Russia confirms radioactive materials. TRANSCRIPT: 8/16/19, The Rachel Maddow Show.
ALI VELSHI, MSNBC HOST: That`s “ALL IN” for this evening. Chris Hayes
will be back in the anchor seat on Monday. You can find me weekdays on
“VELSHI AND RUHLE” 1:00 p.m. Eastern, and again, “MSNBC LIVE” at 3:00.
“The Rachel Maddow Show” starts now.
Good evening, Rachel.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Ali, before you go, I just want to say to you
that you do have a lot of shows, particularly right now. You have been
doing double duty, triple duty this week, including hosting this prime time
show. I just want to tell you, it has been inspiring to watch. You make
me reconsider my own work ethic. You have done great, my friend.
VELSHI: Not at all. You`re too kind, Rachel. You have a great weekend.
MADDOW: You too. I appreciate it. Much deserved for you. And I hope you
at home have a good weekend too, because I`m sure you deserve it too. I
But before we get there, I have to tell you, we do have kind of a doozy of
a show tonight, including some of the weirdest news stories we have covered
in quite some time.
We`re going to start tonight in New York state where this is the duly
elected attorney general of the state. Her name is Letitia James, Tish
James. She was first elected to the attorney general job this past
November, won by a huge margin. She`s very popular in the state.
She is the first woman to ever be elected attorney general of the state of
New York. She`s the first African-American to ever serve as attorney
general in the state of New York. She is the first African-American woman
to ever be elected to state-wide office of any kind in New York.
And so, Tish James is a big deal in New York. She`s a high profile public
official in the state of New York. She`s also, I think, likely to end up
being a pretty high profile national figure if her career continues the way
it is going thus far.
But today, Tish James ended up in the headlines for an unusual reason,
which is that today, she was sued. She didn`t sue somebody or bring a case
against somebody. She herself was sued by the NRA.
The NRA, this sort of legendary powerful right wing pro-gun advocacy group,
if you have been following news about the NRA recently at all, you know
they are embroiled in all sorts of legal drama right now. I mean, the New
York Attorney General Tish James is not the only entity that has issued
subpoenas to the NRA and its constituent parts over the last few months.
The New York state investigation that Tish James is leading, though, I
think is particularly threatening to the group because New York state
happens to be where the NRA is chartered as a nonprofit organization. Back
in April, Letitia James opened an investigation into allegations of self
dealing at the NRA, meaning nonprofit being illegally operated for the
benefits of the board members instead of for the nonprofit purpose. I
mean, that investigation doesn`t just cover potentially criminal
malfeasance by the group and its members or its executives.
That investigation theoretically could put the nonprofit status of the NRA
at risk. And that might sound like a technical thing, but that could
technically put the ongoing existence of the NRA at risk.
Well, within the last few weeks, Tish James widened her investigation and
she issued subpoenas to more than 90 people, who are either on the NRA`s
board of directors right now or they have been in the past. And that is
apparently what led to the NRA suing Tish James today.
And it`s interesting. The reason they`re suing her is because the NRA is
apparently quite freaked out about the prospect of what Tish James might
hear from one of the people she has subpoenaed. Again, she`s issued more
than 90 subpoenas.
But what the NRA is suing her about, what they are freaked out about is one
of the subpoenas she sent to Oliver North. Yes, that Oliver North, the
felon from the Iran Contra scandal. He`s one of the people who has gotten
Tish James subpoena.
The NRA is now suing Attorney General Tish James today specifically because
they insist that they want their own attorneys present and in the room when
Tish James and her team start questioning Oliver North pursuant to that
subpoena. Why? What are you so worried about in terms of Oliver North`s
One of the complicated legal fights the NRA finds itself in right now is a
series of lawsuits and counter-lawsuits within the organization itself, and
between various parts of NRA leadership and some of their vendors and
former leaders. I mean, nobody is quite sure what exactly happened when
Oliver North got forced out as the group`s president earlier this year.
Part of the reason it`s been so hard to track this stuff is that everybody
involved honestly is such a drama queen.
I mean, Oliver North insisting he was a heroic whistleblower uncovering
terrible behavior at the NRA, and NRA insisting, oh, no, no, Oliver North,
you are an extortion artist and a con man. You are launching a failed
coup. We`re going to head off your coup at the last moment and off with
your head and we want to be cheered for pushing you out, because that means
– honestly, junior high school has less fights around the graduation dance
than these guys with each other over the last few months and it couldn`t
happen to a nicer bunch.
But whether or not you care about their drama, and how they are or are not
resolving things amongst themselves, what is it that Oliver North might say
to the New York attorney general that has the NRA so freaked out that they
want their own lawyers there for questioning? I don`t know.
Whether or not all this drama engages you, whatever is going on at the NRA
with all these guys, it has resulted over these last four months or so in
just a cascade of terrible and increasingly embarrassing revelations about
what the NRA does, about what happens to the donations that they get from
their members and their donors. It all started in April with this
reporting in the New Yorker magazine, based on federal tax forms and
charity records and contracts and corporate filings and internal
communications, all of which were obtained by a reporter named Mike Spies.
Quote: According to interviews and documents that I obtained, a small group
of NRA executives, contractors and vendors have extracted hundreds of
millions of dollars. Hundreds of millions? From the nonprofit`s budget
from gratuitous payments, sweet heart deals and opaque financial
arrangements. Hundreds of millions of dollars?
That article was published in mid-April in the New Yorker. And it seems to
have gone off like a small sort of like depth charge inside NRA
headquarters. I mean, not only was Oliver North ousted as president of the
NRA amid a huge flurry of competing melodramatic assertions and
accusations. But soon enough, this trickle of super embarrassing very
specific information started to flow out about what exactly the NRA spends
its money on.
When they persuade people to become members of the NRA or donate money to
them, when people buy NRA swag or decide to hit that button online or
respond to that direct mail thing or that telemarketer and give the NRA 10
bucks, 20 bucks, 100 bucks, we soon started to learn all the gritty details
of what exactly the NRA has been spending all that money on.
Within a week of that initial story, we got this from the “Wall Street
Journal” indicating that for some reason the NRA had set aside more than
$200,000 of money from its donors to pay for a wardrobe for Wayne LaPierre,
the CEO of the NRA. Within two weeks of that report “The Wall Street
Journal” had more. It turns out it was not just hundreds of thousands of
dollars in outfits for Wayne LaPierre, it was also nearly a quarter of a
million dollars that the NRA had spent for him to go to a five-star resort
in Lake Cuomo, Italy, and also to the Four Seasons in Budapest, and also on
a really long, really nice trip to the Bahamas. Why were NRA members
paying for that.
In that report, we also got a little bit more detail on Wayne`s outfit that
the NRA was paying for. Quote, many of his wardrobe expenses were incurred
at a Beverly hills California store that sells clothing by the Italian
luxury brand Ermeneglido, I don`t know how to say the first name, Zegna. I
don`t know how you say the first part of it.
Bottom line, sorry, Wayne LaPierre was getting Italian designer suits,
Zegna suits, at a boutique in Beverly Hills which NRA members were paying
for when they bought their hats and shirts and stickers and stuffer, you
were buying Italian luxury suits for Waynne LaPierre, from a Beverly Hills
Within two weeks of the reporting, we could put a finer point on that. If
you want to understand how NRA members were spending hundreds of thousands
of dollars on one man`s clothing, how do you even add up to that? In
trying to do that math, it helps to know that that man could spend $39,000
in a single day on his clothing. At that one Beverly Hills clothing
boutique $39,000 for one day of shopping, charge it to the members of the
In that same “Wall Street Journal” report in mid May, we also got details
of how much NRA members have been paying specifically for Wayne LaPierre`s
private jet costs. We don`t actually have a total number in terms of how
much the donor funded and member funded private jets added up to over time,
but we do know that during one one-month period, a one-month period that
spanned from late 2012 into early 2013. Basically over the holiday period
and the new year`s period in that one month, NRA members and donors paid
more than $200,000 just for Wayne LaPierre`s private jet expenses in part
related to a two-week trip over Christmas to the Bahamas.
Now, if you think back to what was going on around that time, that $200,000
that members of the NRA spent just for the air transportation costs for
Wayne LaPierre to go to the Bahamas for two weeks around the holidays, that
was late 2012 into early 2013. So, that would have been immediately after
the elementary school massacre at Sandy Hook in Newtown, Connecticut.
That`s what the NRA did in response. They spent $200,000 to send Wayne to
“The Washington Post” would later flush out some of the further details
about that. Apparently, Wayne and his wife charged that entire trip to the
members and donors of the NRA. Where they stayed apparently was this
island. Look. According to “Washington Post”, it is known for its pink
beaches. We did not photo shop that. That`s an actual pink beach.
And, you know, I`m sure members of the NRA who paid for that two-week trip
plus the private jet fair to and from, I`m sure they would be happy to
cough up extra to make sure that Wayne had pink sand on his beach, not just
normal sand. Again, it was a very stressful time.
Again, in addition to the private jets, though, there was more. There was
also some interesting chauffeur expenses. Now, I mentioned the NRA and its
– the members had been made to cough up more than – thousands of dollars
to put up the group`s CEO at five-star resort in Italy and at a Four
Seasons Hotel in Budapest.
“The Wall Street Journal” was able to report in mid May that on that trip,
the Italy and Hungary trip, that trip also specifically included NRA
members and donors paying more than $18,000 just for Wayne LaPierre to have
a European chauffeur on that trip, $18,300 for his chauffeur on the
European trip, all paid for by members of the NRA.
So, why has all this stuff been coming out? Like, at least every couple of
weeks, often once a week, sometimes one day after another. There`s like
another one of these revelations about what the NRA is doing with the money
it takes in in donations and membership fees.
All these revelations appear to be the product of whatever complex cat
fight is going on among these boys as they, you know, sue each other and
countersue each other and denounce each other and force each other out and
declare victory. I mean, who actually knows what`s going on among these
fellows. But we`re getting the revelations apparently because of the fight
amongst them, and whether or not you care about the fight amongst them,
bottom line is, we getting a ton of information.
What`s been revealed over this weird period is that the NRA as legendary as
it supposedly is for its wealth and its huge membership and its
unparalleled sway in Washington. They are really spending their donor`s
money on like Italian suits and private jet trips and awesome resorts.
Just within the past couple weeks new reporting from “The Wall Street
Journal” has taken it to a more ridiculous level, with the revelation that
as recently as last year, the NRA had been pursuing the prospect of buying
Wayne LaPierre, a 10,000 square foot mansion.
Now, this is not, like, shaming Wayne LaPierre as a rich guy who wants to
live in a rich house. Who cares where Wayne LaPierre wants to live? The
issue here is that this was the NRA using money from their donors and
members to set Wayne LaPierre up in this 10,000 square foot mansion that he
and his wife picked out in Texas.
Have you seen the pictures? Here`s the view up the drive. You might think
that`s the front of the house, but no, false front. That`s just the front
of the house that opens on to the formal courtyard which is where the real
Here`s, like, sort of a view of the main room. Here`s the kitchen with
gold fittings on the stove. Also see the fireplace in the kitchen? Behold
what would have been Wayne`s master suite. This is a bathroom where I
believe you could get really, really clean.
Here`s the men`s closet area. In case you get exhausted in your closet,
you can freshen up. This closet area is just for the men. It`s separate
from another whole closet area. You should stick a pin in that for a
moment, because as you can tell n this kind of closet space is wholly
inadequate for somebody like Wayne.
Here`s the gym. We got the photo of the gym. Here is, I think, where you
punish kids when they`re bad. Here`s where you go when you`re bad.
Here`s a detail on the antique marble fireplace. Here`s the – I think
they call this an outdoor room where if you don`t want to look at the lake
or at the golf course, you can look at the TV. Here`s another view of the
lake from the hot tub. Here`s the full employment program area for topiary
Here`s the view of the house from the lake. It gives you a sense of the
scale. But I think this is – this one, this drone shot really gives you
the full appreciation. Just feast your eyes on that for a second.
If you have an uncle wound up about gun rights so he paid his hard earned
money and he joined the NRA thinking this is a good way to protect his gun
rights. I mean, this is the kind of thing that the NRA has been doing with
The NRA when this was first reported, initially denied that this whole
mansion thing had anything to do with them. Not a cent of NRA money went
toward this house.
And it is true that this house ultimately did not get bought. You can
still buy it today if you would like to. I have to tell you, it has nine
bathrooms. You`re going to need to invest in – you know, a lot of
Nine bathrooms? There`s four bedrooms. Nine bathrooms. If you put a
person in every bedroom, each of those people gets their own bathroom plus
another one, and then there`s a spare. Nine bathrooms.
After the initial denials by the NRA to “The Wall Street Journal” that they
had anything to do with this, “The Washington Post” was able to ferry out
some more details about what actually happened here.
Quote: LaPierre and his wife were intensely involved in the selection of
the property, rejecting an upscale high-rise in Dallas in favor of a 10,000
square foot estate with lake front and golf course views in Texas on the
market for about $6 million. The couple wanted to secure a social
membership at the exclusive golf club in the gated community as well. They
also sought the purchase of two vehicles and to keep the current owner`s
golf cart, if possible.
Now, it wasn`t all roses, one aspect of the property that concerned Mrs.
LaPierre was the lack of space in the men`s closet in the master bedroom.
“The Washington Post” actually got the email attesting to that. Quote: The
men`s master bedroom and bathroom need some changes. There`s not much
Yes, not if you`re spending $39,000 a day at a Beverly Hill`s suit
Quote: The discussions about the estate, which was not ultimately
purchased, are under scrutiny by New York investigators. The transaction
was slated to be made through a corporate entity that received a $70,000
wire from the NRA in 2018.
Hold on a minute. I thought the NRA said they didn`t spend a time – huh.
The actual check, there it is. The $70,000 check was published in the
newspaper. Less than a week later by “The Wall Street Journal.”
Now, as this story kept trickling out and kept outpacing their denials, the
NRA got more and more wound up in their denials about the mansion. Quote,
not one dime of the NRA`s money was spent on this venture. OK. Fine.
But then the day after “The Wall Street Journal” published the $70,000 NRA
check for the mansion, we found out where the rest of the money to buy the
mansion was slated to come from as well. Quote: A top NRA executive signed
a document agreeing that the NRA would be a 99 percent owner of a company
formed to buy a $6 million Dallas mansion for the NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre.
That`s according to a copy of the document reviewed by “The Wall Street
The document also shows the NRA agreed to contribute $6.5 million to that
company that was being formed to buy the property. Quote: This raises yet
more questions about the NRA`s previous statements that none of the NRA`s
money was to be used to purchase the house for Mr. LaPierre.
Now, today, inevitably, there`s more. I mean, at this point it`s
embarrassing to even say this stuff. But “The Daily Beast” got this story
today. Quote: The NRA spent tens of thousands of dollars bringing hair and
makeup artists around the country for the wife of its CEO. The expenses
included plane flights and luxury hotel stays for Wayne`s wife`s stylists.
Whatever you think of the NRA, maybe you`re a member of the NRA or you know
somebody who is. I have NRA members in my extended family. I mean,
whether or not you know anybody who belongs to the group or gives them
money, I mean, you`ve definitely seen the NRA member stickers in the back
of people`s cars and trucks and stuff.
Now you know that every time you see one of those, you can hold it in your
heart a little bit the fact that what that person`s NRA membership dues
went toward. What their donation to the NRA went toward was Wayne`s wife`s
stylist`s being flown all over the country to a company for her events,
hair and makeup. The stylists also got airfare and hotels in addition to
being paid for their services for Wayne`s wife, all paid for by NRA members
Also, pink sand Bahamas vacations. Also, the initial payments on what they
almost bought here for Wayne and his wife if only, if only it had had
enough closet space for his Italian suit wardrobe which your NRA member
buddy paid for with his or her donation.
NRA fundraising appeals are always a portrait of desperation, right? Stop
the NRA shutdown. Please give as generously as you can. Help save the
NRA. The NRA cannot survive without your help right now. As you well
know, gun haters have tried for decades to destroy your gun rights. The
NRA cannot survive without your help. Save the NRA. Contribute by phone.
When they use lines like that to get gun owners to part with their hard-
earned money, we now know what those membership dollars actually fund. And
this is important whether or not you care about the NRA. This is important
for the country. Because, I mean, once again, we`re having another serious
moment as a country where in revulsion after more mass shootings, we`re
thinking seriously about the prospects for gun policy reform.
I mean, we`re heading into a presidential election season. And there`s a
reason that Democrats are feeling their oats on this issue. Heading into a
presidential election season, it is hard to ignore that such huge
majorities of the public, like 90 percent majorities of the public actually
do want something like universal background checks nationwide in order for
anybody to be able to buy a gun.
There have been recent reports that the NRA and specifically Wayne
LaPierre, have been whispering in President Trump`s ear, telling him
directly, oh, no, you can`t support background checks. You said you liked
background checks? That was a mistake, you definitely can`t support that.
That will look terrible for you if you support that.
And OK, that`s to be expected when it comes to the NRA. But now, after
these four or five months about what we`ve learned from the NRA, now we
know the advice is coming from the guy who everybody knows has been using
his members` money to try to buy himself 10,000 square foot mansions and to
fly his wife`s hair and makeup artists all over the country when she wants
I mean, it has been an amazing few months in terms of the revelations about
this all powerful group. Well, now, new trouble. And that story is next.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: This was January, 2018, a big scoop from McClatchy wire service.
FBI investigating whether Russian money went to NRA to help Trump in the
2016 campaign. The story said the FBI was looking into whether a top
Russian banker with ties to the Kremlin illegally funneled money to the NRA
to help Donald Trump win the presidency.
That Russian banker tied to the Kremlin we know is Aleksandr Torshin, seen
here with his very famous protege Maria Butina. Butina pled guilty last
year to a conspiracy to infiltrate the NRA and other American conservative
groups as an unregistered agent working on behalf of the Kremlin.
Despite a ton of reporting on Russia and Maria Butina and the Russian
efforts to infiltrate and influence the NRA, we ultimately never heard of
what became of that reported FBI investigation into whether part of what
was going on with the NRA is that Russia was using the group to funnel
foreign money into the 2016 election to help Trump. Soon after that
McClatchy story first appeared, a watchdog group filed a complaint asking
the FEC to look into the complaint.
It was never clear how the FEC actually responded to that, or what their
response amounted to. Today, we got a little bit of an answer to that with
an exclamation point. Democratic FEC Commissioner Ellen Weintraub has just
gone public with this statement, saying that the Republican appointees on
the FEC basically throttled the investigation to make sure that these
allegations were never really looked into.
Quote: This agency barely lifted a finger to find out the truth behind one
of the most blockbuster campaign finance allegations in recent memory. The
FEC`s Republican commissioners have blocked the commission from taking even
the smallest step to investigate whether Torshin and Butina violated the
ban on foreign national contributions. We still do not know the answer to
this foundationally, imminently knowable question.
For the Republican commissioners to turn a blind eye to the possibility
that a foreign adversary secretly funneled tens of millions of dollars into
a presidential campaign is to bring their obstruction to a new and
breathtakingly damaging level. She closes: further investigation was and
Joining us now is Ellen Weintraub, Democratic member and current chair of
the Federal Election Commission.
Commissioner Weintraub, thanks very much for being here. I appreciate your
ELLEN WEINTRAUB, FEC COMMISSIONER: Thank you for having me, Rachel.
MADDOW: So, help me understand what you mean about the distance between
what the FEC, what you and your colleagues could have done here and what
has been done. You say your Republican colleagues made sure the FEC would
barely lift a finger to look into this. What could they have done versus
what they did do?
WEINTRAUB: Well, we could have done an investigation. The FEC has a
process. Anybody can file a complaint with the FEC, and our lawyers will
review it and then the commission gets to decide whether we`re actually
going to investigate or not.
And the reason – what happened today was the file was made public that
showed that the FEC did not do any investigation in this case, did not take
the most basic step of even calling the FBI. The complaint was based on
that “McClatchy” article which said the FBI was investigating.
So I said to my colleagues, well, let`s at least call the FBI and ask them.
And then we`ll know whether the article was well-founded or not. We`ll
have that basic question answered, are they investigating or aren`t they?
If they aren`t, they might have some interesting information for us. But
in any event, we would at least know whether the article was based on real
information or not.
And this really was dumbfounding to me. I could not get agreement from my
colleagues for our staff to make a single phone call over to the FBI, a
sister agency, a law enforcement agency, wouldn`t have bothered any
American citizen or in any way impaired their First Amendment rights. All
we needed to do was call another government employee and say, are you or
are you not investigating this issue? Couldn`t get the votes. Couldn`t do
MADDOW: If that had happened, hypothetically, and it didn`t, would the FBI
have told you? I mean, I don`t understand how the relationship between
agencies works on something like this, but would the FBI have had to tell
you if they were, in fact, involved in this investigation?
WEINTRAUB: They don`t have to tell us, but they often will tell us. They
will tell us basic information. Sometime they`ll tell us we`re in the
middle of an investigation, and we`d rather that you just sit tight for a
while and let us sort it out and see what we can find out first. And, you
know, that`s fine. The FEC will often agree to abate their investigations
while the Justice Department or FBI is looking into something.
Or sometimes they`ll say, we`ve decided it`s not a criminal matter. It
might be a civil matter. We`re happy to share information with you.
Sometimes they say, there`s really very little we can tell you, or they
could certainly fairly easily say, we don`t know what that article was
talking about. We`re not investigating at all.
We just don`t know the answer.
MADDOW: Could you as FEC chair, as an individual commissioner call and try
to get the FBI to tell you that information, or it has to be the vote of
the commission to direct your staff to make the call?
WEINTRAUB: We have a memorandum of understanding with the Justice
Department. The normal procedure is for the staff to call and make that
request on behalf of the agency. It`s not something that individual
commissioners usually do, and the FBI would probably want to respect that
memorandum of understanding. They`d expect to hear from the legal staff,
from our counsel`s office, not from commissioners.
And our staff would be, you know, probably afraid to make that phone call
without the direction of or at least the approval of the commission.
MADDOW: Does anything about the fact that the Maria Butina case has
evolved, that she`s pled guilty to unlawfully acting as a secret foreign
agent on behalf of the Russian Federation, through the NRA with an eye
toward influencing the 2016 election, I mean, that was a big development in
this saga. Did any of that inflect the way that this moved or didn`t
through the FEC? Were your fellow commissioners at all moved by that?
WEINTRAUB: Well, they certainly were aware of it. They just didn`t find
it a persuasive fact in terms of investigating this complaint.
Ellen Weintraub, a Democrat serving on the Federal Election Commission, as
right now its chair, thank you for I guess sending the flag up the flag
pole to let people know this is how it happened. Thanks also for helping
us understand it tonight.
WEINTRAUB: My pleasure, Rachel.
MADDOW: All right. We`ve got much more to get to. A busy Friday night.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: So, both sides have had their opening statements now. After the
prosecution and the defense each made their opening statements, then the
prosecution gets to go first to lay out their case, right? The prosecution
calls their first witness. The witness testifies about his law firm and
its involvement in this case that led to this remarkable criminal trial.
The criminal trial of Gregg Craig, the only person from a Democratic
administration caught up in a trial derived from the Mueller investigation.
Craig is on trial for allegedly lying to federal investigators about his
involvement in one of Paul Manafort`s schemes in the Ukraine. And this
trial is strange far lot of reasons. Not least because he`s President
Obama`s former White House counsel, because he`s a Democratic
administration official who for some reason was caught up with Paul
I mean, it`s been particularly weird to see him in court in D.C. where like
half the jury pool seems to know him, right? People who worked with him at
the White House. A CIA analyst who specialized in Ukraine. One woman
whose boyfriend is a “New York Times” reporter who has been covering the
Mueller investigation. I mean, it has been small worldville like you can`t
But one thing Gregg Craig is, is a very experienced, very esteemed lawyer.
And for everything else that`s nuts about this trial, it makes it freaking
astonishing that his lawyers had to formally apologize to the judge on his
behalf today because after the prosecutors rolled out their first witness,
but before the defense had their chance to cross examine the first witness,
Gregg Craig apparently took it upon himself to walk up to the witness in
the courthouse and say, quote, I know I`m not supposed to do this, but I
just wanted to say hello.
I mean, even if you`re not like one of the most famous lawyers in America,
you probably know the general rule which is, don`t touch the witnesses who
are being called to testify against you in your ongoing trial. Don`t go
talk to the witness and touch him or her in between his or her testimony
and that person being cross examined.
I mean, the judge actually said to Greg Craig today, Mr. Craig, I would
like to caution you. I don`t think it`s appropriate as you apparently
didn`t either to go up to a witness and greet him in the middle of the
trial. Mr. Craig, this witness was in the middle of his testimony. He is
still on the witness stand. He is not to be interacted with nor are the
other witnesses in the case to be interacted with.
Which you would think Gregg Craig would know – but that happened today.
And not the weirdest thing that happened in that particular judge`s
courtroom today in conjunction with a Trump administration scandal. That`s
MADDOW: OK. This is a little bit nuts. I told you all the stories
tonight are weird. But this is really weird. You remember Roger Stone,
long-time friend and advisor to the president, now under indictment on
multiple felony counts.
He`s charged with obstruction. He`s charged with false statement. He`s
also charged with witness tampering.
This is how his indictment explains the witness tampering part. Quote: On
multiple occasions, including on or about December 1st, 2017, defendant
Stone told person two that that person should do a Frank Pentangeli before
the House Intelligence Committee in order to avoid contradicting defendant
That indictment continues: Frank Pentangeli is a character in the film “The
Godfather Part 2”, which both Roger Stone and person two had discussed.
Frank Pentangeli is a character who testifies before a congressional
committee and in that testimony he claims not to know critical information
that he does, in fact, know.
So, “The Godfather Part 2” thing is in the indictment. It`s been there
from the beginning. It`s not there because the prosecutors think that
Roger Stone`s behavior is like something out of the Corleone family in “The
Godfather”, right? I mean, they`re only bringing it up, they`re only
putting it in the indictment because they`re saying that he in real life
cited the plot of “The Godfather” directly to the witness he was trying to
intimidate in order to show that witness what exactly he wanted him to do
when he was directing him to lie at his congressional testimony.
Well, that`s crazy enough, right? But it has led since then to this
bizarre legal saga about “The Godfather” where prosecutors and Stone`s
defense team have been fighting formally in court about whether or not the
jury can be shown the relevant scene from “Godfather Part 2”, the scene
that Roger Stone was referencing when he allegedly told this witness to lie
to Congress just like it went in “Godfather Part 2”, except this time in
real life to protect Roger Stone.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Were you at any time a member of a crime organization
headed by Michael Corleone?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don`t know nothing about that. Oh. I was in the
olive oil business with his father. But that was a long time ago. That`s
all. I kept saying Michael Corleone did this and Michael Corleone did
that. So I said, yes, sure.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: So, when Roger Stone is telling this guy who has just been
subpoenaed to testify in Congress, hey, do a Frank Pentangeli, prosecutors
want to play that clip, probably a little more from the film, so the jury
will know what exactly Frank Pentangeli did in “The Godfather” which was to
unexpectedly lie under oath in order to protect someone else. To say oh,
the FBI told me to say all this stuff. I`m not going to say that stuff.
I have no desire to be a lawyer. I have no special desire to be a federal
prosecutor, ever, right? But I would absolutely have job swapped for a day
with whoever the prosecutor was whose job it was today to write this for
the Roger Stone case. Quote: In several communications with person two,
defendant Roger J. Stone referenced a character from the movie “The
Godfather Part 2” named Frank Pentangeli. In emails and text messages sent
after Stone become aware that person two had been served with a subpoena by
the House Intelligence Committee, Stone quoted Pentangeli`s lines from the
When Stone sent these messages to person two, he intended to conjure a
specific image in person two`s mind, a scene in which Pentangeli gives
false testimony before a congressional committee. To establish that Stone
sent these messages in order to influence the testimony of person two, and
that Stone did so with corrupt intent, the government, your honor, should
be permitted to show the jury the image that Stone intended to create in
person two`s mind by playing for the jury the scene in which Frank
Pentangeli delivers the lines that Stone quoted.
Stone does not deny that the short movie clip is relevant. Stone argues
that the clip wrongly suggests a connection between Roger Stone, the mafia
and violence. Contrary to Stone`s argument, the clip is not offered to
suggest that Stone has a character of a murderous mafioso or to otherwise
establish his criminal disposition.
The government does not intend to suggest that Roger Stone is an organized
crime figure. Stone referenced this film scene in communications that
allegedly constitute witness tampering. The scene is, therefore, part of
the very act at issue.
So, we`re waiting on a ruling on that one from the judge. And yes, I
should tell you this is the exact same judge who had to tell former White
House counsel Greg Craig today that he needed to stop talking to the
witnesses against him and stop shaking their hands. Same judge, same
courtroom, same day.
Joining us now is Joyce Vance, former U.S. attorney for the northern
district of Alabama.
Joyce, thank you for being here tonight.
JOYCE VANCE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: Thanks for having me.
MADDOW: I am often bring you in here on serious and totally disturbing
stuff. In this case, I`m just gobsmacked that this is somebody`s job.
VANCE: This is almost as good as playing in “My Cousin Vinnie” for a jury,
MADDOW: Well, so they`re fighting about whether or not the jury can see
this clip, since Stone was referencing it when he was communicating with a
witness. I mean, it`s hilarious that this is all about “Godfather Part 2”
and this is the way Roger Stone talks and this is the subject of all these
multiple court filings, but is the government going to get what they want
here, in terms of showing this to the jury?
VANCE: You know, I think the government does get what it wants here. This
is part of the core criminal conduct that Stone engaged in. And all good
that prosecutors put on is prejudicial, right? It`s all intended to prove
to the jury that the defendant did bad things.
So the question is whether it`s unduly prejudicial. Does the prejudice
outweigh the probative value, the value it has to the jury in determining
the truth. And here Stone is the one who raised it. And, in fact, it`s
sort of protecting him in a funny way, because his argument is, if you talk
about “The Godfather”, the jury might think that I`m a mafioso, that I`m
And by playing this very limited clip, that makes it clear that they`re
talking about intentional lying to a House Intelligence Committee holding a
hearing, they sort of minimize any risk of prejudice.
MADDOW: So, the jury will know that Stone was referencing “The Godfather”,
because that`s in the indictment, right? So, the jury will definitely know
that. If they don`t know, specifically what part of “The Godfather” he was
referencing, they might think it`s about sawing off some horse`s head or
something. They wouldn`t know it`s just about lying to Congress.
VANCE: They could think it`s worse, and, of course, the judge can give a
limiting instruction saying you can only consider this evidence for the
purpose of considering whether he was intimidating the witness. You can`t
use it to draw bad conclusions about Mr. Stone`s character.
MADDOW: In terms of the core of this allegation against Stone – I mean,
again, it`s so weird to engage with the plot of “The Godfather” in order to
get there, but if he did direct a witness through this illusion of this
movie that the witness should lie under oath, unexpectedly so as to keep
his testimony congruent with what Roger Stone had already said. So, Roger
Stone`s testimony would be supported rather than contradicted under oath,
is that witness tampering?
VANCE: That`s witness tampering.
MADDOW: OK. Witness tampering is not only trying to intimidate somebody
from not showing up or not telling the truth, it`s specifically trying to
maneuver them into something that will help you and hurt them?
VANCE: Exactly, exactly. It has a number of different possibilities. The
government has alleged a number of them here. This is sort of the least
possible bad conduct that Stone engaged in.
MADDOW: Joyce Vance, former U.S. attorney for the Northern District of
Alabama, I knew you were exactly the right person to ask about this today.
Much appreciated, my friend.
MADDOW: Thank you.
All right. We`ll be right back. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Yesterday marked one week since this mysterious explosion in
Russia that we still have very little understanding about. Other than to
know it was something nuclear and to know that the Russian government isn`t
being forthright about what happened. On the night of the explosion which
again was Thursday last week, according to “The New York Times”, some
Moscow TV broadcasts were mysteriously interrupted for as long as 53
A government broadcast agency later described the disruption as a
malfunction of a storm warning system. TV screens in Moscow went blue, but
then also a text went out urging people to stay at home because of a storm
with strong winds. That said, no such storm ever arrived.
That weirdness in Moscow which is like 250 miles away from the site of the
blast still hasn`t been explained by the Russian government. But that`s
just one of the number of misleading and odd government statements that
continue to surround this accident. What exactly happened and how
dangerous it might continually be.
The initial reports for the public, remember, initially said this had been
an explosion involving a liquid fueled rocket. The government went out of
its way to say in its initial reports there was definitely nothing toxic,
definitely nothing radioactive. They later admitted the explosion did have
a nuclear component of some kind.
Government`s initial statement also said the death toll from the explosion
was two, and later admitted it was seven with multiple injuries as well.
The government also misled about whether there was release of radiation.
They initially explicitly said there was no release of radiation, even as
local communities observed they were reporting radiation spikes.
The Russian government took a few days to get there, but they ultimately
conceded that, yes, OK, maybe radiation levels had spiked to up to 16 times
The government then made some sort of initial move to evacuate a town quite
nearby to the blast site. They even sent a special train designated to
take the townspeople away. After telling the townspeople they would have
to evacuate and sending that train, the government then changed their mind
and said they wouldn`t after all. A local governor then insisted the
evacuation hadn`t been planned at all and it was nonsense to say otherwise.
I mean, that`s where we are on this story. That`s the nonsense we`ve been
getting from the Russian government. Well, now, today, there`s more, and
you will find it unsettling.
MADDOW: New reporting today from Radio Free Europe. Lots of reporters are
now chasing the story of whatever it has that happened with this nuclear
explosion in Russia last week.
Doctors and other medical personnel who worked at the hospital where the
injured were brought are now telling new sources that they themselves may
be at risk. Radio Free Europe says today, several medical staff from the
regional hospital were sent to Moscow themselves for evaluation after
coming into contact with people injured in the blast. Multiple new sources
also now reporting the staff from the hospital were told nothing about
possible radiation exposure as they treated these injured people. We`re
also getting reports that those medical staff were told to sign
Here`s the lead paragraph in today`s story from the “Moscow Times”. Quote:
The three injured men arrived at the hospital around 4:30 p.m. naked and
wrapped in translucent plastic bags. The state of the patients made staff
suspect they were dealing with something very serious but the only
information they had at the time was there had been an explosion at a
military site nearby.
One of the surgeons told the “Moscow Times” by phone this week, quote,
neither hospital directors nor health officials nor regional officials nor
the governor notified staff that the patients were radioactive. The
hospital workers had their suspicions but nobody told them to protect
“The Moscow Times” also has this detail according to three of the doctors
at the regional hospital, one of the physicians who was flown to Moscow to
be checked was found to have Caesium 137 in his or her muscle tissue.
They`re not saying whether it`s a male or female doctor, but Caesium 137 is
a radioactive isotope that is a byproduct of nuclear fission.
If this report in “Moscow Times” today is correct, doctors turning up with
Caesium 137 in their bodies is a very bad sign of what happened last week
in Russia. What exactly happened in that explosion, how bad was it, how
dangerous does it continue to be, have they cleaned up whatever it is that
happened, have they cleaned up the blast site itself?
We are over a week out now. We still really have no idea. I will tell
you, though, that the nation of Norway is now saying they`ve detected
radiation on their Russian border.
This whole story is still unspooling. We will keep you apprised as we
learn more. Watch this space.
That`s going to do it for us tonight.
Now, it`s time for “THE LAST WORD” where Ari Melber is in for Lawrence
Good evening, Ari.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY
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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