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The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 1/10/2017

Guests: Jennifer Palmieri, Bill Burton

Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: January 10, 2017 Guest: Jennifer Palmieri, Bill Burton

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC ANCHOR: Welcome to our coverage of the farewell address of President Barack Obama. He`ll be delivering it tonight in Chicago at McCormick Place. It`s a huge convention center. It`s the same venue where he celebrated his 2012 reelection. He celebrated his first election in 2008 also in Chicago, at Grant Park.

There are about 20,000 people in this building. That makes this a very atypical setting, a very atypical approach to a farewell address. Lots of presidential addresses have happened from the White House, often before no crowd, or crowd, just a handful of people. But President Barack Obama tonight will be in just moments addressing an absolutely enormous crowd.

We know people lined up in subzero temperatures on the streets of Chicago on Saturday morning to get the thousands of free tickets that were given away to this event. We have very little guidance as to what President Obama will say tonight. Presidents often throw a curveball or some very specific ideas into their farewell address.

We don`t know. With the excerpts we`ve gotten from the White House tonight are pretty generic. We don`t know exactly what we`re going to get from President Obama, but we know this will be his last major address to the nation.

ANNOUNCER: Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome the 44th president of the United States, Barack Obama.


MADDOW: President Obama along with the first lady and his elder daughter. Malia joined on the stage, as well, by Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Dr. Jill Biden. We saw the big heart-felt hug between the president and vice president there.

These, of course, were President Obama`s final public remarks. This is his farewell address. He will be president for another ten days until his successor is sworn in. This is an unusual setting, unusual approach for a farewell address. Our last two presidents to leave office did a farewell address of small scale, each of them less than 15 minutes, both of them done from the White House.

This comes up on just under one hour with a lot of time for applause and some soaking in the adoration of this enormous crowd. There`s 20,000 people there at McCormick Place in Chicago. This is a huge convention center. And these were free tickets were given out. Some just to people who lined up in the pre-dawn hours, in sub-zero temperatures on Saturday morning in Chicago to be able to get in.

This is also -- if you know anyone who has had association with the Obama administration, you`ll know this was sort of a last family reunion. People who were involved in any of the president`s campaigns, you heard him shout out to people who worked on his 2012 re-election campaign, his 2008 campaign to become president and even his campaign before then, 2004, to become a United States senator.

Of course, he`s gone home to do this. This is Chicago, where he worked as a community organizer, where he became a state senator from the south side of Chicago and from which he launched his initial foray in to national politics. He started his first national profile really grew from his speech at the Democratic National Convention in 2004.

You`ll remember that speech. It`s not red states America. It`s not blue states of America. It is United States of America.

Well, that speech that launched him as a national figure, there were 17,000 people in the room for that unbelievable speech. There are 20,000 in the room for this one and this is not the way presidents usually say good-bye.

I`m Rachel Maddow here in New York. I`m joined by a number of my friends here at MSNBC.

I will go to my dear colleague Chris Matthews.

Chris, what did you think?

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST, "HARDBALL": Well, I agree with you. In 2004, I remember coming off of watching it, and say, here`s your first African- American president. Many people saw that for the first time.


MATTHEWS: With the unusual name, with somewhat exotic name of Barack Hussein Obama.

I thought tonight, it`s always interesting to try to find the lead, I think this guy (ph) won`t stop. And although it had the coloration of a clothing of nonpartisan speech, it was a rearguard action.

He clearly said, I`m going to defend my decisions on Cuba. I`m going to defend the facts, the science that I`ve been guided by as president. I`m going to defend concerns about climate change and action on that. I`m going to defend and oppose, rather, any Muslim ban.

So, he basically drew a lot of --

MADDOW: Huge applause when he said that.

MATTHEWS: Yes, that was the big applause tonight, which I think was so current in our thinking. We don`t want that in this country. And I think that`s interesting that the candidate -- his candidate, his appointee for attorney general even said that, southern conservative said that today.

MADDOW: Jeff Sessions during his confirmation hearing.

MATTHEWS: He took on that. So, I thought it was in many ways as I said, a speech that had the sound and clothing of a nonpartisan speech. It was very much, if not a cri de guerre, a statement that I`m going to be in this thing and I`m going to be calling this guy.

And I thought this was the best line -- actually I don`t want to hog this, but this I think got to the heart of his fight with Trump. It is a fight. After all, if every economic issue is framed as a struggle between a hard- working white middle class and undeserving minorities, then workers of all shades will be left with scraps while the wealthy draw in to their private enclaves.

Boy, that`s a statement against Trump.

MADDOW: And we should note it was an unusual ending to the speech. I mean, in part because speeches aren`t usually approached this way. We have never had such a long heart-felt thank you. Again, a little bit of a family reunion feel here. But you saw Malia Obama, his oldest daughter, wiping away tears. He thanked his wife, and then the president himself taking out his handkerchief and wiping a tear, thanking people who worked on his campaign, thanking his vice president, thanking people who got him where he was and making a cry that people should get back involved.

It`s now 10 o`clock -- the president thanking people who got him where he was and making a cry that people should get back involved.

It`s now 10 o`clock on the East Coast, I`m Rachel Maddow with our continuing coverage of President Obama`s farewell address in Chicago tonight.

I`m joined by a number of my MSNBC colleagues here including Chris Matthews and Chris Hayes here on set.

Chris, I wanted to ask you about a remark, you and I both while we were watching the speech commented on this.

He said with some humor in his voice, "if you`re tired of arguing with strangers on the internet, try to talk with one in real life.

If something needs fixing, lace up your shoes and do some organizing. If you`re disappointed by your elected officials, grab a clipboard, get some signatures, run for office yourself.

Show up, dive in, persevere."

CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST, "ALL IN": You know, it was -- I think what was powerful about that portion and the speech in general was that if there`s anyone who has a right to well earn cynicism about American politics, it`s probably Barack Obama.

I mean, at one level, right? He`s this remarkable story who is elected twice. But also watching what has happened during his tenure and who will be coming after him.

MADDOW: Yes --

HAYES: You can imagine --

MADDOW: Internally distance from his own --

HAYES: Internally distance from his own value, I think you can imagine him or someone, a lot of people who support him being cynical.

And this whole speech was really about him basically testifying in a very personal way.

I am more optimistic, confident, in the power and potential of American civic involvement and American citizenship and a potential American democracy.

That I was when I was a sort of naive young kid who didn`t have any grey hair and burst onto the scene.

I now have the battle scars and believe me, I have been there, and I can tell you, I am testifying to you first hand, I watched this guy question my -- he didn`t say this.

I watched this guy question my citizenship, and now succeed me, and even going through that, I`m telling you.

MATTHEWS: He didn`t say that. You can --

HAYES: Yes --

MATTHEWS: Still --

HAYES: But that was the subject --


MADDOW: Yes --

HAYES: That was the subject, right? Was that, you know, I`m telling you, he said your faith in people will sometimes be disappointed.

But it will more often than not be rewarded --

MADDOW: Yes --

HAYES: Your believe in the reservoir of goodwill, I believe was the phrase --

MADDOW: Yes, the way that he -- that quote that I just read, the way that finished was "sometimes you win, sometimes you lose.

Presuming a reservoir of --

HAYES: That`s right --

MADDOW: Goodness and others can be at risk. And there will be times when the process disappoints you.

But for those of us fortunate enough to have been part of this work, to see it up close, let me tell you, it can energize and inspire more often than not your faith in America and in Americans will be confirmed."

MATTHEWS: Did he talk about Congress tonight?

HAYES: A little bit.

MADDOW: He talked about public service --

MATTHEWS: You know, not --

HAYES: He talked about Congress being dysfunctional and --


HAYES: The need to be their district --


No --

MATTHEWS: This was --

HAYES: No --

MATTHEWS: Not a --

HAYES: No --

MATTHEWS: Salute to the work in Congress the last -- because you know Mitch McConnell dedicated his life to destroying this chance of -- this man`s chance of getting even re-elected --

MADDOW: See, with Jesse Jackson there on the rope --

MATTHEWS: And I remember him crying actually the night here in Grant Park eight years ago.

MADDOW: Yes --

MATTHEWS: Yes, Obama is a lot -- no, I think that`s an interesting omission. I think it was purposeful.

I think the Congress has not being good or great in the last eight years. They have not done -- they should have dealt with immigration, they had the chance.

They had a good bill passed in a bipartisan passed in the Senate and they let it die. Boehner I hold responsible.

They just didn`t lead, they didn`t lead their people.

MADDOW: And that`s interesting. One of the -- one of the ways in which the Democratic Party under Obama was out-maneuvered by the Republican Party to the point where it both bamboozled them and now it`s really destroyed them in terms of their ability to form any sort of governing majority any time soon.

Was on the issue of redistricting and how congressional districts are drawn.

And I think there was some skepticism when it was announced a few weeks ago that Eric Holder and Barack Obama would form a political project in the wake of the Obama presidency to work on that issue for Democrats.

The fact that, that`s kind of the one-forth going -- or the one look-ahead presidential --

HAYES: Yes --

MADDOW: Policy level issue that he really raised here. I mean, he talked about other values and other things --

HAYES: Right --

MADDOW: That he cares about. But he did talk about gerrymandering. It`s interesting.

I think that`s actually a sign that maybe he is going to work on that in this post presidency.

HAYES: I think so, and I think that what -- the sort of subtext there and throughout the whole speech because he`s sort of identifying these threats to American democracy is that while the speech is very optimistic, it is also a sounding of the alarm about what the threats are to --

MADDOW: Yes --

HAYES: The basic -- not just American domestic liberal democratic order, essentially, the entirety of the post-World War II liberal democratic word that was constructed in the ruin of holocaust and fascism and global war.

And he is quite clear about identifying a number of threat to that from within and without.

MADDOW: Yes --

MATTHEWS: I think in decency, it`s going to be our biggest challenge again. Just the failure to be civil with each other.

And I just spent two weeks with my family in India and I say, you can call that a developing country, but what they have developed in civility.

They treat each other with civility. And I think that Trump is probably going to bring down that level in our country in the next couple of years unfortunately.

MADDOW: Obama said tonight, "protecting our way of life requires more than our military.

Democracy can buckle if we give in to fear. So, just as we are citizens must remain vigilant against external aggression.

We must guard against the weakening of the values that make us --


MADDOW: Who we are. Let`s be vigilant but not afraid. Our democracy is threatened whenever we take it for granted."

But again, all couch in what ended up being the end of the arc of this speech.

Which is that democracy -- that the constitution is just paper without us. That democracy needs you, not just when there`s an election.

Not just when you want something, but as a life-time project of everybody in this country.

MATTHEWS: You know how I like this -- I mean, back and watched the speech that got me thrilled physically as everybody laughed at me for because it did get me thrilled physically.

Back -- the University of Wisconsin speech, February 12th of 2008 where he just was -- he was soaring.

And it was as good a speech as this, but of course it was before, this is after, and it`s much harder to do it after.

Because you`ve been through all the wars, all the scar tissue, all the fighting and the failures, and he`s able to give a speech this soaring at the end of a term.

That`s pretty amazing after eight years.

HAYES: I thought about the people in that room, the family reunion. And one of them is my brother who gave about five and a half years of his life working for Obama campaigns.

And I`ll say, and my wife who walked into the old executive office building on January 20th, 2009 to figure out how the phones worked.

There`s a generation of people in Democratic Party politics and center left politics who in -- I think much the way that Reagan generation which was sort of legendary and still commands incredible influence in the Republican Party.

They will very much shape the direction of the Democratic Party. Entire generation of operatives and people who then ran for office and political organizers.

Who are going to be a sort of -- well --

MADDOW: Or will -- or will they leave?

HAYES: Right --

MADDOW: I mean, there`s -- I would have believed you as an article of faith --

HAYES: Right --

MADDOW: Up until 63 days ago.

HAYES: Right, yes --

MADDOW: And nailed that the successor to President Obama will be somebody who represents and who embodies such a manifest rejection of Obamaism in --

HAYES: Yes --

MADDOW: Politics. Does that change the direction of the Obama generation of "Politico`s", not just himself.

HAYES: Part of this speech was urging those folks not to do that.

MADDOW: Yes --

HAYES: I mean, it`s -- and not just obviously narrow-casting to those folks that are -- that are in Obama world that work in the administration - -

MADDOW: But he was speaking --


MADDOW: To them.

MATTHEWS: He was speaking --

MADDOW: Yes --

HAYES: To them and he was speaking more broadly. He`s speaking to the supporters and volunteers, the one point shouted out the people that --


HAYES: Took in a stranger in the house, right? When --

MADDOW: Yes --

HAYES: Campaign order shows up and says --

MATTHEWS: Because he`s so smart --

HAYES: Spent six weeks there --

MATTHEWS: It`s all about a rearguard. A lot of the presidential legacy building has been after the fact.

Reagan, the greatest president in history, OK, he did a lot of good things, he was successful politically, is popular. But --

HAYES: Yes --

MATTHEWS: The Reagan Airport, the Reagan building --

MADDOW: Yes --

MATTHEWS: The Reagan --

HAYES: Right --

MADDOW: There was a --


HAYES: Afterwards --

MADDOW: Yes --

HAYES: Right --

MATTHEWS: And it was so smart that --

MADDOW: Sanctify him --

MATTHEWS: Nailed it when --

MADDOW: Yes --

MATTHEWS: They had their chance. Jimmy Carter, good man, pretty good presidency, had no rearguard.

Nixon of course had none, even his family wouldn`t be his rearguard. You need a rearguard.

It has to be organized. The Kennedys are fabulous at this. Ted Kennedy has more people in this town, Bob, Schrum(ph), people like that.

They`re all over just waiting for a --

HAYES: Right --

MATTHEWS: Book to come out against Kennedy.



And there was Joe --

HAYES: Right --

MATTHEWS: McGinniss, who did --

MADDOW: Right --

MATTHEWS: Write a book against --

HAYES: Yes --

MATTHEWS: The Kennedys. You`re going to find yourself assaulted in the -- in the review pages.

So, I think a part of it is, I`m not sure it should be --

HAYES: Good point --

MATTHEWS: Organized, but I expect people like Podesta and the rest of them, I would think would be around to sing the guy`s praises after the fact.

His big mistake as president, there was one, he would do the stimulus and then he wouldn`t sell why it worked.

And why it was important to the whole economic development in the last eight years.

He would sell healthcare, but he wouldn`t do the after-sell. He wouldn`t say, this is our program.

Reagan never stopped saying "our program", even though he only did it in `81.

He passed it, and then he said, "our program". He said ongoing dynamic.

You can`t just sell the car, you`ve got to sell it to the people who are driving it. And say, isn`t this a great car? I --


If you like this --

MADDOW: I wonder that he didn`t try to sell it though, but it didn`t -- it didn`t --


MATTHEWS: See, I think he moved on --

MADDOW: You tell people now about his economic record in terms of what happened with jobs --


MADDOW: And economic growth and unemployment. Now, all those things over the course of his eight years (INAUDIBLE) people don`t believe it.

Particularly people who voted against him don`t believe it, even to -- even though he has --

HAYES: Yes --

MADDOW: Spent the last year --


MADDOW: Talking about all the things --

MATTHEWS: Well, they go to the gangsters --

MADDOW: That he has accomplished.

HAYES: Right --

MATTHEWS: They`re not going to -- they`re not going to praise what they voted against. Stimulus was a big argument.

Your point though on parity --

MADDOW: It`s one thing to be against the stimulus, it`s another thing to deny that the --


MADDOW: Stimulus worked.

HAYES: Well, this was the -- this was the central -- you know, the three things that he sort of identified as a threat, right?

The middle one was the sort of --

MADDOW: Was economic inequality, race and division --

HAYES: Right --

MADDOW: And then that the --

HAYES: The sort of disintegration --

MADDOW: Of fact --

HAYES: Of fact, and of --


HAYES: And of the basic kind of -- a basic kind of communal framework for making rational decisions.

MADDOW: As we watch this remarkable visual that we are still watching, this -- the length of this visual scene itself --


MADDOW: Newsworthy. He finished before 10 o`clock Eastern Time, the president continuing now to do an extraordinarily long --

MATTHEWS: This is unusual. He is usually aloof --


MADDOW: He never -- he never --

HAYES: Yes --

MADDOW: He never does that --

MATTHEWS: This is Bill Clinton stuff --

HAYES: Yes --

MATTHEWS: Going door to door --

MADDOW: He had been warned that he was going to do a rogue(ph) one --


MADDOW: At the end of it, an extended --


MADDOW: (INAUDIBLE) and Vice President Biden and other people staying and pressing the flesh for a long time here.

I want to bring into the conversation our friend the Reverend Al Sharpton, the host of "Politics Nation", leader of the National Action Network.

Rev. Al, it`s great to have you here with us tonight, thanks for joining us my friend.


MADDOW: What did you think of this -- of this speech as a speech as a man who has a reputation as an orator yourself? But also what did you think of this as a closing note from this presidency?

SHARPTON: I thought it was way beyond the expectations of even those of us that have known this president.

Because in many ways, he was today or tonight, the same kind of person he is in private.

I was at the farewell the other night at the White House. The mixture of his being one that is lofty and poetic but very pragmatic.

I mean, I smile when I heard him talking about his mom says "reality will catch up with you" because he says that all the time when he meets with civil rights leaders.

You`ve got to go beyond the boundaries of what`s comfortable. Reality will catch up with you, reach out but keep protesting.

And I think that he said that to the American people tonight. Whether you are protesting, whether you are not, whatever side you`re on, you`ve got to reach beyond your comfort zone and you`ve got to believe in something bigger than yourself.

But at the same time, you`ve got to deal with reality. So, it was a perfect balance between dreamer and pragmatist.

And I think that`s the person that Barack Obama is and the president that he became.

And I think his closing statement tonight really capsulized that better than any of us could have expected.

MADDOW: Al, as we`ve been talking, we`ve been watching the president continuing this sort of remarkable rope line that he`s doing.

This is not typical President Obama. We just saw him have a long embrace and a long conversation with his former spokesman Robert Gibbs who we all know of course from his subsequent life in this business.

I wonder from your experience talking with the president in these closing days, going to that closing party that he had on Friday night, watching him tonight.

Do you feel like you have a clear image, Rev, of what President Obama is going to make of the next political chapter in his life?

And what he`s going to do with his post-presidency and how political it will be?

SHARPTON: I think he is going to be very firm on broad policies, but he`s going to apply it in a direct political way.

I think that you must remember at his core he believes in himself as an organizer.

Whether it is a political organizer or on the ground organizer, he`s very committed to doing something about young people.

He`s very committed about preserving democracy in terms of voting and he`s very committed about economic equality.

And I think he will be very involved. I don`t think he will be aggressive in terms of trying to attack the incoming president in terms of personal exchange.

But I think he will be very aggressive about the things he believes in, the things he fought for and defending what he has put in place.

And I think that if people think he`s just going to disappear, he won`t, but he will not be out there leading parades or marches or things like we will.

But he`s going to be very much effective, weighing in on the broad issues that he really fought for and made some achievements on.

I mean, he named many of them tonight, from healthcare to criminal justice reform to climate change.

And I don`t think that he will in any way shrink from pushing them as a citizen as probably the ultimate citizen starting in ten days.

MADDOW: The Reverend Al Sharpton of the National Action Network, and from our family here at MSNBC, Al, it`s great to have you with us tonight on this big night, thanks for joining us.

SHARPTON: Thank you.

MADDOW: You know, it`s interesting what the Rev was just saying there in terms of President Obama and his relationship to his successor.

Obviously President Obama has a lot of grey hair, but he`s still leaving office as a -- as a young man.

And it was interesting to see the reaction from the crowd tonight. His only words about his successor, explicitly were kind.

When people started booing, when he talked about his successor coming into office in ten years, he said no.

And he said positive things about what he`s hoping for from his successor President Trump, he mentioned him by name.

But the largest applause in the room was whenever he implicitly rebuked what are expected to be policy positions of his successor, the discrimination against Muslims for example.

Talking about wanting to close Guantanamo. The huge cheers throughout the room in terms of the number.

Tens of millions of Americans who have received health insurance, health coverage through the Affordable Care Act and the implicit argument there to defend those gains.

So, even if the president-elect is not going to be somebody who President - - who former President Obama calls out by name, I think he can see the hunger for that at least by the people in this room tonight at McCormick Place in Chicago.

I`m joined now here in New York by great Tom Brokaw who has been watching the speech with us tonight.

Tom, thank you so much for coming in.

TOM BROKAW, AUTHOR & JOURNALIST: I`m glad to be here.

MADDOW: This is an unusual format in an unusual approach to a farewell address.

These are usually not this big a deal when presidents give their farewells, at least not in the modern era.

BROKAW: Well, this is the kind of speech that got him elected the president of the United States.

And it was that kind of an appearance that he made as you may remember in Boston during the John Kerry convention.

MADDOW: Yes, of course --

BROKAW: That first drew our attention to him. So, he is very eloquent. You cannot take that away from him.

He`s one of the most eloquent presidents we`ve had for a long time. And the celebration of his family, I think is an important part of his legacy as well.

Because whatever people feel about his politics when you look at Michelle and the two daughters and how they have conducted themselves in the White House, I think that, that should give everyone a good feeling about their family values.

And he`s been scandal free frankly in the White House. We haven`t had that for a while.

There have been some issues around his campaign but they have not settled on him.

Now, having said all of that, I also want to add that, you have to let a presidency marinate for a while before it can really make a judgment.

These kinds --

MADDOW: Yes --

BROKAW: Of evenings are very emotional obviously, and it`s practically the people who are for him.

The fact is that he`s been the (INAUDIBLE) head of the party, they lost control of the Congress.

Seventy five percent of the state houses are now in the hands of the Republicans with governors and attorneys general out there.

And he`s got a Congress now that is Senate and Republican in the house as well.

So, from a political point of view, there`s a lot of residue from the Obama era of eight years.

Not all entirely his fault. Republicans helped by getting up against him and saying we`re not going to do anything.

They played stall ball for eight years, no question about that. I think the other issue that is troubling to a lot of people and his national security circles are the fact that he stood back with Syria.

And that he kept moving the red line and what happened is that Putin saw that, moved in and we have had a terrible human rights tragedy going on in Aleppo and Syria.

And there`s been almost no response from this White House on that. So, it`s a mix of all of these things that people will have to digest for a while, ruminate on it and then make some conclusions about the legacy of President Obama.

MADDOW: We`ve also -- I mean, raising the issue of Russia from a -- from a different angle, this is also happening.

This president is saying good-bye in this emotional and eloquent way that he did tonight.

At one point who sort of -- crying, making -- wiping away a tear as he talked about his wife and his love for his family.

But at the same time within, you know, the last 48 hours, we`ve been talking about what we`ve learned about a phenomenal international attack on our election and an effort, a multi-facetted effort to try to affect the outcome of our presidential election.

Which is something that we`ve never contemplated before as a country.

How much did those revelations -- did the -- this almost impossible to believe news about what just happened in the last election.

How much did those change the assessment of the end of the Obama presidency and how we think about his successor?

BROKAW: Well, I think it`s very hard to know until you talk to the individual voters that are out there.

It looks like the -- it looks like the Trump voters are saying that didn`t make any difference to us.

We don`t care about the whole Russian thing. It is outrageous. If they were as involved as our national security and our intelligence agency say they are.

And I am stunned that there`s not more outrage, in fact from the new president-elect himself saying I want to report on that, I want it now, and --

MADDOW: Yes --

BROKAW: I want a complete read-out on what has been going on. We cannot allow another country to come in.

Whether it`s Russia or Iran or one of the Islamic states and interfere with our election process.

But he`s been dismissive of it, and so, that`s quite stunning as well. I have been doing this for a long time.

And I`ve never seen our traditional political practices quite as scrambled as they are right now --

MADDOW: Yes --

BROKAW: On the Democratic side and on the Republican side --

MADDOW: Yes, that`s an excellent way to put it. They`re scrambled, and it makes it hard to anticipate what`s going to happen next.

It`s also hard to feel where the -- where the sort of center of gravity is in terms of where -- from where power can be exerted.

For example, you`re just talking about the difficulties in the Democratic Party under the Obama era.

He was a political phenomenon elected in 2008 against all odds, re-elected in 2012 and a lot of people thought he would not be.

He`s had this incredible media rise, and I think a broadly successful presidency while the Democratic Party has lost so much ground while he`s held the presidency in that environment.

Even if you just talk about that slice of it. Does that open up an unprecedented space for him as a former president to play a role in Democratic Party politics.

Or do all former presidents have to disappear from the partisan fray?

BROKAW: Well, this is a debate that`s going on within the Democratic Party, not necessarily in Congress which just re-elected Nancy Pelosi, the speaker.

MADDOW: Yes --

BROKAW: Even though they`ve lost everything under her leadership at this point.

But out there, among Democrats, there is an agonizing discussion that is going on about how do we reconstitute the party.

How do we bring in the millennials into what we`re doing. We`ve had a kind of an elitist group of leaders in the Democratic Party for a long time.

A white-working class, a lot of military veterans who normally should have been Democrats have rejected that idea.

The country has come apart politically and said we`re just not going to put up with the way business has been forever.

We`re going to take hold of it in our own way, and they had the perfect instrument in Donald Trump to do just that.

So, I think that we`re through a very seismic time --

MADDOW: Yes --

BROKAW: If that`s the word about all the plates are moving in different directions, and it`s not a guarantee that Donald Trump is going to be there forever.

But the Democratic Party has got to figure out what is our part in this? We obviously are going to have to reconstitute ourselves in some fashion to reconnect with what has been our traditional constituency.

MADDOW: And their opportunities may change as the new administration comes in --

BROKAW: No question about it --

MADDOW: I mean, talk about there being almost no scandal footprint from the Obama administration.

I think you know, you can`t prove -- you can`t see a scandal coming before it arrives, but I think it`s fair to say that it`s going to be a controversial administration.

And the way that they are treating even just issues about, you know, vetting their cabinet nominees is already controversial.

We see the president and his wife here now walking off stage after that incredibly long rope line they did there.

But if the Trump administration is going to be, you know, controversial, is going to be dealing with scandals, is going to have, you know, controversial personnel picks.

The incoming president has the lowest approval rating of any incoming president in the modern era.

The Quinnipiac poll that came out today put him at a 37 percent approval rating as somebody who is just about to be sworn in as president.

That itself offers new opportunities for the Democratic Party. Being an opposition party the way they haven`t been in a very long time if they have the leadership to capitalize it -- on it and the vision.

BROKAW: But the problem is for the Democrats, in two years, he may not have a 37 percent approval rating --

MADDOW: Yes --

BROKAW: It may be higher.

MADDOW: Yes --

BROKAW: I mean, if he kick-starts the economy, if he reaches out to the white-working class and gets them on his side, it could trickle up, we don`t know.

MADDOW: Yes --

BROKAW: Well, I remember when John F. Kennedy got elected, the best and the brightest, right?

It could have been the best team we`ve ever had in Washington. What`s the first thing that happened, Bay of Pigs.

What was the next thing that happened? They appointed Bob McNamara, the secretary of defense.

He put us deep in Vietnam and did not get us out until we lost 50,000 people. So, you can`t really say at this point exactly what`s going to happen whoever is the president.

MADDOW: Right --

BROKAW: I mean, there is a big debate going on within the Trump team right now. I`ve been talking to several of them.

And they`re all trying to figure out what their role is and how they talk to them and how he responds to things.

So, they`re working it out. And on January 21st, he`ll sit down in that Oval Office and it won`t be a campaign again.

Stuff will be coming in over the transit, under the door and through the window and he`ll have to respond to them.

And it won`t be a tweet. He`ll have to deal with something that is going to have consequences around the world.

And that`s what I hope he gets at this point, at some point, and that I think his team is concerned about that as well.

MADDOW: Yes, and you feel it implicitly with the sobriety with which this outgoing president is talking about his responsibilities and the sort of humility that he could -- and say this is my chance to say thank you.

The humility and sobriety and dignity of this president as he`s leaving is a stark and serious reminder in terms of what the challenges are for the new guy about to take over.

Tom Brokaw, it is always an honor when you are here on this set, thank you so much for coming --

BROKAW: Well --

MADDOW: In tonight --

BROKAW: I`ll be watching. I think you`ve got a lot of work ahead of you.

MADDOW: I do --

BROKAW: And we all do as well by the way. And I think it`s going to be -- I don`t want to use the word exciting.

But it`s going to be interesting and it`s going to require the best involvement of all the citizens in this country --

MADDOW: Yes --

BROKAW: To decide who we are, where we want to go and how we get there, whoever is the president.

And the president right now is Donald Trump and he will be for the foreseeable future.

And so, people have to decide how do we deal with that reality? It`s not enough just to sit back and mock him or hold your head.

You`ve got to figure out how we`re going to deal with it.

MADDOW: Yes --

BROKAW: And that includes us as well.

MADDOW: That`s exactly right. There has never, ever been a better time to have a job like this. I have never been more --



MADDOW: Tom Brokaw, thanks --

BROKAW: That`s true --

MADDOW: For being here my friend --

BROKAW: That`s true, anyhow, great --

MADDOW: I want to go now to -- back to Chicago, to McCormick Place, the site of President Obama`s speech.

White House correspondent Chris Jansing joins us now. Chris, I know that you`ve been there tonight in that remarkable hall.

We`ve been -- we`ve had the visual on the whole night watching the president and the vice president and their families do this rope line.

The kind of which we haven`t seen from these guys in a very long time. What`s it been like in the room there?

CHRIS JANSING, NBC NEWS WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I have been to scores of speeches with President Obama formal speeches, the campaign rallies here and abroad.

I`ve never felt anything quite like this. It kind of started when I was out in the crowd before he came.

And a lot of people use the phrase "mixed emotions". And when he came out on stage, this is cavernous hall and there was just like a rolling thunder of applause.

And then very quickly they settled in and they were quiet and they were respectful and they seemed to be hanging on every word.

And several times I looked out over the expanse of people, they say 20,000 of them and didn`t see a single person holding up a cell phone.

Think about that, it`s remarkable. The only other time I`ve seen that, frankly, is when Pope Francis came to town and actually was with the president at Andrews Air Force base.

Then like all great speeches, it seemed to build, and he really got into the kinds of issues that brought these people to him in the first place.

And there were, at least, five standing ovations, and the first one is really all about those issues, about equality for all.

About marriage equality, about saying we have to reject discrimination against Muslims.

That we have to make it easier to vote. And then he only had to say that one word, right? Michelle --

MADDOW: Yes --

JANSING: And there were women right in front of me who were just going like -- and were so excited.

And look at what`s going on over here. I have seen halls larger than this, clear out in 15 minutes.

These folks are staying, they`re waving American flags. I`ve seen them hugging. This is like a reunion.

And it`s clear from what we`re seeing, they don`t want to leave this room. They don`t want this moment to end. They don`t want this presidency to end -- Rachel?

MADDOW: Chris, I want to -- if you have a second, the moment that you were just referencing there about when he started talking to his wife, the first lady, it was such a remarkable moment.

You know, I was sitting here with Chris Mathews and Chris Hayes while we were watching it, and as soon as he turned to this portion of the speech, Chris Matthews said rightfully, you know, other presidents don`t do this.

They don`t do this, they don`t talk about the other people in their lives.

They don`t talk about -- they may have shut out their families, but they don`t bring everybody else into it.

And it is -- it`s substantively -- it`s a remarkable thing. But it was also this emotional moment, he ad-libs a little bit.

His eldest daughter Malia wiped away a tear, the president himself wiped away a tear.

If you have a second, I`d like to just play that moment from the speech, and then if you could just tell me what that was like both in the moment.

How different this is from the way we usually hear from this president. Watch.





Michelle LaVaughn Robinson, girl of the south side --



For the past 25 years, you have not only been my wife and mother of my children, you have been my best friend.



You took on a role you didn`t ask for, and you made it your own with grace and with grit and with style and good humor.



You made the White House a place that belongs to everybody. And a new generation sets its sights higher because it has you as a role model.



So, you have made me proud, and you have made the country proud.


MADDOW: That was a very personal moment, obviously a very emotional moment for the Obama family.

Chris, that`s rare for them to show that to the public, isn`t it?

JANSING: You know, it`s still interesting when you hear people who are close to them and who have been close to them for 20-25 years or longer.

And I`ve been talking to a lot of them over the course of the last couple of days. And they talk about the strength that this family has found in each other. And in fact, they said to me over the last couple of days, that they thought that if he decided to put this in the speech and the speech was being written up in this last minute if he decided to reference his family that`s when they thought he would indeed get caught up in it. You know they have been in a situation that nobody else but them can describe, being the first African American president, the first African American First Lady, the expectations that were put on them, the criticism that they faced, and both the President and First Lady talking about their fears for raising two young daughters.

Remember when Michelle Obama said the first day she put her kids in the limousine with armed men she thought, what have I done? And this is a family that people are close to them say have, in fact, thrived. And, you know, if you want to see what this is about, go to Pete Souza and the Whitehouse Instagram and see those sort of private moments that are suddenly not so private where he has caught the first family or the caught the President and First Lady in, you know, an embrace or just a laugh, and you can`t fake that. You can`t make that up. And I was waiting for that moment. And I`m not surprised that all that happened and people said he was feeling very nostalgic. And yes emotional leading up to this moment as you can that understand that was finally the moment that got him, Rachel.

MADDOW: Chris Jansing NBC News Chief White Correspondent. Chris it`s a real pleasure and a priviledge to have you with us here tonight. Thank you so much. Great to have you back.

JANSING: Thank you.

MADDOW: I want to bring in the conversation now, a couple of people who are among the sort of the extended Obama family that had this ginormous family reunion tonight around this President`s farewell address. There were about 20,000 people in that room, a lot of them included veterans of this administration, people who were involved both in campaigns and in governing. Joining us now somebody who watched with us tonight, Jen Palmieri. She`s former Whitehouse Communications Director for the Obama administration. We`re also going to be talking in a second with Bill Burton, whose former Deputy Whitehouse Communications Director for the Obama Administration. Jen and Bill, I really want to thank you both for being here tonight. Jen, let me start with you. Obviously the last couple of years of your life has been 100,000 percent devoted to trying to elect Hillary Clinton to secede Barack Obama, setting aside that mission. How did you feel about this closing note from President Obama tonight?

JENNIFER PALMIERI, DIRECTOR OF COMMUNICATIONS, HILLARY CLINTON`S 2016 PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN: I felt like he was trying to give us a road map. And by us I mean I think the country and also specifically Obama supporters and the people that voted for Hillary because, you know, he`s a not just our party`s leader. He`s obviously the leader of the country and I think he wants to give people a way to think of the Trump presidency and how his supporters and Americans everywhere can continue to make progress.

And I know that he`s really concerned about people feeling deflated or that the gains that were made under this presidency could be lost or what is possible under this President isn`t possible again in America. And I think what he wanted to lay out for all of us is that this why it comes down to the citizen and having continue to be involved and that it is within your power to make a difference and that you were always the change. it was never about me. I was the vessel in which you invested but you were the one that did the work. And the -- I know the worked on the speech for a long time. But I think at some level it probably wasn`t hard to write because the themes that were in it are -- is, you know, as Reverend Al was saying, this is how he talks behind closed doors. This is how he governed the whole time. And he would always talk about how the moral arc of the universe is long but it bends towards justice. So maybe two steps up and one step back but that`s the way that progress is made and I think he is trying to show us all to not be disheartened but understand we still have a role to play while this President is in office and that people should be running for office and preparing to do that, as well.

MADDOW: I can tell you heard and understood him in that argument, but having just helped run Hillary Clinton for President, in that campaign that you just went through, winning the popular vote but not the presidency, do you believe him?

PALMIERI: I do. I do believe him. And he has -- every President if you look at the farewell addresses, everyone says I leave this office more idealistic than I came in to it. And, you know, President Bush said that, President Clinton said that and I have had the privilege to work in the Whitehouse for President Clinton and President Obama and you do see the ability that the American people can make this change. So I am -- obviously if it was a devastating result, the fact that Hillary won the popular vote by so much is frustrating but ultimately empowering because you understand that there are enough people in America that want to -- that affirm the way this President approached his job and that these people are part of our country. We`re still all here, and he`s giving us marching orders for how to be productive.

And that doesn`t mean -- I disagree because I heard some people saying earlier this is a speech about how to have a rear guard action. I don`t think that is what he is trying to do. He`s showing everyone in a democracy it only works because we agree to live by a certain set of rules and implicit in that is we are engaging with each other and trying to live by the set of rule and encourage people to break down barriers that have let us live in silos so you don`t have the country that resulted in the election that we had.

MADDOW: Jen Palmieri former Whitehouse Communications Director, Senior Adviser and Communications Director for the Clinton Campaign. Jen, thank you for watching this with us tonight. Thank you for joining us. It`s really good to have you here, apart of this.

PALMIERI: Thanks Rachel.

MADDOW: We want to bring in to the conversation Bill Burton, former deputy Communications Director for the Obama Administration. One of the very high profile faces especially from that first term of the Obama Administration. Bill you`re there in Chicago. Tell me what it meant to you to be there tonight? Why you wanted to be there and what it felt like to be in the room.

BILL BURTON, POLITICAL CONSULTANT: Well you know the first time I came to Chicago for Barack Obama was almost 10 years ago to this day. Me and a buddy of mine got in his truck and we drove out here to start working on the campaign, getting ready for President then Senator Obama`s announcement. And so to be able to come back and have a coda on that end of that experience after we were a part of first campaign, he won re- election, we were a part of that. And then all of the fights he had in the Whitehouse it`s really meaningful.

And, you know, I think a lot of people came here ready to be sad to be totally honest and ready to kind of mourn the end of something that was really special. Not just in this moment but in American history. But what happened is the President came out and said OK, well we`ve got a new mission now and the room was full of, you know, some of the folks I was working with the last 10 years and some people who were supporters and, you know, old people like me and even older but it had this great like this great energy. And these young folks and the bleachers were full, folks were fired up and ready to get in the fight. And you know, we have a whole new set of challenges now but the same ones are still there in terms of environment and education and health care and, you know, I think that these young folks are going to help figure it out. And, you know, it`s time for a new set of leadership and that`s what the President talked about. Not just sitting around and moping but getting out doing the work, running for office, organizing. It was great.

MADDOW: And doing the work and organizing and running for office, that all happens now in the Donald Trump era, right? 10 days from now starts the new administration. And one of the things I was talking about earlier with my friend Chris Hayes was this idea of what happens to the Obama generation of politicos? Of people who either were directly involved with the administration or volunteered with one of the campaigns or worked with one of the campaigns or see themselves, you know, as a -- you know people who see themselves as Obama voters and Obama supporters. The question is at a time like this, before we knew that Donald Trump was going to be the successor, I think we had a good idea who what was going to happen to all the talent that was grown and cultivated under the Obama era. In the Trump era, I`m not sure I know what the Obama generation does. Do people disperse and work in non-government organizations? Do they work activism that`s outside electoral politics? Are people turned off by electoral politics because of what just happened in this successor presidential election? Do people get involved directly in formin an anti-Trump movement?

BURTON: Well, I`ll be totally honest with you. I think there`s a lot of people who are despondent about the fact that Donald Trump is going to be President in the next 10 days. And the sad truth of the matter is for as bad as we feel now it does actually worse before it gets better because everything is just theoretical right now. And we will at one point long for the salad days of the transition because once he`s in office and actually doing the things that he`s promised that he`s going to do it`s going to be hard times. And a lot of people are going to get despondent and turned off and not engaged. But, you know, when I looked around this room today it wasn`t a lot of depressed folks who looking to get out of the fight.

You know I think a lot of people will move on. They`ll go to the private sector but a lot of us will stay in it. And the talent will be refreshed. That`s the thing about losing elections is that, you know, for as much as we want Hillary Clinton to win, this is a time of reflection and a time the Democratic Party and progressive movement really being introspective about where we are and where were going but refreshing the energy and taking on the new fights in new ways. And like I said before I think that it`s the young folks who will figure this out and all the old folks are going to follow their lead.

MADDOW: It`s weird to hear you talking about the young folks and you need to get off your lawn. You are not that old Bill Burton. You might feel old I`m sure.

BURTON: I feel old.

MADDOW: You`re not that old.

BURTON: In this room I feel old.

MADDOW: I know. Bill Burton, former Deputy Whitehouse --

BURTON: I don`t feel old enough to be involved in something for 10 years I`ll tell you that much.

MADDOW: Trust me, we have the records. Bill thanks for being with us tonight. I really appreciate you giving us the time this evening. Thank you.

BURTON: Thank you, Rachel

MADDOW: Bill Burton was former Deputy Whitehouse Communications Director, very high profile spokesman for the Obama Administration. All right, he was just talking about the salad days of the transition and that we`ll look back and long for these days. Well today is one of the salad days for the transition. It was the kind of salad bars that ought to have an visit from the inspectors. You know what I mean. Today was incredible day for the Trump transition and not in a good way and we`ve got some of that news coming up next. Stay with us.


SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D), VERMONT: is grabbing a woman without consent on her genitals sexual assault?


LEAHY: If a sitting President or any other high federal official is accused of committing what the President Elect described in a context in which it could be federally prosecuted, would you be able to prosecute and investigate?

SESSIONS: The president is subject to certain lawful restrictions and they would be required to be applied by the appropriate law enforcement official if appropriate, yes.

LEAHY: And the conduct described, based on the description, would be sexual assault?

SESSIONS: Well, the confusion about the question was a hypothetical question. And it related to what was said on the tape. I did not remember at the time whether this was suggested to be an unaccepted, unwanted, would certainly meet the definition if that is what the tape said than that would be --

LEAHY: My question is very simple, is grabbing a woman by her genitals without consent is that sexual assault?

SESSIONS: Thank you.

LEAHY: Thank you.


MADDOW: We all sort of know what confirmation hearings are like. Confirmation hearings are not usually like that. But today was the confirmation hearing for a Donald Trump supporting senator who really had previously said that it would be, in his words, a stretch to call it sexual assault if Mr. Trump really did just grab women by the crotch, which is something that he bragged about on tape. Today was a marathon and at times surreal day one of the Attorney General Jeff Sessions confirmation hearing.

This is the first confirmation hearing for the new Trump cabinet. It was marked by protesters sitting in at Session`s office and getting yanked out of the hearing itself one after the other all day long. The nominee at his hearing changed his positions on a few key issues. He is now denying that he ever called the NAACP un-American even though he previously announced that he -- or admitted that he had done that. He also changed his previous support of water boarding to now saying that he thinks that water boarding is illegal.

He was also pinned too the wall at one point by Al Franken for having claimed credit for working on civil rights cases, even though Senator Sessions never actually did real work on those cases. And tomorrow, we now know things are going to get rougher still for Senator Sessions. Tomorrow there`s going to be testimony against his nomination from Congressman John Lewis, hero of the civil rights movement who was beaten nearly to death by police officers in Jeff Sessions`s home state of Alabama.

Jeff Sessions will also make history tomorrow when Senator Cory Booker testifies against his nomination. In the history of his country out of all the senators who have ever been nominated for a job like this, no sitting senator has ever testified against another sitting senator at their confirmation hearing, ever. But Cory Booker will do that against Jeff Sessions tomorrow. And the hits just keep on coming.

At noontime today, Buzzfeed news published an article noting that the widow of Martin Luther King Jr., Coretta Scott King, had submitted a letter the last time Jeff Sessions was up for confirmation in the senate when he was put up for a federal judgeship in 1986. Senate famously voted down his nomination in `86 because Jeff Sessions was seen as basically too racist to be a federal judge. Coretta Scott King wrote to the senate at that time when he was up for that judgeship and she pleaded with the senate to not elevate him to the federal bench.

The committee chairman at the time, long time segregationist Strom Thurmond never submitted her letter to the congressional record. And so Buzzfeed posted this piece about the missing letter from Martin Luther King`s widow. They posted that piece at Buzzfeed at about noon today by 6:00 p.m. Tonight Wesley Lowery at the Washington post had gotten hold of Correta Scott King`s letter. And it is devastating.

"Anyone who has used the power of his office as United States attorney to intimidate and chill the free exercise of the ballot by citizens should not be elevated to our courts. Mr. Sessions has used the awesome powers of his office in a shabby attempt to intimidate and frighten elderly black voters. For this reprehensible conduct he should not be rewarded with a federal judgeship." "A person who has exhibited so much hostility to the enforcement of voting rights laws and thus to the exercise of those rights by black people should not be elevated to the federal bench." "Jeff sessions sought to punish older black civil rights activists, adviser and colleagues of my husband who had been key figures in the civil rights movement in the 1960s.

The only sin they committed was being too successful in gaining votes." "The irony of Jeff Sessions`s nomination is that if confirmed he will be given life tenure for doing what a federal prosecution, what the local sheriffs accomplished 20 years ago with clubs and cattle prods." That from Coretta Scott King, the widow of Martin Luther King Jr. writing to the senate in 1986 to try to stop the confirmation of Jeff Sessions as a federal judge. Because of his record of going after civil rights activists. The whole letter is chilling, it`s a very well written, vibrates with intensity and who knows why Stom Thurmon decided not to put it in to the congressional record when Jeff Sessions went up for that judgeship in 1986 and got voted down but now the Washington Post tonight has found it.

We have posted the whole letter online tonight so you can read it yourself, honestly if you have a minute you should. Just discovered and published for the first time tonight, it`s incredible. And that`s going to make for a very interesting day two of the Jeff Sessions Attorney General confirmation hearing tomorrow. And tomorrow was going to be a nuts day for confirmation hearings any way.

The republicans had stacked up a zillion hearings that all happen at once over the next few days. Nine this week, five at once were scheduled for tomorrow. Democrats have been howling in protest against that. Protesters have been howling in protest. Some of these small scale protests and direct actions that offices and public appearances, the members of congress, these are some pictures of those that have sprung up over the last few days. Most of these are through the indivisible movement.

And in the face of these protests starting up. In the face of the democrats complaining, in the face of the announcements from the ethics offices that many Trump nominees that don`t have their paperwork in yet let alone their ethics checks completed. The republican leadership had dug in their heels on this. This was the splash headline two days ago. We won`t delay hearings. Stop complaining about this, democrats, stop complaining about this protesters.

We will not delay these hearings. That was two days ago and now they are delaying the hearings. They are delaying for the CIA chief, for Education Secretary, for the commerce secretary, for the labor secretary, they have all been put off. Given pronouncements like this from just a couple of days ago suggest that things are maybe going to a little wobbly. But now we know it will be three hearings tomorrow, not five.

You know, democrats aren`t supposed to be getting anything in this congress, right? But when the democrats say hey you have to slow down these hearings, they got what they demanded. It was also a flurry of head snapping today when Robert F. Kennedy Jr. turned up at Trump Tower and told reporters that he had accepted an offer from the incoming president to head up a vaccines commission. Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is a really interesting guy. He`s done a ton of great work on environmental issues, particularly on protecting American Rivers.

I used to work with him at Air America radio. But on vaccines, he`s a conspiracy theorist. He says that vaccines are a secret holocaust. And so this really was a say what moment today at Trump Tower.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You guys talk about you anything in having official role in the transition or in the administration.

ROBERT F. KENNEDY JR., AMERICAN RADIO HOST: On vaccine safety and scientific integrity.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And what did you say?

KENNEDY: I said I would.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, sir.


MADDOW: The new president is of course famously himself a conspiracy theorists on vaccines. So, maybe we should have seen something like this coming. But it actually appears that maybe even the Trump transition didn`t see this coming. Because a couple of hours after RFK Jr. came out to the cameras and announced to reporters that he would be running a vaccine commission at the Whitehouse because the president-elect had asked him to, transition came out after that and said never mind, scratch that, we didn`t mean that.

It has been an interesting day. Monica Crowley on tap to be Deputy National Security Adviser, one little blemish on her record that we knew about when she got tapped for that job was that 1999 she was dinged for plagiarizing part of a column she wrote for the Wall Street Journal. The Journal came out after that and said had they known her column was plagiarized, they wouldn`t have run it. But you know it was `99, it was a long time ago, no big deal. And on Saturday, CNN was first to report that she also appears to have plagiarized large portions of her most recent book.

Today her publisher yanked it and said they wouldn`t sell it anymore. Last night Politico published evidence that she also plagiarized significant portions of her PhD thesis from Columbia from the year 2000. Columbia hasn`t responded yet as to whether they will review her degree. Then today, CNN published yet more evidence that she also plagiarized parts of at least seven other columns that she wrote for the Washington Times. So far the Trump transition has said they are still fine with Monica Crowley being Deputy National Security Adviser.

They have called it just a politically motivated attack on Monica Crowley. That was a funny response when it just two different substantiated allegations of plagiarism. Now that it`s ten, including her PhD, is this still a politically motivated attack just to point this stuff out? Is there a numerical cut off where it starts being a real thing? Listen, there`s ongoing drama over whether or not the new president will have to defy overt nepotism laws in order to hire his son-in-law as a senior adviser. There`s ongoing drama about whether it is wise to have a president with zero days of governing experience supported by a chief of staff with no governing experience, a senior strategist with no governing experience, a senior adviser with no governing experience especially with how well the attempts that getting ready to govern are going thus far.

But amidst all of that today there was the news broken by CNN tonight and then bolstered later by Buzzfeed this evening about Russia. And on the surface this looks like really red-hot stuff. I will tell you the amount of it. It`s been verified by U.S. Intelligence agencies or by NBC news is very thin. What we can tell you is that President Obama and the incoming president and the gang of eight, leadership of both the house and the senate, heads of the intelligence committees, they were all given a sort of dossier of alleged dirt that the Russians allegedly say they allegedly have on Donald Trump.

Alleged dirt that they allegedly used to allegedly cultivate him is basically a Russian asset who would do what they want because he knew what embarrassing stuff they had on him. Buzzfeed tonight then published what is says are the 35 pages of raw material from which this dossier was built. We have no way of knowing if anything in it is true or if this document itself some kind of plant or dirty trick. The basic claim here though is that all of these top officials, including the president elect have now been given a summary of this information by the intelligence agencies. Whether it`s true we don`t know.

Whether it is believed to be true by our intelligence agencies we don`t yet know but I bet we`ll find out. If it is true, of course, and Donald Trump is a Russian agent and knows he is one that`s the story of the century. If it isn`t true, it`s nevertheless the biggest possible distraction at a time when things are already really wobbly for the incoming administration and this historically unpopular president-elect. Joining us now here in New York is NBC News chief foreign correspondent, Richard Engel. Richard?


MADDOW: Might be the story of the century. Might be -- we don`t know.

ENGEL: It is very, very strange. And this has been bouncing around for several months now. There have been a lot of allegations. I would even call them rumors at this stage that the Russians put together a file on Donald Trump, compromising material, compromising him financially, compromising him personally --

MADDOW: Stuff that they -- that he did that was bad that they had documentation of?

ENGEL: That they caught him on trips to Russia and neighboring states doing nefarious things and that they have evidence to back it up and that he effectively fell victim to a Russian trap. This is the allegation. And that they have assembled this file of compromising information on him and that they are just waiting at any moment to either use it or use it to blackmail him so he is a sort of a puppet. I have heard these allegations for a long time. I have heard very, very specific allegations, times, places, amounts of money, specific activities, I haven`t been able to prove any of it. These allegations --

MADDOW: You have been chasing the story to see if you can document it?

ENGEL: I have called people in Russia, I have called leading experts, I have tried to chase it down in this country and I`m not the only one. Other reporters have been given this kind of material and have been looking in to it and haven`t been able to prove it. And I called some of the sources who were sending this my way, they said, ok, you have this material, you say it is compromising as it is, show me the proof. Show me these tapes that supposedly exist, show me the records of the money that was supposedly paid. All of these things that these allegations that if true would be incredibly compromising. So far I haven`t been able to find anything. What`s interesting --

MADDOW: Why is this coming out now?

ENGEL: So, that`s what the interesting thing. There are lot of rumors. These rumors have been circulating for months. Why would the intelligence community then today boil it down to two pages and drop it like a bomb on President-elect Trump, on many senior leaders in Washington.


ENGEL: And on the president himself`s lap? Why do it right now? And that`s the question. I was told by a senior intelligence source that the reason they did it is the intelligence community is angry, the intelligence community effectively wants to put him on notice saying, look, you are saying all these things about Russia, be careful, there are all these allegations out there. Are any of them true?

And I was told, "we can`t help you, Mr. Trump, unless you tell us more. We need more input."

MADDOW: These allegations are out there, we need to know if we need to be taking care of this.

ENGEL: And lastly that there was a concern that these allegations just in themselves could become a distraction and make it difficult for him to govern.

MADDOW: Well yes. I mean you don`t have to -- it doesn`t have to be true for you to blackmail somebody with it, right? I mean I guess that`s --

ENGEL: I would treat them at this state with a lot of caution.

MADDOW: NBC News Chief Foreign Correspondent Richard Engel. Richard thank you for coming in to talk to us about this, weird news there, right man? All right Brian Williams is up next for an hour of coverage followed