime. This announcement from the White House
today was not a criminal accusation. It was just an announcement of people
that the president wants to go after.
The White House has a new list. How does one get so lucky as to get on
this list? Well, the first time the White House floated this idea also in
the White House briefing room a few weeks ago, they were actually pretty
explicit what you have to do to get on this list.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SANDERS: Not only is the president looking to take away Brennan`s security
clearance, he`s also looking into the clearances of Comey, Clapper, Hayden,
Rice and McCabe. Making baseless accusations of improper contact with
Russia or being influenced by Russia against the president is extremely
inappropriate and the fact that people with security clearances are making
these baseless charges provides inappropriate legitimacy to accusations
with zero evidence.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: So, again, there is no accusation from the White House that
anybody is mishandling classified information or misusing their security
clearance in some other way that you`re not allowed to do with a security
clearance. But the White House is now making clear, you criticize the
president specifically with regard to Russia intervening to help him in his
election, then they will use the power of the presidency to hurt you.
They`re going to strip your security clearance to try to discredit you as a
critic of the president on Russia.
I mean, at least when the Nixon White House did it, they had the decency to
write “confidential” on top of their discussions of these sorts of things.
We are not blessed in our era with the same sort of subtlety or shame.
Security clearances are a real thing. The CIA and all the other agencies
who grant them or oversee them. In fact, they have full-fledged well-
established procedures to strip security clearances from people for cause
when there is cause to do so.
None of those procedures were engaged here. Those procedures were not
followed here. Those agencies were not involved. This was just directed
personally from the White House from the president himself who is being
hands on here in the way that Nixon was, in a way that ended up being a
real problem for President Nixon 40-plus years ago.
You might remember from the Nixon tapes from the Oval Office tapes how
Nixon talked about what he was looking for in an IRS commissioner, right?
When he wanted that IRS commissioner to be – he wanted that IRS
commissioner to be willing to do things to his enemies and not do things to
his friends. I mean, the president being so hands-on on these kinds of
punishment actions from the White House, this is part of what got Nixon the
second article of impeachment.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
RICHARD NIXON, FORMER PRESIDENT: I want to be sure he`s a ruthless son of
a bitch. That he will do what he`s told. That every income tax return I
want to see I see. That he`ll go after our enemies and not go after our
friends. It`s as simple as that. If he isn`t, he doesn`t get the job.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MADDOW: I want to be sure he`s a ruthless son of a – that he`ll do what
he`s told. Every income tax return I want to see, I see. He`ll go after
our enemies and not go after our friends. It`s as simple as that. If he
doesn`t that, he doesn`t get the job.
Nixon 45 years ago was hands on, and directly involved, directly in control
of coordinated efforts inside his White House to make sure he was using the
power of the presidency in an illegal way. He was using the power of the
federal government – what did Dean call it? The fact of our incumbency,
using his control of the White House and of the federal government to go
after our enemies and to not go after our friends.
Well, this statement today about stripping security clearances from people
specifically because they have criticized the president or the
administration, this statement today remarkably, was issued very
specifically in the president`s name, in a way that is unusual for this
White House or for any other. I mean, the president`s press secretary did
not go out there and announce in her own words this new policy, this action
by the administration. She went to the podium and announced that she was
reading a statement from the president. The White House then released this
document, a PDF document which was explicitly distributed as a statement
from the president written in the first person and ascribed to the
president himself and only.
Now, this statement from the president today obviously becomes an instant
historical document. I have to admit, I kind of wish they had waited until
tomorrow to release it on August 16th instead of August 15th so the
parallel would have been all the more perfect in terms of that August 16th
enemies list memo from John Dean back in 1971. A day or so, either side of
the historical parallel I will still take it.
The statement today, though, does offer one very specific, very obvious,
very black and white clue for us today as to what just happened here and
why. Not only did the statement from the White House say right at the top,
statement from the president. The statement from the president today was
also dated, and weirdly, since today is August 15th, the date at the top of
this statement today was July 26th. That`s not today. That was three
weeks or so ago.
What this implies is that this announcement about stripping security
clearances for people who have criticized the president, it appears that,
or at least implied this was drawn up several weeks ago and has been
sitting in a drawer ready to go ever since, just waiting for the right time
for it to be launched. Well, why was today the right time? I mean, they
have apparently had this thing cooked for 3 1/2 weeks. Why was today the
day they decided to put it out there.
One dollars to donuts bet says we`ll find out somewhere along the line in
some sweaty committee room hearing, much like the one that gasped at John
Dean`s enemies list revelation 40-odd years ago this summer. After all,
the weird means the way the White House announced and distributed this
statement about this new policy today suggests that nobody other than the
president himself was particularly comfortable being associated with this
decision or having his or her name associated with it in print.
When you wrap other people in schemes like this, even if they`re willing to
go along with it for a time, history shows that oftentimes down the road,
people have regrets or they change their minds about whether or not they
want this to be part of their own historical record in addition to the
president`s. Meanwhile, our best guess as to why they took this thing out
of the desk drawer today and decided to deploy it today after kicking it
around 3-1/2 weeks, our best guess because they wanted to use this to
change the news narrative, right? They wanted to distract from something
else going on in the news.
Well, there`s a lot going on in the news but it`s hard not to notice that
today is the day that closing arguments wrapped up in the criminal felony
trial against the president`s campaign chairman Paul Manafort. Now, we
have been waiting to get the court hearing transcript all day. As of me
getting on the air a few minutes ago tonight, we still did not have it.
Although I`m noticing people scurrying around in the newsroom in a way that
makes me wonder if it came in like as soon as I started talking. I`ll
check it out in the commercial break and I let you know.
Depending on when we get it, it might that tomorrow, while the jury is
deliberating, you`re going to be treated with me acting out the closing
arguments in court once again right with me playing all the parts. I know
it is terrible but I can`t help myself. We`ll see when we get that
From a lot of excellent courtroom reporting today, though, we do know that
it appears that whatever happened a few days ago in the Manafort trial,
where there was a whole day of long mysterious recesses and closed hearings
and (AUDIO GAP) a lot of people had speculated at the time it might have
meant there was some sort of issue with the jury. Maybe a juror had been
exposed to media coverage about the case or had spoken to someone about the
case or maybe a juror had done something else that might require them to be
replaced by one of the alternates.
Well, that had been a lot of the informed speculation about those few –
that day of mystery a few days ago in the trial. We now know today if it
was something to do with a juror, any danger there appears to have passed.
There were four alternate jurors who have been sitting in the courtroom
every day of the trial watching everything in case they needed to be
swapped onto the jury because a juror had to be removed.
Well, today, the four alternates, the four alternate jurors – they were
sent home by the judge. So, what that tells us is that the 12 jurors who
will be deliberating Paul Manafort`s fate, it`s the original 12 jurors.
That means that none of them appears to have been replaced.
Part of the reason a lot of people believed that strange day of closed
hearings a few days ago might have been a juror-related issue, particularly
maybe an issue with a juror being exposed to media about the case is
because the judge, this outspoken, quirky judge in this case has been so
emphatic, he`s been doubling and tripling down on his admonitions to the
jury, that they need to avoid all discussions about the case, they need to
particularly any media reports whatsoever that might mention the case.
That was part of why people thought maybe that`s becoming an issue with
Well, apparently, there wasn`t a serious issue with the jury because it`s
all the original jurors who are doing the deliberating. But that little
history in the case, the fact that we`ve all seen that going, we`ve seen
the judge overtly worry over this issue and keep going back to this issue
of staying away from the media, that made it very striking today on closing
arguments day, when the judge at one point, started referencing himself,
what the media coverage of this trial has been like. Oh, really? How do
While discussing in court today whether or not the jury would get a
specific instruction about Manafort`s loans from that little bank in check
where he had offered the CEO of the bank a job running the U.S. Army,
they`re discussing that today when they`re setting up what the instructions
to the jury are going to be. And the judge noted in open court he`d sided
with prosecutors, he`d sided with the prosecution in terms of the way they
thought the jury should be instructed to deliberate about those loans in
that part of the case. So, the judge notes out loud he`s siding with the
prosecution on that one jury instruction.
The judge then said, quote: Well, if you read the newspapers, though, it`s
otherwise. He then points at the defense and said, they win everything.
He pointed at the prosecution, he said, and you lose everything.
So, the judge today in open court appeared to indicate that he himself has
been reading newspaper coverage of his own trial, and he thinks the
newspaper coverage makes it seem like the defense is winning everything and
the prosecution is losing everything. That`s interesting. But the judge
has repeatedly insisted in court he himself has not been paying any
attention to any media coverage of the trial.
I don`t actually think it`s improper for judges themselves to watch or read
media coverage about their own trials. It`s not improper in the same way
it would be for somebody who`s on the jury, but if it is the case that
Judge Ellis has been secretly monitoring media coverage of his own trial, I
just want to say, hi, judge. Happy to have you here, Judge Ellis.
Somebody send that man a Nielsen box.
There does appear to have been one point of somewhat significant drama in
the closing arguments today when Paul Manafort`s defense team strayed into
a few areas of argument that they were expressly prohibited from bringing
up in front of the jury. One of these was about, again, that little bank
in Chicago with those loans to Manafort. There was a question whether or
not they could talk before the jury about whether the bank made or lost
money on those loans. They were not supposed to talk about that in front
of the jury. They brought it up.
Another issue was whether or not Manafort had been audited by the IRS.
They weren`t supposed to bring it up, they brought it up. But a third
issue, which the defense apparently really hammered in their closing
argument today, even though they weren`t supposed to, was the idea of Paul
Manafort being unfairly hounded, being selectively prosecuted, specifically
because there`s a special counsel.
This argument for Manafort`s defense that normal prosecutors working for
the Department of Justice in the normal course of events wouldn`t have
brought a prosecution like this, Manafort is only in jail tonight. He`s
only facing these charges right now because a special counsel was
appointed. This is Robert Mueller`s fault. Manafort wouldn`t have
otherwise been prosecuted.
Now, the judge explicitly advised the jury that they are not allowed to
consider arguments like that. The judge told the jury, quote, you are to
ignore any argument about the Department of Justice`s motives or lack of
motives in bringing this prosecution.
The defense knew before they tried to slip that in, in their closing
argument, that they were prohibited from making that argument. They tried
it before. It was argued out in front of the judge. They knew they
weren`t allowed to bring it in front of the judge but they did it in front
of the jury today anyway, which kind of makes it seem like an act of
I mean, yes, the judge, after they made this case, Manafort is only being
president because of the special counsel, I mean, the judge thereafter told
the jurors to ignore that, to ignore what they heard. But in real life,
you can`t really make people un-hear things. The jurors did end up sitting
through the defense argument that this was all an unfair prosecution by big
bad Robert Mueller who shouldn`t have hijab in the first place.
The fact the defense went there anyway, knowing that the jury would be
instructed to ignore it tells you something about how strong they thought
their defense argument was. There`s actually a whole bunch of legal things
that are happening right now related to the special counsel`s office. The
federal appeal that is trying to protect this guy, Andrew Miller from
having to testify to the special counsel`s grand jury about his connections
with Roger Stone, that federal appeal is being mounted by a well-funded
conservative legal outlet.
And that appeal – this guy, Andrew Miller nobody has ever heard of, he
apparently works as a house painter in St. Louis. But his appeal is a
bigger deal than he is. His appeal appears to be a sort of stalking horse,
a vehicle to try to get the constitutionality of Robert Mueller`s office of
special counsel before the United States Supreme Court. So far in this
Andrew Miller case, they`ve succeeded in dragging that argument as far as
one court away from the Supreme Court. They`ve got it up to the D.C. Court
The reason I bring that up right now is because I think you should watch
that case very carefully. It`s not because of anything specific about
Andrew Miller or even Roger Stone. It`s because the Andrew Miller case,
him challenging his subpoena, saying, I don`t need to testify to the grand
jury, that appears to be the vehicle, that appears to be the way that
conservative activists, much like Paul Manafort`s legal defense team, are
trying to put Robert Mueller on trial, instead of any of the people who`ve
actually been charged in Mueller`s investigation.
So, stick a pin in that Andrew Miller appeal. That`s potentially a very
Today, also, in the ongoing case against the Internet Research Agency and
the Russian oligarch known as Putin`s chef and all these other Russians who
are indicted in February for interfering in our election, a major brief was
filed by the prosecution arguing for the legitimacy of that prosecution and
the legitimacy of that indictment against all those Russians. Now, what`s
important about this being filed today is that this is one of those cases
that we thought had been handed off to the regular Justice Department. And
we thought that Robert Mueller and the special counsel`s office was no
longer involved in this case.
But that brief today in that case was signed by Robert Mueller, and had a
whole bunch of names of a whole bunch of lawyers on it who are all lawyers
who are working for Robert Mueller at the special counsel`s office. You
should also know that George Papadopoulos is due to be sentenced in three
weeks. We have just had a new protective order requested by the special
counsel`s office and granted by the judge that imposes secrecy on all of
the evidence that is being reviewed in his case before he gets sentenced.
So, you know, boom, boom, boom, all of these things are happening. All of
these things are full-speed ahead, some of them with more involvement from
the special counsel`s office than we knew. Who knows if one or all of them
were enough today to cause the White House to hit the panic button and pull
out their predated, precooked John Brennan`s security clearance enemy`s
list Nixon trick.
I don`t know exactly why they did it today, but I have my suspicions. This
is not a time to get distracted by shiny objects. There`s a lot going on
right now. That is stuff that`s really important and that is moving fast.
MADDOW: So this was his reaction to what happened.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NICOLLE WALLACE, MSNBC HOST, “DATELINE: WHITE HOUSE”: Former CIA director,
John Brennan, this is his first reaction since learning today that his
security clearance has been stripped by Donald Trump.
Director Brennan, thank you for joining us. Just your first reaction?
JOHN BRENNAN, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: I do believe that Mr. Trump decided to
take this action as he`s done with others to try to intimidate and suppress
any criticism of him or his administration. And revoking my security
clearances is his way of trying to get back at me. But I think I have
tried to voice the concerns of millions of Americans about Mr. Trump`s
failures in terms of fulfilling the responsibility of that sacred and
solemn office of the presidency.
And this is not going to deter me at all. I`m going to continue to speak
out. But I am very worried about the message that it appears that Mr.
Trump is trying to send to others including those that currently hold
security clearances within the government. I think he included Bruce Ohr,
a current Department of Justice official among those whose clearances he`s
Is this an effort to try to cow individuals both inside and outside of the
government, to make sure that they don`t say anything either that is
critical of Mr. Trump or with which he disagrees?
And I have seen this type of behavior and actions on the part of foreign
tyrants and despots and autocrats for many, many years during my CIA and
national security career. I never ever thought I would see it here in the
United States. And so, I do believe that all Americans really need to take
stock of what is happening right now in our government and how abnormal and
how irresponsible and how dangerous these actions are.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: John Brennan, former head of the CIA, now senior national security
and intelligence analyst on this news network.
He appears to have made the 2018 version of the president`s list of
enemies. By the White House`s own admission, they`re stripping his
security clearance and putting others on notice they might suffer the same
fate specifically in response to criticism of the president and his
administration. And as NBC News` Andrea Mitchell reported today, this was
done completely outside of channels. None of the intelligence agencies
that are involved in clearance issues were involved in this clearance
revocation nor were any senior intelligence officials notified at all that
this was going to happen.
The White House just appears to have dug this back dated thing out of a
drawer and launched it like a paper airplane. No process, no notice, no
actual allegations of wrongdoing, just a statement from the president, a
statement that works on a lot of different levels.
Joining us now is our very own Andrea Mitchell, host of MSNBC`s “ANDREA
MITCHELL REPORTS”, NBC News chief foreign affairs correspondent.
Andrea, thank you so much for being here.
ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: You bet.
MADDOW: So, you reported today that this decision did happen outside U.S.
intelligence channels, that senior intelligence officials had no idea this
was coming. What do you – what do you think are the consequences of that?
What`s the significance of that?
MITCHELL: Well, I think it`s precisely to warn them and other critics, but
to warn the intelligence committee, those still serving, that they should
not tell the president things he does not want to hear. And to their
credit, they have been very rigorous under Pompeo, now, under the new
leadership of Gina Haspel and others, and certainly Dan Coats in telling
truth to power, despite the pressure, despite the threats.
But this is certainly a chilling effect. It has chilling effect on other
critics. It`s attempt to silence. It`s an enemies list. It is actually
ironic, first of all, ironies abound, one of the reasons they gave was John
Brennan`s allegedly erratic behavior by a president of the United States
who just yesterday was calling an African-American woman, a long time
friend and associate of his own, a hire as improbable it was in the White
House, a dog.
So, the erratic behavior of John Brennan was, and I think, most memorably,
the day after the Helsinki news conference, to say it was nothing short of
treasonous for Donald Trump to stand next to Vladimir Putin and deny the
credibility of the intelligence assessment of all the intelligence agencies
that Russia had attacked our election and had done it for the very reason.
Putin that day, you may remember, I think we all remember, Putin
acknowledged that day, it was to help Trump and obviously hurt Hillary
MADDOW: And, Andrea, when the White House first floated this idea in late
July, the White House press spokesperson talked about it from the briefing
room, said explicitly that the reason this was being done was because of
certain people, former officials criticizing the president with regard to
Russia. And the White House spokesperson said that when they do that and
they have security clearances, it essentially gives an air of authority to
those statements for which there is no evidence.
That`s essentially the White House admitting that they have taken this
action in response to people expressing themselves as a way of trying to
undermine them and discredit them because they don`t like the content of
this former official`s speech. To me, that just screams First Amendment
challenge. And I wonder, I mean, as unusual as this is, is – does this
look like it will turn into a legal fight? Will there be legal recourse
for Brennan or for anybody else who`s been threatened this way?
MITCHELL: Well, I`m not sure that they have a legal case, because the
president does have this power. Now, he ignored all the channels, the
agencies like CIA and, you know, director of national intelligence that
confer these security clearances, in this case the CIA because Brennan was
a former CIA director, they are the agency that should be reviewing and
revoking if there`s an issue.
But there`s no issue here. He has said publicly, he said on my program and
elsewhere, that he has never gone back and asked for a briefing or had a
briefing from this administration. He has only gone back to review his own
files in preparation for testimony and the like. So, he hasn`t used this.
The whole reason that Mike Hayden, in fact, the former CIA director and NSA
director, the sole reason he`s the another person on this list – and life
long Republican, I believe – the reason for there is in the first place is
so that people like Mike Hayden could go to their predecessors and say, you
know this person we picked up in Yemen or Afghanistan. What do you recall
about this case? How should we proceed? What about what`s happening in
It`s to create a counsel of advisers, of former CIA directors who don`t
need to go through the extensive clearance process, but they can then look
at current intelligence. It`s more for the benefit of the current
So, the great irony is this president is denying his own CIA and other
agency officials access to the wise counsel of Brennan now and presumably
the others who are on this list. It`s an extraordinary step, it is akin to
the Nixon enemy`s list. It`s unprecedented.
And without any basis, there is no claim here by Sarah Sanders today that
there was any release of classified information, that there was any
violation of law. Mike Flynn lost his clearance either before or during
his arrest. That`s because of a legal case.
But we have people in this White House, and we know how abusive and how
abused the security clearance process was, this comes just after we`ve
learned Omarosa was fired in the Situation Room, and that – you know, and
made a recording in the Situation Room. We have a president who divulged
some of the most secret intelligence that Israel had about is to the
Russians, involving Syria, with repercussions that are still going on, in
the Oval Office. He`s allowed to do that, but it was a shock to the
Israelis and to all our other allies.
So, he`s the person who has violated, you know, sensible security.
MADDOW: This is –
MITCHELL: It`s his legal right. But not John Brennan and not any of the
others. Sally Yates, who had to plead with the White House counsel to take
action against Mike Flynn, and it still took 17 days. I can`t figure this
out except that it is a very, very tough warning against Bob Mueller. I
think that`s what this is all about.
MADDOW: Andrea Mitchell, NBC News chief foreign correspondent and host of
MSNBC`s “ANDREA MITCHELL REPORTS”, with ground breaking reporting on this,
as soon as this story came out. Andrea, thank you. I know you were
staying on this story. And much appreciated, my friend.
MITCHELL: Thank you.
MADDOW: All right. Lots more to get to tonight. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Microsoft`s vice president of security announced at a conference
last month that the Microsoft had observed Russian intelligence operatives
attempting to infiltrate the accounts of staffers on three 2018
Soon afterwards, Missouri Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill became the
first known target when it was reported that her office had been attacked
using the same spear phishing techniques that were employed by Russian
military intelligence against Clinton campaign chair John Podesta back in
Well, now, today, “Rolling Stone” magazine reports on a successful
cyberattack in California in one of the tightest congressional races in the
country. This year, Democrats are making a real run at the California
congressional seat held by the Republican Dana Rohrabacher, the guy who
everybody calls Putin`s favorite congressman, which is maybe not such an
advantage in a congressional race in this kind of a year in California or
Eight different Democrats signed up to try to take on Dana Rohrabacher this
year. That included the candidate who was ultimately endorsed by the state
Democratic Party. He`s a neuroscientist named Hans Keirstead.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KEIRSTEAD FAMILY: We`re scientists.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We use science and facts everyday.
HANS KEIRSTEAD (D), CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: It`s time government does,
too. Science to tackle gun violence and ban assault weapons, facts to
support women`s health, Planned Parenthood both to stand up to Trump and
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: So, despite securing the state party`s endorsement, the Dr.
Keirstead failed to advance to the general election, and he only missed it
by a whisker. It was a primary that took the top two candidates. He came
in third by only 125 votes.
Well, today, “Rolling Stone” reports that FBI agents in California and in
Washington, D.C. have been investigating a series of cyberattacks over the
past year that targeted that candidate, Hans Keirstead. It reportedly
began with a successful spear phishing attempt on his work e-mail last
December. And then in December, hackers targeted his campaign Website and
hosting service, followed by several attempts to access the campaign`s
Twitter account and another cyberattack on his company.
Again, it remains unclear who exactly the culprits were but the attacks
certainly got the FBI`s attention. Keirstead`s campaign manager says the
campaign met with two FBI agents in January. He says a team of FBI
employees collected reams of forensic data about the attempted hacks from
the campaign`s digital consulting firm.
The campaign says it is going public about the attacks now, quote, for the
sake of voter awareness. Yes. Really.
Hold on. There`s more here.
MADDOW: They started early voting this week in Florida in the primary
election. One of the big issues for Florida voters right now is not just
the candidates but the elections themselves.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
TAMPA BAY TIMES REPORTER: Can you elaborate on what you told my colleague
Steve Bousquet yesterday about Russians being in Florida election records?
Do you mean right now or were you referring to a 2016?
SEN. BILL NELSON (D), FLORIDA: Right now.
TAMPA BAY TIMES REPORTER: What do you mean they`re in the election
records? What do you mean by that?
NELSON: Just exactly what I said. They have already penetrated certain
counties in the state and they now have free rein to move about.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: The Russians have already penetrated certain counties in the state
and they now have free rein to move about.
We are more than a week remove now from Senator Nelson`s original warning.
And although Republicans in this state have been criticizing him, including
his Senate campaign opponent, Florida Republican Governor Rick Scott, has
been criticizing him for making things up and not being able to back up
this assertion, Senator Nelson is not backing down.
We can add a smidgen of reporting to this story tonight. In separate
statements, the FBI and Department of Homeland Security both told us that
they will respond directly to Florida`s Republican secretary of state who
did request information from those two agencies after Nelson`s warnings.
The agencies wouldn`t tell us anything more, but they did say we`ll get
back to them.
Here`s what I want to know though. Doesn`t that seem kind of impotent? I
mean, do the individual counties here even after this warning from their
home state senator, do they have to figure out if Russian military
intelligence operatives really are in their systems moving about at – with
I mean, the idea here is that they`ll fight this on their own. Or maybe if
they eventually get a call back from DHS, maybe they get some help or
advice? Doesn`t this seem like an asymmetrical fight? It`s like Pasco
County and Okaloosa County versus the Russian military?
This is – we`re two years after 2016. This is really how we`re fighting
Joining us now is David Hickton, founder and director of the Institute for
Cyber Law Policy and Security at the University of Pittsburgh. As a U.S.
attorney in 2014, Hickton brought the first ever charges against foreign
state actors for hacking. It was an indictment of five members of the
Chinese military for economic cyber espionage against the U.S. He`s a real
pioneer in this field.
Mr. Hickton, thank you very much for being here.
DAVID HICKTON, FOUNDER AND DIRECTOR, INSTITUTE OF CYBER LAW POLICY AND
SECURITY, UNIVERSITY OF PITTSBURGH: Good to be back.
MADDOW: I told you I`d get you back before you wanted to be here. I
really appreciate you doing it.
You – my frustration, I`m trying to be as overt and articulate about it as
I can, but I don`t really know what to say. I do feel like there is a
mismatch between what we`re told now that several levels of government is a
Russian military intelligence operation ordered and directed from the
highest levels of that government. It`s a state operation and how we`re
playing defense on that as a country.
Is there more to our national defense on these matters than I`m just not
HICKTON: Well, no, this is not the way to do this. First of all, we need
a better tone at the top, more leadership from the president, as well as
other state officials. I don`t see how it serves us at this point to
express doubt when we have this growing cascade of evidence. I mean, in
addition to what was said in Florida, we had the story that you just
relayed in California, and just last week, we had the FBI advising Maryland
that they had a subcontractor that was owned by a Russian oligarch.
So, I don`t know at this point why anyone would be adding to doubt on
something that two DHS secretaries of both last two administrations, both
FBI directors that have served, the entire intelligence community is
unanimous about the fact that we have a clear and present danger of a
Russian campaign against our elections system.
MADDOW: So, part of the reason I wanted you back here to talk about this
is because something you brought up the last time you were here. And that
is this question which I think is sort of interesting maybe esoteric debate
as to how much information you can tell the public about these things.
One of the things that was controversial about the GRU indictment from
Robert Mueller`s special counsel office, frankly, it was a little
controversial about your indictment of these Chinese military hackers as
well is when you bring public charges, when you bring a public indictment,
are you disclosing too much intelligence about what is known about those
attacks? Are you giving away too much of what we – what we would
otherwise keep secret in terms of the way we fight these things?
In this case in Florida, Senator Bill Nelson is saying I`m telling you
they`re in there. I can`t tell you more. I can`t tell you why I know
that. I can`t elaborate.
And that`s opening up the counties to say, well, we don`t know how to
defend what you`re warning us about because you are not being specific
enough. It is also opening him up to the political criticism from the
governor of the state who is saying, I actually don`t believe you. And if
it is classified information you`re talking about, well, you`re spilling
It seems like the secrecy around this issue hampers the ability both to
fight it and to fight about it.
HICKTON: Right. And there is a difference between calling attention to
the fact that hacking is generally happening and specifically disclosing
classified information. So, I don`t think it`s really fair to charge
Senator Nelson with not disclosing his evidence because he probably can`t.
And to your point, I think it`s also fair to say that some people believe
that since one of the intentions of the Russians is to disrupt us and to
destroy the trust in our election system, merely the conversation about it
can add to that goal. So, that`s a fair point that some people make.
But at this point, we had clear evidence, unanimous consensus in 2016 of
hacking. After that we had noticed the 21 states that there was some
trolling by the Russians in their systems. And so, for example, you could
look at this sort of like burglary in a neighborhood. That might mean
they`re in neighborhood but they haven`t yet taken goods out of the house.
Seven of the states, they were on the property, including Florida. And we
don`t know what they were doing. That`s the point. I mean, what we don`t
want to do in this discussion is hijack our responsibility to the public to
find out exactly what happened.
MADDOW: Do you think – so when you spell that out against those Chinese
hackers in that ground-breaking indictment and when Mueller spelled it out
against the GRU, it was incredibly detailed. This computer at this time
operated by this intelligence officer doing this for this purpose and it`s
Do you think that intelligence agencies and law enforcement could do that
now about the currently ongoing cyber attacks that they`re witnessing right
now for the midterm elections?
HICKTON: I do. And I believe – my experience shows me the FBI will get
to the bottom of what happened in California.
MADDOW: After the fact or will they –
HICKTON: Well, that`s the problem. I mean, how far are we going to go?
There are things we can do.
There`s really no digital solution available today that can completely
protect us, but there are things we can do right now. First of all, we
need more central leadership. We need DHS and the federal authorities to
respond to this nation state threat and stop making counties have to deal
HICKTON: That`s number one.
Number two, before we get to pioneering a digital solution where we can
protect all of our votes that are on a digital medium, we can use federal
resources to train state election officials in basic cyber security
MADDOW: Two-factor authentication, all that other easy stuff.
HICKTON: Absolutely, absolutely.
David Hickton, thank you very much for being here. I am going to keep
talking to you about this stuff. And as a former U.S. attorney, you`re an
authority on this and a lot of other matters I recognize. But I really
appreciate you staying in the public debate on this.
HICKTON: Thank you very much. I appreciate it.
MADDOW: Thanks a lot.
All right. We`ll be right back. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Whether or not you usually buy your local paper, the print version
of your local paper, buy your local paper tomorrow. There is a good chance
that when you turn to the opinion page, you will see an editorial about
press freedom, freedom of speech and what it means for us as Americans to
stand up for those formative things right now in this political climate, in
this year of our lives when we`ve got a president ritually and aggressively
attacking the news.
There will be a coordinated effort by hundreds of local newspapers tomorrow
to speak out on that theme. Not in one voice, but in a million different
free voices from papers and editorial boards all over the country. Buy the
paper tomorrow. Subscribe to your local paper while you`re at it.
That does it for us tonight. We will see you again tomorrow.
Now, it`s time for “THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL”.
Good evening, Lawrence.
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