One-on-one with Former CIA Director John Brennan. TRANSCRIPT: 08/17/2018. The Rachel Maddow Show
Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW
Date: August 17, 2018
Guests: John Brennan
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: And thanks to you at home for joining us this
hour. Happy Friday.
We here on this show are having a big news night tonight that we have been
prepping for for the past two days. We have for our special guest tonight
former CIA director John Brennan.
Director Brennan is the first in what the president has threatened will be
a long line of current and former senior law enforcement and intelligence
officials whose security clearances the president plans to revoke. Almost
all of the officials he has put on his list thus far are perhaps
coincidentally people who might be in a position to conceivably testify
about what they observed during the Russian attack on the 2016 election,
including potentially ties to Trump campaign officials and reaction to the
investigation from inside the Trump transition, the Trump White House, and
the president himself.
After the president yanked the former CIA director security clearance, the
president told “The Wall Street Journal” bluntly and in a sort of impromptu
interview, according to “The Journal”, that the reason he went after the
CIA director in that way, the reason he revoked the security clearances is
specifically because of the Russia investigation.
The president drew a direct link telling “The Journal,” quote: I call it
the rigged witch-hunt. It is a sham. And these people led it.
No president is ever known to have ever personally intervened to revoke the
security clearance of any official or former official, let alone for the
reason this president explained in this case. When you`re on unchartered
territory, you don`t always know what will come next for us as a country,
but when you`re the person in the middle of unchartered attacks like this,
you have to wonder what it feels like.
This interview tonight with John Brennan will be his first live TV
interview since the president took this action.
Director Brennan, thank you very much for being here tonight. So, I know
you have choices about where to be. Thanks for being here.
JOHN BRENNAN, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: Thanks, Rachel, for having me on.
MADDOW: So, you were CIA director from 2013 to January of 2017.
MADDOW: You were President Obama`s counterterrorism and homeland security
adviser. You were 25 years as a CIA officer before that. You have been
through some stressful situations in your life.
How has it been the past couple days since the president singled you out
for attack and punishment in this way?
BRENNAN: It`s fine. As far as I`m concerned personally, I`m fine. It`s
not unexpected. He had signaled something like this would happen.
Nobody, though, got in touch with me from the White House or CIA since it
was first noted that my security clearance was under review. I learned
about it when somebody called me to say that Sarah Huckabee Sanders was
announcing at the podium that these clearances were revoked.
Again, I was not shocked for a couple reasons. One, there`s a heads up.
But, secondly, I`m not quite shocked at all the appalling things that Mr.
Trump has done.
And so, I think this is an egregious act that it flies in the face of
traditional practice, as well as common sense, as well as national
security. I think that`s why there`s been such an outcry from many
intelligence professionals. Not to support me, but to support the
principle that security clearances are something that`s very, very solemn
and sacred and they never, ever should be used for political purposes,
either to grant friends those clearances or to revoke clearances of your
MADDOW: With three decades experience at the CIA and all of your other
government service, clearly, you`re familiar with clearances, with the
processes around clearances, including the processes that exist inside the
government for revoking them for cause. When the president first signaled
that he might go after your security clearance, did you expect that the CIA
would then be put through its paces in terms of the normal procedures for
how these things go, that they would write a memo and evaluate whether you
had behaved in any way that would justify this action? Did you expect that
it would go through channels?
BRENNAN: Well, if these were formal times, I would have expected it. But
these are not normal times. These are quite frankly very frightening
times. So, I didn`t expect any adherence to process, any adherence to the
steps and measures and regulations that exist by order. I think Mr. Trump
has demonstrated time and time again that he believes that just because he
has the authority to do these things, that he has, in fact, the right to do
it irrespective of what is truly the appropriate thing to do.
MADDOW: And appropriate is a general word there. Congressman Elijah
Cummings has suggested and other observers have suggested that even though
the president has the right to sort of handle security clearances as
commander in chief, there are executive orders that supposedly guide the
way these things are handled.
Congressman Cummings has suggested overtly that it may be illegal what the
president has done. Congressman Schiff, who`s the top Democrat on intel,
has suggested the same thing.
Are you considering legal action or do you think you have a legal right to
exert against the president`s actions here?
BRENNAN: Well, I think as you can imagine, a number of lawyers have
reached out to say that there is a very strong case here, not so much to
reclaim mine but to prevent this from happening in the future.
BRENNAN: And so, I am thinking about what it is that I might want to do.
At this time, I`m trying to make sure that the principle is what is going
to be defended and supported, and this is something that should not be
The other people on the so-called enemy`s list now, I think this is just
another example of Mr. Trump trying to frighten and intimidate others. But
I can tell you, having worked in the national security and intelligence
community for many, many years, these are not the type of people who are
bullied or intimidated by someone of the likes of Mr. Trump.
MADDOW: There is a list. They are former senior – one current, currently
serving Justice Department official.
BRENNAN: Bruce Ohr (ph). Yes.
MADDOW: And there`s actually some news about him tonight that I want to
get your reaction to. Just broke in the last hour or so.
But among this list, you appear to be first. The president is threatening
to revoke everybody else`s security clearances. He acted against you.
Do you have a sense of why the president thinks you`re so special? Why he
has, why he`s started with you. I mean – and I don`t know, I guess I
don`t know if I`m asking about something personal. I guess the way that I
imagine this might go is that there might be something that you know or
that he knows that you know that might be making him particularly angry or
BRENNAN: I don`t know what it is that is motivating Mr. Trump to focus on
me at first. I met Mr. Trump only once at Trump Tower in early January
2017 when we briefed him on the intelligence community assessment on
Russian interference in the election. That`s the only interaction I`ve had
with him ever.
Now, I have been outspoken and I`m sure that my outspokenness and some of
the things that I have said have, you know, irritated him. I wish I didn`t
have to say these things. And it`s one thing to have policy differences or
substantive differences with presidents and I had them in the past with
previous presidents. What really gets under my skin is Mr. Trump`s lack of
decency, integrity, honesty and his lack of commitment to this country`s
well-being and national security.
Mr. Trump is motivated by whatever is in the best interest of Mr. Trump.
That has been for many decades. I was hoping that he was going to change
once he assumed the solemn responsibilities of the office of presidency.
That`s why for my first year I sometimes spoke out when he was in front of
the agency`s memorial wall and spoke about the size of his inauguration
crowd, but I did it very, very selectively. I gave him a year. I said,
maybe he is going to adapt and change.
But it seemed like day after day, week after week, month after month,
things just got worse. He did not live up to I think what Americans expect
of the president of the United States, to speak with great forcefulness but
to do it with integrity and honesty. Mr. Trump, time after time, I think
has really just disappointed millions of Americans, which I`m trying to
give voice to.
And so, I know a lot of people think a former intelligence official
shouldn`t be doing this. I don`t consider what I`m doing as political at
all. I never registered as a Republican or a Democrat, you know, for my
entire life. But I feel such a commitment to this country`s security and
And I`m the son of an immigrant and my father taught me and my siblings
early on just how important it is that we take as very special the
privilege of being born an American citizen. And, so, when I see what Mr.
Trump is doing, basically trashing the reputation of his country worldwide
and the way he has treated Americans, fellow Americans, how he refers to
them, the divisiveness, the incitement, the fueling of hatred and
polarization. This is not what this country is about.
MADDOW: – over the centuries, over the generations, some of them have
been terrible jerks, if you read the right history books. Some of them
have been deliberatively divisive. Some of them have – had terrible ideas
or treated people in their personal lives or even in political life in
Your criticism of President Trump is – rises above that type. Despite
what you just articulated here. You`ve gone further than that. After
Helsinki, you were stark and even a little bit scary in your criticism of
his behavior. You said it rose to treason.
BRENNAN: I said it was says nothing short of treasonous.
MADDOW: In this current controversy, that specific comment has been
singled out by a number of people as a comment that may be by you crossed
the line. That was maybe in –
BRENNAN: Crossed what line? Freedom of speech?
MADDOW: No, I` m not saying that you don`t have a right to say it. But do
you stand by that consideration and can you explain? Can you elaborate
what you mean by treasonous? It`s a very serious allegation.
BRENNAN: I know what the Russians did in interfering in the election. I
have – you know, I`m 100 percent confidence in what they did.
And for Mr. Trump to stand on that stage in Helsinki, with all the world`s
eyes upon him and to basically said he wouldn`t – he doesn`t understand
why would the Russians interfere in the election, he`s given Mr. Putin, the
Russians, a pass time after time after time, and he keeps referring to this
whole investigation as a witch-hunt, as, you know, bogus, as you know –
and, to me, this was an attack against the foundational principle of our
great republic, which is the right of all Americans to choose their elected
And for Mr. Trump to so cavalierly so dismiss that, yes, sometimes my Irish
comes out and in my tweets and I did say that it rises to and exceeds the
level of high crimes and misdemeanors and nothing short of treasonous
because he had the opportunity there to be able to say to the world that
this is something that happened. It should never, ever happen, again. And
if Russia tries at all to do it, they`re going to pay serious price for it.
I don`t expect Mr. Putin to acknowledge it. He is – you know, he`s going
to deny, deny, deny. But for the president of the United States to
continue to prevaricate on this issue, I think, does a great injustice and
a disservice to the men and women of the intelligence law enforcement
community and does a great disservice to the citizens of the United States.
And that`s why I said it was nothing short of treasonous. I didn`t mean
that he committed treason. But it was a term that I used, nothing short of
MADDOW: But you didn`t mean that he committed treason, though?
BRENNAN: I said it was nothing short of treasonous. That was the term I
MADDOW: That`s the – if we – if we diagram the sentence, nothing short
of treasonous means it`s treason.
I mean, the reason – the reason I`m bringing this out is because when you
say, I know what the Russians did and when you – knowing what the Russians
did, observing the president`s behavior, you go to the word “treason”
suggests that you think the president may be –
BRENNAN: The president –
MADDOW: – serving a foreign country rather than our own.
BRENNAN: Well, yes. I think he has crossed the line repeatedly in terms
of his failure to fulfill the responsibility of the office. And to look
Putin square in the eye and say, this should never, ever happen again.
MADDOW: Do you think that he is knowingly serving the interest of the
Russian government instead of the U.S. government?
BRENNAN: You know, I scratch my head a lot. I`m puzzled over why Mr.
Trump acts this week with such obsequiousness to Mr. Putin. I don`t – I
don`t know. And I`m not going to try to pretend that I know.
But there is something that is very disconcerting, very worrisome about how
an individual who occupies the Oval Office interacts with Mr. Putin.
I`m a great advocate of improving relations between Moscow and Washington,
don`t get me wrong. I was a strong supporter of that during the Obama
administration. And I went – I stuck my neck out a number of times
particularly on Syria to say, no, we need to be able to work with the
Russians to be able to bring this mass carnage to a halt.
But time after time, the Russians, you know, would feign sincerity better
than anybody I`ve ever know, but I do believe we need to get this behind
us. I don`t want this to, you know, roil the waters forever. But we need
to have a president who is going to acknowledge this and make sure that he
is able to then move on.
MADDOW: How do we get this behind us? I mean, you`re suggesting that
there`s things that we do not yet know that have not yet been adjudicated
or laid fairly before the American people about the president and his
connection with what happened to Russia. Do we need to know that in order
to move on or should we decide to move on before we know?
BRENNAN: It`s called the Mueller investigation. It`s called the duly
appointed special counsel who has given the mandate to investigate what
Russia did in terms of interference in our presidential election. And who
might have been working in support of Russian objectives. And who might
have committed a crime in that process.
And that`s why Robert Mueller is a real national treasure. He needs to be
able to continue with this investigation unimpeded.
MADDOW: Mueller`s indictment about the GRU, about Russian military
intelligence lays out in black and white, in great detail an alleged
criminal conspiracy to illegally sway the U.S. election. It`s named
conspirators, it describes what they did. There was agreement among
multiple actors to pursue an aim and then they took actions in pursuit of
So, they`ve defined a criminal conspiracy existing in the world.
BRENNAN: On the part of a foreign government, which you need. A foreign
BRENNAN: Yes, excellent (ph).
MADDOW: But because that conspiracy has been defined, what would an
American have to do to be considered part of that conspiracy? All right,
if you`ve got a foreign conspiracy orchestrated by a foreign government,
what does it mean to have an American abetter? What does it mean for an
America – I mean, we talk – the word collusion is become, you know,
MADDOW: And it`s used by anybody for any reason and oftentimes
incoherently. But what would amount in your mind, to intelligence terms,
to an American being a part of that conspiracy, the one that`s been defined
by Robert Mueller already?
BRENNAN: Yes, and I will leave it to the lawyers and the courts to decide
whether something is criminal or not. But in my mind, it requires someone
to knowingly support the efforts of a foreign government to interfere in
U.S. domestic politics and especially an election.
And so, any American who was working with the Russians, or working with
intermediaries who are working with the Russians, and those Americans who
knowingly tried to collude, conspire and to work with them in order to
advance their political objectives here in the States, I think that rises
to the level of conspiracy.
Now, a lot depends on what Robert Mueller has been able to uncover. Maybe
there`s none of that.
And in my op-ed in “The New York Times” when I said Mr. Trump`s claims of
no collusion are hogwash, it`s because there is collusion I think in open
sight now because – so many things I learned since I lost office because
of what has appeared in the press. You know, the Trump Tower meeting with
Don Jr. and others.
And I also when I was CIA director, I didn`t know that it was the day that
Mr. Trump basically gave a public call to the Russians to find Hillary
Clinton`s e-mails, matter of fact (ph), the same day that the GRU was
actively looking for it. So, there is collusion in plain sight. But I
don`t know whether any of that rises to the level of conspiracy and whether
any of that conspiracy rises to criminal liability for that conspiracy.
MADDOW: You described in detail before Congress, an open – it`s open
setting congressional testimony last spring that in the summer of 2016, you
at CIA were alarmed by, said your radar went up about the number of
contracts between Russian officials and U.S. persons at a time that Russia
was mounting this interference campaign. When you say that your radar went
up about that, did you radar go up about that just because it appeared that
the Russian operation had as a component of that operation the engagement
of Americans toward that end or was it specifically because of the people,
the Americans, the specific U.S. citizens who those Russians were
targeting? What was it that put your alarm up?
BRENNAN: Well, first, I knew that it was a very intense Russian effort to
interfere in the election, number one. Number two, I am well aware and
have a lot of experience in observing what the Russians will do to try to
suborn American citizens, to get Americans to this to work for them. And
this was a very intensive effort.
And, so, as I said in my op-ed, myself and Jim Comey and Mike Rogers are
going to say (ph), we talked about the importance of making sure that our
radar, our collection radar was up so that we had early indications or be
able to uncover any effort on the part of the Russians to work with
American citizens, the American citizens were reaching out to the Russians,
as well, to see what they could get, see if they could any dirt on Hillary
So, my radar was going because I knew the Russians were engaged in this
effort and I was aware of contracts with American citizens that may have
been totally innocent on the American citizens` part and maybe they weren`t
betting at all.
MADDOW: Was it clear to you that those contacts with American citizens
were part of the operation? That it was part of the way that Russia was
trying to accomplish its objectives?
BRENNAN: I was very concerned and aware that the Russians were trying to
leverage U.S. citizens in order to achieve their objectives in the
MADDOW: While you were in office as CIA director before you left on
inauguration day, did you conclude that U.S. persons were successfully
leveraged in that effort?
BRENNAN: No. No. And that`s why I said in open testimony that I was
concerned about these contracts because people will go down a treasonous
path, sometimes very unknowingly, and they got a very hot water and deep
water and then they, in fact, cannot extricate themselves because the
Russians are very clever at getting people in positions of potential
kompromat, compromising positions that they then cannot sort of turn back.
So, when I left office on January 20th of 2017, I had unresolved questions
in my mind if any of those U.S. persons were working in support of the
MADDOW: And those were referred, those concerns about specific U.S.
persons refer to the FBI.
BRENNAN: Right. We call it incidental collection in terms of CIA`s
foreign intelligence collection authorities. Any time we would
incidentally collect information on a U.S. person, we would hand that over
to the FBI because they have the legal authority to do it. We would not
pursue that type of investigative, you know, sort of leads. We would give
it to the FBI.
So, we were picking things up that was of great relevance to the FBI and we
wanted to make sure that they were there so they could piece it together
with whatever they were collecting here domestically here. Again –
MADDOW: So, it`s an intelligence sharing operation between –
BRENNAN: Right. We put together a fusion center at CIA that brought NSA
and FBI officers together with CIA to make sure that those proverbial dots
would be connected.
MADDOW: Let me ask you about one other thing that happened during your
tenure as CIA director and I don`t believe you`ve ever been asked about
this before. Several weeks before the election in 2016, the early fall of
2016, I know, personally, that two well-respected reporters here at NBC
approached you and asked you about a story that they were chasing,
concerning then candidate Donald Trump and connections he might have to
Russia and the Kremlin.
You were approached by these reporters. They were asking for either on the
record or off the record guidance from you on that story, and they say you
told them, I don`t think I can help you with that. I don`t think I can
help you with this. I can`t confirm it. I don`t have that for you, I
can`t help you.
So, you wouldn`t confirm any of it, you offered no help. This was
September of 2016. It sounds like at that time that, you actually did know
quite a lot about the Russian operation influence and potential connections
to the Trump campaign. The press was coming to you with these queries. I
know they at least were coming to you from (INAUDIBLE) from within this
What – was that of interest to you that the press seemed to be on to some
of this and how did you handle that press interest?
BRENNAN: Yes. Well, I don`t think I have been asked this question on a
news show. But, in fact, I informed the Senate Intelligence Committee
about this in my closed testimony over the past year and a half.
Yes, it was in September. And two journalist, noteworthy members of the
media asked me if I had heard about a document or a report about – that
contained some salacious information related to Donald Trump.
MADDOW: Were they specifically asking about the supposed – the alleged
sex tape or –
BRENNAN: They were talking about that and they used some of those
descriptors. Didn`t go into great detail but they led me to believe that
it was related to some things that might have happened in Moscow. I didn`t
confirm or deny anything for various reasons. One is that I don`t talk to
American journalists about U.S. persons ever. Number two, much less talk
about a U.S. presidential candidate to journalists.
And it was later that year when, in December, was the first time I had ever
put eyes on the so-called Steele dossier that I recalled the conversation I
had with those two members of the media. And said, oh, this must be what
they`re talking about because they said this was widely circulating among
the media and the press, this document, this report and these rumors and
whatever else. And I basically told them, I can`t help you with that and
I`m not going to engage.
But it was subsequent to that that I connected the dots then and said they
must have been talking about what ultimately referred to as the Steele
dossier. I didn`t see that dossier until December. There are a lot of
people out there, including members of Congress, who claimed I told Senate
majority leader, minority leader at the time, Harry Reid, about it in
August or September. That is, you know, that is false.
I did not have eyes or information on that –
MADDOW: Until after the election
BRENNAN: Until after the election. That`s right.
MADDOW: Before it was published in January, but after the election in
BRENNAN: Right. It became a hot topic of debate within CIA, NSA and FBI
and DNI about whether or not to take that dossier into account when the
intelligence community assessment was done. We decided no because there`s
no way we could substantiate it. It wasn`t in an intelligent document.
So, it was appended to it but not taken into account at all as the
intelligence community assessment was done and was completed.
MADDOW: The president has made a specific, on the record allegation
against you on that specific topic. There`s also a little bit of breaking
news about the security clearance fallout after the president revoked your
security clearance this week.
Please, stick with us. Former CIA Director John Brennan is my guest.
We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: Joining us, once again, for his first sit down interview since
President Trump revoked his security clearance in an unprecedented move
this week is former CIA Director John Brennan.
Director Brennan, thank you, again, for being here.
MADDOW: I want to ask you about this breaking news we had tonight from
“Washington Post.” you can see the headline here White House drafts more
clearance cancellations demanded by Trump. I will just read you the lead.
The White House has drafted documents revoking security clearances of
current and former officials whom President Trump has demanded be punished
for criticizing him or for playing a role in the investigation of Russian
interference in the 2016 election, according to senior administration
officials. Trump wants to sign, quote, most, if not all of them, said one
senior White House official who indicated that communication aides
including Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Bill Shine, the new
deputy chief of staff, they have discussed the optimum times to release
them as a distraction during unfavorable news cycles.
Here`s the part about you. The senior White House official acknowledged
that the step taken this week against John Brennan had been prepared in
late July when Sanders first said Trump was considering it. But the
decision to take that step was made this week to divert attention from
nonstop coverage of a critical book released by fired Trump aide Omarosa
Manigault Newman. Consideration is being given to holding other prepared
documents in reserve for similar opportunities in the future.
Do you have any reaction to learning that that, according to a White House
official, is why the president took this action against you this week?
BRENNAN: No, other than this is just another demonstration of his
irresponsibility in terms of holding that office. Just because he has
these authorities, and he does – he can revoke, you know, and he has
revoked my clearances and others, and just the way he can give pardons out.
But – and I`m not a lawyer, but I know there is a question about whether
or not there is corrupt intent terms of doing this.
And so, I think this is a thing that lawyers and courts and others are
going to be looking at in terms of whether Mr. Trump is going to be doing
any of this to obstruct justice or try to silence critics, whatever. But
the fact that he`s using a security clearance of a former CIA director as a
pawn in his public relations strategy, I think, is just so reflective of
somebody who, quite frankly, don`t want to use this term maybe, but he`s
drunk on power. He really is. And I think he`s abusing the powers of that
I think right now this country is in a crisis in terms of what Mr. Trump
has done and is liable to do. And so, are the Republicans on the Hill who
have given him a pass, are they going to wait for a disaster to happen
before they actually find their back bones and spines to speak up against
somebody who clearly, clearly is not carrying out his responsibilities with
any sense of purpose and common sense from the stand point of a national
MADDOW: When you raised that kind of prospect, what kind are you
BRENNAN: I don`t know. I mean, look, we`re just tossing around these
things right now. What happens if he wants to do something on the foreign
front in terms of some type of military adventure? You know, the wag-the-
dog scenario as a way to distract attention, as things get increasingly
tough for him and the waters get choppier, how desperate is he going to
become? What else is he going to do in order to distract attention?
And so, I really am quite surprised and very disappointed in many of the
Republican members of Congress. A lot of them who I know well and respect,
but for whatever reason, they are turning a blind eye and making excuses
for someone who doesn`t deserve to be given this type of leash with the
authorities of the office of the presidency.
MADDOW: The authority that he is exerting here is, again, an untested one
because the president – no president has ever been known to use a security
clearance like a weapon this way, the revocation of a security clearance
this way. One of the other things that`s discussed in the breaking news
from “The Washington Post” tonight is that there`s particular concern
expressed even within the White House about the president`s statement today
that he intends very quickly to strip the clearance of a current Justice
Department official Bruce Ohr.
Some people have suggested that depending on Mr. Ohr`s actual job is at the
Justice Department right now, stripping his security clearance might
actually effectively be a way of firing him, if he needs a security
clearance to do his job.
BRENNAN: Absolutely. It would be.
MADDOW: Is the president exercising a new authority here to essentially
fire people, disable people from being able to do their jobs, even if he`s
constitutionally unable to fire that official?
BRENNAN: I think he`s out of control. He is, has the steering wheel of
the American vehicle in his hands. And he`s veering wildly right now.
He`s trying to preserve and protect himself.
And, so, what more demonstration do you want some when things get really,
really bad? I`m glad that if his revoking my security clearance is going
to wake some people up. Look at all the people who have come and spoken
out. You know, the icons of a national security intelligence community
over the past several decades saying enough is enough.
And so, when are the members of Congress and the Republican Party going to
say enough is enough?
This country is more important than Mr. Trump. This country is more
important than party affiliation. I`m waiting for it. I`m hoping for it
and I truly hope that it`s going to happen sooner rather than later.
MADDOW: Because the president has overtly today raised this prospect of
going after this current Justice Department official, his security
clearance, raised a question for me as to whether he might do that to the
attorney general, who he has criticized in unsparing terms, this week
calling him not a real attorney general or to the deputy attorney general
who oversees the Mueller investigation or to FBI Director Chris Wray.
BRENNAN: Or Bob Mueller or the team of investigators there.
MADDOW: That was raised publicly by former DNI James Clapper this week. I
wondered what you thought about that.
BRENNAN: Well, I think it just demonstrates that anything is possible with
Mr. Trump in the Oval Office. That he has the authorities. And he can
yank the security clearances of basically anybody he wants. I think it is
subject to challenge.
But if he decides to yank the challenges tomorrow or the investigators
working on this special counsel`s effort, they`re not going to be – have
access to classified information they need to do their jobs.
So, again, how desperate is he going to get? And do the Republicans really
want to have to clean up after a disaster or do they want to stop this
before it becomes disastrous? It`s their choice. And if things become
disastrous, it`s going to be on their shoulders, on their conscience.
MADDOW: You have said that since you left the CIA, you have returned to
the agency several times, specifically to review materials in order to
prepare yourself for congressional testimony for questioning by
congressional staffers. Will the loss of your clearances affect your
ability to do that?
BRENNAN: I`ve returned to the CIA twice to talk about – well, in support
of my congressional testimony. I had to go back and read the files, just
to make sure I was able to respond to their questions.
One other time, a CIA senior official asked me to come in to talk about
things and that was with using my security clearances, so I could talk
freely about things. Another time, Director Pompeo when he was there,
every year, the director of CIA usually invites back former directors to
give them updates on what`s happening in the CIA, as well as some
I have never gone into CIA to ask for any type of briefing. I`ve never
gone in there to access any type of computer. So, again, I`ll be fine.
But – and I don`t want to get anybody in CIA in trouble, you know, in
terms of their reaching out to me.
I think there has been a chilling effect on the part of what Mr. Trump is
doing and his characterization of me that, I think, CIA officers are pretty
reluctant to be found out that they, you know, consulted me about a matter.
MADDOW: With now every – nearly every living director and former director
of the CIA speaking out in support of you today –
BRENNAN: In support of the principle of security clearances not being
MADDOW: And also in support of you personally. Personal praise and
support for you there, too. Even among former officials who say they don`t
always agree with your criticism of the president. They support you and
reject any allegation that you`ve mishandled your security clearance in any
way, with 60 former CIA officials joining their own letter today and
joining, this is becoming a larger issue, not a smaller one in terms of the
public debate on this matter.
Speaking of the public debate on this matter, can I chain you to the desk
for one more second?
MADDOW: All right. We`ll be back with former CIA Director John Brennan.
MADDOW: Joining us, once again, for his first sit down interview since
President Trump took the unprecedented step of revoking his security
clearance is former CIA Director John Brennan.
Thank you, again, Director Brennan.
BRENNAN: Thanks, Rachel.
MADDOW: In your op-ed this week of “The New York Times”, you said one of
the questions that remains to be answered now is how many members of Trump
Incorporated attempted to defraud the government by laundering and
concealing the movement of money into their pockets. What does Trump
Incorporated mean there? It seems like you`re making an organized crime
BRENNAN: Yes. Well, it`s sort of the orbit of individuals that are
associated in one way or another with Mr. Trump. Rick Gates has already
admitted to doing this. Paul Manafort is now – his trial is now to the
jury, who is being charged with those types of extensive criminal
So, the use of, you know, financial transactions is a way to move money
surreptitiously. You know, I don`t know who else that is associated with
Mr. Trump, but you`re talking about the former campaign manager and a
former deputy campaign manager. I think – you know, Mr. Trump over the
years, I think has, you know, associated himself with some individuals of
some, you know, questionable business practices.
So, all I`m saying is that as a result of the investigation that Mr.
Mueller is doing, those financial transactions are a critically part –
important part of the investigative process.
MADDOW: Is there a money element to the Russia operation to influence the
election? There are some banking and money moving allusions, seemingly not
on a large scale in the Mueller indictment in terms of how the Russia
operation unfolded. As far as you know and as far as you can tell us, is
there a financial component to that that may be helpful either in an
investigative way or in terms of understanding the scale of the crime?
BRENNAN: Well, I know that the Russians have used financial transactions
in previous efforts overseas to try to influence the outcome of election
and I talked about this with Jim Comey quite a bit, to make sure that our
radar and antenna were up in terms of what types of monies might be moving
as part of this Russian effort, to suborn U.S. persons. Maybe they were
not at all, in fact, connected with the campaign.
But, you know, the term “follow the money” is very, very important one,
whether or not you`re pursuing organized crime or you`re pursuing some type
of counterintelligence operation. And so, I wouldn`t be surprised at all
if the special counsel has uncovered a number of those or some financial
transactions that do speak to Russia`s efforts.
MADDOW: I have one last very specific thing to ask you. You were – you
were CIA director through the election and through the transition. Your
last day ended at noon on inauguration day.
There have been published reports that some of the same elements of the
Russian influence from the campaign were actually employed for a new
purpose during the transition, once Trump had been elected and was serving
as president-elect, was standing up to the new administration. There have
been published reports that during the transition, Russian efforts were
redirected to try to sway the selection of some of the president-elect`s
cabinets, specifically, basically, the Russian boots were repurposed to
start trying to block ball Mitt Romney as a potential secretary of state
and to cheer lead for the eventual choice Rex Tillerson.
You were CIA director at the time those things allegedly were happening.
Can you comment on that at all?
BRENNAN: Russian efforts to influence American politics in the aftermath
of the inauguration on January 20th of 2017 did not stop with election day
in November. They continued throughout the course of those months between
election day, inauguration day, in order to do whatever they could to
ensure that whatever happened in American politics in 2017, 2018 and beyond
was going to be as favorable to them as possible.
MADDOW: Director Brennan, I just want to underscore one point that you
made in our initial segment which is that you said you are considering
potential – the possibility of legal action in terms of your security
BRENNAN: It would be with the eye towards preventing this type of abuse by
Donald Trump in the future, not to reclaim mine. Although this is the
first time in 38 years I haven`t had a security clearance. I am very
concerned about the future generation, the current generation of
It was a privilege every day of my life to be a part of this community that
kept this country, this wonderful country strong and safe, and I don`t want
to ever allow a politician or someone in the Oval Office to just so
cavalierly toss around national security and security clearances. So, I
will fight on behalf of those who still have their clearances.
MADDOW: Director Brennan, I have disagreed with you publicly and privately
on a number of serious policies –
BRENNAN: And look forward to talking about those issues in the future.
MADDOW: I look forward to talking about this, too. But I want to tell
you, for all my disagreements with you on a number of different policy
matters, I have profound and earnest respect for your service. So, thanks.
BRENNAN: Thank you. Thanks, Rachel.
MADDOW: Director John Brennan of the CIA, 25 years CIA officer and four
years as CIA director, stripped this week of his security clearance by the
Something unprecedented happens almost every day. You would think that
would be a blessing in the news business, sometimes it feels like a curse.
We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: After a total of 14 hours and 45 minutes of deliberations, thus
far, jurors in the case of Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort haven`t
reached a verdict. They get the weekend off. They`ll be back at court
9:45 on Monday.
But there is another legal threat about the president and his campaign that
is worth, maybe, polling on while we wait for that verdict. As we`ve been
noting on the show this week, today was the deadline for the special
counsel`s office to file their recommendation for sentencing related to
George Papadopoulos. He is the Trump foreign policy adviser, Trump
campaign foreign policy adviser who pled guilty to lying to the FBI about
his contacts with Russian officials while he was working on the Trump
He`s going to get sentenced the Friday after Labor Day on September 7th.
But today was the government`s deadline to tell the judge how much time
they think he should get.
Since Papadopoulos first pled guilty in October, he has reportedly been
cooperating with the special counsel`s office. So, the sentencing
recommendation is not just interesting because it will show us how much
prison time he might get, it`s also an important window into how the
government thinks that whole cooperation thing with him went. If
Papadopoulos was a helpful cooperator, if he was both able and willing to
help the special counsel`s office with their recommendation, they might
recommend a shorter sentence or vice versa, right?
Some interesting little tea leaf we have been waiting for. The deadline
for the recommendation was the end of the day today. We waited all day
And, frankly, the clock was kind of ticking a little bit louder than normal
because Papadopoulos` wife has been talking to reporters and going on
Twitter this week saying she thinks her husband should fire all his lawyers
and blow up his plea deal and stop cooperating with the government. He
should sue the government instead. So, we had our eyes glued to the docket
in the Papadopoulos case all day, waiting to find out what the government
was going to say about him.
Finally, at 8:24 p.m. Eastern Time, we got their sentencing recommendation
for Papadopoulos. The government is recommending that judge sentence him
to prison for anywhere between zero and 6 months. Prosecutors telling the
judge that the defendant`s crime was serious. They say when he lied about
his contacts with Russian officials, that, quote, caused damage to the
government`s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016
Prosecutors say because Papadopoulos lied about his meetings with the
Russian government connected professor, that professor, quote, well, got
away. Quote, the defendant`s lies undermined investigators ability to
challenge the professor or potentially detain or arrest him while he was
still in the United States. The government understands that the professor
left the U.S. on February 11th, 2017, and he has not returned to the U.S.
Prosecutors say the judge – tell the judge tonight that even after
Papadopoulos was arrested, even after he was charged with lying to federal
investigators, he still was not completely forthcoming with the
investigation. Quote: The defendant did not provide substantial assistance
and much of the information provided by the defendant came only after the
government confronted him with his own e-mails, text messages, Internet
search history and other information it had obtained via search warrants
and subpoenas well after the defendant`s FBI interview as the government
continued its investigation.
Quote: the defendant also did not notify the government about a cell phone
he used in London during the course of the campaign that had on it
substantial communications between the defendant and the Russian professor
who promised him dirt on Hillary Clinton. He did not turn over that cell
phone until his fourth and final proffer session with the FBI.
So, the special counsel`s office isn`t making any suggestion as to what
motivated George Papadopoulos to lie to investigators when they first
questioned him about his contacts with Russian officials while he was
working on the Trump campaign. But they do say this, quote: The record
shows that at the time of the interview when Papadopoulos first lied, he
was attempting to secure a job with the Trump administration and had an
incentive to protect the administration and minimize his own role as a
Quote: In January 2017, the defendant had several communications with
officials of the incoming administration in an effort to obtain a high
level position with the National Security Council, the State Department or
the Energy Department. On January 27th, so a week after the inauguration,
in the hours after being interviewed by the FBI, the defendant submitted
his biography and a description of work he did on the campaign in an effort
to obtain a position as the deputy assistant secretary in the Energy
After he`s getting questioned by the FBI he`s asking to become a deputy
assistant energy secretary? That`s the special counsel`s office spelling
out when George Papadopoulos was lying to the FBI about his contacts with
Russia during the time working on the Trump campaign, when he was lying to
the FBI about that. He was also in talks with the Trump transition team to
get himself a high ranking job because how could his FBI involvement and
lying to them about Russia possibly be an impediment to a high-level job.
In this administration, heh.
George Papadopoulos will receive his sentence from the judge September 7th.
Again, the government as of tonight asking for zero to six months in prison
More ahead. Stay with us.
MADDOW: I have a little equilibrium gift from the universe for you. If
you live in the United States and you follow the U.S. convention of writing
out calendar dates like this, a digit representing the month and then two
digits representing the day of the month, and then two digits representing
And then, look, written that way, today`s date is the same going backwards
and forwards. August 17th, 2018 is 8-17-18. Backwards it is also 8-17-18.
Do you feel the cosmic bliss?
Also, I just want to let you know, you`re going to have a good weekend
because it`s going to keep happening. Tomorrow will be 8-19-18. Thank you
– 8-18-18, sorry. And then on Sunday, it will be 8-19-18.
So, 81718, 81818, and 81918, which is also the same backwards. Palindromes
may not be nearly as comforting to you as they are to me. Math and
symmetry may not be your thing, but in a world that can use some balance, I
will take it. Happy 8-17-18 backwards and forwards.
That does it for us tonight. We will see you again on Monday.
And now, for the other big interview on MSNBC tonight, I turn now to my
colleague Ari Melber live in Washington.
Good evening, Ari.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY
Copy: Content and programming copyright 2018 MSNBC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
Copyright 2018 ASC Services II Media, LLC. All materials herein are
protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced,
distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the
prior written permission of ASC Services II Media, LLC. You may not alter
or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the