House Committees accelerate impeachment inquiry. TRANSCRIPT: 9/27/19, The Rachel Maddow Show.
CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: That is ALL IN for this evening.
“THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW” starts right now with the aforementioned Rachel
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-
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
SNYDER: It`s a real pleasure. Thank you.
MADDOW: All right. We`ll be right back. Stay with us.
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
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
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.
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.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY
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Copyright 2019 ASC Services II Media, LLC. All materials herein are
protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced,
distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the
prior written permission of ASC Services II Media, LLC. You may not alter
or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the