The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 12/29/2016

Guests: David Sanger, Adam Schiff, Kelly Ward

Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: December 29, 2016 Guest: David Sanger, Adam Schiff, Kelly Ward

ARI MELBER, MSNBC GUEST HOST: Good evening, Chris. Tudor, Queens (ph), I`m going to keep the recommendation in mind.

CHRIS HAYES, "ALL IN" HOST: It`s fantastic.

MELBER: Sounds good. Good evening to you.

And thanks to you at home for watching us this hour. Rachel does have the night off. She will be back Monday.

And let me show you something. This is John Jay Raskob, the American businessman who built the Empire State Building, overseeing the construction in the early 1930s. But before he made his mark on the New York skyline, he bought a sprawling estate in Centerville, Maryland, Pioneer Point Farms. And he built a brick mansion and a brick house for his 13 children and their friends, which is nice.

He had an eye for iconic buildings, but he never would have expected that his prize estate would prove intriguing to the Soviet Union which bought it in 1972, turning the grounds that once delighted so many Raskob family members into a vacation and meeting retreat for Russian diplomats stationed in the U.S.

On 50 acres by the Corsica and Chester Rivers, that facility is private and ornate with teak floors, oriental carpets, crystal chandeliers. This is according to "Washington Life" magazine, plus a full library, lovely staircase, views of the river, a tennis court. And if you worked in the Kremlin or the Russian government, especially in the 1970s, getting sent to the U.S. was an important assignment, a post for top Russian diplomats or any Russian official the Kremlin wanted the U.S. to think was a diplomat.

Now, the Soviet Union bought a similar facility in Long Island. It had 14 acres. Both compounds hosted those Russians on assignment until today -- because President Obama shut down both compounds as part of his new sanctions against Russia for interfering in the U.S. election. And starting at noon tomorrow, the Obama administration is physically barring any of those Russians from accessing the compounds.

The State Department saying they were used by, quote, "Russian personnel for intelligence-related purposes." So, maybe something more than diplomacy.

Now, cyber espionage is by definition a virtual activity. It`s hard to pinpoint. It can feel kind of ephemeral. But President Obama`s actions today are not. They`re physical steps, brick and mortar, if you want, starting with the compounds, but not ending there. President Obama also ordered the immediate expulsion of 35 suspected Russian spies. He imposed sanctions on two leading Russian intelligence agencies, including four top officers in a Russian military intelligence unit.

He levied sanctions against two suspected hackers who are on that FBI wanted list. The last time the U.S. government took these kind of significant actions against Russia was three months into the George W. Bush administration.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC ANCHOR: President Bush speaking out trying to keep U.S./Russian relations on an even keel after kicking out nearly 50 Russian diplomats suspected of undercover intelligence activities of some sort.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: And then as now catching Russia in the act led the U.S. to act.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REPORTER: The Russian strike back surprisingly fast, strongly protesting to the American ambassador today and telling NBC News tonight they`ll soon kick out roughly the same number of Americans from the U.S. embassy there - - retaliation for the State Department`s action today, ordering four employees of the Russian embassy out of the U.S. within ten days. All of them suspected of acting as contacts for ex-FBI agent Robert Hanson accused of spying for Russia.

And 46 more at Russian posts around the U.S., told to leave by July 1st.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Now, in that instance, Bush gave the Russians several months to leave. Obama`s giving them three days.

Now, Russian President Vladimir Putin spokesman is saying they`ll develop their response to the sanctions and it will mirror the U.S. response and, quote, "make the U.S. side feel very uncomfortable as well."

The FBI and the Department of Homeland Security also today releasing a 13- page report with documentation on what they call proof on how the Russians tried to influence the election with cyber espionage. The report now public, anyone can see it.

President Obama also adding that more covert actions in response to Russia could be coming. Quote, "These actions are not the sum total of our response to Russia`s aggressive activities."

Now, President Obama making this sweeping announcement today, striking back at Russia for trying to meddle in the election and this is, of course, just 21 days before a new president takes office, which is probably kind of awkward since President Obama`s making a huge foreign policy decision, but what makes it all the more awkward is President-elect Trump has basically, as you probably know by now, repeatedly denied any Russian involvement here.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT-ELECT: I don`t think anybody knows it was Russia that broke into the DNC. She`s saying Russia, Russia, Russia, but I don`t -- maybe it was. I mean, it could be Russia, but it could also be China, it could also be lots of other people. It also could be somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds, OK? You don`t know who broke in to DNC.

I notice any time anything wrong happens, they like to say the Russians are -- she doesn`t know if it`s the Russians doing the hacking. Maybe there is no hacking. But they always blame Russia. And the reason they blame Russia because they think they`re trying to tarnish me with Russia.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: She doesn`t know, who knows? But if you wanted to be charitable, you would say that`s the campaign talk and campaigns have talk going in both directions. He was running for president. Fine.

But here`s Donald Trump this month after being elected president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

INTERVIEWER: The CIA has concluded that Russia intervened in the election to help you win the presidency. Your reaction?

TRUMP: I think it`s ridiculous. I think it`s just another excuse. I don`t believe it. I don`t know why.

And I think it`s just -- you know, they talked about all sorts of things. Every week, it`s another excuse. We had a massive landslide victory, as you know, in the Electoral College. I guess the final numbers are now at 306 and she`s down to a very low number. No, I don`t believe that at all.

INTERVIEWER: You say you don`t know why. Do you think that the CIA is trying to overturn the results of the election? To weaken you in office?

TRUMP: Well, if you look at the story and you take a look at what they said, there`s great confusion. Nobody really knows.

And hacking is very interesting. Once they hack, if you don`t catch them in the act, you are not going to catch them. They have no idea if it`s Russia or China or somebody. It could be somebody sitting in a bed someplace.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: They have no idea. It could be somebody sitting in a bed.

And then, of course, here he is just yesterday at Mar-a-Lago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REPORTER: What do you think generally about sanctions against Russia?

TRUMP: I think we ought to get on with our lives. I think the computers have complicated lives very greatly, the whole age of computer has made it where nobody knows exactly what`s going on.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Nobody really knows what`s going on. Now, notice this is a device of Donald Trump`s that we`re probably going to hear a lot, because if you can maintain doubt about a problem`s existence, you are under less pressure to solve it. It may not even be a problem. That`s obviously how climate change denial works.

Now, I think just flagging and understanding this Trump trick, call it strategic ignorance, if you want, can actually help inoculate against its spreading.

It is true that Trump does not need to implement any Russia policy until January 20th. His strategic ignorance, though, may reflect the pickle he`s in, caught between the CIA`s mounting evidence of Russian sabotage and his very warm public embrace with Putin.

But the Obama administration`s not in that pickle. It released hints, and then evidence about Russia`s hacks. As the evidence accrued, it then moved from the evidence to today`s consequences.

In other words, instead of, hey, nobody really knows, Obama`s position is we know. We`re sharing some of what we know. And we are acting on what we know.

So, let`s maybe keep this contrast in mind. The choice between we know and who knows, and then keep it in mind as you hear what we have tonight, Trump`s brand-new and pretty curt reaction to the sanctions.

Quote, "It`s time for our country to move on to bigger and better things. Nevertheless, in the interests of our country and its great people, I will meet with leaders of the intelligence community next week in order to be updated on the facts of this situation."

Trump says he wants the facts of the situation -- facts that are, of course, presumably part of the presidential daily briefs available to any president-elect.

Joining us now is David Sanger, chief Washington correspondent for "The New York Times."

David, thank you for joining us on a busy day. I want to get to --

DAVID SANGER, NEW YORK TIMES CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Good to be with you, Ari.

MELBER: Thank you. I want to get to some of Donald Trump`s posture. But first on the policy substance, where do the administration`s moves today rank in your view on what one can do diplomatically?

SANGER: Well, they certainly could have done a lot more. And I think one of the big questions is whether they came to this too late, many in the Clinton campaign, many of President Obama`s own aides have said to me privately that they wish that they had taken the same set of actions when they were developing options in August, in September and October.

The president was concerned about a further Russian reaction on Election Day, trying to affect the actual vote count -- that did not happen. But I think there will be a lot people debating whether he waited too long. Then the question is --

MELBER: Well, let me ask you that on the timeline. You`re driving to the heart of it. Were today`s measures punishment or deterrence or something else?

SANGER: Well, I think it was three things, Ari. Certainly, there was an element of punishment, and it had a little bit of this air of the old Cold War, we throw out 35, tomorrow they`ll throw out roughly the same number. Ignore for a minute the persona non gratas, the PNGs, of the diplomats.

The interesting question here is, will the sanctions make much difference? I think the answer is more psychological than anything else. These are sanctions against individual members of the GRU, the military intelligence unit. They don`t travel the United States much. They don`t keep much money here to begin with. But it may have some good symbolic importance, same thing for the companies.

And then the next question, which is, is the president doing anything that he`s not announcing? And as you suggested from reading the statement, he`s left open the possibility of some covert action, presumably a cyber action. That will make you feel good and it would be known to President Putin and his close aides.

Whether it would much deterrent effect on the next country that might do something, the Chinese, the Iranians, North Koreans, who knows who would be interested in this come the next election cycle? That`s a more open question. This may be one of the cases where the public deterrence does more than the covert.

MELBER: And then turning to Donald Trump`s response, what do you make of this, that he wants a factual briefing next week?

SANGER: Well, that`s good. In fact, I`m a little bit surprised if he hasn`t had one already either as a candidate or as president-elect. Certainly if you go back to the 2008 election cycle when the Chinese went into the -- both the Obama campaigns and the McCain campaigns both of the candidates received pretty full FBI briefings about what the Chinese were doing.

Now, that was different in nature. It was pure espionage. They weren`t making this stuff public, the way the Russians did here.

MELBER: And, David, I want you to bear with me, because there is another story here. If we haven`t learned all of this news on the sanctions today, the big headline would, of course, be the release of more specific evidence of Russia`s involvement in hacking, the information involved in the election.

Now, here`s what Kellyanne Conway who is soon counsel to President Trump, had to say just last week.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

INTERVIEWER: Mr. Trump is still skeptical that the Russians are even involved letting aside whether it affected the election or not. You have the CIA, the FBI, the director of national intelligence, now, a number of Republicans saying it`s clear that the Russians hacked. That as a basic premise is clear. Mr. Trump since late September has said that he doesn`t think that`s the case. He still says that now.

What does he know that all those intelligence officers don`t know?

KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO PRESIDENT-ELECT TRUMP: John, where`s the evidence? Let`s focus on the issue at hand, which is, if the CIA, and Director Brennan and others at the top, are serious about turning over evidence to the American people, they should do that and they should show up when the house intelligence committee invites them to brief them.

But, you know, that`s a closed door meeting so not so exciting and tantalizing because then you can`t leak it to the media. They should not be leaking to the media. If there`s evidence, let`s see it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: That was just last week, if there`s evidence, let`s see it. Now, today, we got this, a 13-page FBI report on Russian malicious cyber activity which FBI and DHS are asserting that they do agree with the CIA that Russia engaged in these attacks and the report provides technical details on the tools, the infrastructure used by Russian civilian and military to compromise and exploit networks and the end points that were associated with the election.

Now, I want to be clear for anyone keeping track at home. This is not the report from the full investigation that President Obama has ordered. We don`t know the result of that until probably next year, but it is something real. FBI and DHS saying here`s some of the actual details of what showed them that this was Russia behind the hack.

So, David, I wanted to get you back in on this particular piece. What`s your reaction to that report?

SANGER: Well, frankly, Ari, I thought the FBI and DHS could have and should have gone considerably further than what they released today. Now, for those of us who have been following this story for most of the year, there was very little in the FBI report that you could not have gotten from the report turned out by CrowdStrike and by other private companies that do Internet security. CrowdStrike`s a group that had been brought in by the DNC after their hack.

It confirmed the CrowdStrike conclusions, but it didn`t get you where I think the U.S. government has got to be and let me explain what that is. They U.S. government presumably has, they are telling us they have many forms of evidence that link these hackers to the GRU and the FSB, the two main Russian intelligence services and then take it the next step to show that they are -- this whole operation was done with the knowledge and perhaps the direct orders of the Kremlin, which is their code word for saying that this came directly from Putin.

That document that you`re showing on the screen does not take you there. To get there, you would need to see evidence from implants that the NSA has in Russian networks, intercepts from conversations, from reports of human spies and all kinds of other technical means that they would have there. That always sets up a fight between those who don`t want to reveal the sources and methods and those who believe that you need to go out and make the case.

And given the import of this and a president coming into, as you pointed out, has been highly skeptical of it, my own view is that there`s a greater burden for disclosure here.

MELBER: Right. I mean, what you`re saying is this next step here in that report gives you a kind of a summary or a flow chart but not the underlying materials that would actually be the dispositive proof.

SANGER: It doesn`t tell you more than what "The New York Times" already, including in our lengthy reconstruct of the hack that appear a few weeks ago.

MELBER: Right. Although I would say, I mean, what`s interesting about that and you educate us a lot on this, I appreciate it. The FBI`s view is there might be a lot of things out there that are true that people are piecing together. What they`re saying matters partly because it`s them, the source that they`re willing to confirm what the government view is.

But again not until we get a full report and the full accounting in public are we going to know exactly what links it back to Russia.

David Sanger, chief Washington correspondent for "The New York Times" -- thank you so much for tonight.

SANGER: Thank you, Ari. Great to be with you.

MELBER: Great.

Much more ahead, including something this only happens on this show literally once a year.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: `Tis the soap for people on cable television to make predictions for the future. Although I did spend much of my day imploring the magic eight ball in the office for what`s lies ahead, I have only one prediction for you, guys. We have a ton more news tonight. That is true. We have some great people to talk to, always true on this show, and the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee and the woman who is about to run President Obama`s new effort, first big thing he`s doing coming out of the White House, to do recovery, he says, for the Democratic Party.

Now, I predict all of that on tonight`s show. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: Right now, we are four hours into a new cease-fire in Syria, which some hope could mark a kind of a breakthrough in that nation`s bloody six- year civil war. It would be easy to miss this story this week because U.S. news has been full of political sniping over our nation`s potential role in negotiating peace between Israelis and Palestinians some day, a pretty aspirational discussion.

Meanwhile, other regional powers are actually at the table hammering out these deals in Syria and they did it without any U.S. diplomats. Instead, the new Syrian truce deal was led by Turkish and Russian diplomats and announced in Moscow by Vladimir Putin. The Kremlin saying the Russian president broke word of the deal after speaking to Syrian President Bashar al Assad by phone and paves the way to comprehensive talks next month, not at the U.N., but rather in Russia`s neighboring state of Kazakhstan.

And while one can argue that local players like Turkey should be involved than a distant superpower like the U.S., in fact, you can remember that`s an allegation that people in both parties were making when resisting further U.S. entanglement on the ground in Syria, there are also some political ramifications here. Russia announced it will only welcome the U.S. to their coming talks after Donald Trump becomes president and that was before the U.S. had this afternoon`s big news -- the series of sanctions against Russia related to the hacking of the election and announcing the suspension of those 35 intelligence agents which we were just discussing with David Sanger.

Now, almost immediately, Russia vowing to retaliate and pledging to cause that, quote, "considerable discomfort in the same areas for the U.S." Also, Russia`s foreign ministry spokeswoman calls the White House occupants a group of foreign policy losers. Ouch.

And because we live in a world where most grave issues are boiled down to internet snark, get this, Russia`s embassy in London tweeting this attempt at a digital smackdown. Quote, "President Obama expels 35 diplomats in Cold War deja vu as everybody including the U.S. people will be glad to see the last of this hapless administration," end quote. But picture included, as you can see of a lame duck.

Ah, it raises the question, are you any good at diplomacy if you find yourself reaching for animal cartoons to pull off your latest Russian burn?

Joining us now for a slightly more serious conversation is a ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, California Congressman Adam Schiff.

Good evening.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: Good evening.

MELBER: I will not ask you to comment in any way on the duck tweet. What I will ask you is to pick up on some of what "The New York Times`" David Sanger was saying, which is that there are meaningful moves today, but many of them he said are symbolic. Is that your view?

SCHIFF: I think they are meaningful. I would say they`re more than symbolic. It`s a serious step to be dispatching 40 Russian intelligence agents masquerading as diplomats in facilities of the United States.

But nonetheless, I would agree that the administration`s going to need to do more. I think the Congress is going to need to do more because I don`t have that much confidence in the president-elect doing anything at all. And if we`re serious about deterring the Russians, I think we`re going to have to make them feel some economic pain.

There are also steps I hope the administration is taking that it`s not announcing today. Those are covert steps to basically shoot across the Russian bow, let them know that two can play at this game and there are things that we can do to make Putin`s life difficult and that of his cronies and those may have an equally deterrent impact.

MELBER: And what is your view of what that should look like? Understandably, it`s covert, so some of it`s not going to be discussed. But let`s be clear about categories. If the idea is a proportionate response, certainly that wouldn`t automatically tampering with their election or the information used in their election and in past administrations and American history, efforts by the CIA or others to interfere in other countries` elections, democratically or otherwise, are pretty widely criticized.

SCHIFF: No, you`re absolutely right. No, we don`t want to have the same response to what they did to the United States. They`re doing a pretty good job of dismantling their own democratic institutions. The last thing we would want to do is to help them in any way.

Rather, we could take steps to expose, for example, the corruption of both Putin personally and a lot of his cronies, the economic theft from the Russian people. That`s not something, frankly, that the incoming Trump administration could easily undo. And that`s something that would reflect badly, that would weaken Putin. So, that`s one potential step.

There are a number of others that I won`t discuss, but there`s a wide range of things that I think we ought to undertake that the Russians would understand exactly who was doing it and why, but they`re not things that we necessarily need to broadcast.

MELBER: What is the key evidence that is still left to declassify on this, in your view?

SCHIFF: Well, here`s where I guess I would part company with David and that is -- you know, we can make a clear showing of proof to the American people and I think we ought to share as much as we can, but we`re not going to burn our sources of information. We`re not going to alert the Russians to what our technologies are. That would certainly be in the Russian interest. It`s not in our interests.

And this is why I think what Donald Trump is doing right now is so destructive not only to our own country but to success of his own presidency. And by that, I mean, there`s going to come a time when President Trump is going to have to come before the American people and explain why he`s going to take action vis-a-vis -- and it could be Russia or China and he`s going to want to say that this is on the basis of the intelligence he`s received, and he`s not going to want to have to share that intelligence.

So, for him to belittle the quality of the work intelligence community does will ultimately belittle his own presidency, his own effectiveness and call it into question. So, he`s already, I think, damaging the country but he`s also going to damage his own potential success.

MELBER: While I have you, there`s another topic that`s so significant but rarely discussed, something you have worked on, something Rachel Maddow wrote a book about -- the expansion of the military powers of the United States absent any oversight or control. You have been advocating for some time that there should be a new authorization of force or one that actually condenses or cabins some of the U.S. footprint out there.

What do you think about all that now with the new administration coming in and frankly those efforts not having gotten traction in Congress with either party?

SCHIFF: Well, it`s all the more important now. And, you know, history will be very kind to the Obama administration, but this is one area that it won`t. And that is that the administration didn`t work hard enough with Congress to encourage Congress to pass a new authorization to use force. Now, I think the administration took the view, and I can understand it, that they shouldn`t want this more than the Congress because it`s the Congress` own institutional authority that`s being eroded. And they were exactly right about that.

But nonetheless, the administration`s broad interpretations of these old authorizations going back to 2001 and 2002 are going to mean that Donald Trump can come into the Oval Office and can wage war just about anywhere as long as he claims it`s against al Qaeda or its successors, and point to the Obama administration as precedent. So, that`s a very dangerous thing.

I think there may be a great many Republicans now who wish they had been more serious about this issue also because they probably are going to have great concerns about Donald Trump having free rein to make war without the approval of Congress. So, this is a real problem. I would hope that we`d get back at it again with a renewed determination because this could ultimately be a decision of war and peace, and there are few of greater consequence for the Congress.

KORNACKI: And as you say, a President Trump could point now to bipartisan, Democratic and Republican, legal precedent for that based on this administration in part.

Congressman Adam Schiff, ranking member of House Intel -- thank you for joining us on a busy day.

SCHIFF: You bet. Thank you.

KORNACKI: Now, coming up, what are President Obama`s plans starting at noon January 20th? I think it`s actually a pretty interesting question. The person who literally has the job fulfilling the president`s top priority after leaving office is here tonight with us, straight ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: To pick up a conversational thread from November, you could look at what happened to the Democrats in a couple of different ways. One, you could point out what a lot of people have said, Democrats actually when you count it all up, won that popular vote by almost 3 million. Their loss in the Electoral College was a matter of just 70,000 votes in a handful of states. That`s true.

Or you could look at something else that`s true, Democrats are in historical terrible shape in all the key states with Republicans controlling most statehouses and governorships across the country, that`s wider than just the presidential field.

And it`s that second situation that President Obama has been bearing down on and saying that`s what he wants to work on as soon as he exits the White House.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Part of what we have to do to rebuild is to be there, and that means organizing, that means caring about state parties, it means caring about local races, state boards or school boards and city councils and state legislative races and not thinking that somehow just a great set of progressive policies that we present to "The New York Times" editorial board will win the day.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: That`s a point President Obama has repeatedly returned to -- rebuilding the Democratic Party including a focus on red states. Well, tonight we have an exclusive interview with the person who has just been hired to do that for President Obama. She`s my guest next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: One of the shocking facts that came out of this year`s presidential election that remains shocking is that the president-elect who is taking office in 21 days did lose the popular vote by over 2.8 million votes. Clinton with the edge in terms of votes by a lot.

And that came, by the way, while she was the first female major nominee in American history and she got more votes. But that aside, the fact is everyone who plays this game knows it`s not about who puts more points on the board. It`s just not. It`s about where the points are.

Secretary Clinton lost in the Electoral College so she loses the race, proving once again the presidential election is not a direct democracy. It`s not decided by majority vote. We know that.

The Founders didn`t design it that way. And by the way, neither is the Senate. Each state gets two senators no matter how many people live in the state, Democrat or Republican.

So, when you actually just think about it, the closest thing we have in our federal government to a democracy is the House of Representatives. And then think about this -- in recent years, voting for your House of Representative means voting in districts that actually look like this or this or this.

We have Republicans in large part to thank for many of the oddly-shaped gerrymandered districts popping up across the country after the 2010 census. To be clear, both parties do this, but the Republicans have been doing it very effectively, part of an effort called the redistricting majority problem or they call it "red map" for short.

In 2010, Republicans poured money into local state and governor races so that when Republicans won those local races, they could then, as a very clear strategy, reshape the congressional districts to make sure Democrats could get siphoned off into some wacky-looking districts and Republicans would then pick up extra wins elsewhere. In 2012, that effort paid off, but it was settle.

Look at this like this, President Obama won his second term. Democrats did keep the Senate majority, but then in the House races where Democrats won the popular vote -- think about that, 2012 -- more votes for Democrats, 1.4 million. And nevertheless, it was Republicans who held on to the House majority not be a little, not like the Electoral College sometimes when it`s close but with 33 seats. So, while more people voted Democratic, redistricting helped Republicans hold that big edge in the House.

It`s a far cry from one man, one vote, a far cry from what we consider to be a democracy. But redistricting takes place every ten years. The next census is coming up in 2010, Democrats now gearing up to fight back against what happened 2010. Outgoing President Barack Obama and his former Attorney General Eric Holder making redistricting reform their priority in the years ahead. Holder chairing a new group called the National Democratic Redistricting Committee and the president`s been briefed by that group`s progress and how he can help flip those roll races from red to blue in the upcoming 2017 and 2018 midterms to build for that 2020 map redraw.

Now, the idea is that Republicans have been good at the redistricting game. Some liberals have been complaining about that, and Republican operatives more or less responded by saying, don`t hate the player, hate the game.

Now, Democrats are trying to change the game and this Obama/Holder group just tapped their own operative to run the effort, the kind of field strategist who usually works behind the scenes, you don`t see doing the pundit laps on television, but she did agree to come out of the woodwork for her first interview since being named for this post.

She`s the former head of the Democrats House Reelection Committee, Kelly Ward.

Ms. Ward, thanks for joining us for the interview.

KELLY WARD, OBAMA-HOLDER REDISTRICTING PROJECT INTERIM EXEC. DIR.: Thanks, Ari. It`s great to be with you.

MELBER: What is the plan?

WARD: Well, as you said, Democrats are preparing to fight back. This is the first time that Democrats have come together to have a comprehensive strategy focused on redistricting. And how we can make sure Democrats are at the table as decisions are being made and that we have a level playing field on which Democrats can compete.

It`s also the first time that we have had an entity within the Democratic Party solely focused on redistricting. Meaning, we`re pulling together all of the different House and Senate and legislative leaders of our party, but we, the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, will be solely focused on our redistricting strategy a hundred percent of the time from now through the redistricting process.

MELBER: And how is President Obama involved in this?

WARD: Well, as your previous clip showed, he is very committed to rebuilding the party from the ground up and that includes the local races, the legislative races, it also includes making sure that redistricting happens in a fair way. We`ve seen Republicans rig the system with their gerrymandering, often illegal gerrymandering.

And President Obama knows firsthand the impact of that. He`s been dealing with a Congress where the Tea Party Republicans elected in these very conservative, unfair districts have a stranglehold on the process and where they have made obstruction their entire strategy against him.

And their gerrymandering is part of why they`re doing that and how they`re maintaining that control. So, he has seen firsthand the impact and now we`re thrilled as a Democratic Party and for our country that in his post- presidency, he`s focusing on this and making it a priority.

MELBER: And yet the flip side which people who are in the Democratic Party sometimes talk about and certainly a lot of progressive reformers talk about is just adding more gerrymandering isn`t necessarily good, and some Democrats have cottoned to that. Take a look at, for example, the Florida fifth district, this is Karim Brown (ph) drawn in a weird way. That is not contiguous, it doesn`t look like a community, it doesn`t look like something you`d draw for any normal reason.

And yet, the Democrat there, Representative Brown fought to keep it that way after the Republicans redrew it that way. So, are you also going to be defending those kind of maps?

WARD: Well, our goal is to make sure that the process is fair, that Democrats have a seat at the table and that Democrats can compete on a fair playing field. And we have not seen that because of the Republican gerrymandering.

And Florida is a perfect example of this. The Florida voters passed an initiative giving the legislature boundaries for drawing the maps and the Republican legislators completely ignored those regulations put on them by the voters and passed what was then later determined to be an illegal map.

And in fact, four of the nine seats that Democrats picked up in the House in 2016 were because of redistricting lawsuits that overturned illegal Republican maps including in Florida. And we know that when that happens, Democrats do better, Democrats normally pick up more seats. When the process is more fair, Democrats do better. And that`s really our goal. And that`s what we`ll stay focused on.

MELBER: Right. You`re almost getting a the fact that just a return to a more majority rule system would actually be politically beneficial to the Democratic Party and defensible to those thinking about it ethically if it is simply democratic and not sort of rigged.

Kelly Ward, interim executive director of the redistricting committee. It`s a mouthful. It sounds more boring than it is important, you yet I think we`ve discussed why it is important. Thank you for joining us tonight.

WARD: Thank you very much for having me.

MELBER: Appreciate it.

Much more to come tonight. So, please stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: One of the things they do in preparation for New Year`s Eve in Times Square every year is the organized test of the confetti. Today, people stood on top of one of the marquees in Times Square and they did a test run to make sure the confetti would flutter properly. That`s important. The good news is it worked. We are a go for New Year`s Eve here in midtown New York, at least from a confetti perspective. Just to be safe tune in at midnight on Saturday, you can see if it goes as planned.

What about tonight, though? We do have something just as good. Tonight on this network we`ll do a special re-air of Rachel`s one-on-one interview with incoming White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, talking about everything from nuclear policy under Trump, to his relationship with the press or a relationship that includes the first lady suing a news outlet based on their coverage.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RACHEL MADDOW, TRMS HOST: Every president, not only in the modern era, every president back to the beginning of newsprint has believed that the president has lied about them and has hated the press and has inveighed against the press. I`ve never seen a first family, never seen a president or his family members trying to put newspapers out of business through --

(CROSSTALK)

CONWAY: He`s not trying to do that. That is not her lawsuit. Her lawsuit is suing someone, suing a publication that lied about her.

MADDOW: Are they going to do that to everybody?

CONWAY: And they apologized. Well, are people going to stop lying about them? She didn`t file the lawsuit as the first lady. She filed the lawsuit as a private citizen.

MADDOW: Will it continue when she`s first lady?

CONWAY: -- who has a right -- are people going to continue to lie about her?

MADDOW: Well, presumably the first family will continue to believe that people are lying about them. All presidents do. If somebody lies about the first family, you see it as a lie. Would you want that news enterprise to be gone in punishment?

CONWAY: No, of course not, no.

MADDOW: This conversation that we just had will be taught in journalism classes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: In journalism classes and in law schools. So who needs confetti when you have that at midnight tonight. Midnight tune in or set your DVR. Either way, do not miss it.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICK PERRY (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The third agency of government I would do away with Education, the -- Commerce. And let`s see. I can`t. The third one, I can`t. Sorry. Oops.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: I can`t. I can`t. Energy. It was Department of Energy.

Rick Perry later clarified that was a department he wanted to eliminate. And you could feel bad for him. He was so committed to the goal, maybe he`d already eliminated it from his mind.

But, folks, it could be the eighth sign of the political apocalypse that Perry was tapped to lead something that he does not think should exist as a policy matter. Or again, if you want to be charitable, Perry may have forgotten the name of the Department of Energy because it sounds sort of vague and forgettable. Would he have forgotten the name, though, if it was the department of nukes?

We`re not just asking. It very well could be named that. Half of the Energy Department`s budget, it turns out, is devoted to the U.S. nuclear weapons program, collecting data, inspecting the actual warheads, ensuring the safety of the weapons and promoting federal non-proliferation around the world as a U.S. government goal.

In fact, since 1998, no country except for North Korea has conducted even a nuclear test. The U.S. hasn`t done one since `92 at a Nevada test site. But now, this week, President-elect Trump talking about expanding our nuclear capability and there is this question whether we would start testing again, under the guidance of someone -- well, with, to be accurate, very little scientific background and no experience with the nuclear issues that make up about half of that department.

Contrast that to the last two people to hold the job. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and Steven Chu before that, who brought years of experience in the field. Chu, for example, won a Nobel Prize in physics in 1997 and has been telling the "New York Times" about that, that being a physicist does help manage the job of energy secretary, or as we might start calling it around here, nuclear secretary.

Quote, "If people are talking to a non-scientist, people might be of tempted to B.S. him. I refuse to be B.S.`ed."

Now, he says he hopes Rick Perry succeeds in the job of, a good spirit there, but, quote, "asked if he could recall a science background helped to make a decision as energy secretary, Mr. Chu didn`t hesitate. All the time, he said.

Maybe not the best news for Mr. Perry, but yes, we are rooting for him too. We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: For a holiday week, we`ve had a lot of news. President Obama announcing those sanctions against Russia and expelling about three dozen intelligence operatives. That new report from FBI and DHS on why they think Russia was behind it all.

A lot of news for what was supposed to be a sleepy Thursday before New Year`s. And tonight, I want to tell you, after we finish, our colleague, Lawrence O`Donnell, is going to have stories on this, including the great Nicolas Kristoff from the "New York Times."

But, first, when you work on TV, people ask, well, how many people does it take to put on a show, any show, or especially a show like this one? You see Rachel, you see guest hosts like me come in sometimes. Mostly, though, it is a fact, this show depends on a lot of people who usually go unnamed, except for once a year when we roll the credits here as a way of saying "thank you."

(MUSIC)

MELBER: I have had the privilege of working with all of those great people. Thank you for making this show and MSNBC`s work possible every night in 2016.

And for viewers, Rachel will be back on Monday for the start of 2017.

That does it for our show. I`m Ari Melber, in for Rachel Maddow. You can always e-mail me ari@msnbc.com.

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

Good evening and Happy New Year, Lawrence.

END

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