IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Transcript: The Rachel Maddow Show, 1/18/2021

Guests: Jeh Johnson, Michael McFaul

CHRISTINA GREER, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR OF POLITICAL SCIENCE AT FORDHAM UNIVERSITY: And it has repercussions in every single aspect of policies that we see today.

CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: Christina Greer, as always, great to have you on. Thank you.

GREER: Good to see you, Chris.

HAYES: That is ALL IN for this Monday evening on MLK Day.

"THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW" starts right now.

Good evening, Rachel.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Thank you, my friend. Much appreciated.

And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.

Let`s just jump right in, shall we? I mean, usually in the last 40ish hour of the presidency is already turned into a big bye-bye, right? Ceremonial stuff starting up in terms of the old president leaving, and the new one coming in, last announcements about like, you know, which bible is going to be used, and who`s doing the benediction at the inaugural and what about the poet, right? Planning the polite meetings/mid-morning tea between the outgoing first lady and the new first lady, and they`ll be having a tour, right?

We`re usually by now pretty well into the predictable and ceremonial part of the inaugural hoopla. But this year, with this outgoing president that is not our fate. So things right now are much more nutty than they usually are, and let`s jump right into the nuttiness.

All right. You will recall on Friday night, we got late word that the president had received an unusual visitor at the White House. It was the fervently pro-Trump guy who runs the pillow company that advertises 24 hour a day on the Fox News Channel. He was photographed entering the White House where it was reported he met with the president, also with the national security adviser and also with the White House counsel. Yes, the pillow guy.

And part of the reason this made waves late on Friday was because the pillow guy was photographed carrying into the White House a folded piece of paper that appeared to be his notes for those meetings. Those notes included reference to implementing the Insurrection Act and something about martial law.

And so that got a lot of attention. A lot of people zooming in on that photo on Friday night and talking about how strange it was this guy in particular was there to meet with the president about something like that.

Here`s the thing though -- in addition to the play army nonsense about martial law and the Insurrection Act, this idea that the president`s going to somehow use the military the seize power and not let Joe Biden become president and the military is going to go along with that, in addition that nonsense, what this guy was also bringing in to see the president about and the national security adviser and the White House counsel was also in addition to the military stuff, what appeared to be a whole bunch of demands about intelligence, about the intelligence agencies.

Again, based on these notes caught on a telephoto lens, he appears to want to talk about the president about installing a new acting head of the National Security Agency, the NSA. That`s there along with reference, you see there, to Fort Meade. Fort Meade is where the NSA is located. Although that`s not how you spell Meade.

He also wants the head of the CIA removed, to be replaced an in acting capacity by Trump loyalist Kash Patel who Trump just installed a few weeks ago as Pentagon chief of staff.

Now, again, to be clear, these are the notes of the pillow guy. Why with less than a week this office is anyone meeting with the pillow guy, let alone him meeting with the White House counsel and national security adviser and the president? Like I said, this is not a normal end of any presidency.

But what I`m curious about is what do these guys think they`re actually going to do if they somehow wrest control of the NSA and CIA and put it firmly in the hands of loyal Trump lieutenants who will do whenever they`re told, right? I mean, at least the other part of it, at least the declaring martial law Insurrection Act fantasy is something you could write a bad movie about. You know, ousted president commands military to seize power and turn U.S. into a dictatorship with rule by force. It would be a terrible movie, but you could at least imagine what the plot would be, right? It would be a good video game plot maybe.

But anything to that ridiculous fantasy, the same guys around the president, who are pushing that ridiculous fantasy, they`re also really prioritizing the NSA and CIA. They want, at the very last minute as their there`s-ditch effort to wrest control of the nation and prevent the election from having chosen the next president, they want Trump people put in right at the last minute at the top of the intelligence agencies, right at the end.

For what? What do they think they`re going to do there? What do they think the NSA and the CIA can do if they were suddenly commandeered by Trump lackeys?

This weekend, "The Washington Post" was first to report that the president met with the new defense secretary, Christopher Miller. You`ll recall that Christopher Miller was suddenly installed as defense secretary right after Biden won the election. It was a weird reaction to losing the election, right? Immediately fire, the defense secretary and install a new guy.

The president installed this sort of junior level guy named Christopher Miller to become the new acting defense secretary right after he lost the election. He fired Mark Esper and installed this new guy.

Well, president, apparently, according to "The New York Times," met with the acting defense secretary who he recently installed, Christopher Miller, he met with him at the White House on Friday. And apparently, very soon thereafter, Miller, the acting defense secretary, called over to the NSA, the National Security Agency, the one at Ft. Meade, with an E on the end.

He called the NSA and reportedly gave the head of the NSA an ultimatum that by Saturday at 6:00 p.m., the NSA had to install another Trump guy at the top of the NSA, as the NSA`s general counsel, their top lawyer. That ultimatum was issued after the Friday meeting, between Miller and the president. The Trump guy had to be installed as the top lawyer at the NSA by 6:00 p.m. on Saturday.

And the NSA apparently acceded to that. The head of the NSA reportedly didn`t want this young Trump guy installed in the senior role at the NSA, have been sort of slow-rolling it and pushing back on it. But they got this demand, ultimatum. You have to do it immediately and apparently they went along with it.

And so, now, with literally one day left in Trump`s presidency, on the last full day that Trump will be president, unless he quits, that Trump guy`s name is Ellis, Michael Ellis, is due to be sworn in tomorrow as the top legal counsel at the National Security Agency.

Why? Why do they want to force this? On literally the last day that Trump is president?

Why do the crazy -- forgive me. Why do the wing nuts who are telling the president they can still stop Biden from being sworn in, keep power by force somehow, why did to wing nuts who are talking to the president about this stuff think that putting Trump people in at the top of NSA and the CIA at the last minute will somehow advance that cause?

I don`t know. But they are in fact going ahead with doing it at least to the extent they can. And we now know tonight that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is trying to stop it.

Pelosi releasing this letter to the acting defense secretary today. It says: Dear Acting Secretary Miller. I am writing to follow up on my phone conversation with you earlier today, during which I expressed my deep concern about the irregularities involved in the selection of the general counsel of the National Security Administration. I ask you immediately cease plans to improperly install Michael Ellis as the NSA general counsel.

Additionally, with a copy of this letter to the inspector general I am also requesting an investigation into the circumstances of the NSA general counsel selection process. I have serious concerns about your statement that this process was free from political interference. The circumstances and timing of the selection of Mr. Ellis, this 11th hour effort to push this placement in the last three days of this administration, Pelosi says, are highly suspect.

Further, the efforts to install him or burrow him into a highly sensitive intelligence position 72 hours prior to the beginning of a new administration manifest a disturbing disregard for our national security. Therefore, this placement should not move forward. Thank you for your attention. Best regards, Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the House.

And the letter is, in fact, CC`d to the inspector general who she is asking to basically investigate miller for whatever he`s trying to do here, apparently at Trump`s insistence.

Pelosi is trying to stop it. The question is, why are they trying to do it? At the very, very, very last moment, literally, they`re trying to swear this guy in 24 hours before Biden is inaugurated. And, you know, yes, as a surface level, that will stick Biden with the annoying job of having to find a way to fire that guy or, you know, reassigning him to some very important job in Antarctica watching paint dry outside, or, you know, something else they can do with that guy.

But think where the impetus for this is coming from. What do the Trump folks think they can do with the military agencies in the last few days. Why bother installing all these new ones right at the end before Biden gets there? We will see.

With D.C. locked down in red zones and green zones and with troops marching in the streets of downtown D.C., as 20,000 something armed National Guard troops are on site for the inaugural, no one knows what weirdness the president might try from his last hours atop the federal government. We don`t know what weirdness he will try from within the White House in his last 40ish hours or what weirdness his supporters might try outside.

The state capitols were quieter than expected this weekend, but I guess that`s a matter of suspected now. We had Trump supporters show up in body armor with loaded rifles at state capitols, but at least they didn`t mount an organized attack on those state capitols, the way they did on the U.S. Capitol in Congress, a week and a half ago, so we see that now as progress.

The arrests of Trump supporters who participated in the violent attack on the Capitol have continued every day since the attack including through this weekend and into today. I`m sorry to have to tell you the bomber is still at large, though. Whoever placed operational pipe bombs at the headquarters of the Republican and Democratic parties during the Capitol siege, as far as we know, that person has not been apprehended, so we can say the bomber is still at large.

As is, apparently a woman who was wanted in the conjunction with what may have been the theft of a laptop from the office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. In a truly bizarre turn, the FBI affidavit file in the support of federal charges against this young woman from Pennsylvania says this about the woman`s purported plans for Pelosi`s laptop.

Quote: Witness one claimed to have spoken to friends of the suspect who showed witness one a video of the suspect taking a laptop computer or hard drive from Speaker Pelosi`s office during the Capitol attack. Witness one stated the suspect intended to send the computer device to a friend in Russia, who then planned to sell the device to SVR, Russia`s foreign intelligence service.

According to witness one, the transfer of the computer device to Russia fell through for unknown reasons and the suspect still has the computer device or has destroyed it. This matter remains under investigation.

Get me rewrite. This can`t actually be anything that we try to pass off as a real plot. I mean, this is ridiculous. But this is -- this is how the Trump presidency is careening into its final wall.

We still don`t know what the timing will be on the Senate impeachment trial for president Trump. The Senate comes back into session tomorrow. If Speaker Pelosi decides that she`s going to deliver the article of impeachment to the Senate as early as tomorrow when the Senate comes back, that will start a clock ticking where basically the Senate has 24 hours to start Trump`s impeachment trial.

They`ve only got 24 hours to start it once the article has been formally conveyed to them. Now, neither Speaker Pelosi nor the Democratic leader in the Senate, Chuck Schumer, nor the Republican leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, nor anyone else is talking about when that might happen. So we really, really do not know when to expect the president`s impeachment trial to begin.

Similarly, we do not know what to expect in terms of the president`s defense in that trial. Or honestly, if there will be one at all.

On Saturday, the president`s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, told ABC News that he would be the president`s defense counsel, in the president`s impeachment trial in the Senate. That was on Saturday. Then Saturday night, Giuliani went to the White House and spent Saturday night there. And however much fun that might have been, the following day on Sunday, Mr. Giuliani had changed his mind and said, actually, he wouldn`t be serving as the president`s defense counsel after all.

The thing is, apparently nobody else is serving in that role, either. No one has come forward to say they`re doing that job. The lawyer Jenna Ellis who paired up with Giuliani for their comically failed legal efforts to contest the election in multiple states, she tweeted a statement today saying she would not be representing the president`s campaign going forward either. The statement sort of made it seem like she wouldn`t be representing Trump in any capacity going forward.

I guess there was supposition that maybe she`d be the president`s lawyer for his impeachment trial. I don`t know. Won`t be her either. Won`t be Giuliani.

It`s not going to be Pat Cipollone. He won`t be White House counsel afternoon on Wednesday. There`s no sign that any of the other lawyers who participated in the president`s first impeachment defense are going to be doing it the second time.

Honestly, there is no one at this hour who was apparently lined up to be the president`s defense counsel, which does raise the weird possibility that maybe he won`t even mount a defense, I guess? I mean, did I mention that the trial might start as soon as the day after tomorrow? You don`t have a lawyer yet? You can`t even get Giuliani?

We are still on pardon watch. Multiple news organizations now reporting that tomorrow and Wednesday morning, we should expect a gigantic tide of dozens of pardons from Trump, possibly more than 100. "New York Times" reporting that there`s a brisk market on people selling access to the president so people can get one of those pardons. That`s a nice way to go out.

The president does decide he`s going to write a whole new chapter of constitutional contests by trying to issue a pardon to himself, a lot of legal observers are warning that might very well raise the chances that Trump could face federal criminal charges after he leaves office. I mean, the only way to determine the constitutionality of a self-pardon by a president would be to actually charge that president with a federal crime and thereby test the pardon by saying if the courts uphold.

If the pardon tries to pardon himself, that`s never happened before in U.S. history. If that were laying around untested and nobody knew if that self- pardon from Trump was effective or just an assertion by him but it wasn`t a constitutional thing, that`s like in a play leaving around a proverbial loaded gun, right? You just wouldn`t do that constitutionally.

If the president is going to try to pardon himself, dollars to donuts say that that pardon, that self-pardon is going to be tested in the courts, because nobody can leave that laying around not knowing whether or not the president has been able to effectuate that sort of self-immunity, right? And so, if he self-pardons, he is probably increasing the chances that he will face federal criminal charges. And I imagine that that is not a position this president wants to put himself in.

I would be therefore surprised if he tries to pardon himself, but what do I know? It still seems to me the cleanest way out for Trump in terms of criminal exposure remains for him to resign some time before noon on Wednesday in exchange for a promise from Mike Pence that he will give Trump a pardon in the short time that he holds the presidency before Biden is sworn in. That`s the cleanest way out of this.

But the president apparently can`t bring himself to do that. There`s no reporting that he is heading toward that decision. ABC News is actually reporting now that President Trump doesn`t trust Vice President Mike Pence, that he would actually follow through with a pardon even though he promised it to him, which is amazing in its own way.

But what we are heading into over this next few days is weird, it`s unsettled, it`s unpredictable in all sorts of unpredictable ways. There is a certain comfort to the fact that this is supposed to be a predictable kind of boring time, a ceremonial time where we know what`s going to happen and it`s not fraught, and it`s not dangerous.

In this case, though, knowing we`re doing has been done before. For example, we do not expect the president and first lady, Mr. and Mrs. Trump, to welcome the new president and first lady, Mr. and Mrs. Biden to the White House. President haves done that for generations, the Trumps will not. We do not expect that polite meetings/mid-morning tea between the first ladies, nor do we expect the outgoing first lady to give the incoming first lady a tour.

Nor do we expect the outgoing and incoming president to share a ride to the Capitol for the swearing in, let alone have any sort of substantive meeting. What we do expect, for what it`s worth, is for President Trump and the first lady to bug out of the White House early Wednesday morning before the Bidens arrive.

We learned today they have been sending out invitations to what they want to be a sendoff party for President Trump at, like, 8:00 in the morning at Andrews Air Base on Wednesday. So I think the idea is that he would leave the White House really early and chopper or drive over to Andrews. And at Andrews, ultimately, he`ll get on Air Force One to fly into his house in Florida, because he will still be president because this will happen before Biden is sworn in at noon.

Before they actually put him on airplane for him to fly in Florida, the White House has started sending out invitations to people to try to get them to cheer Trump bye-bye at the air base, and it is not clear the effort has been going well. Do you remember the Mooch? Remember Anthony Scaramucci?

He`s a former Trump friend who served for five minutes as White House press secretary? And who has since then become a scathing and occasionally profane critic of President Trump.

Today, Mr. Scaramucci marveled publicly that he was sent an invitation to the sendoff at Andrews Air Base, which is hilarious. I mean, you know, are they going to invite Steve Schmidt and Mary Trump and Michael Cohen and Mitt Romney, too? Have you Googled what Scaramucci has been saying about the president recently? You`re inviting him to the sendoff?

Scaramucci said today, quote, trust me, that had to be a mass email if one of them got sent to me. We don`t know how many people they`ve invited to go to this sendoff at the air base. I don`t know where they got the invite list for people they asked to come cheer out President Trump, but each invitee is told they should bring five guests in addition to themselves, which is kind of asking a lot and which does suggest they are having trouble generating a crowd. One administration source telling CNN tonight, quote, there haven`t been many RSVPs.

Today, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris resigned from the United States Senate in preparation of her inauguration as vice president. California`s new U.S. senator was sworn in to take her seat, former California Secretary of State Alex Padilla. California has nearly 40 percent Latino, the state of California has never had a Latino U.S. senator before today, and now they do.

We also learned today that Supreme Court Justice Sonya Sotomayor will be swearing in Vice President Harris on Wednesday. Justice Sotomayor swore in Joe Biden for his second term as vice president in 2013. She will also do the honors for Ms. Harris the day after tomorrow.

Incoming White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain has outlined in a memo some of what will be President Biden`s first actions after he`s sworn in, and it`s a lot. Day one, we`re told, he will rescind Trump`s Muslim ban, his travel ban on Muslim majority countries. Biden will also, day one, have to United States rejoin the Paris climate accord. He will also extend the moratorium against evictions and foreclosures that went into effect because of the COVID pandemic. He will extend the pause on the requirement to pay back federal student loans. Again, a pause put into effect because of the COVID disaster.

Biden will instate a mask requirement on federal property and interstate travel. He will order federal agencies to figure out how to reunite the families the Trump administration tore apart at the border. It`s going to be an executive order to federal agencies that they need to figure out how to find kids who were taken from their parents by the Trump administration and find ways to get those kids and parents back together.

There`s also reporting tonight that President Biden will stop the permits for the Keystone tar sands oil pipeline either on his first day in office or shortly thereafter. And we`re told there are going to be two major pushes for legislation. All those things I previously described I think will be things that they can do just out of the Oval Office, without the involvement of Congress, at least for the most part.

But there`s two big legislative pushes they want to put in Congress` hands day one. One of them, of course, is the COVID relief and recovery bill that Biden outlined last week. And the other, at last, a proposed reform of the nation`s decrepit and dysfunctional immigration laws. It`s not that long ago that Republicans said they would support something like that.

But that will be introduced day one. Day one as in, inauguration day. As in, the day after tomorrow.

In just a moment, we`re going to talk with Jeh Johnson, former homeland security secretary about the security concerns around inauguration day last year. He was in charge of security in 2017 after the 2016 election. He was the designated survivor from the cabinet that day as homeland security secretary. Jeh Johnson is going to join us live in just a moment to talk about what he`s expecting in terms of threat and security on Wednesday this week.

But Vice President-elect Harris and President-elect Biden will arrive in Washington tomorrow on Tuesday, ahead of Wednesday`s solemn and this year kind of worrying ceremony that is the transfer of power.

And this is interesting and I think important -- what they are going to do tomorrow in Washington, their last day as private citizens, their last day before the inauguration, their first act together in Washington as a new soon to be governing team, what they`re going to do tomorrow is they`re going to lead a national memorial service, a national memorial to honor the 400,000 Americans who have been killed by the coronavirus already.

Imagine the outgoing president even trying to muster the courage and the decency to even try to do that, to even think of it, to even gesture in that direction. But that`s what Biden and Harris will do tomorrow. They`ll help light 400 lights at the reflecting pooling at the Lincoln Memorial, one light for every 1,000 Americans killed.

The archbishop of Washington, D.C. will give an invocation. All around the country landmarks like the empire state building in New York, the Space Needle in Seattle, other landmarks all around the country will light up around 5:30 Eastern Time for a national commemoration to remember the dead. That is what they will do tomorrow.

And then the next day, we`ll see how it goes. It`s a day and a half from now, less than two days, but boy, does it still feel like a long while yet. Boy, does it feel like a lot can go wrong.

Hang on. Lots to get to tonight.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: In Texas, they showed up wearing off the shelf tactical gear and carrying AR-15s. In Oregon, it was ski masks and body armor and upside down American flags and signs saying, disarm the government. Same thing in Ohio, where about two dozen armed men gathered at the statehouse in Columbus on Sunday. At least one guy dressed up in sort of revolutionary war garb except that`s not definitely a musket.

In Lansing, Michigan, as recently as October, you`ll recall a domestic terror plot there to kidnap and perhaps assassinate Michigan`s governor, Gretchen Whitmer. Armed protesters showed up at the Michigan state capitol as well.

This weekend could have been scarier. It was billed as potentially round two of the violence from Trump supporters we saw at the U.S. Capitol on January 6th. The FBI, you will recall, issued a bulletin warning of armed protests, armed shows of force at all 50 state capitols.

And yes, there were armed, sometimes very almost comically heavily armed protester at state capitols across the country, but mostly what we saw on Sunday were very, very small numbers of them. And they were wildly outnumbered by both law enforcement and, in some cases, members of the press, and in some cases peaceful counter-protesters.

Meanwhile, the show of force actually is overwhelming in Washington, D.C. roughly 25,000 U.S. National Guard forces deployed on the streets of the nation`s capital in advance of the inauguration. That`s at least two and a half times the number of National Guard forces that have been on hand for previous inaugurations.

This year, with stakes this high, threats this real, making sure the transfer of power goes off without more violence is a different and daunting task. Are we ready?

Joining us now is Jeh Johnson. He was homeland security secretary and Pentagon general counsel under President Obama. As homeland security secretary, he was the man effectively in charge of inauguration security when Donald Trump and Mike Pence were sworn in in 2017.

Mr. Secretary, it`s really nice to see you tonight. Thanks for your time.

JEH JOHNSON, FORMER HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: Rachel, I got begin with this -- your lead-in was truly stunning. Why does the pillow guy, who apparently can`t even get his act together to tuck in his shirttails, even know there is a person who`s the general counsel of NSA?

I hired two of them. It is an apolitical appointment in collaboration with the director of the NSA. That is -- that really troubles me. So, among a number of things, obviously.

MADDOW: Well, let me just pressure you on that a little bit. We saw right after Biden won the election, we saw the president in one of his first acts fire the defense secretary, install young political Trump loyalist guys as chief of staff of the Pentagon, as other senior Pentagon jobs. We`ve now seen this move at the NSA to get this young man installed as the general counsel at the NSA. Those kinds of jobs the president filled in with these, forgive me, seemingly quite unqualified people right after the election, are those the kinds of jobs from which significant mischief could be made?

JOHNSON: I would say that the senior legal official of the National Security Agency is a very significant and relevant position. And it should be and always has been an apolitical appointment. You note the last-minute appointments and vacancies.

I think part of the reason we saw the disaster a week before last is because we had an acting secretary of homeland security -- we have had six of them in the life of this administration, an acting secretary of defense, and an acting attorney general. And this president seems to feel that he can just cycle people in and out like this with no continuity whatsoever.

So yes, it is extremely troubling, and I hope and expect that the incoming Biden administration will clean this up and fix it.

MADDOW: Are you worried about Wednesday and about the security threats? Obviously we are seeing an overwhelming intimidating show of force with all those National Guard troops now setting up on cots inside the Capitol building, and I know that you know as well as anybody what it means to deploy that much force, but for an event like this, do you feel like it`s the right approach?

JOHNSON: I believe it has to be. Wednesday`s of will be what we refer to as an NSSE, a national special security event. The Secret Service will have overall responsibility for the security of the event in coordination with a whole lot of other law enforcement agencies, D.C. metro, FBI, Marshalls, TSA, the Coast Guard, FEMA. I could go on and on.

And they will make the event virtually impenetrable from land, sea, and air. This will be an NSSE, I suspect, on steroids and I also suspect that the ratio of attendees to gun carriers with badges will be about one to one. That`s unfortunate, but given the threat environment, it is probably necessary.

MADDOW: In terms of the threat environment more broadly and as it pertains to the president himself, there`s one other thing in the news I really just want to get your take on. A woman who served as the deputy director of national intelligence to Donald Trump, Sue Gordon, respected intelligence professional, has made a provocative call saying as an ex president, President Trump shouldn`t receive intelligence briefings the way other ex presidents do, that he`s essentially too much of a risk to American national security to be given any ongoing access to sensitive information.

Do you think that`s worth considering? It seems like the incoming Biden administration is at least not dismissing that possibility out of hand.

JOHNSON: I think there is something to that, quite frankly. This is not going to be like, you know, Kennedy`s need to consult Eisenhower during the Cuban missile crisis or even Bush 43`s occasional consultation of Bush 41 during the Iraq war. I cannot imagine a legitimate worthwhile circumstance under which any of Donald Trump`s successors will need to consult him on a classified matter.

So, you know, classified materials, security clearances, are on a need-to- know basis, and historically former presidents have a need to know for purposes of consultation and the like. But it`s difficult to imagine that here given some of the things that we know this outgoing president has done with classified information to which he`s been entrusted.

MADDOW: Jeh Johnson, former secretary of homeland security under President Obama -- sorry, it`s a huge week. There`s a lot going on. This can for making time for us tonight.

JOHNSON: Thank you. Good to see you, Rachel.

MADDOW: We got much more to get to tonight. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: With less than two days left in office, tonight, Donald Trump issued a new executive order that claims to end the coronavirus travel restrictions imposed on people coming into the United States. The president last year blocked some foreign travelers from entering the country as a protection against COVID. The president repeatedly touted that policy as if it were a major victory, even though we quickly grew to have the largest coronavirus epidemic on earth all by ourselves.

President Trump didn`t do much else in terms of policy on COVID, besides that initial travel ban. But now tonight, he`s undone even that. And this is interesting. Per the executive order signed by the president tonight, the travel restrictions will officially expire next Tuesday, January 26th. I think the idea must have been that they wanted to dump an awkward decision into the lap of the incoming Biden/Harris administration. Let the travel restrictions lapse because of the executive order at the last minute because of President Trump or undo the executive order and leave the travel restrictions in place.

I think maybe the president thought this would be a huge conundrum from Biden and Harris. He`d show them.

Turns out it`s not that hard. The incoming press secretary, Jen Psaki, says tonight that Biden and Harris will reverse Trump`s attempt to lift the COVID travel restrictions and leave them in place. Biden press secretary, Jen Psaki, saying tonight, quote: With the pandemic worsening and more variants around the world, this isn`t the time to be lifting restrictions on international travel. On the advice of our medical team, the administration doesn`t intend to lift the restrictions on January 26th.

We are on day sub zero of the Biden administration, and right out of the gate, these are the kind of own-goal would be policy quagmires that Trump is trying to leave behind to mess them up.

Here`s another good one -- over the weekend, Vladimir Putin`s main opposition in Russia, his top critic, the charismatic and very effective Russian politician Alexei Navalny returned to Russia. He had been in Germany this summer after he was poisoned with a Russian made chemical weapon.

Navalny says he believes that Vladimir Putin gave the direct order for him to be poisoned and killed by the Russian state. But Navalny survived the assassination attempt. He flew back to Russia yesterday after this months- long recovery, before he made it back on the ground, things went wonky.

His flight was originally set to fly into Moscow, but they diverted his flight to an entirely different Russian city at the last moment. The flight crew said it was for technical reasons but there were thousands of Navalny supporters waiting at the Moscow airport to welcome him. Shame that flight got diverted, huh?

Before he made it out of border control at the airport, police detained him on one of a long series of bogus trumped up charges. He was held overnight without access to a lawyer. He had a hearing this morning at a police station instead of a courtroom.

His lawyer was told about the hearing minutes before. The judge ruled Navalny will remain in jail until trial where he faces years in prison. State police escorting him to jail here.

Our outgoing President Trump, of course, has deferred, toted to Vladimir Putin for four years. It is -- that has upended years of America`s efforts to tray to push back on some of Russia`s worst behavior.

During Trump`s presidency, Putin`s aggression has remained virtually unchecked by the United States. It`s emboldened him to get more brazen like throwing his political opponents in jail. Well, we`re about to have a new president. He`s going to have to figure out what to do now that Putin has dropped this huge provocation right at Joe Biden`s feet, locked up Navalny the week that Biden is being sworn in.

With the dawn of a new presidency upon us, what should we expect in terms of our country`s new terribly fraught and terribly weird relationship with a hyper-aggressive Russia?

Michael McFaul, former ambassador to Russia, joins us next. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: With less than two days before Joe Biden is inaugurated as president, there`s already an international crisis waiting for him, one that -- it`s hard to really know how the U.S. is going to respond to given what has happened over the past four years between us and the nation of Russia.

Russia`s main opposition leader, Aleksey Navalny, freshly recovered from a near fatal poisoning that`s widely believed to have been the work of Russian intelligence operatives, Navalny has now been arrested upon his return to Russia. That`s the kind of behavior by Vladimir Putin that the United States would have previously led the world in condemning.

But now, after four years of bizarre behavior and bowing and scraping from the U.S. president toward an increasingly emboldened Russia, what options does the incoming administration have? How much does the new playbook that they have to deal with and they have to work from look anything like the way that America would handle threats and provocations like this from our rivals around the world in the past?

Joining us now is former U.S. ambassador of Russia, Michael McFaul.

Professor, it`s great to see you. Thanks very much for being here.

MICHAEL MCFAUL, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO RUSSIA: Sure. Glad to be here.

MADDOW: So, Alexei Navalny is calling on his supporters to protest in the streets in Russia. That`s expected to happen as soon as this week. Do you think that this is going to turn into a major event, a major source of protest, a major, potentially a major crisis in Russia?

MCFAUL: Well, it`s hard to predict. It`s very cold in Moscow and in other cities in Russia right now. And there`s a lot of uncertainty about his ultimate fate. We don`t really know what they`re doing with him. They`ve put him in jail for 30 days.

But it won`t go away. I want to be clear. Maybe it won`t happen this weekend. Maybe it will happen in months and maybe it will happen in years from now. But I do think this is an inflection point in the struggle between Putin`s autocracy and the Russian democratic movement personified by their leader, Alexei Navalny.

Remember, everything needs to remember he was poisoned by this regime, barely survived, went to Germany, recovered and then said I`m going back, I have no choice but to fight for that. And the regime looks like they do not know what to do with him. I suspect -- I don`t know what will happen on Saturday but I`m quite certain this struggle will go on for months and years to come.

MADDOW: Do you have any sense of what -- what playbook the Biden administration is going to have to play from when it comes toward Russia? Obviously, after four years of whatever that bizarre soap opera was between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, Putin clearly feels emboldened. He clearly feels like he has enough room to maneuver to do whatever he wants in terms of dealing with international response to it.

But how much has the U.S. capability and orientation toward Russia changed? How -- do you have any sense of what the new normal will be like between Biden and Putin?

MCFAUL: Well, there are two really important aspects to your question, Rachel. In terms of our capability of being the leader of the free world, President Trump has done tremendous damage to that. Four years of the way he`s behaved particularly at home, as we all have seen most recently, makes it very difficult for us to now say, to reclaim the mantle of the leader of the democratic world.

But number two, President Biden, president-elect Biden, soon I`ll be able to say President Biden, he has a very different view with Russia. I was in the last meeting he had with Vladimir Putin back in 2011. Thirty minutes after that meeting, he met with democratic opposition leaders right after that meeting.

People like Navalny. So he`s going to bring morality back, he`s going to bring human rights back to his foreign policy.

Number two, we`re not going to have these divides between the president and his administration as we did for four years with respect to Trump`s policy towards Russia. Biden is not going to try to be Putin`s friend and the rest of his administration is not going to have to whisper to people like me to say, hey, that`s not what we really meant, this is our real policy. That will change.

And third, he`s going to try to bring our allies together so that we have a common front of liberal democracies against Putin`s Russia. All these changes I think will be easy and clear in the beginning.

The hard part is to get Putin to change his ways. That`s another matter. That`s going to be very difficult even for President Biden.

MADDOW: Well, speaking of changing his ways, there`s this FBI bulletin within the last few days that says that Russia, as well as China and Iran, they go out of their way to describe what Russia has been doing, has been doing everything they can online to augment the crisis as represented by the U.S. Capitol attack to -- to augment the divisive claims, to hype more disinformation about the attack.

Quote: In at least one instance, a Russian proxy claimed that Antifa members disguised themselves as supporters of President Trump and were responsible for storming the capitol building.

I mean, the FBI says that Russia is basically trying to use the Capitol attack on whatever`s going on with the president`s supporters to try to make that wedge even wider and try to fan the flames as much as they can. Is that -- is that something we should just expect forever now?

MCFAUL: Well, that is most certainly what Putin will try to do in the coming months and years, most certainly. What I hope is that the Biden administration will have a much better strategy for repelling that, for deterring that, for more greater resilience here at home in containing Putin`s belligerent behavior abroad.

What`s been missing in the Trump era is no strategy. It`s been about a bunch of reactions. He says one thing. His national security adviser says another. I think this administration needs to come in -- I hate to say it, I think we have to go back to Cold War strategies and a strategy of containment of the belligerency of Putin`s Russia.

Cooperate when we must. Stand up for values. But I think it means a multidimensional strategy that will have to be in place for years and I suspect decades to come.

MADDOW: Former U.S. ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul, it`s great to see you, sir. Thanks very much for your time tonight. It`s a big week.

MCFAUL: Sure. Thanks for having me.

MADDOW: All right. We`ll be right back, actually, and I should tell you on the other side of this break, sort of a story has just broken in the "Washington Post" about what intelligence agencies are recognizing about the threat on Wednesday on the inauguration. Sort of -- I`ll have it for you right after the break. It`s just broken.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: New reporting within the last five minutes from Carol Leonnig and Matt Zapotosky at "The Washington Post." I`m just going to read you the headline here.

As you can see, I think we put on the screen, QAnon adherents discussed posing as National Guard to try to infiltrate inauguration, according to FBI intelligence briefing.

Here`s the lead of what Carol Leonnig and Matt Zapotosky are reporting. The FBI privately warned law enforcement agencies today that far-right extremists have discussed posing as National Guard members in D.C. and others have reviewed maps of vulnerable spots in the city. Signs of potential effort to disrupt Wednesday`s inauguration.

The intelligence report obtained by the "Washington Post" is a summary of threats that the FBI identified today. It warns that both lone wolves and adherence of the QAnon extremist ideologies, some of who joined in the siege on Capitol on January 6th have indicated they plan to come to Washington for the inauguration. The FBI said it`s also observed people downloading and sharing maps of sensitive locations in Washington and discussing how these facilities could be used to interfere in security during the inauguration.

QAnon members have discussed posing as National Guard soldiers, believing it would be easy for them to infiltrate secure areas, according to the document, which adds that members have been crowd sourcing images to surveil the security perimeter. One defense official speaking on the condition of anonymity acknowledged that National Guard members have been warned to watch for anyone in uniform who looks like they are out of place.

The FBI has also observed an increase in surveillance of law enforcement security preparations for the inauguration, National Guard soldiers, according to the report, have reported seeing several individuals photographing and recording their work. Some of those videos have been uploaded online. The intelligence briefing also noted reports of unknown individuals accessing camera footage of secured areas where public access to prohibited.

Again, that news just breaking tonight in the "Washington Post." about new security warnings from the FBI. Not good.

All right. That is going to do it for us for now. I`ll see you again tomorrow night.

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

Lawrence, I`m sorry I took up too much time with this breaking news from "The Post."

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END