Trump orders US military out of Syria. TRANSCRIPT: 12/19/18, The Rachel Maddow Show
CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: That is “ALL IN” for this evening.
THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right now.
Good evening, Rachel.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Thanks, my friend. Much
HAYES: You bet.
MADDOW: And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.
A lot of news, a lot to get to tonight. The president today, of course,
decided to pull a rabbit out of a hat with a surprise announcement that
he`s ordering the U.S. military to pull out of Syria entirely, immediately,
all at once, right now.
The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is Bob Corker, is a
Republican senator from Tennessee. Senator Corker spoke to reporters today
soon after the president pulled this rabbit out of a hat and made this
surprise announcement. And Senator Corker said as far as he could tell,
not only had he and the Foreign Relations Committee and the Congress not
been notified about this very big change in U.S. policy, not only had they
not been notified about it or consulted about this in any way, he told
reporters today that as far as he could tell from his conversations with
the Pentagon, the Pentagon does not appear to have been consulted either.
Senator Corker telling reporters today that as best he could tell, there
was nothing that led up to this decision today. There was no process at
all. The president just kind of got on Twitter and burped it out.
Senator Corker told reporters, though, that he was on his way over to the
White House to meet with the president about this apparent snap decision
that he made on his own. Then a few hours later, Senator Corker spoke with
reporters again and told him that his planned meeting with the president
got canceled, and it got canceled while Senator Corker was already over
there, sitting there at the White House, waiting for that meeting to start.
By the time White House officials were trying to explain the president`s
supposed order this afternoon, they realized that they could not answer
even the most basic questions about what this is all about and what the
president wants to happen. I mean, the really, really basic stuff, right?
How many of the troops that are there now are coming home? When is this
happening? If most of the troops are coming home, but not all of them,
which ones will stay behind and why and what will they do and how is that
going to work?
I mean, one of the issues, of course, in a military withdrawal, just as
civilians without military experience, you can even grok this, like you can
see this, right, is that if you`re withdrawing from a situation where
you`ve had a lot of troops there, but it`s not a total withdrawal, you`re
leaving some small number of Americans behind, you can see how those
Americans left behind are suddenly in a uniquely precarious and
simultaneously high-profile position. They`re sort of in a dangerous spot.
So these details really matter at a life and death level. You said
everybody is leaving immediately all at once. Are you sure? Nobody`s
staying behind? The Pentagon seems to indicate not everyone`s going.
I mean, if some smaller of Americans is being left behind, when most of the
rest are leaving all of a sudden, what are the rest of the troops being
left there for. What is to ensure that they`re not just going to be
sitting ducks as the rest of the force leaves? I know these are sort of
hard questions, detailed questions, but this is the sort of thing that
becomes immediately super important, at a life or death level for Americans
if the president really did just order today the kind of withdrawal that
he, surprise, proclaimed on Twitter.
So, reporters went to the White House today looking to get questions like
those answered. Even just to get the most basic questions answered about
this big, sudden U-turn from the president. Where did this come from, why
now, is everybody on board, you got a plan?
When reporters went to the White House to ask questions about this today,
White House staff said they could not answer those questions themselves.
And they referred reporters to the Pentagon. They said go ask the Defense
Department. Reporters who contacted the Defense Department, however, were
told that the Defense Department also could not answer those questions
because they frankly had no idea what the president was talking about with
this new order.
So the Pentagon referred reporters back to the White House to try to get
those questions answered. So the White House said, the president announces
it, everybody is like, dude, what now, huh? The White House says we don`t
know, ask the Defense Department. The Defense Department says we don`t
know, ask the White House – which is ridiculous and absurd. And just for
us as citizens, it is remarkable to see our government and our president
overtly bungling something this serious. Something this important, just
trying to hum a few bars and hope somebody else figures out what this means
and what people are supposed to do here.
It`s ridiculous. It`s absurd, right? It feels that way to everybody
observing this process, including people who are allies of the president
like Republicans on Capitol Hill.
But if you`re an American military family tonight, if you have a family
member serving in Syria tonight, and a couple thousand American families
are in that situation, because there are a couple thousand Americans
serving in Syria right now, I cannot imagine how unnerving today must have
been for you, watching this White House, watching this president just try
to blag through this. I mean, imagine if you have skin in the game in your
I mean, whether or not you are for or against an ongoing U.S. military
presence in Syria, or even if you don`t particularly know one way or the
other, this is not the way that U.S. troops and their families expect to
have their safety and their lives just blithely batted around like it
doesn`t matter and who cares what happens and maybe we`ll just do the whole
thing on Twitter and who knows if we`ll follow through, who cares? Ask the
White House for details, no, ask the Pentagon for details. No, apparently
nobody has any details. The president is just winging this one. Does he
mean it if it`s on Twitter, does it count?
If he is just winging it with the life of your son or your daughter or your
husband or wife over there in uniform right now, it`s been a spectacle for
all of us. But if you are in a personal situation with regard to that
conflict right now, this must have been a very difficult day. But we`re
going to get some expert help on this story coming up in just a few
I do have to tell you, the administration and the president appear to have
put so little thought and so little planning, if any planning at all, into
this announcement today that it literally, as I speak, is not even clear at
this point if the Pentagon is planning on this withdrawal. If the Pentagon
is planning on doing whatever it is that the president has supposedly
ordered, if they can figure out what that order is, because of that lack of
clarity tonight, that alone I think is good reason to expect that this
story is going to continue to develop over the course of the evening and
into the overnight. So, as I said, we`re going to get some expert help on
We`ve got a senator from the Armed Services Committee here tonight and
we`ve also got a reporter Rukmini Callimachi who will be here with us to
try to get some more clarity on this story.
All right. And by – self-conscious about this – but by counterpoising
that story that I just talked about with this next bit of news that we`re
about to get to, I do not mean to suggest that the president popped out
that surprise out of the blue announcement on Syria today as an effort to
change the news cycle to something that is less damaging to him than what
he has been going through in recent days. I`m not trying to suggest that
by putting these two stories together here at the top of the show.
But it is inescapable that the overall news cycle right now is just
calamitous for the president in terms of scandals and investigations
swirling around him and some of the people closest to him. It is very bad
right now for the president, and with each passing day, including today, it
does seem to be continuously devolving. So, on that front, we need to
start with some news with somebody I almost always ignore. It`s convenient
top of to have a whole swat of news that, yes, I don`t cover that.
But this is the story that broke in “The Washington Post,” and as you can
see, it is about Roger Stone, who is a longtime friend and adviser to the
president. He worked on behalf of and adjacent to the president`s campaign
in 2015 and 2016. Now, I say I usually ignore stories about him, and I
don`t mean that in a mean way.
I`m conscious of the fact that Mr. Stone likes to see himself on TV and he
likes to see himself in print. He likes press attention of anytime. He`s
open about those. He talks about that. He talks about seeking press
attention as often as he can.
There are lots and lots of news stories about him all the time. Even about
his alleged very troubling role in the Russia scandal, but 99.9 percent of
the time, those stories essentially boil down to, Roger Stone says thing.
So? And depending on how long you can bear reading into the story, you
eventually get to thing does not appear to be true. It`s sort of implied
with Roger Stone said it.
So we don`t generally cover those stories on this show. I`m just not
interested. I mean, I would maybe like to.
It just makes me itch, it makes me crazy, like we cannot do it. Anyway,
it`s sort of a categorical situation for me. Stories about Roger Stone, do
But this tonight in “The Washington Post,” this is something real that you
actually should know about. So the lead reporter is Carol Leonnig. There
are four big name “Washington Post” reporters who are co bylined on this
story, and this is the lead. Quote: Special counsel Robert Mueller asked
the House Intelligence Committee on Friday, so several days ago, for an
official transcript of Trump adviser Roger Stone`s testimony.
Quote: It is the first time Mueller has formally asked the committee to
turn over material the panel has gathered in its investigation of Russian
interference in the 2016 campaign.
Now, what does it mean that Robert Mueller and the special counsel`s office
have asked for the official transcript of Roger Stone`s testimony? Well,
according to “The Washington Post” tonight, quote, the move suggests the
special counsel is moving too finalize a key part of Mueller`s inquiry into
whether anyone in President Trump`s orbit coordinated with the Russians.
If you want to put a finer point on it, “The Washington Post” just straight
up goes there, calling this request from Mueller to obtain this transcript,
quote, “a sign that prosecutors could be moving to charge Mr. Stone with a
Quote: Securing an official transcript from the committee would be a
necessary step before pursuing an indictment that Stone allegedly lied to
lawmakers. Charges of lying to Congress are relatively rare, but last
month, of course, Trump`s longtime personal lawyer Michael Cohen pled
guilty to just such a charge as part of the special counsel`s
investigation. The special counsel could use the threat of a false
statement charge to seek cooperation from Mr. Stone as Mueller has done
with other Trump advisers, including former Trump national security adviser
Mike Flynn and Mr. Cohen.
So, big picture story just broken tonight by “The Washington Post” is that
they have learned, “The Post” has learned and NBC News has not confirmed
this reporting, but “The Post” says they have learned that the special
counsel`s office, Robert Mueller, has made an official request to get an
official transcript of Roger Stone`s testimony before the Congress about
Russian interference in the election. So, this is not Roger Stone says
thing. This is an action that has been reportedly taken by the special
And here`s the part of this that I definitely didn`t know, and I didn`t
understand before I read this story tonight. To me, this is fascinating.
Maybe everybody knows this stuff. Maybe the nuts and bolts of how exactly
you get charged with a felony for lying to Congress are like stuff that
gets talked about at your staff holiday party where you work.
To me, this was totally new. I did not know this before tonight. Quote:
For weeks, the special counsel`s office has had access to an unofficial
copy of Mr. Stone`s closed door interview with the committee in September
2017. Mueller`s request of the official copy suggests that the special
counsel could in and out be pursuing an indictment.
Why is that? Why does he need the official copy rather than just the
unofficial copy that he`s been working from?
Quote: In general, if prosecutors want to bring a charge of lying to
investigators, they must obtain a certified clean copy from the transcriber
or clerk who took the statement in order to present it as an exhibit to a
Quote: Because the Roger Stone interview was conducted in executive
session, meaning behind closed doors, with House Intelligence Committee,
quote, the transcript of his remarks officially belongs to the committee
and may not be released to anyone. Unless authorized by the committee.
So, basically, Robert Mueller does know at least roughly, unofficially,
what Roger Stone`s testimony was, that closed-door testimony that he gave
in the fall of 2017. But you can`t bring an unofficial transcript to the
grand jury if you want that grand jury to give you an indictment based, in
part, on that evidence. You need the official record of his remarks if
you`re going to bring it to the grand jury for the purposes of indicting
him. I did not know that.
Getting the official transcript turns out in this case kind of takes a
village. It takes the committee to agree to hand it over. Quote:
According to people with knowledge of the situation, the House Intelligence
Committee has not yet turned over the official Stone transcript to special
counsel Mueller. But “The Washington Post” reports tonight that they are
going to have to deal with this tomorrow.
Quote: The committee is expected to discuss the topic at a closed door
business session scheduled for Thursday, i.e., tomorrow. An agenda for the
meeting shows the panel`s first item to consider is the, quote,
transmission of certain executive session materials too the executive
branch. So executive session materials, that means materials from a closed
door session. They have to discuss tomorrow, first order of business,
whether they are going to transmit that transcript, those materials, to the
executive branch, which, according to “The Washington Post,” is the special
And since the special counsel`s office already has the unofficial
transcript, presumably the only reason they need the official one is,
because – so most news about this adviser to the president, this long-time
friend of the president, Roger Stone, you can just file in a folder marked
news about Roger Stone, right? You don`t need to get any more specific
But this tonight from “The Washington Post,” if they`re right in this
report, this would seem to indicate that the special counsel is taking the
last procedural steps they need to in order to perhaps bring charges here.
Now, the fact that Congressman Devin Nunes is going to be convening that
closed-door intelligence committee meeting to decide whether or not Robert
Mueller can have that congressman, as Congressman Adam Schiff of California
waits to take over Nunes job as the new Democratic chairman in a couple
weeks, that adds some real kinetic force to the story and obviously some
very angular politics. If Mueller doesn`t get that transcript tomorrow,
he`ll get it as soon as Schiff is there.
So, this story tonight from “The Washington Post” suggests that there is
something else likely coming from the special counsel here. And you don`t
know it until you see it when it comes to the special counsel, but that`s
what this strongly suggests. Now, keep in mind, we have already seen what
appears to be a draft plea agreement from the special counsel for what
appears to have been a guilty plea negotiation that apparently fell apart,
involving the Obama birth certificate conspiracy guy, whose name is Jerome
From that draft plea agreement for Jerome Corsi, it would appear that Mr.
Corsi`s own potential criminal exposure is related to some of the same
communications during the campaign that have brought scrutiny to Roger
Stone, communications involving WikiLeaks and WikiLeaks` distribution of e-
mails and documents that were stolen by the Russian military, by Russian
military intelligence from Democrats and from the Clinton campaign, to be
weaponized against her campaign on behalf of Donald Trump.
Since we saw that draft plea agreement related to Jerome Corsi, we haven`t
seen any further action in the courts that appears directly related to him,
but presumably with that draft plea agreement, having been rejected by
Corsi and what we`re now seeing with regard to Roger Stone and the request
to this transcript, it all feels like that is coming to a fine point.
But there is more that you should know about, including more that happened
today. This is something that happened today that I don`t think has
received a lot of attention. For me, this was a reward for always
following my court documents rule, which is always read to the very end,
often times the best stuff is at the very end.
This is something didn`t get a lot of attention today. It is pretty
clearly a new thing, another new thing that is coming down the pike,
potentially from federal prosecutors and you probably have not heard about
But I will tell you about it, next. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Last week, it feels like a million years ago, doesn`t it? But it
was just last week that accused Russian agent Maria Butina pled guilty and
agreed to cooperate with prosecutors in federal court in Washington, D.C.,
just a remarkable turn in that case. She becomes the first Russian
national to plead guilty in conjunction with charges related to Russian
influence on U.S. politics.
But after she pled guilty, you may not have heard about this, but a very
unusual thing, a super, super unusual thing happened in her case over the
weekend. It was a mistake. A document that was apparently supposed to be
sealed, it was supposed to be completely shielded from public view was
accidently posted online by the court in an unredacted form.
And I guess the court realized or prosecutors realized what they had done
ultimately and quickly took it down. But while that document was up for
that short period of time, report Spencer Hsu at “The Washington Post” was
able to grab it and screen shot it, at least the first page of it, of this
document. Again, that was supposed to be sealed.
But let me just read you what it said. You can see it at the top, under
seal. That means we`re not supposed to see it. I should tell you, the
title is motion for leave to file under seal. And this is just the few
first sentences of what that filing says.
Quote: The United States of America by and through its attorney, the U.S.
attorney for the District of Columbia its motion for authorization of
transportation in the above referenced base. That`s not a legal term of
art in this case, they literally mean transportation. Quote: The motion
discusses appending criminal investigation and matters occurring between
the parties that should not appear in the public record.
Although the fact of defendant Maria Butina`s cooperation is now public,
the details of her transportation to and from the jail are not. The
disclosure of such information would pose a risk to the defendant`s safety
and the safety of the community. Once disclosed, such information could be
used by individuals or entities who might seek to harm or intimidate the
defendant to defend her from continuing to cooperate with law enforcement.
Now, in this document, we don`t actually get the details of her
transportation, we just get the government`s argument that those details
should not be made public. But now get this – quote: In addition, the
proposed order references defendant Butina`s possible transportation to a
grand jury. The fact of her testimony before a grand jury is protected
under Rule 6 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure and should remain
She`s testifying to a grand jury? So, again, this was not supposed to be
posted in a way the public could see it, but it was. And “Washington Post”
reporter Spencer Hsu was able to grab it, and we learned that one of the
things that happened since Maria Butina pled guilty and agreed to cooperate
with prosecutors is that already she`s not just talking to prosecutors,
already, they`ve got her being transported from jail to testify in person
before a grand jury in what the prosecutors described as ongoing criminal
Remember, she was charged as basically undeclared secret agent of the
Russian government operating in this country to influence our politics,
specifically the Republican Party through the NRA, what might she know
about, might she have evidence about that they`ve got her providing
evidence to the grand jury about? I don`t know.
But since that document was posted by accident, and then quickly unposted
this weekend, there`s been a little more back and forth in the Butina case.
Specifically, her defense lawyers argued to the judge that the gag order
should be lifted on her case, and the gag order basically says that judges
– excuse me, that the judge has told the defense counsel and the
prosecutors that they`re not allowed to speak publicly or to the press
about what`s going on in Butina`s case, and Butina`s lawyers said drop the
gag order, we would like to speak about this publicly.
Today, prosecutors responded to that and they said from their perspective,
no, they want the judge to keep the gag order in place. Now, on the
surface, this is just an argument about a procedural matter. On the
surface, though, the prosecutor`s argument doesn`t really make much sense.
If you think about it, the purpose of a gag order, the purpose of a judge
saying, no, people involved in this case are not allowed to talk about this
outside of the courtroom, no comments to the press, no comments to the
public, the reason for a gag order is mostly to avoid creating some sort of
prejudicial public environment around a case, prejudicial environment about
the guilt or innocence of a defendant in a case where that person is going
to go to trial before a jury. So, a gag order can prevent the jury pool
for that jury trial from being tainted, because the jury will have heard
public comments about the case.
For Maria Butina, though, she just pled guilty. So she`s not going on
trial. There`s not going to be a jury that has to be selected to rule on
Maria Butina`s guilt or innocence. She pled guilty.
So why would you still need the gag order, what`s the justification for it?
That`s what we just got from the prosecutors in her case tonight, and this
is interesting. First of all, they say there`s a chance that Maria
Butina`s plea deal might fall apart, in which case they would end up
putting her on trial. Quote, although the government has no reason to
expect the defendant will breach the plea agreement, in the event she does,
the government will be free from its obligations under the agreement, and
she will be subject to prosecution for any other crimes.
Quote: In other words, there is a chance, however small, that the
government could proceed to trial on the indictment or some portion
thereof. Given that possibility, the courts desire to preserve a potential
jury pool continues through sentencing. And they continue, one other
option here, Judge, similarly, quote, the defendant can withdraw her plea
before sentencing if she demonstrates to the court that she has a fair and
just reason for requesting the withdrawal. Quote: while the government
again has no reason to believe the defendant will attempt to withdraw her
plea prior to sentencing, the contemplation of that possibility counsels
towards leaving the gag order in place prior to sentencing.
So they`re raising these possibilities. Maybe her plea agreement is going
to fall apart, and there will be a trial, in which case there could be a
trial here. So, but then here`s the money. Here`s the whoop, heads up
from the federal prosecutors who are handling the Butina case to say, hey,
there`s something else going on here. And, again, her case is being
handled by the U.S. attorney in D.C., specifically by the national security
division in that office. Here`s their closing argument to the judge.
Quote: The court also has a duty to protect any potential future
defendants` rights to a fair trial. As this court noted in its order, the
gag rule imposes a restriction on dissemination of information that will
interfere with the fair trial in connection with a pending or imminent
criminal litigation. They have italicized the word imminent and note that
they had added the emphasis themselves. The gag order imposes a
restriction on dissemination of information that will interfere with a fair
trial in connection with pending or imminent criminal litigation.
Quote: Keeping the gag order in place through sentencing would safeguard
the rights of any potential defendants who may later be charged in
connection with this matter, especially if any other person is charged as a
result of the defendant`s cooperation.
And so respectfully submitted, leave the gag order in place, judge, because
here comes some more defendants. I mean, between that briefly unsealed
document about her going to testify to the grand jury and this document we
got tonight from the prosecutors in her case, what this would appear to
indicate because the prosecution side in the Maria Butina case is that the
Maria Butina case is not only about her being indicted. That in their
words, quote, imminently other criminal litigation involving other
defendants may soon be charged in connection with this matter.
So that all happened today. “The Washington Post” reports tonight that
Roger Stone, the special counsel`s office has asked requested an official
transcript of Roger Stone`s testimony to the House Intelligence Committee,
which is something that they would not need, since they have an unofficial
transcript anyway. They would only need the official transcript, legal
experts say, if they need to take that document to the grand jury for the
purposes of securing an indictment. So that seems to be final stages on a
long-time adviser to the president, Roger Stone.
Similarly in the Butina case, the prosecutors are talking about the
imminent possibility of other defendants related to this case, particularly
those who may be charged as a result of the defendant`s cooperation. That
all happened today. And that doesn`t even get into the fact that also
today, something was filed in the Michael Cohen case, which was filed under
seal, and they didn`t screw it up, and in his case, the court noted that
the file was, quote, placed in vault.
Which means today we all learned that there`s a vault at the federal
courthouse in New York that`s hearing the Cohen case, and they have some
Cohen stuff in the vault. Even though he`s already been sentenced to three
years in federal prison for his role in this matter thus far, there are yet
more sealed documents being filed with the court in conjunction with
Michael Cohen, too, including one filed today. We have no idea what it is,
but we know they locked it up as soon as they got it.
So, stay sober. Keep your laces tied. We apparently are still really in
the middle of this.
We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: The Pentagon seemed caught off guard. As of this morning,
officials in the Pentagon were reportedly scrambling to try to talk the
president out of doing this. When the president tweeted the announcement
anyway, the White House referred reporters to the Pentagon to get details
on the withdrawal plan, but the Pentagon didn`t have any details. The
Pentagon referred all questions back to the White House, and they said,
didn`t we tell you to go ask the Pentagon?
At the State Department, they just decided they didn`t want to talk about
it at all. The State Department abruptly canceled its scheduled press
briefing today right after Trump made this announcement about pulling all
U.S. troops out of Syria.
NBC News national security reporter Courtney Kube asked a senior
administration official today what the president means specifically by
making this announcement, when does this mean U.S. troops are leaving?
This was the response she got. Quote: It`s not that I`m not telling you,
it`s that I don`t know quite frankly, helpful senior administration
So we don`t know if the surprise withdrawal is a thing that`s actually
going to happen. We certainly don`t know when it`s going to happen, if it
is. But why did this happen all of a sudden? Why did this just get
And I ask that because on its face, the explanation the president gave is
an explanation that`s not true. I mean, the president today said, ISIS is
gone, ISIS has been defeated, that`s why we can leave.
Well, the inspector general at the Defense Department just last month
released a report on the current strength of ISIS. As of last month, the
Pentagon estimate for ISIS fighters was 20,000 to 30,000 fighters just in
Iraq and Syria. So, it`s not that the U.S. government has determined that
ISIS is defeated, they`re gone, therefore it`s time to go. That`s the
explanation the president gave today, but that`s it, that`s not true. So
what was it?
“The Wall Street Journal” and others have suggested that this happened
today at the request of a foreign leader, at the request of the president
of Turkey. Which is rich, right? I mean, the day after Trump national
security adviser Mike Flynn gets dragged all over a federal courtroom for,
in the judge`s words, basically betraying his country, selling out his
country by working as a paid foreign agent for Turkey, two days after the
Turkish government contract got indicted for that scheme, the day after
prosecutors described Mike Flynn in open court as an unindicted co-
conspirator in that alleged crime, amid all these questions now circling
around the Flynn case about why the Trump transition didn`t care and went
ahead and installed Flynn as national security adviser anyway, even after
they were formally and repeatedly warned about Flynn being investigated as
an unregistered paid foreign agent for Turkey, that`s the day the president
of Turkey says hey, Trump, pull out of Syria now, and the president of our
country says yes, sir, I`ll announce it right now, sir?
I mean, the on the surface explanation from the president is not true. The
other possible explanations for this, the ones being reported today in the
news, are really dark. Just when it comes to Turkey, just one of the
countries that would want us out of Syria. Of course, the other countries
that would want us out of Syria are the Syrian government, right, Iran,
Russia. Russia for its part says that they are delighted by this blurted
out new policy from President Trump today.
But what can we know at this point as to – whether this is really
happening? And why this is really happening? But also what it`s likely to
do, if this does actually become real policy and not just something the
president tweeted and then everyone ignored?
Joining us now is Rukmini Callimachi, foreign correspondent for “The New
York Times”. She`s been covering al Qaeda and ISIS.
Rukmini, it`s really nice to have you here tonight. Thanks very much for
RUKMINI CALLIMACHI, CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: So I know that you have – you have reported both in Syria and
Iraq, I know you were just in Iraq a couple of weeks ago.
MADDOW: Bottom line, what do you think the impact would be in Syria, in
Syria, and specifically with regard to ISIS, if the president`s
announcement is real, if they do follow through with this sort of
precipitous withdrawal plan?
CALLIMACHI: Let me quote what senior Western coalition officials told me
today when I reached out to them to ask this very question. They described
the president`s announcement as, quote, catastrophic, quote, a disaster,
quote, reckless. This is how they view this announcement.
The Kurds, when I last traveled with them, which was back in 2015, were not
able to move an inch without U.S. support. They would take building after
building, but only after U.S. air support had helped them bomb that
location. If the U.S. was not there, they would not have been able to
advance. And even with U.S. support, we have seen that ISIS has been able
to mount counterattack after counterattack and sometimes take back
territory that has been declared freed.
So, it`s naive to think that this in any way is going to not have an impact
on the fight against ISIS.
MADDOW: So big picture here, we should just be clear for people who
haven`t been following this or that have lost track over this eight-year-
long civil war. That there`s a couple thousand U.S. troops in Syria.
Their stated mission there is to fight ISIS.
The way that U.S. troops are fighting ISIS in Syria is in partnership with
the Kurds, and partnership with Kurdish fighters who are believed by the
U.S. military to be the most effective anti-ISIS force on the ground. And
if the U.S. forces are going to leave is devastation for the Kurds.
MADDOW: And that, of course, raises the issue of why this is happening.
There are multiple news organizations that are reporting tonight that the
origin of this decision from the president, it didn`t come from sort of
inner agency process in the U.S. government, certainly didn`t come from the
U.S. military or people working on this as policy. It appears to have come
in a suggestion from the Turkish president.
What`s the relationship between the Turkish government, the Turkish
president and the Kurds? Why might this have been in his interest?
CALLIMACHI: The Turkish state has viewed the Kurds as an existential
threat. The group that`s currently fighting ISIS is a conglomeration of
Kurdish entities, one is the YPG. The YPG is just another name for the
PKK, which is an entity that has been declared a terrorist organization by
Turkey. They have carried out attacks in Turkey.
And so for a long time now, we have seen that the Turkey views this entity
as its number one enemy really in the region.
MADDOW: Rukmini Callimachi, foreign correspondent for “The New York Times”
covering al Qaeda and ISIS – Rukmini, I really appreciate your making time
to be with us tonight. Thank you very much for this.
CALLIMACHI: Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: I should tell you that Nancy Pelosi put out a statement tonight on
the withdrawal of troops from Syria. I`ll just read you a piece that`s
important and relevant to this discussion.
Quote: All Americans should be concerned that this hasty announcement was
made after sentencing and criminal proceedings began against the
president`s former national security adviser Michael Flynn who admitted
that he was a registered agent for a country with clear interest in the
The clear interests in the Syrian conflict as just laid out there by
All right. Senator Claire McCaskill is here for the interview tonight.
Very excited to have her here.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: She`s been a county prosecutor, a state representative, her
state`s auditor. She`s been a U.S. senator now for 12 years.
She is perhaps the only Democratic senator under the age of 70 who is not
apparently about to announce that she`s running for president. She has
always been someone, personal privilege here, she`s always been someone who
I could imagine very easily in the job of president. I have thought that
But apparently she`s not running. She is, though, leaving Washington, and
so I came down here today from New York to make sure I could talk to her
before she went back home.
Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri, thank you so much for doing this.
SEN. CLAIRE MCCASKILL (D), MISSOURI: It`s great to be here. This is a
perfect last live interview as far as I`m concerned.
MADDOW: So, this is the last interview you`re doing as a senator.
MCCASKILL: Last live interview as a senator.
MADDOW: I thought about bringing a beer and telling you it was okay to
MCCASKILL: Shotgun it?
MADDOW: But I have a feeling I don`t need to loosen you up that much. You
seem like you`re kind of psyched to be –
MCCASKILL: Probably not. I`m ready.
MADDOW: I want to ask – I have a bunch of stuff to ask you about leaving
the Senate. I do have to ask you a news question, particularly because
your role on the Armed Services Committee. What is your reaction to the
surprise announcement of the president today on Syria?
He`s saying all U.S. troops out immediately. It`s clear from the Pentagon
and Senator Corker, there appears to have been no process leading up to
this at all. What`s your take on it?
MCCASKILL: Wildly irresponsible, very dangerous. This is one of the most
complicated places in the world.
The cross currents in Syria are so significant. We have the Kurds, who
have made our victories possible. They have fought shoulder to shoulder,
they have died on the battlefield, with American military to defeat ISIS.
And we are leaving them twisting in the wind by leaving. We were the
balance, even though there were only 2,000 people, it was a balance that
kept Turkey kind of at bay, and also was a caution to Iran and to Russia,
and to Assad. It`s not so much that he`s pulling, it`s the way he`s doing
it, with complete disregard for the complexities that are involved, without
talking to our allies, without having a plan, without trusting the military
leaders that have been telling him for months don`t do something rash here,
but because his politics need something rash right now.
MCCASKILL: That`s why he`s doing this. That`s what is most disturbing
that he is making these irresponsible and impulsive decisions in the
context of our military involvement around the world. Pretty scary stuff.
MADDOW: You`re suggesting this is a wag the dog decision to change the
MCCASKILL: And to – I think he`s getting heat from his base that he
folded on the wall and I think he`s preoccupied with his rallies and what
he told everyone, that Mexico would build it, he would get a wall. And he
also said, I`m going to bring people home from all these entanglements
around the world.
So I think he`s saying, oh, I`m in trouble because I folded on the wall, so
I`ll do this thing that I promised I would do, damn the consequences. I
need to somehow repair my political image in terms of being strong and
decisive. That`s what is so disappointing about this, because he puts a
lot at risk. And the men and women who died there deserve better.
MADDOW: The president acting in those terms to me, that would make sense
if what we had seen was the president pushing this issue at the White
House, raise thing issue, telling people that wanted to do this, he`s every
once in a while he talks about this. But as far as we can tell, there was
no process leading up to this. He just did blurt it out, leaving the State
Department absolutely flummoxed, the Pentagon absolutely flummoxed. Even
senior administration officials who were put out to explain, they had no
idea what he was talking about.
What I am particularly worried about is this reporting that this idea of
the president came directly from the president of Turkey, with whom he
spoke with just several days ago. What you were just talking about with
the Kurds, the president of Turkey would like nothing more than to have the
United States military out of the way so he can mow down the Kurds, because
they`re so threatening to him and his domestic needs.
I mean, I`m worried about the prospect that the president has made this
decision at the behest of a foreign government. I don`t know how we figure
out whether that`s true or what the consequences should be if that
MCCASKILL: Well, I think the way to kind of look at it, he`s surrounded
himself with people to advise him. And either they`re being indicted or
they`re being ignored. So, what is the point of attracting people with any
kind of working knowledge of the subject matter, especially in something as
complex as what`s going on in the Middle East, particularly in Syria?
If you were going to completely ignore them, including the hawk of all
hawks when it comes to Iran, Bolton. I mean, Bolton just said a few weeks
ago we would never – we`re not going to let Iran have that kind of power
MADDOW: He said we will not leave, the U.S. military presence in Syria
won`t end as long as Iran still has troops on the border. Well, Iran still
has troops on the border and that`s no longer –
MCCASKILL: Never mind.
MADDOW: You talking about stuff like this, even the really hard stuff, I
can see your wheels turning and you get really into it and I`m
simultaneously sensing your relief at getting out of here. Are you happy
you`re no longer going to be a senator? Or are you –
MCCASKILL: OK, let`s be honest, I`m a really competitive person. I hate
to lose. It sucks. And I lost. And I don`t like losing.
Having said that, I see people who stay here too long. The place has
gotten pretty dysfunctional. I think I can move the needle on things I
care about and I don`t have to be in this town. I think there`s ways I can
influence things and I`m looking forward to doing some of that work on the
other side when I`m not busy worrying about the pressures of running in a
really tough state.
For someone who believes in the values that I hold, I couldn`t ever make my
friends in the progressive base completely happy. I certainly couldn`t
make the right happy, and it`s tough. It`s tough because you want to hold
true to your principles but you want to be pragmatic enough if you can get
things done. That`s why I worry about a little bit of my party that we
don`t get so enamored with purity that we lose the fact that if independent
voters in this country do not vote for Democrats, we will not win the
presidency, and we will not win states in the Midwest.
MADDOW: I want to talk to you a little bit about that and your own
presidential decision making process and all this when we come back.
We`re with Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri. This is her last live
interview as a United States senator.
We`ll be right back with her after this.
MADDOW: Joining us once again is Senator Claire McCaskill for her last
live interview as a senator. I`ve never done that before. That was rude.
Obama, JFK, and Warren J. Harding were the only U.S. presidents who have
ever gone to White House directly from the Senate and yet for some reason
like every senator under the age of 80 is a potential Democratic
presidential candidate this year. Do you think – having been 12 years in
the senate, do you think it makes sense that that is a good place from
which to pick a Democratic bench?
MCCASKILL: Well, there`s certainly smart, capable people there. Having
said that, the American voter right now is – in case you haven`t noticed,
they`re really not very high on Washington.
MCCASKILL: This is not their favorite spot and Congress is not seen as
like the folks they want to rely on.
So I do think anybody that is of Washington has an extra high bar to make
it through this process. I think somebody who feels different, who is
inspirational, who can convince people they can change something and that
frankly because of what we`ve got going on in the Oval Office, who shows
character and stability, I think that`s what those voters that decide
presidentials, those ones in the middle, that`s what they gravitate
MADDOW: Did you ever seriously think about running?
MADDOW: Why not?
MCCASKILL: Well, I was really fortunate to be close to the Obama campaign.
I was kind of in it, so to speak, and I saw it and, wow, really hard and
really not fun, and really flawed process. And it just really kind of
cured me of wanting to be in that kind of fray.
I still want to try to get things done, and I`m proud of what I`ve gotten
done here, but I`m not really interested in running for elected office
MADDOW: How much did it bug you when jerky liberals like me gave you a
hard time for being more conservative than the rest of the Democratic Party
on some issues? Did it actually –
MCCASKILL: You mean when you brought the life-size cutout of Blanche
MADDOW: Yes, and I put her in a big envelope –
MCCASKILL: Come on, Rachel.
MADDOW: But is that like off the duck`s back?
MCCASKILL: No, it`s off the duck`s back. I get it.
But, you know, here`s the thing. On lots of issues I was really solid that
are progressive issues.
MCCASKILL: Women`s reproductive freedoms, health care issues, not perfect
on environment but certainly better than the vast majority of people who
hold elected office in my state. And at the end of the day, I`m really
somebody who enjoys getting things done.
And screaming pure progressive politics on one side of the room does not
get people to the middle and actually accomplish things. We only
accomplish things, the tough stuff only gets fixed if we take tough votes
and we compromise.
MADDOW: But is it constructive to have criticism both from the right and
the left especially for somebody who`s really like a die hard moderate like
you, like you are ideological idiosyncratic, right? You`re mix of
progressive and modern.
MADDOW: Is it always hurtful to get that pressure? Is it constructive?
MCCASKILL: I think it`s tine. You know, I would never – I`m so lucky
that I`ve been able to be a public servant and in politics for 38 years in
elected office in a state like Missouri. I feel fortunate. And people are
passionate and I love it when they are passionate.
MADDOW: But it sometimes drives you crazy, admit it.
MCCASKILL: Well, sometimes it`s counterproductive.
MADDOW: OK, that`s what I want to hear.
MCCASKILL: Like this year, there were some folks in Missouri that were
chewing on me because I wasn`t loud enough on certain issues –
MADDOW: Loud enough on lefty issues.
MCCASKILL: Lefty issues, and I was trying to explain to them like there`s
some issues like the macaroni and cheese issues, like dignity of a job, and
real wage increases and real affordable health care issues that are
important to working people in urban areas and in rural areas, and those
are the issues I need to focus on.
MADDOW: You wanted to put that in the center.
MCCASKILL: I wanted that to be the center because that`s where I knew most
people would agree. And I did all those town halls out in rural area,
that`s where everybody`s head would nod.
And I think that`s the way forward in this country to actually solve some
of these problems. You know, we can talk about free college until the cows
come home, but you`re not going it get 60 votes in the Senate for free
college. That`s not going to happen.
MADDOW: You`ll get it someday if you start talking about it now.
MCCASKILL: It`s fine to start talking about it now, but the point is to
win in 2020, we better be talking about things that everybody relates to,
that everybody is worried about and really those economic issues that are
keeping people awake at night.
MADDOW: Now you get to do whatever you want.
MCCASKILL: I can do whatever I want, and my mouth`s has gotten me in some
trouble and I figure I can take it to new heights now.
MADDOW: Yes. I`m looking forward to that, Senator.
MCCASKILL: Thank you.
MADDOW: Congratulations and thanks for being a public servant for all
these years and thanks for being so much fun to talk to along with being so
serious about your work.
MCCASKILL: You bet. My pleasure.
MADDOW: Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri.
That does for us tonight. We`ll see you again tomorrow.
Now, it`s time for “THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL”.
Good evening, Lawrence.
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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