Show: THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER Date: October 17, 2017 Guest: Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Joyce Vance, Jill Abramson
CHUCK TODD, MSNBC HOST, "MTP DAILY": What about how big our rats are? Individually, rat for rat. Trust me, I think we think we have the fattest rats here in Washington. Take that Bay Area. Maybe after President Trump finishes draining the swamp, though, he can drive out these rats.
That`s all for tonight. We`ll be back tomorrow with more "MTP Daily." THE BEAT with Ari Melber starts right now. Mr. Melber, we are already for a little oligarching, sir. We`ve got a big special interview you`ve got coming up. I can`t wait.
ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST, THE BEAT: Thank you. I`m very excited about the interview and I will tell you someone who lives in Brooklyn. We always call them mice when we see them indoors. We call the mice, Chuck.
TODD: Of course, you do. Well, we call them by their real name. Anyway.
MELBER: Thank you, sir.
Breaking tonight, a victory for Obamacare if you believe it. Lawmakers reaching this bipartisan agreement today to fund Obamacare. This is a response to Trump`s pledge to defund the law just last week, which he then seemed to recant late today.
Now, Obamacare is seven years old. Trumpcare may have lasted only one day. That is going to be our top story in a moment.
Also, breaking tonight, a federal court blocking Trump`s new revised travel ban. The administration, as you may remember, had won this partial victory before. That`s over. Tonight, this ban once again in peril.
Later tonight, what Chuck just mentioned, our special report on a Putin rival speaking out. My exclusive interview with a man who risked everything, including his own life, to take on Vladimir Putin. And after the interview, Rachel Maddow is here live to break it all down.
Plus, after interviewing Reince Priebus, Bob Mueller`s team now going through its list. It`s reached another former top Trump aide, Sean Spicer, this time, according to "POLITICO`s" reporting.
And we have a report on how America`s war hero, John McCain, is calling out Donald Trump directly. The senator making a plea that goes way beyond the usual political sniping, a plea for America to rebut the core of Trumpism.
Plus, also on tonight`s show, a story the Trump administration may not want you to see. They`re pulling their drug czar over that swap scandal all because of the news. Forget fake news, folks. This is fact news. And facts apparently still matter.
So, we have a lot of important stories tonight, but we are beginning with the big breaking news.
Obamacare is back. The GOP Senator Lamar Alexander and Democratic Senator Patty Murray reaching this brand-new deal to fund care for poor families. That was what Trump again cutting off last week. A direct rebuttal to Trump saying this today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD J. TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Obamacare is a disaster. It`s virtually dead. As far as I`m concerned, it really is dead. And I predicted that a long time ago. It`s a concept that doesn`t work.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Then four minutes after that statement was made, a bipartisan deal announced, leading a reporter to ask about it. And, suddenly, Donald Trump switched gears welcoming the solution to a funding shortage that he partially caused.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Apparently, Lamar Alexander has said he`s made a deal with SEN. Patty Murray to stabilize Obamacare. Has the White House been involved in those negotiations and will you support that deal?
TRUMP: Yes, we have been involved. And this is a short-term deal. The solution will be for about a year or two years. And it`ll get us over this intermediate hump. They are indeed working, but it is a short-term solution, so that we don`t have this very dangerous little period - including dangerous period for insurance companies, by the way. They are working together. And I know very much what they`re doing, OK?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: OK. A sudden turn. But if that`s where it ends, even if messy, some would like to give credit to President Trump for at least landing on a bipartisan funding plan for healthcare.
But at this hour, we can report that is not where he landed. White House staff right now walking back the president`s comments at this very hour, asserting there isn`t a deal as far as they`re concerned, negotiations ongoing.
And we have a new on-the-record statement from White House legislative director Marc Short telling NBC`s Hallie Jackson, Trump is "applauding" the bipartisan deal, but also "absolutely not endorsing" all of it.
The blow here to Trump`s authority has become rather typical. In biological terms, Trump`s legislative promises have a half-life of about five minutes. They decay before he`s even finished a typical press conference.
But let`s put the president`s reputation aside. What about the blow to Americans wondering if their healthcare will continue. Last week, the answer was no. Last month, the answer was yes because Trump could not get the Senate to repeal Obamacare.
Then it was no when he was using executive power to begin defunding it. Today, the answer is - well, the best I can tell you is TBD.
I`m joined now by that reporter NBC`s Hallie Jackson working the White House beat, Neera Tanden, a former senior advisor to President Obama who helped to draft Obamacare, and Ana Marie Cox who writes at "The New York Times Magazine" and also hosts a podcast with "Friends Like These."
I`m happy the three of you are friends of THE BEAT at least for the next few minutes.
Neera, walk us through why this matters and then Hallie is going to give us the latest reporting.
NEERA TANDEN, PRESIDENT, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: Well, this deal is really critical. It undoes a fair amount of the damage that President Trump has done so far to the Affordable Care Act. And really, not to the Affordable Care Act, but damage he`s done to people`s health insurance.
So, it enforces the cost-sharing reductions which will help improve affordability for people. All the numbers of people losing care will be ameliorated by what is proposed here, the 20 to 25 percent reduction in premium costs for people.
It also establishes real spending for outreach, another step that the president wasn`t willing to take. He wasn`t funding outreach. So, this really does try to undo the damage that Trump has done himself.
I think it`s an oddity when the president endorses something and then his staff unendorses it. Usually, you can count on the president to speak for the White House. In this White House, obviously, we have some concerns.
But I think that a lot of Republican senators, who after what President Trump did on Friday, wanted a bipartisan deal to solve the problem he`s created. And I think that`s creating a lot of impetus for House Freedom Caucus members down-promising (ph) as well.
HALLIE JACKSON, NBC CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: So, Ari, there`s a couple of things here to unpack, right? Because I will tell you that, sitting out in the Rose Garden, when the president made those comments about specifically the Alexander-Murray deal, not Graham-Cassidy, not block grant, he seemed to be signaling this openness to it that he was supporting it.
Because he talked about how this was a short-term deal. It would only be in place for a little bit. It was a little bit head-scratching to some of the reporters sitting out there, though, because, essentially, it puts back in place what the president just last week canceled.
So, you think, ha, well, that`s a little bit different, that`s a little bit unusual, let`s go figure out what this means. So, I`m printing out the transcript of exactly what the president said, looking at it word by word, taking into officials here in the White House and saying, hey, explain this to me, what do you mean by this.
What I got back was essentially that, while the president - as you mentioned, Marc Short told me, while he is open, he is certainly applauding this bipartisan effort, he is absolutely not endorsing all of it.
Specifically, what is a sticking point are these waivers to allow states to waive out of some of these requirements called 1332s. That is something the White House believes it can already do. It doesn`t need Congress to be able to get a permission to do. And so, that seems to be a potential sticking point.
But the bottom line, that we are even talking about sticking points, Ari, is an indication that perhaps the White House writ large is not backing this Alexander-Murray compromise.
You`d have the president heading to Heritage in like 90 minutes from now to give a speech on tax reform, but Heritage has come not a fan of this deal either.
And when I posed the question to one official, hey, isn`t that a little bit awkward that he`s going to this place that doesn`t back the deal that he seemed to have just endorsed. The response is, well, if he had endorsed it, maybe it would have been awkward, but it`s clear that the president didn`t give a full-throated backing of that.
MELBER: Let me go to Ana on that because it raises the question of, depending on the person, whether it`s possible that Donald Trump being at a very conservative venue for his next speech could again change the words he offers?
ANA MARIE COX, WRITER, "THE NEW YORK TIMES MAGAZINE": Oh, undoubtedly. I think he will. He always plays to his audience. I was, like many people, stunned at the Rose Garden statement that he made.
Because this was something - the CSR payments are something that he described as payoffs just a few days ago. He was very proud of himself for supposedly interrupting some kind of corrupt business, as he described it.
And I know Trump doesn`t understand policy, but I really thought he would understand corrupt payoffs. I thought that that would be an area that he would be pretty sure what was going on. And then, all of a sudden, he was in favor of them, which, again, maybe not that surprising.
He`s generously not well versed in the details of most things. So, that allows him to freelance quite a bit. And I expect him to freelance even more tonight. I can never tell if what he is doing is giving his aids constant heart attacks or just lulling them into some false sense of security every once in a while when he does stay on script.
MELBER: This is what I want to go to Neera on. This is what Dreamers and the Iran deal and these Obamacare funds all have in common, which is they are things under executive control where the president has announced one thing, then asked Congress to clean up or reverse the thing he announced.
And then, he says, yes, as Hallie was just reported, maybe I`ll cheer it, I`ll work with you on it. Work with you on what? You just did this last week. Neera.
TANDEN: Yes. It is odd that he created the impetus for actually passing this bill with Republicans. I mean, Lamar Alexander and Patty Murray have been working on this for months. And what really happened here is that Republicans wanted a deal after what he did Friday.
Now, it`s not just that he`s made the statement today. He did call SEN. Alexander over the weekend and say he was supportive of the bipartisan effort and we heard comments like that in the past, when we`ve heard that he`s made calls to Lamar Alexander to encourage a bipartisan solution.
I guess the issue here for Republicans is really, just to bottom line it, if they don`t take this bipartisan deal, a million people will lose healthcare over the next year, premiums will skyrocket and it will be their fault.
So, this bipartisan deal isn`t a solution. I mean, it`s a solution for the American people, but it`s also a solution for the Republican Party because Donald Trump put a gun to their head and now they are trying to basically solve the problem. And it`s like really up to them if they want to do that or not. But I imagine they do.
MELBER: The other breaking uses on Russia. Hallie Jackson, you`re speaking from a room where Sean Spicer used to brief everyone. Reporting coming in tonight, fresh in our newsroom, that he`s on the next person on the list who spoke to Mueller`s team.
We`re seeing the former officials like Reince and Spicer talking in an investigative timeline we would expect. That means they are moving up the line. Next, we`re going to see current officials. What do you know, Hallie?
JACKSON: So, I would just tell you that NBC News has not confirmed that "POLITICO" reporting that you`re talking about regarding Sean Spicer. We`ve reached out to both the former press secretary as well as his attorney to get any more information on this.
But it does come on the heels, Ari, as you sort of know that there shorthanded, Reince Priebus, the former chief of staff, has just been in for his interview. His lawyer conformed to me at the end of last week, took a long time. These things aren`t quick.
You`re a lawyer. You know how these go. It took the better part of a day. It is an indication. And when you talk to folks who are familiar with this investigation and with the special counsel`s inquiry, they will say it is a sign that the pace seems to be moving forward now. This is what you would expect, the special counsel to be doing these interviews.
Of course, what`s next are some of the staffers currently inside the White House. To our knowledge so far, only one has been interviewed by the special counsel, but we`re keeping an eye on who else goes next. We expect that in the coming weeks.
MELBER: And you`re right, Hallie. Those interviews with investigators can take a long time. It`s because of what lawyers call the James Brown rule, talking loud, saying nothing. And when you have witnesses like that, it could take hours.
Hallie Jackson, Neera Tanden and Ana Marie Cox, thank you very much. We have more on Spicer later.
In this show, we are going to break down as well the withering criticism from John McCain and Joe Biden on Trump`s vision of America.
And later, as mentioned, my exclusive interview with an exiled Russian oligarch who spent 10 years in Putin`s jails, speaking out now for the first time since Trump took office.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKHAIL KHODORKOVSKY, EXILED RUSSIAN OLIGARCH AND PUTIN RIVAL: Putin is a strong tactician. You know that. And he`s more experienced than Trump. If they were to faceoff, I wouldn`t bet on Trump.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: He does appear to make some news with new revelations about the Russians who met with Jared Kushner.
Also, I`m going to speak with a very special guest about all of it. Rachel Maddow is here later today.
I`m Ari Melber and you`re watching THE BEAT on MSNBC.
MELBER: Another big story. President Trump today driving further into an ugly controversy of his own making, taking heat after questioning whether President Obama called the families of fallen troops.
Now, Trump invoking Chief of Staff Gen. John Kelly who served both administrations and whose son was killed in Afghanistan, invoking him for politics.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I think I`ve called every family of somebody that`s died. And it`s the hardest call to make. And I said it very loud and clear yesterday, the hardest thing for me to do is do that.
Now, as far as other representatives, I don`t know. I mean, you could ask Gen. Kelly. Did he get a call from Obama? You could ask other people. I don`t know what Obama`s policy was.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Kelly did attend a White House breakfast with the Obamas for Gold Star families. But the broader point isn`t comparing presidential responses here, but that Trump took the focus off these fallen soldiers to stoke a false comparison with another politician.
All of this against the backdrop of John McCain`s powerful address last night.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: To fear the world we have organized and led the three quarters of a century, to abandon the ideals we have advanced around the globe, to refuse the obligations of international leadership and our duty to remain the last best hope of Earth for the sake of some half- baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems -
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: He didn`t mention Trump, but the president must have recognized himself for selling spurious nationalism. And then McCain said Trump`s ideology belongs in history`s garbage can.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MCCAIN: - is as unpatriotic as an attachment to any other tired dogma of the past that Americans consigned to the ash heap of history.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: That is a reference to Ronald Reagan predicting the fall of the Soviet Union.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RONALD RAEGAN, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What I`m describing now is a plan and a hope for the long term. The march of freedom and democracy which will leave Marxism and Leninism on the ash heap of history.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Then McCain said America is great because of its ideals, not ethnicity.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MCCAIN: We live in a land made of ideals, not blood and soil.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: That is a reference to the Nazi chant that the white nationalists were using in Charlottesville.
A powerful call for patriotism. And with me now to discuss is Allison Jaslow, who is executive director for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, and professor Leah Wright Rigueur of the Harvard Kennedy School.
Allison, quite a contrast. Your thoughts.
ALLISON JASLOW, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR FOR IRAQ AND AFGHANISTAN VETERANS OF AMERICA: I think the reality is that most Americans can`t even relate to the sacrifice that families of the fallen have not only made themselves, and instead of actually acknowledging and recognizing troops who we`ve recently lost in a surprise in Africa, we went too quickly to politics.
And I think that that`s just honestly a shame.
MELBER: Leah, you look at this, it was an address from John McCain last night at a time that we all know is difficult for him and his family as he battles for his life. And it was really rooted in history and an alternative vision of America.
LEAH WRIGHT RIGUEUR, ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF PUBLIC POLICY AT THE HARVARD KENNEDY SCHOOL OF GOVERNMENT: Absolutely. So, I`ve got to ask you, Ari, where does it lie? I think this is what was so powerful about the speech last night, which is that called out all the things that the nation has been kind of wrestling over, been fighting over, that have been in the headlines that the president has equivocated over.
And then, right, said that this is not the kind of patriotism that I want to be associated with. It belongs in the ash bin of history.
I think too - though it`s really powerful in this moment too is that it put accountability back on Donald Trump. And so, one of the things that we saw over and over again is that Trump is very willing to use patriotism as a kind of political football.
It`s something to be wielded. It`s something to use as a line of attack or a tool of attack. And here comes John McCain, who has been under attack from Donald Trump, saying, no, that`s not the brand of patriotism that I want to buy or what America should represent at this moment in time.
MELBER: And we`re seeing a special disgust, I think, displayed, Allison, by other people who`ve dealt with one of the most torturous parts of being a leader in government, looking at the families of the people who made the ultimate sacrifice.
This was Attorney General Holder who, of course, overseas law enforcement and agents who also lose their lives. And he tweeted, very unusual language from him, I know him a little bit. He said, "stop the damn lying. You`re the president. I went to Dover Air Force Base with 44." Barack Obama. I saw him comfort the families of both the fallen military and the DEA."
JASLOW: I think she hit the nail on the head there, with the fact that veterans, folks like myself, who`ve been to Iraq twice, and especially families of the fallen, our Gold Star families among us, should not be used as political shields.
And it`s happening all too often these days. And what we really need to do is slow ourselves down and really think about the sacrifice. Look at the images there on your screen, Ari. We need to spend more time focusing on that.
And the support that the presidents give our families that are fallen, it comes in all different types. And what we really need to do is support organizations like the Tragedy Assistance Partnership for families - excuse me, TAPS, and make sure that those organizations, nonpolitical organizations, take the politics out of this, get the support and the families get the support that they need.
Allison Jaslow, thank you for your service. Thank you for talking to us. Professor Leah Wright Rigueur, thank you both.
MELBER: Still ahead, as promised, THE BEAT exclusive with a Russian oligarch jailed and then exiled for criticizing Vladimir Putin.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: What would happen if you went back to Russia right now?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: We`ll show you his answer tonight. It`s his first TV interview since Trump took office, revealing what he knows about Russian election meddling. I`ll break it down with my special guest Rachel Maddow.
MELBER: In the Russia probe, Bob Mueller is investigating two periods of time. What happened during the campaign and what happened after.
The campaign part is all the buzzwords you hear - collusion, hacking, targeting. What happened after implicates a whole different set of criminal laws because, after November, government power is involved. Were there bribes for government action or deals to end sanctions.
Bob Mueller is zeroing in on Trump staffers` meetings with Russians after November. Like Jared Kushner`s December meeting with the head of the Kremlin bank, Sergey Gorkov.
The bank says it met Kushner for a business meeting because of his role as head of his family`s real estate company. Kushner`s team denies that, saying it was a diplomatic meeting.
Now, the FBI is investigating whether Russians suggested to Kushner that relaxing economic sanctions would allow Russian banks to offer financing to people with ties to Trump. That`s according to "Reuters".
Now, here`s the key. Sergey Gorkov doesn`t run just any bank. Gorkov is a Putin appointee, trained in Russian spying. US authorities say his bank is still in that game, acting as a cover for Russian spies in New York.
Former prosecutor Preet Bharara indicted one of Gorkov`s employees for spying. In 2015, Bharara announcing that employee pled guilty to spying in the US under cover of being a legitimate banker.
The more you know about Gorkov, the more you see he uses the tools of finance and espionage on behalf of Putin.
So, what was Gorkov`s agenda when he met with Kushner? Who was calling the shots? How can Americans learn more about Putin`s spy-trained banker?
One man who knows is Gorkov`s former boss, Mikhail Khodorkovsky. He was the richest man in Russia and employed Gorkov as head of HR in Russia`s largest oil company. But Khodorkovsky crossed Putin and wound up in a Russian prison. He is now exiled in Zurich.
So, Khodorkovsky is not the easiest person to interview about his old employee Gorkov or how Putin`s allies approach the Trump administration. In fact, Khodorkovsky hasn`t done an American TV interview since Trump took office.
Until now. He is my exclusive guest tonight. Our interview is next. And then Rachel Maddow joins me on THE BEAT to report on what it all means.
ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Now, we turn to our special report tonight, my exclusive interview with an exiled Putin rival followed by a discussion with MSNBC`s Rachel Maddow. Russian oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky was the richest man in Russia until he crossed Vladimir Putin and lost nearly everything. Russian journalist Masha Gessen says Khodorkovsky became the most trusted figure in Russia, and "Putin`s biggest liability." This is his first American T.V. interview since Trump took office.
MIKHAIL KHODORKOVSKY, RUSSIAN OLIGARCH (through translator): Could I have been murdered? Certainly. I was knifed in the face while sleeping. Was I afraid of it?
MELBER: Mikhail Khodorkovsky spent 10 years in prison after crossing Vladimir Putin. Once the richest man in Russia, he made a fateful decision to criticize Putin`s corruption at a 2003 meeting to Putin`s face.
KHODORKOVSKY (through translator): This is a man with a very particular view of life, a view typical of special services operatives or gangsters. If you show willingness to negotiate, it means you`re weak and must be squashed.
MELBER: Khodorkovsky did not seem weak. The well-connected oligarch ran Russia`s largest oil company before Putin seized it and had an auctioneer gavel a sham sale to the Kremlin, and prosecuting him, displaying Khodorkovsky in a steel cage during one trial and in a plexiglass cube in another trial. The verdict was international news.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Khodorkovsky stunned to hear the harsh sentence.
MELBER: After 10 years in prison, he was freed and exiled.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tonight the host nation of Russia is continuing a well- timed release of high profile prisoners.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mikhail Khodorkovsky decided that he would put his money to work for what he wanted for his country.
MELBER: Now he`s speaking out and just sat down in his first American T.V. interview since Trump took office.
KHODORKOVSKY (through translator): There was a very small group in the Kremlin that has usurped power by taking the post of the president. Nobody elected this group. It exists above the Russian Law.
MELBER: He says that small group meddled in 2016.
KHODORKOVSKY (through translator): I am almost convinced that Putin`s people have tried to influence the U.S. election in some way.
MELBER: On the scale of zero to 10, what number, in your view, do you give the theory that Putin did seek to collaborate and collude with the Trump campaign?
KHODORKOVSKY (through translator): I would say nine out of 10 that he personally and his inner circle attempted to cooperate. Whether or not that proposal was accepted, I would let the people responsible for investigating the matter answer that question.
MELBER: Bob Mueller may answer that question. He`s investigating Russians offering Trump aides information to incriminate Hillary Clinton from the prosecutor of Russia, an apparent reference to Yuri Chaika.
KHODORKOVSKY (through translator): I wouldn`t find it at all unusual if Mr. Chaika whom the people of Russia have accused of corruption used an attorney he knew to propose some kind of deal to future influential persons in America because he would want to make himself useful to Vladimir Putin. Were he to decide to take such a step, he would get permission from Vladimir Putin beforehand.
MELBER: Khodorkovsky worked with other Putin allies also implicated in the Russia investigation. His former employee Sergey Gorkov runs a Kremlin bank and met with Jared Kushner in December.
KHODORKOVSKY (through translator): When he worked for me, Gorkov was a fine employee who dealt with H.R. I have no doubt that he wouldn`t do anything on his own behalf. He is a man who carries out orders.
MELBER: Now, for the first time Khodorkovsky says he thinks those orders came from Putin`s top bankers.
KHODORKOVSKY (through translator): If there were any instructors, they came from the level of question. The Chairman of the Board of VTB bank or from the level of Mr. Graph which isn`t nearly as likely despite the two of them being close.
MELBER: One of those Putin bankers organized a 2013 dinner at Moscow Nobu for Donald Trump, along with Aras Agalarov, the same Trump associate named in the Trump Tower e-mails.
MELBER: How do you interpret that the Russian bank says this was for business and the Trump administration and the U.S. government say it was for government?
KHODORKOVSKY (through translator): It`s difficult for me to interpret such a contradiction. However, it`s very possible that what your administration regards as a governmental issue, Russian representatives view as purely business. Although in my experience, it`s typically the opposite.
MELBER: The FBI is investigating if that Kushner meeting was purely business and if Kremlin money was offered to influence relations with the Trump administration.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I hope that we do have good relations with Russia.
MELBER: Khodorkovsky says Putin is an effective opponent.
KHODORKOVSKY (through translator): Putin is a strong tactician, no doubt, and he`s more experienced than Trump. If they were to face off, I wouldn`t bet on Trump.
MELBER: But the U.S. has other advantages.
KHODORKOVSKY (through translator): America has something Putin doesn`t. Putin has a small criminal network behind him. A U.S. President has a huge democratic apparatus behind him.
MELBER: And while he knows the danger of crossing Putin, Khodorkovsky says he will continue his opposition.
KHODORKOVSKY (through translator): I could make my life safer by not getting involved in the sociopolitical life of my country, but then it wouldn`t be my life. I am involved and I accept the risks that come with it.
MELBER: What would happen if you went back to Russia right now?
KHODORKOVSKY (through translator): If I crossed the Russian border, I would be arrested and sentenced to life in prison.
MELBER: Prison shaped Khodorkovsky`s outlook and his rationale for risking everything.
Did you ever think you might die in prison?
KHODORKOVSKY (through translator): We have a joke in our country. First, a person is stripped of all pleasures and then asked, are you willing to give up your life. So the person responds, of course, what do I want with this life? The point is, life seems worth living far less inside a Russian prison than outside of it.
MELBER: With Russian jokes are we supposed to laugh or cry?
KHODORKOVSKY (through translator): With nearly all Russian jokes, you laugh through the tears.
MELBER: Joining me now is Rachel Maddow from "THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW." Thank you for being here. What do you think we`re learning from Khodorkovsky?
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: First of all, congratulations on getting this interview.
MELBER: Thank you.
MADDOW: I have been -- obviously the Khodorkovsky story, A you can pronounce his name better than I can but B, I followed this story for a long time because the idea of Putin`s grip on Russia is at its heart not just a sort of intrigue and drama story in terms of Putin`s influence in our own election, it`s also a tragedy in terms of the Russian people. I mean, talk about -- I mean, Russia is a gigantic country. It has immense natural resources. It has a beautiful culture that has contributed so much to the world despite all of the political difficulties and the, you know, the mass scale politically designed disasters of the modern history of Russia, right, from the czars on down, right?
And then you get somebody like Khodorkovsky who doesn`t get ahead because he killed and stole and connived his way there. I mean, yes, Russian business after the fall of the Soviet Union is definitely a dark, dirty and politicized thing, but Khodorkovsky is sort of a meritocratic success story. He builds this oil company. He ought to be succeeding. He ought to be a titan in his country. He`s the richest man in that country, and Putin just snips him, just cuts him off. And I`m glad you played that historical footage in terms of him being in the -- in the cage in the courtroom and in the Plexiglas cube. It`s a -- it`s a tragedy and I have been very curious as to what he thinks about this new adventurism of Putin in terms of this influence that he`s exerting in our own election. So first of all, I just think it`s important full stop.
Second of all, I do think he made some news in what he told you about Sergey Gorkov. So one of the Trump administration, Trump transition, Trump campaign Russian government contacts that was not disclosed until independent investigators found out about it was this meeting with Gorkov. For Khodorkovsky, what did he tell you? He said I have no doubt he wouldn`t do anything on his own behalf, he is a man who carries out orders. That`s important news about that meeting, and there`s still been no explanation as to what happened there and why Jared Kushner was meeting with him during the transition.
MELBER: Right. And there`s a total contradiction between them. So either the Russian bank is telling the truth or the Trump administration is telling the truth. But it was either a diplomatic meeting or a business meeting. So more news on this we have from VTB Bank. Their response, they say these allegations from Khodorkovsky in this new interview are, "completely false, unfounded and with no substance. Mr. Kostin -- that`s one of the Russian banker`s side to Putin -- is not personally acquainted with Mr. Kushner, he`s never had discussion of any other kind or communication with Mr. Gorkov regarding a possible meeting with Mr. Kushner and doesn`t understand the point such a meeting could have had." Of course, many of these banks have been working for years. The point of these meetings is to at least lift sanctions. They`re publicly looking for that.
MADDOW: Vladimir Putin personally appointed Sergey Gorkov to the job he was in when he met with Jared Kushner. Sergey Gorkov went to the KGB school, like his grand school was their version -- like it was FSB school by then, but it was KGB school. And this powerful testimony that you just got from the guy who previously employed him when Russia used to be allowed to have private oil companies before Putin took that for himself and his cronies too. Gorkov meeting with Kushner is not just a red flag, it is a blaring red siren. And the fact that it`s not just contradictory explanations from the White House and the Russian side of this, there has been no plausible White House explanation for what Jared Kushner was doing in that meeting.
Was it related to Kushner family business properties? Was related to the Trump transition? Was it related to the Magnitsky Act? Was it related to sanctions? Was it related to the ongoing undisclosed conversations that Flynn was having with the Russians at the same time? We`ve had no explanation about whatsoever. Jared Kushner M.O. in terms of dealing with the Russia investigation is to appear to be completely transparent and cooperative. His security clearance application was a complete disaster in terms of disclosing his foreign contacts. His answers about whether or not anybody from the Trump campaign or his transition had been in contact with Russian officials is a complete disaster in terms of what we later learned about those contacts that he didn`t disclose. But this Gorkov meeting in particular, what was it about? The White House should have to say what it`s about if Jared Kushner is going to continue to work at the White House.
MELBER: And one of the other things that Khodorkovsky talked to me about was how Vladimir Putin controls the stage manages so much in Russia and these banks as we`ve -- as we`ve covered are an arm of the state in a sense. Here he was talking about Putin in the 2018 forthcoming election which as you covered on your show has been rife with attacks on opponents just like Khodorkovsky. Take a look at this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Can Putin lose the next Presidential election next year?
KHODORKOVSKY (through translator): If there was to be an election in 2018 by some miracle, it is highly likely that Putin would lose. Instead, in 2018 we`re going to see a show called presidential election. It cannot be won because it is a show. The show will go exactly as the producer has planned.
MELBER: We know something about that. It`s scripted television is what they call it here, reality shows.
KHODORKOVSKY (through translator): And if something unexpected happens, you can always rerecord.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: And that`s the story he lived.
MADDOW: Yes. And, you know, Khodorkovsky, to his credit, you know, after going through this ordeal, after having -- being brought low from being the richest man in Russia running the -- running the biggest oil company in Russia, being jailed, being humiliated, living through a decade in prison and then being exiled, when he got out, what he decide today do was stay involved in Russian life, stay involved in trying to promote civic institutions and send political opposition parties in Russia which as he talked to you about is an incredibly dangerous thing for him to have done. But he`s done it and ends up being an important external force in terms of Russian civic life. So I mean, the Alexei Navalny who`s the man who`s going to run against Putin in the Presidential election is itself dramatic and fascinating and you know, he`s such a charismatic figure in the same way that Khodorkovsky is.
You can see his wit even with the translation there in his -- in his interview with you but it`s -- the difference in Russia, the difference with Putin is that what`s constantly looming over every point of conflict with Putin, anybody who`s challenging, any of whom -- anybody who`s rising to the point of being interesting in terms of opposing Putin, what constantly looms over that is your expectation that they will end up dead. And you know, that`s not America, that`s not how we do things. And to be reminded in the person of Khodorkovsky or in Navalny right now, or any of these other people, Boris Nemtsov, any other people who have been killed, Anna Politkovskaya, to be reminded about what it means to take Putin`s approach to world politics, for me it makes it very serious. I`m interested in the drama and the intrigue and everything. It makes it very serious that Putin got this far into our own politics. It is a -- it is not just a threat to us, it`s a mortal threat to American politics to bring somebody this far into it who frequently and without any consequence kills his opponents.
MELBER: Rachel Maddow, thank you for being here. I really appreciate it.
MADDOW: Congratulations on the scoop, man. I`m super jealous. Well done.
MELBER: Thank you so much. And we will all be watching Rachel at 9:00 p.m. tonight of course right here on MSNBC. If you have a question, comment about this interview, you could join us on Facebook and leave your questions. I`m going to answer some of them, about this reporting. Tomorrow, ahead, the other breaking Russia news. Tonight, Bob Mueller, his team interviewing Sean Spicer straight ahead.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Anybody who`s challenging, any of whom -- anybody who`s rising to the point of being interesting in terms of opposing Putin, what constantly looms over that is your expectation that they will end up dead. And you know, that`s not America, that`s not how we do things. And to be reminded in the person of Khodorkovsky or in Navalny right now, or any of these other people, Boris Nemtsov, any other people who have been killed, Anna Politkovskaya, to be reminded about what it means to take Putin`s approach to world politics, for me it makes it very serious. I`m interested in the drama and the intrigue and everything. It makes it very serious that Putin got this far into our own politics. It is a -- it is not just a threat to us, it`s a mortal threat to American politics.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: That was Rachel Maddow moments ago speaking with me. I`m joined now by Joyce Vance, a former Federal Prosecutor under President Obama and Jill Abramson who teaches at Harvard and is a former Executive Editor for the New York Times. Joyce Vance, I wonder your thoughts on some of what I was just digesting with Rachel, my discussion with his exiled Putin critic, Mikhail Khodorkovsky talking about some of the things that Bob Mueller is investigating including the role these Russian bankers and your views as well on the breaking news that Sean Spicer added the list of people that Mueller`s team is speaking to.
JOYCE VANCE, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: It was a pretty amazing interview, Ari. and we`ve heard so many people from the Trump campaign and now the administration with high-level Russian contacts, whether it`s Kushner or Sessions, Manafort, Page, Trump Jr. and all along the White House and the President himself saying nothing to look at here, there`s nothing to this Trump-Russia investigation. But we have this high volume of in many cases undisclosed contact and now we have an insider, someone who knows Putin, who you`ve spoken with at length and he`s saying nine out of 10 that Putin was personally involved in this. And it really brings everything that we know about the high level of Russian contact into focus in what you and Rachel discussed as a very ominous way for our democracy.
MELBER: Right. And it is relatively rare to get a sort of real-time current take from someone who knows how to oligarchs connect with Putin`s financial network because most of them who are in good graces aren`t speaking openly and candidly this way. Jill, the reporting you know, that we looked at in researching this is the New York Times, which you used to edit. It is Vanity Fair and the New Yorkers which have followed these dissidents out there for years. I want to play a one other new part of interview that we haven`t aired yet which is the dance that Khodorkovsky says Putin is doing having gotten the perception that he got his guy in Trump in the U.S. but still, as you well know who have overseen the reporting for years, still wanting America as a geopolitical foe. Take a look.
KHODORKOVSKY (through translator): As for Putin, he needs America as his enemy. And now he has the difficult task of constantly explaining how, despite Trump being our man in the White House, America is still an enemy. I should say that the Kremlin propaganda has been up to the task but it`s been tough going.
MELBER: Jill, walk us through your views and that propaganda machine which I think you know well.
JILL ABRAMSON, FORMER EXECUTIVE EDITOR, THE NEW YORK TIMES: I do indeed. And you know, Putin is among the most artful users of propaganda, and you know was raised to new art form. But, you know, like Trump, he creates his own reality. It doesn`t need necessarily to comport with the facts. And we see how our own President does that on a daily basis. And though the real news media tries its best to hold his feet to the fire, you know, what he says bears so literal relationship to the truth that it almost seems like something out of the Soviet old playbook that Putin still seems to be using.
MELBER: And, Joyce, one of the other points the oligarch made is that if you understand how the prosecutor in Russia works, Yuri Chaika, it is not with the deference that people have in the United States to say the position you held or how it works in a functions democracy. He says this prosecutor who has a history of public use of conformant who is explicitly cited in the Trump Tower e-mails offering dirt on Clinton is essentially an arm of the -- of that operation and thus his view is that the citing of him specifically by name along with other Trump associates who are publicly linked to business with Trump is relatively incriminating for the theory of the case that there was direct meetings about collusion which is something Mueller hasn`t answered yet but investigating. Joyce?
VANCE: Well, I think that`s right. Prosecutors in Russia operate very differently than prosecutors in the United States. Here we`ve watched that play out recently on a public stage where prosecutors have vigorously defended their independence. We`ve heard stories about the prosecutors like Preet Bharara in New York talking about how critical that is to a functioning American democracy. And we know that often in Russian prosecutors work arm in arm with leaderships. There`s some indication that the conviction of the Russia oligarch that you spoke with in fact had overtones and fingerprints from higher folks in government and was not a result of an independent prosecutor in it and an independent judiciary. So it`s a very different playing field than what we`re used to.
MELBER: Joyce Vance fascinating and yes, I chose these words mean different things in different places. My personal apologies for Jill Abramson, we usually have more time for you. This is an unusual hour. But I`d love to have you back on THE BEAT if you`ll allow it, as they say in court. And we will be right back.
MELBER: Welcome back. We`ve had quite a busy show. We reported on some of what Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the Russian oligarch exiled by Vladimir Putin said about a lot of the things that affect the United States and the Russia investigation. There`s a broader point as well that Rachel was speaking to, which is how his story reflects the transition of Russia under Vladimir Putin.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: But Khodorkovsky is sort of a meritocratic success story. He builds this oil company. He ought to be succeeding. He ought to be a titan in his country. He`s the richest man in that country, and Putin just snips him.
For Khodorkovsky, what did he tell you? He said I have no doubt he wouldn`t do anything on his own behalf, he is a man who carries out orders. That`s important news about that meeting, and there`s still been no explanation as to what happened there and why Jared Kushner was meeting with him during the transition.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: No detailed explanation but tonight we hope some of the reporting has added to the answers and of course more questions. If you want the find out more, you can always look us up on Facebook. The article on nbcnews.com. That does it for me. I will see you back here tomorrow night at 6:00 p.m. Eastern. Thank you for watching. And I`m excited to say, don`t go anywhere because right up next is "HARDBALL" with Chris Matthews.
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: It won`t be pretty. Let`s play HARDBALL.
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