Intel leaders contradict President on Iran. TRANSCRIPT: 2/4/19, The Rachel Maddow Show.
ALI VELSHI, MSNBC HOST: I`m congratulating you on accepting the role as
Chris Christie`s campaign manager. That will be fun to watch.
Have a good time, Chris. Thank you.
CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: All right.
VELSHI: And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.
Rachel has the night off but she will be back tomorrow.
We`re going to dive right in tonight into this remarkable standoff that
continues in the state of Virginia where the governor has been facing
increasingly widespread and adamant calls to resign and who has frankly
been expected to resign any minute for three days now. This all started on
Friday when an online right-wing news site published the 1984 medical
school yearbook page of then student and now Virginia Democratic Governor
Northam alongside some sort of glamour shots of the then 25-year-old
Northam was this photo of a person in black face next to a person in a KKK
robe and hood, neither person was identified on the page and no explanation
for the photo was given.
Governor Northam first put out a short paper statement apologizing for the
photo, quote, the decision I made to appear as I did in this photo and for
the hurt that decision caused then and now.
Well, when it quickly became clear that wouldn`t cut it, the governor put
out a one-minute video apologizing, taking responsibility and pledging to
work hard to regain the trust of Virginians. But the calls for Northam to
step down continued apace and from within the Democratic Party. Several
Democratic presidential candidates called on Northam to resign and so did
the NAACP, the black caucus in the Virginia legislature had a meeting with
Northam late Friday night which apparently did not go so well, because they
left that meeting calling on him to step down.
As Friday night turned into Saturday morning, the question seemed to become
not if Ralph Northam would resign but when. When word came the governor
was planning a press conference, early Saturday afternoon, everyone assumed
it would be his resignation announcement.
But suddenly, it wasn`t. Virginia Governor Ralph Northam stepped to the
podium with his wife Pamela and said, actually, the photo wasn`t of him.
That he had studied the photo and racked his brain and talked to his med
school friends and used some sort of facial recognition technology of some
sort, and the photo was definitely not him, and hence, he would not resign
– which prompted predictably baffled questions from the assembled press.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: If you knew it wasn`t you, why not say that
GOV. RALPH NORTHAM (D), VIRGINIA: Allen, I didn`t know at the time. There
was so much happening, but, like –
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Why didn`t you know? You said you saw the picture
and said that can`t be me. Why not say that first?
NORTHAM: Well, because my word is important to me and my first intention,
Allen, was to reach out and apologize. When this broke yesterday
afternoon, there were just a lot of people calling and I just felt like I
need to talk to them and to put out a statement that this is unacceptable
to have a picture such as that in the yearbook on my page. And so, that`s
why I started reaching out to people.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: You can do that without saying that is me in that
NORTHAM: It has taken time for me to make sure that it`s not me, but I`m
convinced, I am convinced that I am not in that picture.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELSHI: Now, Northam`s first go at an apology wasn`t terrible. He did
acknowledge having done something harmful. He did seem to say the right
things and then suddenly, the next day he didn`t. It`s just weird.
How could he not have known that a photo on his medical school yearbook
page wasn`t of him? Why would he admit to being in a photo in blackface
standing next to someone in a Klan uniform or in a Klan uniform standing
next to someone in blackface if neither was him? If he wasn`t sure it was
him or could be him, what does it say about the kinds of things Ralph
Northam was up to in 1984?
If you`re old enough to remember 1984, think about this. As a matter of
fact, Ralph Northam had something to say about what he was up to in 1984
and this is the part of the Saturday press conference, you might have heard
about this. But it`s worth seeing the tape. This is the part of the
Saturday press conference that made you spit out your coffee if you were
watching it live.
To be clear, this that you`re about to hear is not Ralph Northam responding
to an allegation or being confronted with evidence of something he did,
this is a story that Ralph Northam brought up unprompted explaining why he
would not be resigning.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOVENROR NORTHAM: My belief that I did not wear that costume or attend
that party stems in part from my clear memory of other mistakes I made in
this same period of my life. That same year, I did participate in a dance
contest in San Antonio, in which I darkened my face as part of a Michael
Jackson costume. I look back now and regret that I did not understand the
harmful legacy of an action like that.
I had the shoes. I had a glove. And I used just a little bit of shoe
polish to put on my cheeks and the reason I used a very little bit is
because I don`t know if anybody has ever tried that but you cannot get shoe
polish off but it was a dance contest. I had always liked Michael Jackson.
I actually won the contest because I had learned how to do the moonwalk.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: You said that the competition in San Antonio was a
GOVENROR NORTHAM: Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED FEPORTER: You danced the moonwalk?
GOVENROR NORTHAM: That`s right.
UNIDENTIFIED FEPORTER: Are you still able to moonwalk?
PAM NORTHAM, GOVERNOR NORTHAM`S WIFE: Inappropriate circumstances.
GOVERNOR NORTHAM: My wife says inappropriate circumstances.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELSHI: I don`t know if there are ever appropriate circumstances for the
governor to do the moonwalk on national television, but his wife was right.
These are not them. And if there`s any chance Ralph Northam come somehow
win back the support of Democrats who had abandoned him or those on the
fence, that press conference was probably the end of it.
On Friday, this is before the press conference, Virginia`s U.S. Senators
Tim Kaine and Mark Warner, former U.S. Senator Mark Warner – sorry,
current Senator Mark Warner said only that Northam should consider how to
move forward. On Saturday, they said they called Northam after watching
the press conference and said he should resign.
Douglas Wilder, the former governor of Virginia and a legend in his state,
said on Saturday morning the choice of continuing an office was Ralph
Northam`s to make. By Saturday dinner time, he said it`s difficult for
anyone who watched the press conference today to conclude that he has any
other choice but to resign.
The Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, which had already called for Northam
to resign on Friday night, on Saturday, turned it up to an 11, saying their
confidence in Northam`s ability to govern has been, quote, eviscerated.
Ralph Northam appeared to have a smooth exit ahead of him on Friday, and
then went ahead and scored an own goal on Saturday. Instead of the apology
and taking responsibility, Northam wrecked his own story. I mean, here are
the front pages from the Richmond, Virginia “Times Dispatch” from Saturday,
I`m sorry, from Friday to Saturday. It`s not a good look.
And we were left with this. Is he lying? Is he a racist? Was he a
But in a certain way, Democrats in Virginia and beyond may have more or
less been feeling like they don`t have to grapple with such questions
because in purely political terms, the potential damage that a Ralph
Northam implosion could cause appeared limited because the thinking is once
Ralph Northam leaves office, however long that takes, his place would be
taken by Virginia`s lieutenant governor, a young accomplished African-
American Democrat seen as a rising star in the party, Justin Fairfax.
Justin Fairfax is the reason it`s been particularly easy for Democrats to
call for Northam`s ouster, which is why it has the potential to throw the
state`s politics into even further chaos. You see, the same online right-
wing news site that published Northam`s yearbook page late last night
published what appeared to be an allegation of sexual assault against
Justin Fairfax dating to 2004. It was secondhand and relatively non-
specific and might have remained an uncorroborated allegation floating
around the right-wing blogosphere but Justin Fairfax then put out a
statement saying that the “Washington Post” had looked into this allegation
a year ago and had been unable to corroborate it, which prompted “The
Washington Post” to publish its own story confirming that it had in fact
looked into the allegation and, quote, found no similar complaints of
sexual misconduct against him without that or the ability to corroborate
the woman`s account in part because she had told no one what had happened,
“The Post” did not run a story, end quote.
Today, the lieutenant governor spoke to reporters for about ten minutes and
said the encounter at the 2004 Democratic national convention was
consensual and declined to call on Ralph Northam to resign and said he`s in
a unique position and wanted to remain circumspect. And just to make
things even messier, Fairfax was asked about allegations from a political
PAC that supports him. The PAC is suggesting that Ralph Northam`s team
might be behind this allegation as a way for Northam to shore up his
position by making his presumed successor less appealing.
Asked about whether Northam`s people might have publicized this allegation
against him, Justin Fairfax artfully dodged.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: The Collective PAC has said that you believe that the governor`s
team is spreading misinformation about your team. Can you comment on that
LT. GOV. JUSTIN FAIRFAX (D), VIRGINIA: The Collective PAC made its
statement. And so –
REPORTER: Do you believe it?
FAIRFAX: I don`t know precisely where this is coming from. I know we`ve
heard different things but here is the thing, does anybody think it`s a
coincidence that on the eve of potentially my being elevated, that`s when
this uncorroborated smear comes out? Does anybody believe that`s a
coincidence? I don`t think anybody believes that`s a coincidence.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELSHI: So, as of tonight, Ralph Northam is still the governor of
Virginia. Pretty much every prominent Democrat is on the record saying he
should go. This has already been a standoff for three days. What does it
mean the guy everybody had been assuming will be the governor of Virginia
any minute is now facing an allegation of a different kind and what happens
if the guy who is still governor and who the Democratic Party is united in
saying has to go won`t go?
All right. Joining us now is Virginia State Delegate Charniele Herring,
who also chairs the Democratic Caucus in the Virginia House.
Delegate Herring, good to have you with us tonight. Thank you.
DEL. CHARNIELE HERRING (D), VIRGINIA, DEMOCRATIC CAUCUS CHAIR: Thank you
for having me.
VELSHI: Look, it`s been a crazy three days. What was your first reaction
when you saw the photo in Governor Northam`s yearbook?
HERRING: I was horrified and it was very painful to look at, but shocked,
VELSHI: You called for Governor Northam to resign when he said he was in
the photo. You called for him to resign after he said he was not in the
photo. I assume nothing the governor said, the printed statement on Friday
night and then his video statement on Friday night and the unusual press
conference on Saturday has swayed you.
HERRING: Nothing has swayed me. In fact, it makes me even more sure he
needs to resign. People are waiting to move on, and each day that goes by
is painful for Virginians. It`s painful for the delegates of my caucus and
legislature who are fighting for the values that we believe in, and he is
serving as a distraction now.
VELSHI: Delegate Herring, were you in that meeting on Friday night with
HERRING: No, actually, I was headed out to Northern Virginia, but the
governor gave me a call while I was on the road.
VELSHI: What did he tell you?
HERRING: He apologized, said that was him in the picture and he is sorry.
I asked him, what are your next steps? He told me I am going to issue a
statement and go on the camera to apologize.
VELSHI: Was there anything he could have said that would have caused you
to not call for his resignation?
HERRING: No, because of the painful history of African-Americans in this
country and especially here in Virginia, this is the 400th anniversary of
the state legislature. Four hundred years ago, slaves were brought to the
shores of the commonwealth of Virginia. I`ve had a personal experience
with a cross burning on my car with my family when I was a child.
There is nothing he can say to me that would say it would be OK because
that history runs so deep with so many African-Americans, and other people
of other races. It`s painful. And you lose the trust of the people when
you have that type of past.
VELSHI: Having grown up in Virginia and understood its complex and in many
cases racist history, is there anything that can cause you to say that
maybe in 1984, it was different than it is today?
HERRING: Not a darn thing. I was alive in `84. You know, I was in high
school, and I remember in 1984, Douglas Wilder was running for governor of
the commonwealth. That`s what I remember in 1984.
So, things weren`t different. In fact, that was an historical election.
We were progressing in race relations, although, you know, even my own
personal experience, it`s knowing that there`s still racism out there. So,
it wasn`t a different time.
We`re not talking about the rise of the Klan that happened after the civil
war. We`re talking about 1984, a modern time.
VELSHI: Delegate, if Governor Northam stepped down, the next in line would
be Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax. What do you make about this
allegation that`s been made against him today?
HERRING: It`s too early. I know that there is an allegation out there.
We`re waiting for the facts to develop.
Right now, as I know, all I know is that here and now, is we have a
governor who has lost the trust of the people of Virginia. And we are in
the middle of our legislative session, and we`ve got important issues to
address like sex trafficking, what we`re going to do with our budget, what
are we going to do for Virginia taxpayers. So, that`s what my focus is.
VELSHI: Virginia State Delegate Charniele Herring, thank you for being
with us tonight.
HERRING: Thank you so much.
VELSHI: Joining me now is Larry Sabato, director of the University of
Virginia Center for Politics.
Larry, good to see you. Great to have you here tonight.
I watched you 72 hours ago when you were first talking about this. You
didn`t hold out a lot of hope on Friday night that the governor was going
to make it through this. But since the governor has change side his story
about whether he was in the yearbook party, has anything changed in your
evaluation of what he has to do next?
LARRY SABATO, DIRECTOR, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA CENTER FOR POLITICS: Ali,
no, I just – I just don`t see how he survives. And I just talked to some
people in and around the capital who are very close to this, and I was told
and I believe that virtually everyone except the governor has accepted the
inevitability that that he will resign. The debate now, at least with
people outside the governor, is when he should do it.
They`re talking about giving him some space and some time to adjust. We`re
not talking months. We`re talking about a short period of time. He may
want to get some things through the legislature, or at least put his stamp
on the legislature, because it`s in midsession. It ends February 22nd in
So, no, I haven`t changed my mind and it`s not because Ralph Northam is a
horrible person. What he did was horrible in 1994. He`s a good person.
He`s been a good governor.
But this is – Governor McAuliffe, his predecessor, under whom he served as
lieutenant governor, I think he put it best. He said, this is no longer
about Ralph. It isn`t. It`s gone way beyond him. That`s what`s critical.
VELSHI: So, whether he decides he wants to take days or weeks to leave
office, if the delegates or if the Democratic Party in Virginia doesn`t see
eye to eye with him and sounds like they don`t, what can they do?
SABATO: What they can do is to put pressure, I suppose, psychologically on
him. He`s already had one college withdraw an invitation. He had already
accepted the invitation.
VELSHI: I think it was William and Mary.
SABATO: That is correct, that is correct. And there are a number of
legislators, I`ve been told, who will not meet with him if he stays in
office. Well, it`s very difficult to be governor if legislators won`t talk
to you. It`s very difficult to be governor if you`re hunkered down in the
governor`s mansion like LBJ was at the end of his term or Nixon was during
Watergate. Really tough to govern.
So, you know, Ralph Northam has the kind of mind that takes a while to
adjust, but he`ll figure all this out, then he`ll do the right thing.
VELSHI: A number of people have said tonight that with Justin Fairfax,
lieutenant governor being second in line and the allegations made against
him, a number of people said they don`t want that influencing how they
think about what has to happen to Ralph Northam. But for Democrats in
Virginia, it suddenly becomes very important.
On Friday night, the argument was that Justin Fairfax is ready to go. This
is a young, accomplished man who is in a position to take on the role of
the governorship if Ralph Northam has to leave.
Do you believe now that this allegation of sexual assault is going to
damage that plan?
SABATO: No, I do not. It may damage to some degree his popularity. We`ll
have to see how it plays out. The newspaper that has investigated it
pretty thoroughly and many months ago said there is simply no way to
corroborate the woman`s story or Justin Fairfax`s story. Well, you know,
we have this principle that a person is innocent until found guilty, and I
think that applies even to lieutenant governors.
So, no, I don`t think it will damage him, if and I know of nothing, and I
don`t think there is anything but if additional damaging information or
additional accusations came out, the flaw in this theory that this has all
been cooked up by Steve Bannon and Breitbart, although I could believe
anything, the theory is they are the ones behind this. Well, the problem
with that theory is the person next, next in line behind Fairfax to the
governorship is Democratic Attorney General Mark Herring, no relationship
to Delegate Herring. So, you still get a Democratic governor.
VELSHI: Mark Herring, in fact, was the person who Justin Fairfax lost to
when he ran for attorney general and then he became lieutenant governor.
Larry, always good to see you. Thank you for joining me.
SABATO: Thank you, Ali.
VELSHI: Larry Sabato is the director of the University of Virginia Center
All right. Much more to get to tonight, including breaking news that the
president`s legal troubles are expanding. Federal prosecutors have now
reportedly subpoenaed documents for the committee that put together Trump`s
inauguration and one of the reporters who broke the story joins us next.
VELSHI: If you like baton twirlers, this was the inauguration for you.
Donald Trump`s inauguration in January of 2017. If you got claustrophobic
like I do in big crowds, this was also the inauguration for you apparently,
or if you don`t like particularly well-known bands or a big fan of DJ Ravi
Drums, in that case, Trump`s inauguration would be irresistible for you.
But from a basic math perspective, Donald Trump`s inauguration defied all
the rules of nature. It was twice as expensive as President Obama`s
inauguration and half as dazzling. The Trump inaugural fund raised a
record-breaking $107 million, most of that was spent, but where the money
went and to whom remains an open question. Despite promises that there
would be a full and clean external audit of the inaugural committee
finances, it`s not clear that ever happened.
Back in December, we learned that federal prosecutors were investigating
whether the inaugural committee misspent some of the $107 million that it
raised from donations. At that point, the criminal probe by the Manhattan
U.S. attorney`s office was in, quote, early stages. Reportedly, they were
looking at whether foreigners illegally funneled donations to President
Trump`s inaugural committee and specifically, whether people from Middle
East nations, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, used straw donors to disguise
their donations to the funds.
Now, remember, the federal prosecutors in this story are based in
Manhattan, in the Southern District of New York. These are separate and
apart from those who work for special counsel Robert Mueller and his Russia
investigation. It`s a different investigation.
Back in December, the reporting called this criminal investigation in the
early stages. Tonight we have breaking news because that investigation
appears to be in full bloom. Multiple news organizations reporting tonight
that federal prosecutors in New York reached out today to President Trump`s
inaugural committee. The committee was served with subpoenas and ordered
to turn over documents about its donors, finances and activities, as well
as, quote, any benefits handed out, including tickets and photo
opportunities with the president, federal disclosure filings, vendor
contracts and more.
This is coming out of the Southern District of New York`s public corruption
section, totally different from the Russia investigation. It`s worth
remembering that Donald Trump`s longtime personal attorney Michael Cohen
and the Trump Organization`s chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg have
both been cooperating with the same federal prosecutors in addition to Rick
Gates, a Trump campaign deputy who also worked on the inauguration. So,
it`s not clear where this is coming from but they got a lot of people that
might be telling them something about the inauguration.
“The Wall Street Journal” says that among the documents that prosecutors
want is anything regarding donations to the committee made by or on behalf
of foreign nationals.
Joining me now is Rebecca Ballhaus, one of the “Wall Street Journal”
reporters who has been on this story.
Rebecca, thank you for joining us on such short notice and thank you for
your reporting on this.
REBECCA BALLHAUS, WALL STREET JOURNAL REPORTER (via telephone): Thanks for
VELSHI: First of all, the Southern District of New York is looking for
these documents. Do you have any indication whether the committee is
willing to hand them over?
BALLHAUS: It seems that they are. The committee put out a statement
earlier tonight saying they just received the subpoena and were reviewing
it but it was their intention to cooperate.
VELSHI: The subpoena coming from the Southern District of New York makes
people wonder whether it`s related to or if there is any overlap with
Robert Mueller`s office and investigation. Do you know about that?
BALLHAUS: Well, we know that Mueller has at one point been looking into
donations for the inaugural fund, specifically for foreign nationals. It`s
not clear to us whether that`s ongoing or whether that`s been referred to
the Manhattan U.S. attorney`s office. We do know that this investigation
into the inaugural fund grew out of the previous investigation into Michael
Cohen and his business dealings. Among the records that were seized in the
April raid of his properties was a tape of him having a conversation with
an adviser to the inaugural about her concerns that some of the money was
being misspent. So, we know those are the origins of the investigation.
VELSHI: Let me ask you this, Rebecca: what are they looking at? Because
there are a few questions, that one looks at this inauguration, the fact
that it was really expensive but didn`t seem to look like something that
was as expensive as it would be. So, is it money that`s being funneled
places and a question of just following that money or is the bigger concern
whether foreign officials, foreign governments could have been using this
as a way to influence Donald Trump or gain favor with Donald Trump?
BALLHAUS: Well, our takeaway from the subpoena that we reviewed tonight is
that their investigation appears to be really broad and they seem to be
looking at every part of this. They ask for documents related to, as you
mentioned, any foreign nationals that donated or any discussions of
possible donations from foreign nationals, but they also ask for records
related to any direct payments from donors to vendors, which would have
allowed donors to effectively flout disclosure rules.
Rick Gates, which was the deputy chairman on the inaugural committee, was
asking several vendors in the weeks leading up to the inauguration if they
would be willing to accept payment directly from donors. The other thing
they are asking for is any records related to one donor in particular, a
Los Angeles based financier. He is actually a longtime Democratic donor
who in December, 2016, donated $900,000 to the Trump Inaugural Committee.
He`s also someone that once registered as a foreign agent on behalf of Sri
Now, it`s not illegal to accept donations from foreign agents, only foreign
nationals. This is interesting this is the only donor they specifically
single out in tonight`s subpoena.
VELSHI: We do know, though, of one person who in the past said they
donated money, they were a straw donor. They were representing a foreign
national who wanted tickets to inaugural events. We do know that some of
that activity took place.
BALLHAUS: That`s right. We saw last year in August, Sam Patton pleaded
guilty and part of that guilty plea said that he had used the U.S. citizen
to serve as a straw purchase so that a prominent Ukrainian oligarch could
attend the inauguration. So, that`s at least one part that started to come
VELSHI: All right. An interesting development in the story. Rebecca,
thanks for your reporting on this. Rebecca Ballhaus is a reporter for the
“Wall Street Journal.” We`ll stay on top of this story.
Still ahead tonight, why some of the intelligence professionals responsible
for briefing the president say he`s endangering the nation by ignoring
Stay with us.
VELSHI: Diego Garcia is a small atoll in the Indian Ocean, just 12 square
miles in size, about 500 miles south of the equator. Due east of Kenya,
southwest of the southern tip of India. It`s a British territory, a
beautiful one at that. The Brits let America keep a military outpost
there. It`s an air base and naval support facility.
It is far-flung as these go. It takes two days of travel on multiple
planes to get our troops all the way to Diego Garcia. The Navy says its
facility at Diego Garcia provides logistical support to our forces deployed
around the Indian Ocean and in the Persian Gulf. And that`s about it.
The Navy is not all that outspoken about the operations on tiny little
Diego Garcia. This is the entire description of their setup on the atoll
on their official website. That`s it.
Diego Garcia has been called the Navy`s best kept secret and today we found
just how tight that secret is apparently kept because not even the
president seems to know what is going on over there.
“Time” magazine is out with this remarkable piece laying out in painstaking
detail how the president has been ignoring his intelligence briefings.
Senior intelligence officials tell “Time” magazine the president is
endangering American security with what they say is a stubborn disregard
for their assessments.
One of those episodes of stubborn disregard involved our naval outpost on
Diego Garcia. Quote, after briefing in preparation for a meeting with
British Prime Minister Theresa May, the subject turned to the British
Indian Ocean territory of Diego Garcia. The island is home to an airbase
and U.S. naval support facility that are central to America`s ability to
protect power in the region, including in the war in Afghanistan, end
Well, after that briefing, the president wasn`t interested in the troops on
the base or the war in Afghanistan. He did pose two probing questions,
however, they were, quote, are the people nice and are the beaches good?
This expose from “Time” magazine, the intelligence community sounding the
alarm about how the president is not only uninformed but uninterested in
details critical to our national security. It is frankly kind of a
terrifying portrait, but perhaps it is not a complete surprised when paired
with this. Over the weekend, the news outlet “Axios” got hold of the
president`s private schedules. They show that in that last three months,
the president has spent 60 percent of his time in, quote, unstructured
executive time, which is code for watching cable news and talking with his
supporters on the phone, which is extraordinary on its face.
It`s almost mind-boggling to see in black and white that the president
spends most of his time not doing his job. Also, just as remarkable is
that we have these schedules in the first place. The president`s private
schedules are called private for a reason. They are not supposed to be
leaked to the public. Since the president took office, there have been a
stunning number of leaks from this White House from intelligence
professionals in particular sounding the alarm about the threat that the
president poses to national security.
There were the leaked transcripts of his private calls with foreign leaders
and the anonymous op-ed about the White House staffers trying to protect
the country from the president`s worst impulses. Then there was the report
about the president`s unsecured cell phone and the leak about the FBI
investigation into whether he`s actually secretly a foreign agent. More
recently, there were reports about the handling of a security clearance for
the president`s son-in-law Jared Kushner, and how the president went to
great lengths to hide his conversations with Vladimir Putin.
Those are not the kind of details that we the public are supposed to know.
High-level intelligence is meant to stay a secret. What are we supposed to
do with this information?
Joining me now, David Priess. He`s the chief operating officer of Lawfare.
He`s also a former intelligence officer and briefer under former Presidents
George W. Bush and Bill Clinton.
Mr. Priess, it`s great to have you with us. Thanks, sir.
DAVID PRIESS, CHIEF OPERATING OFFICER, LAWFARE: Thanks, Ali.
VELSHI: You used to be a keeper of classified intelligence. Let`s just
start with the idea that we have this information. What do you make of
these high level secrets spilling out into the press? The schedule and all
of those other things I just articulated.
PRIESS: It`s surprising because the level of trust and loyalty the White
House gets, not to mention others in the executive branch, is usually
enough to prevent this. But let`s be honest, most of those things you
cited were not top secret classified information. Something like the
president`s schedule is unclassified. It may be sensitive but the kind of
leak freaking about classified information getting out isn`t about this.
These are things that are just the way the president does business.
PRIESS: They are shocking and it`s the kind of thing we don`t see in most
administrations but it`s not the same as information leaking out from the
intelligence agencies about sensitive collection overseas. Thankfully,
we`re not seeing waves of that.
VELSHI: Got it. Look, here is something interesting, the idea that the
intelligence briefers are concerned about how he consumes information or
doesn`t consume information or doesn`t pay attention to it dovetails with
what we saw last week with the intelligence chiefs at their yearly
testimony before Congress. Suggesting things that are not in keeping with
what the president thinks of as national security priorities.
So, on one hand, is he at odds with the intelligence community or is he
just not in touch with what the intelligence community is trying to tell
PRIESS: Hey, both can be true. Clearly, this is a unique president in
terms of how he approaches intelligence.
General Mike Hayden said it really well. This is the first president that
the intelligence community had to deal with whose instinctive departure
point is not the truth. He goes from his belief first. That`s a real
challenge for an intelligence briefer because the cardinal rule of
intelligence briefings is you tell the president what he needs to know, not
what he wants to hear. But you tell him what he needs to know.
And if that conflicts with a belief, that`s a challenging briefing. But
let`s be honest, he`s still be having at least some of these intelligence
briefings. Two years ago if you asked intelligence professionals if the
president would still be sitting down with people whose only mission is to
tell him the truth whether he wants to hear it or not, most people would
have said there is no way Trump is going to be putting up with that and
yet, something is working. There is something about these briefings that
gets through to him. We don`t know what it is.
VELSHI: It may –
PRIESS: We hope something does.
VELSHI: Well, it may be everybody is adapting to the way he consumes. You
said that presidents have consumed briefings differently.
PRIESS: Oh, yes.
VELSHI: Some read that the presidential daily briefing that is given to
them and asked questions based of it. Some are briefed in person daily.
VELSHI: What do we know about Donald Trump and how he consumes and how
that compares to other presidents?
PRIESS: Yes, it`s funny. Donald Trump in his pattern of receiving
intelligence briefings is most like two presidents that he probably would
not like being compared to. And that`s Bill Clinton and Barack Obama
because both of them received in person intelligence briefings from
intelligence officers for their daily intelligence but didn`t get it daily.
They got it a couple times a week on average.
But there is a key difference, is we have no evidence Donald Trump is
reading the daily brief on the days he`s not getting briefings or engaging
with security staff about it, whereas both Presidents Clinton and Obama and
all previous presidents spent a lot of time either reading the presidents`
daily brief, if they didn`t take oral briefings and talking about it with
their national security advisors and other senior officials. We`re missing
that in the Trump case. We haven`t seen any reporting that`s the case and,
in fact, almost exactly a year ago, “The Washington Post” reported that in
fact, the president was not reading the presidents` daily brief on those
days when he wasn`t getting the in person briefings.
VELSHI: It`s remarkable.
David, thank you for sharing insight into this. David Priess, the chief
operating officer of Lawfare, a former intelligence officer and daily
briefer at the CIA. Appreciate your time tonight.
PRIESS: You`re welcome.
VELSHI: Stay with us.
VELSHI: President Trump described his border wall in a number of different
ways. He called it a fence. He`s characterized it as artistically
designed steel slats. One time, he referred to it as peaches.
But regardless of how the president might describe it, Americans do not
support it. According to a new Gallup poll out today, 60 percent say they
oppose major construction of border walls along the U.S. Mexico border.
That number has actually ticked up from 57 percent just a few months ago.
Trump is losing the P.R. war on this one and as he gears up for his State
of the Union tomorrow evening, here is another number worth noting. The
vast majority of Americans, 81 percent, say they favor a path to
citizenship for undocumented immigrants living in the country. Public
opinion is not on the side of the Trump administration, at least when it
comes to immigration policy and that`s before Democrats in the House have
even started putting the Trump immigration policies under a microscope like
they are about to starting this week. This Thursday.
Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee will hold a hearing
entitled examining the failures of the Trump administration`s inhumane
family separation policy. It was announced today that the House Judiciary
Committee will also hold a hearing on the family separation policy.
In a blistering statement, Democrats on that committee said that, quote:
There has been little oversight of the role that the Departments of
Homeland Security, Justice and Health and Human Services played in creating
and implementing an abhorrent policy that resulted in thousands of children
being separated from their parents at the border. It is clear that the
departments were either incompetent or grossly negligent in the policies
implemented. It is time for a full accounting of this shameful policy.
Today`s announcement comes in the wake of a chilling court filing submitted
late Friday by the Trump administration. According to that filing, the
administration now questions whether it is even possible to find all the
migrant children who have been separated from their parents or guardians at
the U.S.-Mexico border. In addition, the administration does not dispute
an inspector general report which says thousands more migrant children may
have been separated beyond the 2,700 children who were removed under the
Trump administration zero tolerance policy in 2018. In a court document, a
top official with Health and Human Services says even many tracking down
the separated children were, quote, within the realm of the possible, her
office does not have the resources to do it.
Perhaps even more jarring, the Trump administration further argued that
removing these children from sponsor homes to rejoin their parents would,
quote, present grave welfare concerns, saying that such a move, quote,
would destabilize the permanency of their existing home environment and
could be traumatic to the children.
Lee Gelernt, the ACLU`s lead attorney in the suit said in a statement,
quote, the Trump administration`s response is a shocking concession that it
can`t easily find thousands of children it ripped from parents and doesn`t
even think it`s worth the time to locate each of them.
Joining us now, ACLU attorney, Lee Gelernt. In addition to being the lead
attorney in the case, he`s also the deputy director of ACLU`s Immigrant`s
Lee, thanks for joining us. Good to see you.
LEE GELERNT, ACLU IMMIGRANT`S RIGHTS PROJECT DEPUTY DIRECTOR: Thanks for
VELSHI: One of most stunning parts of this filing is that the
administration all but admits that thousands more children may be separated
at the border. I find it hard to believe in 2019, all we are able to do
that the government says they can`t track these kids down, they can`t
rejoin them, reunite them with their families. The parents have been in
many cases expelled.
How do you make sense of this?
GELERNT: Yes, I don`t think you can make sense of it. I think you`re
absolutely right. It`s stunning. I think it`s stunning in a lot of
First of all, we`re a year into this litigation and now we find out not
from the government but from an internal report that there may have been
thousands, thousands of other kids separated. The government is conceding
that they are not sure where the kids are and probably most stunningly,
they are saying it`s not worth trying to find them, and that it could be
bad for the kids to reunite them with their parents. I mean, that`s
VELSHI: That`s a very strange argument, right?
VELSHI: The argument that it`s in the children`s best interest they are
not returned to their parents and remain in sponsor homes. Courts in
America have not usually held that.
GELERNT: No, absolutely not. I mean, the government is acting as if these
are parents who put their kids up for adoption decades ago and now want to
reinsert themselves in the lives of these children. These were children
who were ripped from their parents` arms literally within the last year, 18
months, and now the government is saying, well, maybe the children don`t
really want to see the parents anymore.
I mean, it`s a stunning argument. For the United States government to say,
well, we don`t want to dedicate the resources to try to reunite these
families we separated, and that it`s probably not worth it – I mean,
that`s a remarkable statement.
VELSHI: We just got an announcement we`re going to send 3,500 more troops
to the border. That could be money used to reunite these children.
GELERNT: Absolutely right. I mean, we need to get our priorities right.
And this Thursday, the Energy and Commerce Committee is going to be holding
hearings on family separation. That`s an important first hearing on family
As you mentioned, there`s going to be other hearings, but this one on
Thursday, I think, is critical that the members of Congress really press
HHS and say, why isn`t it worth it? Why can`t you find these kids? Why in
America are we not going to try to find these children?
VELSHI: And I believe you`re going to be testifying on Thursday at that
GELERNT: I will be. I will be.
VELSHI: You`ll be back in court on February 21st. What does success look
like to you?
GELERNT: I think success looks like the judge saying, look, these children
were separated under the same basic practice. They`re part of this case,
and now let`s figure out a plan for finding these children, and if we have
– if there`s going to be that long a period where we can`t find them, then
let`s at least start prioritizing. The kids that were sent to foster care,
let`s make them the first priority and move through it, but by no means can
we just throw up our hands and say, we`re not going to look for these
children, that`s it.
GELERNT: Yes, yes.
VELSHI: Lee, thanks for doing what you`re doing.
Lee Gelernt, the deputy director of American Civil Liberties Union
Immigrants Rights Project, I appreciate you tonight.
GELERNT: Thank you. Thanks.
VELSHI: All right. Still to come, the latest in our favorite legal
Stay with us.
VELSHI: Oh, to be a fly on the wall of Judge Amy Berman`s courtroom today.
That`s where special counsel Robert Mueller`s prosecutor spent 4-1/2 hours
presenting secret evidence supporting their claim that the president`s
campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, lied to investigators and breached his
plea deal. And being a fly on the wall is pretty much the only way any of
us would know what this secret evidence was because they went to great
lengths to keep everything secret.
They cleared the courtroom, shooed out the journalists. They even covered
the windows on the doors to keep out any nosy lip readers. Paul Manafort
was there, according to his attorney, but we don`t know much more than
And we won`t know until a redacted transcript is released. Both sides have
until Wednesday to say what they wanted redacted. Judge Jackson pushed
back Manafort`s sentencing until March 13th and scheduled another hearing
for February 13th. Maybe next time they`ll hold the hearing beneath the
cloak of invisibility. So, on Manafort, we will all have to wait a little
But here`s something nice and definitive that`s happening this week.
Wednesday, the House Intelligence Committee will hold a full committee
meeting to, among other things, vote on sending official transcripts of
congressional testimony to Robert Mueller. This is important, because
official transcripts are what Robert Mueller needs to indict any more
witnesses for lying to Congress. That`s the way you prove someone is lying
to Congress. That`s Wednesday. Mark your calendar.
As Rachel would say, watch this space.
MADDOW: One last bit of news if you`ve been watching for and perhaps about
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, this one is for you. Justice
Ginsburg made her first public appearance since undergoing lung surgery to
remove cancerous nodules in December. “The Washington Post` says she
attended a production of “Notorious RBG in Song” in Washington, D.C.
Welcome back, Justice Ginsburg.
That does it for us tonight. Rachel will be back tomorrow. I`ll see you
tomorrow at 1:00 and 3:00 Eastern for my own shows.
Now, it`s time for “THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL”.
Good evening, Lawrence.
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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