House Committees accelerate impeachment inquiry. TRANSCRIPT: 9/27/19, The Rachel Maddow Show.

Guests:
Shane Harris, Timothy Snyder
Transcript:

CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST:  That is ALL IN for this evening.

 

“THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW” starts right now with the aforementioned Rachel

Maddow. 

 

Congratulations on the book. 

 

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST:  Thank you very much. 

 

You know, it sounds kind of heavy when you put it that way. 

 

HAYES:  Well, it is, but it`s important.  It also – I got to say timing-

wise, really

seriously, timing-wise about this sort of like inherent connection between

Democratic decline, corruption and fossil fuel extraction across globe,

boy, does that look pretty timely right now? 

 

MADDOW:  Yes, and what – you know, what happened to Russia what the way

Russia`s been using Ukraine and how natural gas fits into all of it.  I did

not write the book to speak to this moment, but it is coming out at a time

that is kind of weirding even me out. 

 

HAYES:  Yes.

 

MADDOW:  Thank you very much for putting it out about that.  And good luck

with Ted Freaking Cruz.  That`s going to be amazing. 

 

HAYES:  I think it`s going to – yes, I think it will be interesting.  A

lot happened this week.  We`ll see what happens. 

 

MADDOW:  All right.  Thank you, my friend.  Good luck. 

 

And thanks you to at home for joining us this hour.  It`s a Friday, so you

know what that means.  We have so very much news to get to tonight.  It

does feel like sort of gigantic pieces of news are calving off from a

glacier somewhere and splashing into an ocean that`s already filled with

other gigantic news stories.  We`re having another one of those nights. 

 

If you have been following the impeachment proceedings over these past four

days, if you have been following the whistle-blower complaint over the

president`s dealings with Ukraine, the president basically trying to

involve Ukraine in helping himself get re-elected in 2020, one of the big

revelations from this whistle-blower complaint that was unsealed yesterday,

oh, my god, was that only yesterday?  Was the claim that this was, quote,

not the first time under this administration that a transcript of a

presidential call had been placed into a code word level, high security

system solely for the purpose of protecting politically sensitive

information even though that code word protected secure database is only

supposed to be holding national security sensitive information. 

 

The whistle-blower was basically claiming that after this very worrying

phone call in which the president we now know asked Ukraine to help him in

his re-election effort against his potential opponent, Joe Biden, we know

that that happened.  We know that the whistle-blower got it on good

authority that that call happened, described it basically exactly along the

lines of what we eventually saw when the transcript of that call came out. 

 

But when the whistle-blower complaint itself was unsealed yesterday, it was

a big surprise for us to learn this very specific description of how White

House officials, including White House lawyers, had tried to cover it up. 

They had taken the record of that presidential phone conversation and not

put it on the server where regular – where information like that would be

regularly stored.  They instead put it in a very, very high-security code-

word protected, top-level, standalone security system that`s not networked

to any other thing, apparently just for the purpose of limiting the ability

of other people inside the government to see what happened on that phone

call.  Not because it was national security sensitive, not because it was

about some covert action or code word protected intelligence program.  But

simply because they had to make sure that nobody could find out the

president did this on this call. 

 

Again, the whistle-blower saying in the whistle-blower`s complaint that

according to U.S. officials, according to White House officials who talked

to the whistle-blower about this matter, this was not the first time White

House officials and White House lawyers had taken a step like that to hide

essentially, to bury records of a presidential phone call with a foreign

power. 

 

And that, of course, teed up this big question.  Well, what else is in the

vault?  What else have they hidden on that server?  What else has this

White House tried to lock down?  What other evidence of the president`s

behavior or transcripts of the president`s calls have they tried to wall

off from access even for most U.S. officials and cabinet-level officials,

not because they were national security sensitive, because they would make

the president look bad, because they reflect the kind of behavior that

might get the president impeached? 

 

Well, just before we got on the air, just moments ago, “The Washington

Post” published this new scoop having to do with not the phone call to the

Ukrainian president, which has led to the impeachment proceedings this

week, but rather the infamous meeting that took place in the Oval Office in

2017 between President Trump and two senior officials from Russia.  This

was May 2017.  It was a day after Donald Trump fired James Comey. 

 

You will remember, surprise, what`s the Russian foreign minister and

ambassador doing in the Oval Office with the president that day?  Well,

here`s what “The Washington Post” is reporting now.  Quote, President Trump

told Russian officials – excuse me, President Trump told two senior

Russian officials in a 2017 Oval Office meeting that he was unconcerned

about Moscow`s interference in the U.S. election in 2016 because the United

States did the same in other countries.  An assertion that prompted alarmed

White House officials to limit access to the president`s remarks to an

unusually small number of people.  “The Post” citing three form officials

with knowledge of the matter. 

 

Quote: A memorandum summarizing the meeting was limited to a few officials

with the highest security clearances in an attempt to keep the president`s

comments from being publicly disclosed. 

 

According to this new story in “The Washington Post,” President Trump

lamented to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, quote, that all this

Russia stuff, as he put it, was detrimental to relations between the U.S.

and Russia.  By all this Russia stuff, he means the interference of Russia

in our immediately previous election. 

 

It is not clear if a memo documenting that May 10, 2017, meeting with

Lavrov and Kislyak was placed into that top secret code word protected

server where the transcript of the president`s call with Ukraine was

apparently stashed, but we do know that access to this transcript with the

Russian officials from 2017 was, quote, restricted to a very small number

of people.  You will recall, of course, that this was the meeting in which

President Trump not only said that firing James Comey relieved great stress

on him, but he also, much to the surprise of U.S. government officials and

intelligence officials and allies, this is the meeting in which Trump

revealed highly classified information, code-word-protected intelligence

information that exposed a very sensitive live source of intelligence on

ISIS. 

 

This was the same meeting in which he admitted that he fired FBI Director

James Comey because it relieved great pressure on him.  It was the same

meeting in which he gave them one of our ally`s incredibly sensitive

intelligence sources against ISIS and apparently according to “The

Washington Post” tonight, that was also a meeting in which he told the

Russian government, told emissaries from the Russian government that he

didn`t mind what they did in terms of the U.S. election. 

 

What is remarkable about this story is that that was may 2017 and we`re now

finding out more about what was said in that meeting.  I mean, we have had

a special counsel investigation into the president`s interactions with

Russia around the Russian election interference in 2016.  This never came

up. 

 

But in the context of the impeachment inquiry, that has starred this week

into the way the president tried to basically involve the nation of Ukraine

in interfering with the next election in 2016, for us to learn that records

of that conversation which have led to the president`s eventual impeachment

now, records of that conversation which have led to the president`s

eventual impeachment now, records of that conversation were basically

hidden away, and that the same treatment or similar treatment of some kind

was also used to hide records of that May 2017 Oval Office meeting.  I

mean, it`s stunning what we didn`t know before, but it`s very stunning what

we now know tonight. 

 

Joining us now by phone is one of the reporters who is behind this breaking

news, Shane Harris.  He`s intelligence and national security reporter for

“The Washington Post.”  And, boy, he has been very busy this week. 

 

Mr. Harris, thank you for joining us on short notice. 

 

SHANE HARRIS, INTELLIGENCE AND NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON

POST (via telephone):  Thanks for having me, Rachel.  I appreciate it.

 

MADDOW:  I`m just absorbing this because you just posted it.  Let me just

first ask you if I got anything wrong there, or if I missed any important

emphasis in the way I described that? 

 

HARRIS:  No, you got it right.  That`s exactly how we reported it.

 

MADDOW:  In terms of the content, the additional content of the president`s

conversation with those Russian officials, this is a pretty inflammatory

statement to attribute to the president, that he told these Russian

officials that he was unconcerned about Moscow`s interference in the U.S.

election. 

 

Your source, you and your colleagues` source for that according to the lead

in this story is three former officials with knowledge of the matter.  Is

it your understanding, Shane, that the president`s remarks to that effect

were included in these notes that were held so closely after this event

took place? 

 

HARRIS:  That is our understanding because the memorandum that was made

documenting this was, almost immediately, as it was described to us,

restricted to an unusually small number of people.  The White House

actually already implemented a system in which these memos of conversations

that the president had with foreign leaders were restricted to an even

smaller number of people than usual in large part to avoid press leaks. 

This one with Lavrov and Kislyak, we`re told, was restricted to an even

tighter number than was normal. 

 

So, clearly indicated some real concern on the part of White House

officials about the political sensitivities around this.  And, of course,

you also mentioned in the same conversation is where the president revealed

information that could have exposed an intelligence source. 

 

So this caught a lot of people`s attention, I think, when suddenly the

paper that you would normally see about this meeting, remember, this was a

huge high-profile meeting with Lavrov and Kislyak coming to the Oval

Office, I mean, only months after the president had taken the oath, people

couldn`t find the record of this and that immediately set off alarm bells. 

But people we talked to who have knowledge of this said it was extremely

close hold and really alarming because of the import of it was perceived as

giving the Russians some kind of green light by the president to the

election interference in another country. 

 

MADDOW:  Or in our country again, presumably.

 

HARRIS:  Right.

 

MADDOW:  Yes.

 

Shane, let me ask you – obviously, you guys are able to report tonight on

the extremely close hold nature of how that memorandum was distributed. 

You`re able to describe to us some of the contents of that memo, which has

not previously been reported, even over the course of the special counsel

investigation and everything.  Knowing more about the distribution of the

record of that conversation, knowing more about the content of the record

of that conversation, I have to ask you, if you and your colleagues know

where the record of this conversation is now.  And if it is going to be

made available for anyone who wants to investigate this? 

 

HARRIS:  We don`t know for sure.  This was very much in the front of our

minds reporting this story in light of the whistle-blower`s allegations was

this memo placed into the highly classified, separate network that this

person describes as being in a place where the conversation with President

Zelensky was placed. 

 

And we could confirm whether that was the case.  But it was notable to our

sources that when the memo was created or at least some record of it was

created, it just didn`t go to the normal distribution chain at all.  It was

essentially unavailable to people who ordinarily would have been able to

get access to this information, even in the already-unusually tight

conditions that the White House created. 

 

So, the answer, Rachel, is no we don`t know where the record of this call

is.  You rightly point out the special counsel investigated the matter.  We

didn`t see anything about this in the report.  So, right now, I think, it`s

still a bit of a mystery to us where the records of this actually are

contained. 

 

MADDOW:  And is it your sense, Shane, and this isn`t addressed directly in

your reporting and you may not know this, feel free to tell me if I`m off

base here.  But is it – is it your sense that there has essentially been

an evolution within the Trump White House in terms of how they hide stuff,

that there may have been an initial effort to just cut down on the normal

channels by which presidential communications would be distributed and sent

around so that everybody could get on the same page, and the policy process

could work around them. 

 

They then further had to restrict them and it sort of culminated at least

most recently with this dramatic allegation reported by the whistle-blower

that it`s being hidden in the most secure servers in the White House. 

 

Is it your sense this evolved over time and these things might have been

stashed sort of all different sorts of places over the past couple of

years?

 

HARRIS:  Yes.  I mean, my thinking on this is sort of evolving as we learn

more.  It is clear that very early on there was an awareness by the White

House that information was leaking out and they wanted to tighten that up. 

It is not clear to me right now that it is the habit of the White House to

absolutely put these kinds of things into a classified network where they

can`t be seen.  We have at least one allegation from the whistle-blower

that that happened with the Ukraine call and possibly others. 

 

But I don`t know if we can say right now that it was just routine to put

these memos into that very secret system. 

 

MADDOW:  Shane Harris, national security reporter at “The Washington Post”,

joining us on very short notice and near something that`s backing up, which

I realize is dangerous.  You take care, Shane.  Thank you for joining us. 

 

HARRIS:  Thanks, Rachel.  Bye-bye. 

 

MADDOW:  Thank you.

 

Remarkable reporting, again, this breaking news from “The Washington Post.” 

President Trump in that Oval Office meeting with two senior Russian

officials the day after he fired James Comey, according to “The Washington

Post” tonight, in addition to telling them, which we already knew, that

firing James Comey took off a lot of pressure from him in terms of the

Russia stuff, “The Washington Post” newly reporting tonight that one of the

other things the president said in that meeting was that he was unconcerned

about Russia having interfered in our election because no big deal, the

U.S. does the same in other countries. 

 

It`s remarkable to get something new about that conversation now two plus

years after the fact.  It`s being reported in the context of this new

alarm, that is, the center of this impeachment proceeding that has started

against the president about how presidential records, how records of the

president`s contacts with foreign officials are being submarine or being

held, according to a whistle-blower, sort of misclassified in order to try

to hide evidence of what the president has been doing and saying with

foreign leaders.  I will tell you “The Washington Post” reports tonight

that the White House did not provide comment for this story. 

 

But I want to bring into the conversation, Ned Price.  He`s a former senior

director at the National Security Council.  He was a senior analyst at the

CIA. 

 

Mr. Price, it is great to have you with us, again, on short notice.  Thanks

for joining us.

 

NED PRICE, FORMER CIA SENIOR ANALYST:  Thank you. 

 

MADDOW:  Let me get your reaction to this, Ned, that the White House walled

off or shrank the usual access to the notes from not just the president`s

call with Ukrainian President Zelensky, White House officials did the same

with this Russian official Oval Office meeting as well. 

 

PRICE:  I would start with “The Washington Post” reporting tonight, Rachel. 

I guess I would put it this way.  We don`t know if this was the cover-up or

if this was a cover-up.  Just another run-of-the-mill cover-up in this

White House. 

 

Let me unpack that a little bit.  The whistle-blower was very specific in

his statement that we saw for the first time yesterday saying that he heard

it was not the first time that White House officials, not that they had

just reduced the access of these transcripts, but they had actually placed

these on this special stand-alone top secret code word server.  As Shane

was saying earlier, we don`t know if the memo of this Russian conversation

was actually placed on that server, so there could still well be other

conversations out there that White House officials were so alarmed at that

they took the extraordinary step of actually placing it on that server. 

 

The other irony, Rachel, is that this conversation in 2017 between

President Trump and Russian officials should have been held essentially at

the unclassified level.  There`s very little we share with the Russians

that could betray our sources and methods.  But if you think about it, this

is a memorandum that might be stored on that top secret code word server

because according to some reports, at least, President Trump actually

divulged, he actually leaked to them information that could be considered

code word classified. 

 

So I think there are a lot of questions we don`t know about this, and I

think there`s still a blinking red light from that whistle-blower complaint

that there could be other transcripts or memorandum that have been spirited

away. 

 

MADDOW:  Ned, one of the reasons I wanted to ask you about this

specifically, I was intrigued by some other “Washington Post” reporting

from late last night that when it comes to that super secret server that`s

disconnected from all networks, that`s a stand-alone unit that`s supposed

to be set aside for the most sort of secret information in the government

intelligence programs that are covert action stuff, stuff that really has

to be protected, when it comes to putting stuff onto that server a senior

White House official making a decision to do that, A, would have needed

access to be able to do it, would have had to be the kind of person allowed

to access that server, but also, according to “The Post” at least, they

would need to make a formal written request in order to make such a

transfer of a document from a more normal, less-secure server into that

super top-secret one. 

 

First, let me ask if you believe that`s true, that there would be a written

record of who wanted to put stuff on that server, and if so, doesn`t that

driveway a paper trail in terms of whodunit in terms of this cover-up? 

 

PRICE:  I suppose I would say yes, but I would claw caveat there.  In a

normal White House, there would be a paper trail.  In the previous White

House certainly, there would have been a written request of this nature. 

 

But just to put a finer point on it, Rachel, this is a system that is

administered by the intelligence directorate within the National Security

Council staff.  It`s a relatively small team, no more than a handful of

people, nearly all of whom come from the intelligence community.  They have

expertise and extraordinary experience in dealing with covert action and

the most sensitive information in the government`s possession. 

 

So, essentially, they are trusted to do that.  We saw some interesting

reporting earlier today, I believe it was, that National Security Council

lawyers, according to the White House trying to explain this away, that the

deputy lawyer on the National Security Council staff actually authorized

that.  If you believe the White House statement, he did so in order to

protect classified information. 

 

Well, here`s what the White House didn`t say, Rachel, is that the deputy

NSC legal adviser, he reports to the national security adviser, but that

role is also dual-hatted.  This person reports to the White House counsel,

which is a political position.  And, certainly, you can make the case those

around President Trump, including his counsel who has been at the center of

any number of recent stories, could have ordered this clear violation of an

executive order, by the way, to upgrade the classification solely to

protect something that is deemed politically embarrassing or explosive or

even at worst to hide illegal activity on the part of the president. 

 

MADDOW:  If all that happened, let me just ask you briefly, do you think

there will be a way to unwind who did what?  Do you think this sort of

thing leaves traces? 

 

PRICE:  Well, normally, Rachel, it`s the cover-up, not the crime.  I think

in this case the cover-up may actually lead to the crimes because the

whistle-blower complaint was very specific in pointing to a location where

these transcripts are.  If the House Oversight Committee – I`m sorry.  If

the House Intelligence Committee which last night issued a preservation

order to the National Security Council staff is actually able to see what

transcripts are there, there will probably be some sort of trail as to how

they got there. 

 

The National Security Council staff is meticulous in its record keeping and

in its protocols.  It was usually to our chagrin when we were in the

system, but it may be to our collective national benefit now that we`re in

this situation. 

 

MADDOW:  Ned Price, former CIA officer, former NSC spokesperson – Ned,

thank you so much for being here.  Sort of invaluable to have you on a

night like this, thanks a lot.

 

PRICE:  Thank you. 

 

MADDOW:  All right.  Much more to come tonight.  Stay with us. 

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

MADDOW:  We do have Friday nights around here, where we get lots of news

stories all at once.  Honestly, it feels like for the last four days or so,

it`s been every day, all day long, new breaking news like once an hour. 

 

Today, we got this bluntly titled statement from three house committee

chairs.  Quote: Secretary Mike Pompeo subpoenaed for Ukraine documents as

House committees accelerate impeachment inquiry.  The chairs of the Foreign

Affairs, Oversight and Intelligence Committees saying that two weeks ago,

they demanded that Pompeo produce documents related to the president`s call

with the Ukrainian president or documents related to the delay of aid to

Ukraine or related to Rudy Giuliani or Paul Manafort, really a compelling

list of possible evidence. 

 

They didn`t get any of that stuff even though they demanded it two weeks

ago.  Well, now, they sent a subpoena for those documents to the secretary

of state, which they say in the very first line of their letter they are

sending, quote, pursuant to the House of Representatives` impeachment

inquiry.  They also informed the secretary of state that they`re scheduling

depositions starting next week with a bunch of State Department officials

named or referenced in the whistle-blower`s complaint, people who either

were involved in this scheme to get Ukraine involved in the 2020 elections

or may have been witnesses to it, or may in some cases have sort of been

collateral damage. 

 

We don`t yet know if those depositions are going to be just transcribed or

if they`re going to be taped, but they`re going to happen very quickly,

starting on Tuesday or Wednesday of next week and going right through the

following week, the 2nd, 3rd, 7th, 8th, 10th.  We should probably assume

since these are depositions, the questioning will be down don by committee

counsel rather than members of Congress. 

 

Also, since these committees are explicitly acting in the context of an

impeachment inquiry, the implicit and I think – actually today, they made

an explicit threat, is that if these officials resist or if the State

Department tries to block these officials from going along with the

depositions, that would say be construed by the House as obstructing the

impeachment inquiry, which itself can become a new article of impeachment. 

We would quickly find out what kind of additional weight the impeachment

inquiry gives to congressional demands, but that would open up the

president himself to additional impeachable offenses and additional

articles that the House would vote on. 

 

Among the officials who are apparently going to be deposed is this man,

Kurt Volker.  Kurt Volker is the president`s envoy for Ukraine.  He got

famous this week because the whistle-blower claims he was basically caught

up in Rudy Giuliani`s pressure campaign on the Ukrainian government. 

Giuliani and Trump were both pressuring the Ukrainian government to provide

them things that would be of help to the president`s re-election bid. 

Immediately thereafter, Ambassador Volker turned up in Kiev, reportedly

following up on what Giuliani and Trump had been demanding, trying to guide

the Ukrainian government in terms of how they should respond to those

totally inappropriate and possibly illegal demands. 

 

Now, I just described him as President Trump`s special envoy for Ukraine. 

As of a couple hours ago, I should say that he is the ex-special envoy for

Ukraine because just after Kurt Volker was told to appear for his

deposition next week, he resigned just within the past couple of hours.  

 

Like I said, news is moving fast.  You saw that subpoena and the deposition

announcements go out from three committee chairs.  That`s Foreign Affairs,

Oversight and Intelligence.  One of the questions we`ve had over the course

of this week is whether one committee is going to take the lead on this

impeachment proceeding against the president.  If so, which one? 

 

If Congress is focused on this Ukraine scandal as a matter of, you know,

foreign policy, and maybe it`s foreign affairs because it involves a

foreign country, would it be the judiciary committee since they

traditionally take lead on impeachment proceedings?  Would it be the

intelligence committee because, among other things, this whistle-blower

complaint came from the intelligence community and references classified

information and the mishandling, or at least strange handling of classified

information? 

 

Well, tonight, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has written to the members of the

House, the Democratic members of the House in a “dear colleague” letter in

which she makes that clear.  Quote: The path forward will be centered in

the Intelligence Committee led by Chairman Adam Schiff. 

 

For his part, Chairman Schiff tells NBC News that his committee has already

begun reaching out to witnesses and expects to send out additional

subpoenas and additional announcements of further depositions in the course

of the next week. 

 

So I planned a whole different show for tonight, but this just happened in

the last couple of hours, so we`re just trying to keep up. 

 

Stay with us. 

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

MADDOW:  It was a really blunt way to put it, but I think that was the

point.  It was a month after Donald Trump had just been elected president. 

Quote: Americans are no wiser than the Europeans who saw democracy yield to

fascism, Nazism, communism.  Our one advantage is that we might learn from

their experience.  Now is a good time to do so.  Here are 20 lessons from

the 20th century adapted to the circumstances of today. 

 

That was a Facebook post from a month after Trump was elected.  It

basically broke the Internet at the time.  By popular demand, it soon

turned into this survivor`s guide of a book that likely you or someone you

know have a dog-eared copy of or maybe that you`ve been carrying around in

your bag for a couple years if you`re like me. 

 

It is called “On Tyranny: 20 Lessons from the 20th Century.”  It`s a very

short book.  It fits in your pocket.  It is filled with sobering and very

specific advice for being a citizen in a country that is at risk.  Being a

citizen in a country where democratic norms and the basics of our system of

government suddenly don`t seem like a given anymore. 

 

It`s not an activist`s guide per se, it`s a survivor`s guide.  “The New

York Times” advised approaching it like a medical pamphlet on an infectious

disease.  Quote: Read it carefully and be on the lookout for symptoms. 

 

Let me show a little bit of what they mean.  Case in point, lesson number

two, defend institutions.  It is institutions that help us to preserve

decency.  They need our help as well.  They fall one after the other unless

each is defended from the beginning.  So choose an institution you care

about a court, a newspaper, a law, a labor union, and take its side. 

 

This is from lesson 14.  Establish a private life.  Nastier rulers will use

what they know about you to push your around.  Scrub your computer of

malware on a regular basis.  Have personal exchanges in person. 

 

For the same reason, resolve any legal trouble.  Tyrants seek the hook on

which to hang you.  Try not to have hooks. 

 

I`ll give you one more.  This is from lesson 5.  This has been stuck into

me like a splinter under a finger nail.  You will see why when I tell you

what it is. 

 

Lessons 5 is: remember professional ethics.  When political leaders set a

negative example, professional commitments to just practice become more

important.  It`s hard to subvert a rule of law state without lawyers, or to

hold show trials without judges.  Authoritarians need obedient civil

servants.  Concentration camp directors seek businessmen interested in

cheap labor. 

 

Like I said, stark, right?  But it is not drawn up from nowhere.  It`s

specifically drawn up from an expert`s history of other countries, other

countries no dumber and no wiser than ours, that nevertheless lost their

democracies at some point in the 20th century. 

 

Yale professor Timothy Snyder speaks five and reads 10 different European

languages.  He has studied Russia and Ukraine for a quarter century.  And

our country is now starting the process of impeaching the process because

of him trying to enlist the government of Ukraine against his political

enemies, to help his reelection next year, also apparently to muddy the

waters about Russia helping him win the last election. 

 

Because of that, I asked Professor Snyder if he wouldn`t mind coming to the

studio tonight to help give us help with this. 

 

Joining us now is Tim Snyder, bestselling author of “On Tyranny”, and

another bestseller which is called “The Road to Unfreedom.”  He`s a

professor of history at Yale University.

 

Professor Snyder, thank you for being here. 

 

TIM SNYDER, YALE HISTORY PROFESSOR:  Very glad. 

 

MADDOW:  Let me just ask you, as a historian, as somebody who has done a

lot in terms of public education, as a public intellectual to talk to

people about Russia, talk to Americans about Russia, talk to us about

freedom and the context of what happened in our election, how are you

feeling this week? 

 

SNYDER:  I`m feeling like people are understanding something which we

needed to understand from the beginning, namely, that we`re all in this

together.  A lot of the ways our democracy is going sour happened already

in Russia.  A lot of things that the Russians are doing to us involve just

kind of jollying us along. 

 

So, we think for example that Mr. Trump saying, well, yes, of course

interfering with special elections OK.  Everybody does it.  That`s exactly

the line which Russia is trying to push. 

 

There aren`t facts, there`s not law, there`s not justice.  Everything`s

really a joke.  Only power matters. 

 

What we`re seeing today is how this fits together.  It`s not just that

Russia helped Mr. Trump to get elected, there`s a certain Russian way of

doing politics has spread pretty widely. 

 

MADDOW:  Is the idea that there`s no reason for Russia to be held to

account for bad behavior because there is no such thing as good behavior,

there is no moral leadership in the world or moral expectation in terms of

how countries should behave, and the U.S. as the world`s policeman, that`s

basically how they sold their international standing for a generation now? 

 

SNYDER:  Uh-huh.  But logically, it makes no sense.  I mean, either things

are good or they`re not good.  If it`s bad to invade countries illegally,

it`s bad to invade countries legally.  Whether it`s Iraq or whether it`s

Ukraine. 

 

What you can`t say unless you`re a kid on a playground, is well, because he

did it, it`s OK for me to do it.  Either there are principles or there are

not principles.  If there are principles, and you have to stand by them and

hold everyone to the same standards.

 

MADDOW:  With President Trump and his personal lawyer, Mr. Rudy Giuliani,

apparently trying to enlist Ukraine in a number of different efforts, we`ve

been talking about it in the context of the impeachment inquiry, which is

specifically about trying to either engineer or dig up something that will

hurt Joe Biden, that will hurt the president`s potential political opponent

in 2020, beyond that, though, seems like they have been looking for a

couple other things.  They`ve been looking for law enforcement action

against the accusers of Paul Manafort, people who brought forward evidence

of Manafort`s corrupt behavior in Ukraine that ended up getting him kicked

off the president`s campaign in 2016 that ultimately led to him going to

jail where he sits today. 

 

They`re trying to undo the prosecution of Paul Manafort.  They`re also

trying to undo the initial attribution of the 2016 attack to Russia.  They

want to make it seem like maybe Russia didn`t attack us. 

 

Why is all of this happening through Ukraine? 

 

SNYDER:  I`m glad you asked that question because I want to start just by

reminding us all that Ukraine is a real country.  Ukraine has real

problems.  For example, Ukraine was invaded by Russia.  Russia annexed

Ukrainian territory, the first time a European state has done that to

another since the Second World War. 

 

Ukraine has taken 12,000 mortal casualties in this war, which

proportionately as much as – is about as much as Vietnam for us.  It`s

five 9/11s, again, proportional to population.  And the Russian war in

Ukraine was just as unexpected.  This is a country with 2 million internal

refugees. 

 

But this is a place which has held democratic elections, the last one and

this one free and fair.  They have big problems.  And what they need from

us is to encourage them to follow the rule of law. 

 

The tragic thing, as you say, about what`s happening now is that we`re

doing the opposite.  Every aspect of what Mr. Giuliani and Mr. Trump are

doing is pushing them in the wrong direction, at the obvious level. 

 

They`re urging the president of the company to be corrupt.  Then they`re

saying your old prosecutor general, who everybody agreed was the most

corrupt person in the country, he should be brought back.  And then you`re

investigative journalists, who are the good guys in this story, for Ukraine

and for Russia and for us, those people are enemies, I`m now quoting,

they`re calling them enemies of the United States, enemies of America. 

 

They`re talking about the people who actually find out the things we need

to know about inequality, corruption, and war.  That for me is just awful. 

 

MADDOW:  The thing that is, I think, as someone who knows Ukraine to be

able to get that level of detail in terms of how this is affecting them and

what this is going to do to them on their rights and vis-a-vis what they

got to handle in terms of Russia and this ongoing war, it`s fascinating. 

When I think about Trump and Rudy Giuliani, I do not think of them as guys

who are experts on the internal machinations of any other country or even

our own.  And so, the idea that they`re over there basically tuning up all

the good guys and helping out – tuning out the good guys and helping the

bad guys, it`s hard for me to know why there and what it is about Ukraine

that has become their playground in this way. 

 

SNYDER:  Yes.  Well, I mean, there are a couple things going on here. 

First, they correctly have the instinct that Ukraine and Russia and America

are all part of one story.  It`s just they have it wrong how.  The way it

all played out was that – as Russia was invading Ukraine in 2014, it was

trying out the hybrid war strategies, the cyber war strategies it used in

2016 against us. 

 

In that sense, it is all one story and the personal connection of Paul

Manafort, who is the adviser of both Ukrainian president and the American

president to be is just the exclamation point at the end of all of that. 

So they`re right it`s all connected but they`re totally wrong about how. 

What they`re saying is, by the way, the same thing that the Russians are

saying, many Russians are saying, for example, a Russian senator said today

what they`re saying is that, well, actually the whole thing was Ukraine

helping the Democrats, not Russia helping the Republicans and Mr. Trump. 

And they`re trying to build up this sort of counternarrative which they can

use as a boomerang to push the other one back. 

 

There are a lot of problems with this, but the most obvious is it`s just

not true.  I mean, they have an instinct.  They can sniff out who the worst

people are.  They`re very good at that, but they don`t have their facts

straight about what actually happened as they don`t have a basis on which

to build this scandal.

 

MADDOW:  If you can hold on for a moment, Professor Snyder, I want to ask

you also how you think we`re doing as a country dealing with this crisis

that we got over this matter. 

 

Professor Timothy Snyder is our guest. 

 

We`ll be right back. 

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

MADDOW:  We`re back with Yale History professor, Timothy Snyder, who`s the

author of best-selling provocative books like “On Tyranny” which became

sort of the sensation after the Trump election, after circulating many of

these ideas online immediately after Trump was elected.

 

Thank you for sticking with us, first of all. 

 

SNYDER:  Of course.

 

MADDOW:  Because you have written a sort of survival book, a sort of

symptom diagnosis manual in terms of losing your democracy and what tyranny

and authoritarianism look like up close when you`re living through a

country that might be sliding in that direction, I have to ask, now that we

are in an impeachment crisis, now that we are about to impeach the

president because of his contact with Ukraine, asking Ukraine to get

involved in our election on his behalf, what you think we should be looking

for as citizens and what you think would be a strong way for us as a

country and as a democracy to handle this?  What are you worried about and

what are you hopeful about? 

 

SNYDER:  Well, I think we have to take a step back and ask how Trump was

possible in the first place because as awful is the things he`s doing are

and really I think asking for foreign interference in two different

presidential elections is a record that`s unlikely ever to be broken. 

 

MADDOW:  Yes.

 

SNYDER:  As awful as that is, we have to asks ask, what was it about us in

2016, our electorate system, our inequality, the way we deal with the

Internet, our lack of local journalism, what allowed this to happen in the

first place, and can we then fix that, so regardless of which party we

like, this kind of thing doesn`t ever happen again. 

 

As far as how we`ve done in the medium term, I think the journalists we

have left have done an excellent job.  The terrifying thing is to imagine

what if this happened in five or ten years when we have no real journalists

left?  Because that`s the trend.

 

Everything we know in the world is coming from a handful investigative

journalists, whose work is denied or repeatedly or plagiarized or

fictionalized.  We only have a few of them left, right?  They are the

heroes of this story now, in Russia, and in Ukraine. 

 

The other thing is that this is fundamentally all about the rule of law. 

Do we believe in the rule of law?  The rule of law comes before democracy,

it comes before everything else.  Is this man above the law or not, or are

we all subject to the rule of law?  That`s what`s fundamentally at stake

right now. 

 

MADDOW:  As the House pursues impeachment, is there a way to do that in a

way that is maximally bolstering of the rule of law in a long-standing way? 

 

SNYDER:  I think there is.  I think there is.  I think it`s important to

enunciate what the principles of what we`re doing are all the time.  I

realize for political reasons it makes sense to focus on this Ukraine issue

because basically the president confessed to it. 

 

MADDOW:  Caught and then admitted it and then proved that he did it. 

 

SNYDER:  Yes, yes.  If you confess in the back of the squad car, that means

you`re innocent?  But that`s not how it works. 

 

But I understand the temptation because the whistle-blower report tells you

everything you need to do.  But I do think it`s important to remember this

is in a larger context not just of Russia, but a whole series of things

which show scorn for the idea of law.  I mean, that story that just broke

today telling the Russians that it`s OK to interfere in our elections. 

That`s just a very large example of this notion that there isn`t law, it`s

just a joke, we do it e everybody does it, therefore, it`s OK. 

 

If that`s your idea, then you`re going to have oligarchy and

authoritarianism.  You have to have some notion of principle, even though

it`s possible to obtain it perfectly.  You`ve got to have it.

 

MADDOW:  Timothy Snyder, bestselling author of “On Tyranny” and “The Road

to Unfreedom” – thank you so much for coming to the studio and being

willing to talk to me tonight.  I really appreciate having you here. 

Thanks.

 

SNYDER:  It`s a real pleasure.  Thank you.

 

MADDOW:  All right.  We`ll be right back.  Stay with us.

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

MADDOW:  All right.  I have something eerie I want to show you.  In

covering news stories like this one and this impeachment crisis, there`s a

handful of former like high level national security officials you might

want to talk to about it, right, get their perspective on how bad this

stuff really is, on what we should pay the most attention, to what might

not be quite as important and where do we look for, right.

 

You might want to talk to people like a Susan Rice who was national

security adviser to President Obama.  She was U.N. ambassador.  I mean, if

you could talk to a Susan rice about a story like this, somebody with that

kind of experience, she could walk you through, like, a, how big deal this

is, how the intelligence community would handle the bombshell news that the

president solicited help from a foreign power. 

 

You know, if there was somebody who came to realize that it happened, what

would happen with that information, what`s the right way – Susan Rice is

not here tonight.  I have not booked Susan Rice.

 

But I want you to see this because it`s freaking eerie.  I did talk to

Susan Rice in June, June of this year, and look what she said.  Look at

what we talked about in June of this year. 

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

MADDOW:  If, for example, in 2020, some country, some adversary somewhere,

or some country that has interests in the United States and wants its way

with us, does decide they are going to intervene in our election in a

substantive way, that they`re going to put their – they`re going to use

their intelligence capacity, they`re going to provide assistance, they`re

going to tap one candidate or the other and try to help them or use them in

some way for their own aims – if the intelligence community realizes

that`s happening, they figure at a out through their own capacities, if the

element in the U.S. election system that is getting that help, that has had

those foreign contacts and that`s accepting it is the president`s campaign,

who should the intelligence community brief that information to? 

 

I mean, you wouldn`t go to the perpetrator to say, hey, we`ve got important

information that you`re the perpetrator, would you?  Would they go to the

Gang of Eight, would they go to Congress and not directly to the president

if the president turns out to be the bad guy and something they figure out

is going on? 

 

SUSAN RICE, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.:  Well, fortunately, that`s

the dilemma we haven`t encountered to date.  But it would be, in my

estimation, the obligation of the intelligence community to not only brief

the appropriate executive branch officials, including the president`s

cabinet, the president and the vice president, but it would also require

that they do brief Congress.  And as you said, the Gang of Eight, which is

as you know are the four leaders on either side and the leaders of the

intelligence committees. 

 

And that is the inner sanctum, so to speak, of congressional oversight of

the intelligence community and the intelligence community has a long-

established relationship with that Gang of Eight as well as with the

Intelligence Committees themselves.  So I would think it would need at a

minimum to brief the Gang of Eight and possibly more broadly the

Intelligence Committees on both sides. 

 

MADDOW:  But if the president was the one who was working with a foreign

power in a way that was illegal under U.S. law and an intelligence concern

for the intelligence committees, they would have to brief it to the

president? 

 

RICE:  It`s hard to see how they avoid that unless they refer it through

law enforcement channels and, you know, the Justice Department, cough, and

the courts are able to do their duty.  But it`s hard to imagine how the

executive branch is uninformed at the highest levels about a finding of

that sort by the intelligence community. 

 

MADDOW:  Wow, even when it implicates the ahead of the executive branch

itself.  That`s amazing.  Yes.

 

RICE:  As I said, this is unchartered territory, thankfully, and let`s all

pray we don`t get there. 

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

MADDOW:  That was in June of this year.  Let`s all pray we don`t get there. 

Fortunately, that`s a dilemma we haven`t encountered to date. 

 

What is particularly amazing to me about that conversation with Susan Rice

from six freaking months ago is that she says, you know, if you couldn`t

take it to the president, of course, you would have to take it to the

Justice Department, and hope they could do its duty. 

 

That happened here.  That`s exactly what happened here.  They took it to

the Justice Department, the Justice department said, we`ll take that and we

decided it`s fine. 

 

It only took – it wasn`t six months.  Only three months or so, but we have

arrived there.  It`s been a remarkable week. 

 

Stay with us.  More to come. 

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

MADDOW:  You will always be able to say that you were alive and living here

and you had your eyes open when they started the impeachment proceedings

against the president of the United States for asking another foreign

country to get involved with helping him get elected after that helped him

get elected the first time. 

 

It`s just been a remarkable week.  I expect this weekend will be just as

nuts as the last four days have been. 

 

But that`s going to do it for us for now.  We`ll see you again on Monday. 

 

Now, it`s time for “THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL”.

 

Good evening, Lawrence.

 

                                                                                                               

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