The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 12/21/2016

Guests: Jeh Johnson

Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: December 21, 2016 Guest: Jeh Johnson

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC ANCHOR: Thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. Happy Wednesday.

We have a big show tonight. The secretary of homeland security, Jeh Johnson, is here tonight for the interview. I`m very much looking forward to that.

Do you know Greta Van Susteren? Greta Van Susteren from FOX News?

She`s actually not at FOX anymore, which I think is too bad. I miss Greta. I miss her being on TV. I`m not being sarcastic. I know everybody thinks we have a terrible rivalry with FOX. I really do miss Greta.

And I ended up thinking about her in today`s news, because this was one of my all-time favorite Greta moments from when she was on FOX.


SEN. DUNCAN HUNTER (R), CALIFORNIA: I know that at least ten ISIS fighters have been caught coming across the Mexican border in Texas. There`s nobody talking about it. There`s --

GRETA SUSTEREN, TV HOST: How do you know that?

HUNTER: Because I`ve asked -- because I`ve asked the Border Patrol, Greta.

SUSTEREN: And the Border Patrol, they just let ISIS members come across the border?

HUNTER: No, they caught them at the border. Therefore, we know that ISIS is coming across the border. If they catch five or ten of them, then you know there`s going to be dozens more that did not get caught.


MADDOW: Greta is like, who the what now? Hold on. What?

How do you know that? The Border Patrol just let ten is fighters come -- what are you -- really?

The guy blowing Greta`s mind with that insanity is a sitting congressman from California who insisted to her, who insisted that the United States had picked up a whole slew of ISIS fighters on the border. They picked up a whole bunch of them. Five of them or like ten of them or maybe it was more than ten of them. It was a lot, it was a ton.

And it was weird to just have that dropped into a normal interview on FOX News on like a Tuesday or whatever, right? You would think that would be the kind of thing that we would hear about as a country. I mean, if the United States government picked up ten ISIS fighters who were invading, right, who were crossing over the border into the United States and we have these fighters in custody, there would be a lot of attention to that, right? There would be a lot of questions raised.

Like where are we holding them? Are they being held in some local facility at the border? Are they being moved to a high security U.S. prison? Are there some people in politics who want them moved off shore to Guantanamo? These are ISIS fighters. Are they going to be enemy combatants and need to be held in an offshore prison?

I mean, ten ISIS fighters picked up in the United States while entering this country, are they being interrogated? Do they get their Miranda rights? Are they being charged? Is this done in a civilian court? When is President Obama going to make a statement about this?

Ten ISIS fighters caught, picked up coming into the U.S. apprehended at the border, that would be big enough news that you wouldn`t expect it would be announced offhandedly in a parenthetical phrase by a congressman you`ve never seen before, a few segments into Greta`s show on one night. You wouldn`t think that`s how you would hear about it.

At the time when he said that on FOX and Greta had that perfect reaction to him, we asked the congressman about what it was he meant, basically following up on Greta`s point. What are you talking about? Where are you getting this from? This seems like a big deal. How come nobody else has this information?

The congressman responded by sending us a link to this hilarious misspelled blog post. He said this was his news source about all the ISIS fighters that had been captured on the U.S. border. We pushed back at the government`s office about that and said, this is just a hilarious misspelled blog post. The congressman came back to us again and said we should rest assured that the information was rock solid. The congressman`s office told us that he got this information from, quote, "a high level source," quote, "someone we have come to know and trust over the years."

Oh, really? Obviously we went back with, OK. Tell us more. This is a big deal thing you`re reporting. Can we try to corroborate your source? Will your source speak to us?

Ultimately, the congressman`s office got -- we felt maybe they were frustrated with us. I don`t know. I don`t want to speak for them. But they ended our conversation by saying that we should stop asking them these matters. The congressman would make another public statement on this thing that he had announced. He would release more information about this blockbuster news very soon and his new information, his new public statement would prove beyond any reasonable doubt that this thing really did happen on the border.

And that was the last we heard from him on it. That was more than two years ago now and we`re still waiting for his follow-up statement that would prove this incredible news that he broke on Greta`s show.

I mean, needless to say, it does not appear that California Congressman Duncan Hunter was right about this bombshell that he dropped on FOX News. People who supposedly had all these ISIS fighters in custody, they did not corroborate his story. The Department of Homeland Security released a statement at the time saying, despite him quoting his sources in the border patrol, the Department of Homeland Security released a statement that the congressman`s assertions were categorically false.

And, you know, if there were any justice in the world, people who humiliate themselves getting caught in that kind of a lie, they would have to either, you know, climb down, admit they were wrong, apologize, maybe explain why it happened or if they refuse to do that, they would disappear, right? They would poof. They would disappear from public life, right? Because of the sheer weight of the shame they had brought upon themselves with this lie that they told and they got caught for.

But it`s not a just world. It`s the real world that we are in. So, neither of those things ever happened. Duncan Hunter never apologized for this or explained any of it and he`s still a congressman. He was, in fact, one of the earliest and most enthusiastic supporters in Congress of the presidential candidacy of Donald Trump.

So, with that qualification who knows? Duncan Hunter may yet get himself an appointment to the Supreme Court. I don`t want to -- I don`t want to speak too soon.

But being caught out as kind of a kook on an important subject like this, I think it does have consequences even if you have friends in powerful places. I mean, Duncan Hunter is basically known now as this kind of half cocked California congressman who famously vaped in a congressional hearing. He is still indelibly the guy who made up totally wild nonsense about ISIS on TV to the point where one FOX News host was like, dude, wait, what?

And now, in addition to that, Duncan Hunter has an ethics thing. He apparently used campaign donations to put up a new garage door on his house and to pay his utility bills and to pay his dentist and to pay a surf shop and to buy groceries and clothes and to pay private school tuition for his kids and to take family trip to Italy and to Hawaii. He even used campaign donations to pay the bill at a nail salon.

But that all led to ethics complaints against him and those ethics complaints led to him paying back tens of thousands of dollars to his campaign. These were campaign donations he had used for personal family expenses. Had to pay back tens of thousands.

And those repayments have also proven awkward for him because apparently, the way he was able to very recently pay back his campaign $49,000 for money that he spent on himself and his family instead of his campaign, apparently, the way he was able to make that big recent repayment to his campaign was that he borrowed that much money off a family friend who is a convicted murderer. And so, now, the House Ethics Committee has opened a new inquiry into our old friend, Congressman Hunter.

So he`s like, you know, sitting member of Congress. But he`s kind of like out on the edge, right? Not a towering figure in our public discourse. This is a guy who inherited his safe congressional seat from his dad. He has the same name as his dad, so he almost got to run as an incumbent if you didn`t notice the junior.

He is in trouble or the kind of embarrassing kind now. He has the reputation of being a little kooky. And it turns, we should have seen that coming, right, when the great Greta Van Susteren was like, doo-wop over his fantasy over the border. We probably should have seen that coming.


HUNTER: I know that at least ten ISIS fighters have been caught coming across the Mexican border and Texas. There`s nobody talk about it.

VAN SUSTEREN: How do you know that?


MADDOW: How do you know that? How do you know that?

We now know what he was saying there is nuts. Now, here`s the thing in tonight`s news. What he is, is a particular variety of nut in the news that is about to get way, way, way, way, way more powerful, unchecked power.

And that story is next. Stay with us.



RET. LT. GEN. MICHAEL FLYNN: One of the things that I would tell you is that I know from my friends in the Border Patrol, in CVP, that are countries, so there`s radical Islamist countries, state-sponsored, that are cutting deals with Mexican drug cartels for some of what they call the lanes of entry into our country. And I have seen, I have personally seen the photos of the signage -- OK, the signage along those paths that are in Arabic. They basically have a -- they`re like way points along that path as you come in.

Primarily, in this case, the one that I saw was in Texas. And it`s literally, it`s like signs that they say in Arabic, you know, this way, move to this point. I mean, it`s unbelievable.


MADDOW: Retired General Michael Flynn is the national security adviser for the president-elect. That was him claiming in August in an interview that he has personally seen signs in Arabic on our southern border directing ISIS fighters for how they should cross into our country. It`s not just that he`s heard ISIS fighters might do it, he`s seen the Arabic signage himself showing them where to go and what to do.


FLYNN: The one that I saw was in Texas and it`s literally, it`s like signs in Arabic, you know, this way, you know, move to this point. I mean, it`s unbelievable.


MADDOW: Unbelievable those Arabic signs for the ISIS fighters that are all over Texas.

You know, when California Congressman Duncan Hunter went on my friend Greta`s show on fox and said that he knew ten ISIS fighters had been apprehended on the southern border and they were in custody and he knew this because of his friends at the Border Patrol, you know, he got saddled in the aftermath of that with the reputation of being a little bit of a kook in Congress.

This time around, it`s not a California congressman who vapes in Congress and is dealing with an ethics scandal and all the rest of it. This time around, it`s the man who is now tasked with being our president-elect`s national security adviser. And we learned today that he is quite literally the guy who is the president-elect is listening to most.

Today, we learn that the president-elect was due to get a presidential daily brief. The thing is these briefings have not been happening daily for this president-elect. He has just been opting not to get them on a daily basis.


CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: You are getting the presidential daily brief --


WALLACE: -- only once a week.

TRUMP: Well, I get it when I need it.

WALLACE: But if there`s some skepticism --

TRUMP: First of all, these are very good people that are giving me the briefings. And if something should change from this point, immediately call me, I`m available on one minute`s notice. I don`t have to be told -- you know, I`m like a smart person.


MADDOW: I`m a smart person. I don`t need to get all these briefings. I get it when I need it.

So, because of that stance from the president-elect, it was news today when we learned today that he was due to get one of those briefings today.


KEVIN LIPTAK, CNN: Hey, on the presidential daily briefing today, I wondered if you could say how many of those the president-elect has now received, whether he`s developed a favorite style of receiving them, whether it`s in person, over the phone, or if he`s receiving any briefing materials beforehand or after-hand?

JASON MILLER, TRUMP SPOEKSMAN: With regard to the PDB, we haven`t put out -- haven`t put out any additional information about -- I guess you`d say a readout, so to speak, obviously by the very nature of the PDB, that`s something that isn`t exactly conducive to a traditional readout.

But the one thing I will say is that the president-elect is receiving numerous briefings whether it`s from his national security team with General Flynn and others as well as the formal PDB. So, he`s very much up to speed on what`s going on and fully ready for -- to be sworn in next month and take over the role as commander in chief.

SEAN SPICER, TRUMP TRANSITION TEAM: Hey, Kevin, it`s Sean. I think we`ve addressed this in the past. Just to be clear, the president gets a briefing every single day from his national security team. And so, just so you`re crystal clear on that --.


MADDOW: The president gets a briefing every day from his national security team headed up by General Flynn, right? So don`t necessarily worry about this product of the intelligence services, the presidential daily briefing. You know, the president-elect gets his even briefing every day from his national security people, from his national security adviser, General Flynn, who claims he has seen signs with his own eyes in Texas, the signs in Texas in Arabic giving directions to the ISIS fighters for how to make their way into the United States.

He`s taking care of the briefings for the president on a daily basis. We don`t necessarily need to worry so much about that PDB.

Whatever is going on, though, with however the president-elect is being briefed, it doesn`t necessarily seem like it`s working great or at least in a timely fashion.

Yesterday, you saw reports that the Chinese government has returned to the United States the underwater drone that a Chinese ship made off with in the South China Sea last week. Chinese warships snatched up this drone while an American civilian crew on a Navy ship was in the middle of retrieving it from the South China Sea. The Chinese swept in, took it and took off.

And the Pentagon didn`t clarify what condition the drone was in when the Chinese handed it back yesterday, but it is now back in American hands. And that`s great. So, crisis over, right?

But if you pay attention to the timeline on this, there`s something worth worrying about here. On Thursday, that`s when the Chinese warship took the drone. On Saturday, we woke up to this beautifully misspelled tweet about it from the president-elect. Quote, "China steals U.S. Navy research drone, rips it out of the water and takes it to China in unpresidented act." Set aside the typo. Look at the timestamp, 7:30 on Saturday morning.

He went on to delete that tweet and fix the typo about an hour later. That was all Saturday morning, started about 7:30 in the morning a couple days after China had taken the drone.

But as best we can tell and "Huffington Post" has done good reporting on this. It was about 3:30 in the morning on Saturday morning, so four hours before Trump sent that tweet about it, when the U.S. ambassador to China came back and told the U.S. government that he had successfully negotiated with China to get the drone back, China had agreed with our ambassador and the U.S. ambassador had told the government that it was done, we were getting the drone back. And we knew that by 3:30 on Saturday morning. The whole thing was done.

But then four hours later there`s the president-elect firing away tweets about this unpresidented act and China stealing that drone.

Every morning, the president-elect would be usually expected to receive the president`s daily brief and presumably the fact that this crisis had been brewing between the U.S. and China, that it had been resolved before he started tweeting in the morning, presumably that would have come up if he`d been briefed that Saturday morning before he started tweeting about world affairs and confrontations with other countries.

We asked the transition team whether Mr. Trump received his presidential daily briefing on Saturday at all, whether or not it was before he started tweeting about this matter. We haven`t heard back.

But that wasn`t the last tweet he sent out about this crisis. At 8:00 on Saturday night, 17 hours after the U.S. ambassador had reportedly arranged to already get the drone back, he was still tweeting about it. "We should tell China that we don`t want the drone they stole back. Let them keep it."

The president-elect would have known that the drone was on its way back if he had been briefed. We don`t know if he was briefed before he was making these public comments. Today, the transition team said that General Flynn is keeping him up on everything, so don`t worry if he`s getting the PDBs.

I don`t know General Flynn at all, but that seems like a big thing to miss if you`re in charge of keeping the president up on what`s going on in the world. The national security adviser is the in-house adviser to the president on all security issues. At a time like this, right, attacks in Germany, Yemen, Jordan, Turkey, the national security adviser is the man who advises the president-elect in this case how to proceed in times of crisis, how to understand them.

ISIS has not claimed responsibility for the killing of the Russian ambassador in Ankara, Turkey, at the beginning of this week. There was some speculation that maybe the attack was the work of al Qaeda`s affiliate in Syria. Today, we learn that al Qaeda is denying involvement in that plot. They went out of their way to say they had nothing to do with it.

But today, we`ve also learned that Turkey says the person behind the killing of the Russian ambassador is the Turkish imam who is currently living in the Poconos in Pennsylvania. Turkey desperately wants us to extradite him. He`s a legal permanent U.S. resident. They`re blaming him for the coup in Turkey over the summer.

They asked the United States to send him back to turkey. So far the United States government has said no. Now they`re saying that he`s behind the killing of the Russian ambassador. Turkey and Russia say they know that he`s behind it.

And so, the United States supported that assassination. The United States is behind the assassination of that Russian ambassador because we`re harboring the guy who they want to blame for it, who they want to blame for everything going wrong in their country.

We`re behind the assassination of the ambassador in that art gallery, so says our NATO ally? Along with Russia?

I mean, that`s what the news was like in national security today. Secretary Kerry had to step in and speak with his Turkish counterpart today. By all accounts things got very difficult and messy around this subject.

The guy who is supposed to be whispering in the president-elect`s ear, giving him sage advice and understanding on national security -- well, he`s sort of part of the mess here. He was on the payroll of the Turkish government while he worked on the Trump campaign this year. He ran a consulting firm that lobbied for Turkish government interests. He said that -- he did that while working for the Trump campaign without publicly disclosing it.

And now, he`s the guy tasked with advising the president-elect in times of national security crises, depending on how you define it, could be any time. It is a concern, I think, for a lot of people, even those who voted for Donald Trump that he`s not receiving his daily presidential daily brief. He is, however, receiving a daily brief from somebody else, from General Michael Flynn, who will never go up for Senate confirmation. That`s a different kind of worry.



JEH JOHNSON, U.S. SECY OF HOMELAND SECURITY: After I`m gone as secretary, I hope you will always regard your Department of Homeland Security aligned in interest with you for peace, the safety of your family and the protection of your homeland.


MADDOW: Remarks made to the nation`s largest Muslim organization on September 3rd of this year. That was the time when everybody in the country, certainly everybody in Washington thought that Hillary Clinton would go on to win the presidency. She did not.

The question now is, does our nation`s Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson still think that the Department of Homeland Security will be aligned with the interests of all Americans? Could you still say that to an audience of Muslim Americans tonight? Even if the Department of Homeland Security will now be run within an administration that is talking about banning Muslims from visiting this country.

Tonight, I`m very pleased to say here for the interview live in person is Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson.

That`s next. Stay with us.



BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We should take great pride in the progress that we`ve made over the last eight years. That`s the bottom line. No foreign terrorist organization has successfully planned and executed an attack on our homeland.


And it`s not because they didn`t try.


MADDOW: The largest agency in the government is the Department of Defense. After that, it`s the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Interesting, we still don`t know who is going be nominated to run Veterans Affairs in the next administration. The V.A. job is the job for which more names have been floated than any other single position they`ve tried to fill.

But in size order, after the Department of Defense and the V.A., the next biggest agency in the entire government has over 200,000 employees. It`s responsible for federal disaster response. It`s responsible for airport security and the Coast Guard and the border and the other border and immigration and cyber security and port security.

They`re in charge of domestic nuclear threat protection. They`re in charge of protecting government buildings. They`re in charge of protecting the president.

Heck, during a campaign year like the one we just had, for months, they were even in charge of protecting Ben Carson. Remember when Ben Carson got Secret Service protection? The Secret Service used to be part of the Department of Treasury, but now it`s part of homeland security along with every other freaking thing in the government. Not exactly.

But the former inspector general for the Department of Homeland Security calls this huge agency that was created after 9/11, quote, "a disparate amalgam of things that don`t fit together very well." And that may be. But what used to be 22 different agencies is one large one now.

And as he prepares to leave office on January 20th, I`m very pleased to say that our nation`s secretary of homeland security, Jeh Johnson, is here for "The interview.

Mr. Secretary, thank you for being here.

JOHNSON: Thanks for having me, Rachel.

MADDOW: Appreciate you`re taking the time to do this.

JOHNSON: What could I do for the person who singlehandedly created the buzz about my Supreme Court candidacy exclusively?

MADDOW: Presumably, you`ll punish me for it somehow. Yes, I`m sorry about that.

Actually, I`m going to skip to the end. You`re leaving your job on noon --

JOHNSON: January 20th at noon, more or less.

MADDOW: Do you know what you`ll do next?

JOHNSON: Yes, I do. I am returning to --


JOHNSON: I`m returning to private law practice in New York City, and returning to our permanent home in Montclair, New Jersey. I look forward to being a private citizen again where I don`t have to inform five people that I`m going to the men`s room.

MADDOW: Are you -- would you ever consider running for office?

JOHNSON: No. No. I feel as though I`ve done everything in public service that I could possibly do. And I`ll be content to be a private citizen again.

MADDOW: You --

JOHNSON: I`ve been in public service four times now and this will be the last time. And I do believe in public servant/private citizen model. I think that we have to all look for our exit lane and know when to take them.

And I`ve had a good run with President Obama. I`ve been with him essentially 10 1/2 years since I first met him in June 2006 -- through the campaign, through the transition and through his administration. It`s been a terrific historic time. And I look forward to going back to private life.

MADDOW: And I believe you when you say that. Part of the reason --

JOHNSON: So does my family, by the way.

MADDOW: Part of the reason it`s worth asking you, though, is because you`re a young man, you`re in your 50s. You are -- you`re very well- regarded in Washington. You`re one of the very few high profile people in Washington who is liked by people of both parties. The president sings your praises whenever he has the chance to do so.

And I`m not sure what`s going to happen exactly with the start of the new administration, but it does not seem inconceivable to me that even the next president-elect might ask you to stay on for another job in his administration. As somebody who has left private life before and who has answered the call to public service, would you say no if he asks you to stay on?

JOHNSON: Rachel, you may remember we did this four years ago when I left the job of general counsel of the Department of Defense.

MADDOW: That`s right.

JOHNSON: I did not anticipate being in this job. This job over the last three years has been extraordinary. You recited all the different missions and responsibilities I have. And there`s not much left to do in public service.

And so, I`m perfectly content with where I am and I`ve had a great run and I look forward to -- you know, Cyrus Vance, you remember Cyrus Vance, secretary of state?


JOHNSON: Long time ago, I was running the New York City subway system. And the car cleaned out. And I looked to the back of the car and there was Cyrus Vance back in a private law practice in New York City. You know, hanging over a newspaper with a rumpled up trench coat all by himself. Nobody recognized him. And I want to be Cyrus Vance.

MADDOW: But then in this joke, who is Jeh Johnson on the other end of the subway car?

Well, on this point, I mean, as you are thinking about leaving this job as homeland security, there have only ever been four secretaries of homeland security. We`re about to have a fifth.

JOHNSON: Correct.

MADDOW: There is criticism that this agency was a weird idea. I mean, the idea was that after 9/11, we needed to integrate our domestic security in a way that one person was responsible for what had been the work of 22 other agencies. But there`s only four people on earth who have ever had the experience of running the combination of all of those agencies.


MADDOW: Can you say candidly if the department makes sense or if it should be, now with having gone through these 15 years, if it should be decentralized or re-compartmentalized a little bit? Should the Coast Guard and the Secret Service and TSA all be under one person --

JOHNSON: I`ve thought a lot about that. Like everything in Washington, the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, the realignment of all those missions was a political compromise. Some people say it went too far, some said it didn`t go far enough.

And once I got in the job, I found out that there was a certain amount of sense to having, in one cabinet level department under the purview of one secretary -- border security, aviation security, maritime security -- that is mindful of all the different threat streams that face our homeland that can take account of it and prioritize appropriately.

And it so happens that the mission set that I have is very similar to a lot of ministries of interior of our foreign counterparts that have border security, counterterrorism, cyber security, aviation security, response to natural disasters.

It is the case, however, that this is the third largest department and is probably the most decentralized. And over the last three years I`ve been in office, we`ve done a lot to centralize a lot of the different decision- making when it comes to acquisitions and budgets. But it does make a lot of sense to have under the umbrella of Homeland Security, all those different missions. They used to be spread all over the federal government, in Energy, in Transportation, in Treasury under the responsibility of some cabinet secretaries that did not have national security as their core mission. And so, in that sense it makes -- it works.

Now, I have to say that in 2001, 2002 when we created the Department of Homeland Security, the assumption was that terrorism was something that had to be stopped at the borders and that it was something that we had to worry about because it might exfiltrate, it might penetrate our borders. And so, we put all these different border security, aviation security, port security functions into on department. Now, of course, we`ve got to deal with the homegrown violent extreme -- the home-born actor, someone who`s been in this country for years.

And so, it`s a very, very different environment and we`ve had to adopt accordingly.

MADDOW: You described it as equivalent essentially to the Ministry of Interior position, one of the things that is unique about the transition that we`re going through right now is, in other countries, it would be unheard of for somebody with a military background, for a recently retired general to take the Ministry of Interior job, because there`s a bright line between domestic security and what you do with military force.

I`m not asking you to comment on General Kelly at all who would be your designated successor from the Trump administration, but a lot of people are concerned that we would have a former general as defense secretary, a former general as national security adviser, and particularly a former general in this domestic security job. Are you at all concerned about that?

JOHNSON: Well, I think you have to judge the individual. You have to assess the individual.

Take, for example, John Kelly and Jim Mattis, I know them both from my days at the Pentagon. They`re two different people. They`re both capable people. They`re great Americans. They`re both men of character and integrity.

And so, I don`t -- I don`t have a concern that General Kelly, because of his military background is not suited to run the Department of Homeland Security. I actually think he`ll be well received by our workforce and he is a man of character and integrity.

I think that it`s incumbent upon the president because getting a full range of advice in the Situation Room on the National Security Council is so important to have people from a broad range of backgrounds and views so that you get, you know, a broad spectrum of advice, and that`s how a healthy government decision-making is made. But General Dunford, General Kelly, General Mattis, General Flynn are all people who are very different in personality.

MADDOW: Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, will you stay right there just for one moment?

Thank you.

We`ll be right back with homeland security secretary. Stay with us.


MADDOW: Joining us once again is Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson.

Mr. Secretary, one of the many, many things that Homeland Security is in charge of is cyber security.


MADDOW: You and the director of national intelligence a month before the election announced that Russia had basically launched a cyber attack on our election.

JOHNSON: We did.

MADDOW: President Obama, I played that clip from him a moment ago, he`s rightly saying, as he`s leaving office, that in his time as president, no foreign terrorist organization has been able to plan and execute an attack on our homeland. But with what Russia did, isn`t this other kind of attack its own sort of massive national security failure on the part of the United States government?

They tried to influence our election and they were able to do so. We don`t know if it changed the result of the election, but it was big enough that you said they`re meddling here.

JOHNSON: Yes. And I have to say that statement was, of course, unprecedented to those of us involved in the creation of it and those of us who issued it, that was a big deal to accuse a foreign superpower of interfering with our political process. Now, there`s been a lot of -- there`s been a lot of talk about that lately over the last two weeks.

When we issued the statement on Friday, October 7th, that was also the same day as, guess what, "Access Hollywood." So, the statement was below the fold news that day.


JOHNSON: And -- but we thought it was critical that we tell the American people and the American voters what we saw and that we had to declassify what we saw to the full extent possible in the run-up to the election. So, the voters were fully informed about what we saw going on.

This is a very serious matter. And the president has ordered this review which will be done before we leave office. We`re going to declassify as much as possible now that we`re in the post-election period and we can do a full assessment of this election cycle and any lessons learned for the future. This is very plainly a big deal.

And when I came into office three years ago and I was -- my orientation was counterterrorism: counterterrorism, law of armed conflict. And I used to say in the beginning of my job that counterterrorism has to be the cornerstone of this department`s mission.

Well, cyber security I think has to be the other cornerstone because it`s not just a cyber threat. There are attacks daily, hourly, moment by moment in this country from a range of actors. And this one -- this one was obviously very, very significant.

MADDOW: And whose head is this on? If this was a national security failure, who failed in the U.S. government? Was it Homeland Security? Was it some other aspect of government?

JOHNSON: Well, ultimately, it`s all of us. I mean, the president ultimately has responsibility. The Department of Homeland Security has responsibility. The IC, of course. It`s on all of us, certainly those of us in the cabinet.

But there`s a lot, you know, the public can do as well. Public awareness of cyber security, the simple act of spear phishing, the most sophisticated acts start with a simple act of spear phishing. Somebody opens the e-mail with the attachment they shouldn`t open, and once you do that, the bad actor`s in the system. They can pose as virtually anybody. They can do almost anything.

And so, the public has a role in this as well. But there are definitely some lessons learned here and for the future.

MADDOW: "Washington Post" this week reported that when you and the director of national intelligence put out that statement, that they reported that an early draft of the statement actually named Russian President Vladimir Putin as being involved, and "The Post" reported that that Putin reference was taken out basically so it would not be provocative.

Is "The Post`s" reporting accurate? And would it have made a difference?

JOHNSON: When we say -- could only have been authorized by those at the senior-most levels of government or this comes from the highest levels of government -- that`s a euphemism we use -- we`re talking about the top guy.

MADDOW: Why use the euphemism, though?

JOHNSON: I think it`s a -- I think it`s a less provocative way of saying the same thing. In a period, in the run-up to the election where there are a lot of people concerned about the legitimacy of our election process. But, you know, almost everybody knows what you mean.

But again, we put that out pre-election. Frankly, I don`t think it got the attention then that it deserved and that a lot of us thought it would get because we were all focused on a whole lot of other things, particularly the press.

MADDOW: I know that cyber command is a different part of government.


MADDOW: It`s part of DOD.

But is it appropriate for the United States to retaliate in kind or what`s the right way to make this right? Obviously, we can`t go back in time and undo it. But what sort of options -- how should we as civilians think about the ethics and the strategic import of how we retaliate?

JOHNSON: There are a range of things being considered, as the president said. And a response does not necessarily have to be a response in kind. And so, there are a range of things being considered right now. And we`re thinking very carefully about that.

MADDOW: Mysterious as always.

We`ll be right back with Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson.


MADDOW: We`re back now with Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson.

Mr. Secretary, thank you for sticking around.

There was this attack in Germany this week. Germany`s now hunting the suspect in that truck attack, which was used to kill 12 people, put 48 people in the hospital. ISIS is pushing its followers to use cars and trucks to cause mass casualty events.

ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack at Ohio State last month, where an SUV rammed into a crowd of people, 13 people got hurt there.

When you`re talking about a weapon that is literally ubiquitous in a physical civil society that`s organized around making it easier for cars to get places, what`s the national strategy for defending against something like that?

JOHNSON: Good question. Just yesterday, we reiterated to state and local law enforcement, guidance about large public gatherings -- you know, a parade, a New Year`s Eve celebration.

And here in New York City, for example, the NYPD does this extraordinarily well. You see the large sanitation trucks or the buses that literally create a perimeter around a large public event. And large cities, large police departments know how to do this. The moderate-sized cities, the small town, not necessarily.

So, we`re out there raising awareness about basic things that can be done to prevent against that kind of attack. It`s pretty basic. And the solution to it is there. And it`s a question of raising awareness across the country.

MADDOW: Let me ask you about one policy matter that I think there is a lot of real emotional urgency around in this last month of the Obama administration, and that is these young immigrant, people who were brought to this country as kids. At the request of the Obama administration, they registered with the government. They came out of the shadows.


MADDOW: They declared themselves to be undocumented.

A lot of people are worried that those kids have proverbial targets on their foreheads right now for an administration that has a very different attitude on immigration.


MADDOW: The president has been asked to somehow use his pardon power to somehow try to protect those kids. Do you any sense whether or not that would work, whether the president has options here to protect them?

JOHNSON: Well, first, let me say the DREAMers, the DACA kids you were referring to --


JOHNSON: -- this was -- this was a very successful program we launched in June 2012. Seven hundred and fifty thousand people signed up and were admitted.

This is a group of people who were brought here as children. They`re students. They work hard. And as a class, they are remarkably responsible group of people.

And in terms of our priorities for deportation, they are at the bottom of the priority list.

MADDOW: Your priorities.

JOHNSON: Correct. So, my hope is that the next administration will come to the view that, you know, we have, which is the top priority for deportation are threats to public safety -- the criminals, the convicted criminals. We`ve actually been focused on the convicted criminals for reasons of public safety.

And you can`t deport 11 million people. It`s not a good idea to try. You need to focus on threats to public safety.

And the DACA kids are, you know, for the most part, as a class, remarkably responsible group of people who have come forward. They`re on the books now. They`re paying taxes. They`ve been here in all respects except perhaps, legally, they are Americanized. They`ve been here. They grew up here. I`ve met a lot of them.

MADDOW: Can they be protected, though? Is there anything the outgoing administration can do?

JOHNSON: That`s a -- that`s a very good question. And in the forms we put out, we said this information will not be used by information enforcement. And then there is this boilerplate language that says this policy does not create an enforceable right or whatever it says and can be changed at any time.

And so, the legal question is whether that boilerplate overrides any representations in the document or whether when somebody applies and they rely on the representations made to them about the limited uses of that, that is an enforceable promise by the U.S. government.

MADDOW: And you`re saying that not just to sound lawyerly, but you`re saying that to indicate that maybe this will a matter decided by the courts?

JOHNSON: It may be. My sincere hope is that this next administration will wrestle with comprehensive immigration reform. They will take on border security as they said they will.

But, you know, the president-elect has also said at some point we`re going to take a look at these 11 million and figure out what to do. And when you get to that point, you`re going to realize that the DREAMers, the people who came here as kids are people who are the most sympathetic in terms of who is here undocumented. And they ought -- they ought to reckon with the fact that these people ought to be allowed to come out of the shadows and stay on the books.

MADDOW: Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, I have a million -- I have a million other things to ask you. I am grateful for this much time, though. Thank you.

JOHNSON: Thank you very much.

MADDOW: I really appreciate you being here.

JOHNSON: Thank you.

MADDOW: Thanks.

JOHNSON: Thank you.

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


MADDOW: Did you know that Seth Meyers has a Melania Trump impression? I did not know that. But watch.


MADDOW: You were talking about how he is very afraid of windmills?

SETH MEYERS, COMEDIAN/TV HOST: He doesn`t like windmills.

MADDOW: He doesn`t like windmills.


MADDOW: He`s very, like, there is his bogeyman.

MEYERS: Yes. Wind is his kryptonite.

MADDOW: When he wakes up sweating in the night, it is spinning?

MEYERS: No, Donald, it`s the air conditioner. It`s OK. Go back to bed.


MADDOW: I will be on "Late Night with Seth Meyers" tonight wearing red sneakers, at 12:30 Eastern Time on NBC.

Much more ahead tonight. Stay with us.


MADDOW: That does it for us tonight. I want to say thank you to the Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson for being here for that sort of exit interview tonight. That was great.

I will also see you again tomorrow night when we have another very special guest, Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway will be here live tomorrow. Seriously. That`s tomorrow.


Good evening, Lawrence.