Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: January 13, 2017 Guest: Ezra Levin
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Have we taken a wholesale family turn toward big cats?
CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC`S "ALL IN" HOST: Apparently, yes, we have. You know, we go through different factions, but that`s what`s in right now.
MADDOW: I`m in a zebra face right now. I am not your child but I`m saying if I come to you --
HAYES: You have a show every night. You can put a zebra on any time you want, Rachel Maddow.
MADDOW: You know, by the time I get to E-block tonight, I might be there.
HAYES: I know, I know.
MADDOW: Thank you, my friend. Thank you.
And thanks to you at home for joining us at this hour.
OK. Big show tonight. We`ve got presidential historian Michael Beschloss here tonight.
We`ve got a repeat guest who was here a few days ago that we got a huge response to when we had him on here on this show just last week. We have brought him back tonight. He`s going to be joining us from Texas.
There`s also a lot of news breaking on very big stories into the evening tonight, so this is one of those nights where you`re going to want to watch to the end because we`re following a lot of developing stories.
But we`re going to start in London. Very famous murder in London. In 1978, they killed a guy on the Waterloo Bridge. He was waiting at a bus stop on Waterloo Bridge, which is one of the big bridges that goes across the River Thames right in the middle of London, and this guy was waiting at a bus stop, a man brushed past him while he was standing there at the bus stop and the guy at the bus stop felt a sting on his leg.
It turns out the man who had brushed past him at the bus stop had killed him. There was a poison pellet, a pellet containing ricin that was loaded like a bullet into the tip of the umbrella and the guy walking past him on the bridge bumped into him with the umbrella. Shot that pellet into the guy`s leg.
Four days later, the guy at the bus stop was dead. It was a targeted assassination. He was 49 years old. That happened in 1978.
The next famous one was in 2006. It`s an ex-KGB officer who became a whistle-blower at home in Russia. He became close to some of Vladimir Putin`s political enemies. He was actually imprisoned at home in Russia but he managed to survive that. He managed to get out of Russia.
In the year 2000, he got asylum in Britain, but by the year 2006, they had killed him in Britain.
He met with two men at an upscale hotel in a fancy neighborhood in London. He drank tea at that meeting. Turns out, they had put highly radioactive polonium-210 into the teapot.
And soon he was dying. He was in the hospital suffering from acute radiation poisoning. All his hair gone, he was starting to turn a very unnatural color. He was dying and he made a deathbed statement from his hospital bed.
He said, quote, "You may succeed in silencing one man, but the howls of protest from around the world will reverberate, Mr. Putin, in your ears for the rest of your life." His deathbed statement.
It took almost a decade for the British government to release a comprehensive report on that assassination, but when they did -- which was a year ago this week -- what they concluded was that that deathbed statement from Alexander Litvinenko was correct. He had named his murderer.
Britain concluded that in the judgment of this high level inquiry brought by the British government, they concluded that it was probably the case that the assassination of that Russian dissident in the U.K. was directly ordered by Vladimir Putin. I mean, it`s a big enough deal when your political opponents regularly turn up in jail or dead in your home country.
When it comes to Russian dissidents, though, when it comes to people who the Russian intelligence services want did, Russia has not been bound by its own national boundaries. In at least two high-profile instances in Britain, Russian intelligence is believed to have killed dissidents on British soil.
Yesterday, we learned that an ex-British spy, a Russian-speaking former MI6 agent who created that provocative, unverified dossier of supposed Russian dirt on Donald Trump, yesterday we learned that that ex-British spy has disappeared. We showed a little of this tape last night. His business partner giving a very short very terse frankly scared-looking interview in which he said he would not comment on the whereabouts of his business partner, he would not comment on whether he or his business partner or their company had anything do with that dossier. He would not comment on anything related to this matter and that`s it.
But his business partner, the ex-spy, the author of that dossier going into hiding apparently for his own safety, that is starting to get -- it`s starting to feel important. It`s starting to get a little spooky.
It didn`t help when the Russian embassy in Britain tweeted today that you shouldn`t think of this guy as an ex-spy. The Russian embassy and the U.K. tweeted this today, "Christopher Steele`s story, MI6 officers are never ex." Once a spy always a spy. Take that as a threat?
We don`t know if anything that was in that dossier, that dossier published by BuzzFeed the other day, we don`t know if any of it is true. Certainly, none of it has been corroborated but today, the British ambassador to Russian who served in Moscow while this ex-MI6 agent also in Moscow, that former British ambassador came out today by name, not as an anonymous source and vouched for the credibility and reputation of this ex-spy. He said he`s not the kind of guy who makes stuff up.
In terms of our own intelligence service, the Director of National Intelligence says our intelligence agencies have not made a determination about the veracity of those wild claims in that dossier. And, you know, if the information is false, if it`s all made up, the man who produced that dossier, this ex-spy who created that document, he may have gone into hiding because he now has powerful enemies in the United States, he doesn`t want our incoming president coming after him somehow, right?
If what`s in the dossier is true, though, or if what`s in the dossier is even partially true, the risk to him must be terrifying right? Because -- think about it. If any of that stuff is true, if he was able to get real information out of the Russian government about what they had on Donald Trump and how they got it, and how they were planning on using it, then the Russians right now are presumably rooting out his sources, figuring out who inside the Russian government had access to that true information and gave that true information to this British spy, right?
From the Russian government`s perspective, they`re now figuring out who were these traitors? Who were these leakers? And Russia has a history, both from the Soviet era and from the Putin era, they have a history of tracking down their enemies and disappearing them. Or sometimes by assassinating them by incredibly flamboyant spy movie style means.
Even in places like Europe, even in places like the U.K., which happens to be where this ex-spy is from, where he lives, where his business is and where his business partner says he is now gone and he won`t talk about the fact his partner has gone missing let alone where he might be.
So, stakes are high, right? Stakes are also getting higher on this story for us in the U.S. as well.
You may have seen this earlier today, in case you haven`t. It`s worth watching and not just reading the transcript or hearing about it. You should see the tape itself. This aired today for the first time on "Meet the Press Daily" with Chuck Todd. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHUCK TODD, MEET THE PRESS DAILY HOST: You have forged relationships with many presidents. Do you plan on trying to forge a relationship with Donald Trump?
REP. JOHN LEWIS (D), GEORGIA: I believe in forgiveness, trying to work with people. It`s going to be very hard. It`s going to be very difficult. I don`t see this president-elect as a legitimate president.
TODD: You do not consider him a legitimate president. Why is that?
LEWIS: I think the Russians participated in helping this man get elected and they helped destroy the candidacy of Hillary Clinton. I don`t plan to attend the inauguration. It will be the first one that I miss since I`ve been in the Congress. You cannot be at home with something that you feel that is wrong.
TODD: That`s going to send a big message to a lot of people in this country. That you don`t believe he`s a legitimate president.
LEWIS: I think there was a conspiracy on the part of the Russians and others to help him get elected. That`s not right. That`s not fair. That`s not the open democratic process.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: "That is not the open democratic process. There was a conspiracy on the part of the Russians and others to help him get elected. I think the Russians participated in helping this man get elected. I do not see this president-elect as a legitimate president."
It is one thing for people who didn`t vote for Donald Trump, people who see themselves as political opponents of Donald Trump, it`s one thing for folks to come out from that perspective and say they don`t like that he was elected, they don`t like the way he campaigned, they don`t like his plans for his administration but Congressman John Lewis of Georgia is doing something different than that, right?
He`s not saying, you know, not my president, I didn`t vote for you. He`s questioning the legitimacy of Donald Trump`s election based on the conclusions of the intelligence community that Russia intervened to help Trump win. This is not, again, John Lewis saying he disagrees with Trump as a politician. This is him saying that Trump wasn`t legitimately elected to the presidency and he shouldn`t be treated like he was.
And that is a very intense thing to say. I mean, that like, on the nose. That is calling the question of why the Russian attack on the election has been so concerning particularly as we learn more about it. I mean, it would be a big deal for any leading Democratic elected official to say that so bluntly.
But coming from John Lewis, coming from a man who was nearly killed fighting for voting rights in this country, him saying, "This was not a free and fair election, this is not a legitimate election result, he was not legitimately elected," coming from John Lewis, it resonates even more than it would from anybody else.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: You`re a man of action. You have been your whole life. You believe this president is not legitimate. What would you tell young folks, young activists to do?
LEWIS: I would say to young people and I will continue to say it today and during the next few days as we celebrate and commemorate the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr., that when you see something that is not right, not fair, not just you have a moral obligation to do something. You cannot afford to be quiet or to be silent.
TODD: So what should be done? What should Nancy Pelosi do? What should Chuck Schumer do? What should Barack Obama do?
LEWIS: We must not be silent. We all must act.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Congressman John Lewis speaking today with Chuck Todd in remarks that have gone off like a proverbial political bomb.
Not long after that interview was taped, not long after those remarks were first reported, we started to get the first reports on Capitol Hill that something related to the story had gone wrong. Something had gone a little haywire on Capitol Hill, and we`ve got that story next, including some very remarkable, very emotional tape from another member of Congress.
We`ve also got some breaking news about what else has gone wrong in our country about this story. It`s a developing story that continues into this evening.
We`ve got that latest, next.
MADDOW: Yesterday, the head of the FBI and the intelligence agencies did an all-senators briefing on Russia`s intervention in the U.S. presidential election. Senators all got briefed yesterday. Then, today, they briefed all the members of the House and it was a closed-door meeting for members only.
But as soon as the Democrats started coming out of that briefing room, you could tell something had gone wrong in there. Watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. MAXINE WATERS (D), CALIFORNIA: Yes? Can I help you? What do you want?
REPORTER: How did it go today?
WATERS: It went fine.
REPORER: Congresswoman, can you tell us anything about the discussion into the --
WATERS: No, it`s classified and we can`t tell you anything. All I can tell you is the FBI director has no credibility.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: California Congresswoman Maxine Waters plainly exasperated today, claiming the FBI director has no credibility. Note that she was not asked about the FBI director, she just volunteered that, got too mad to continue. Threw up her hands and walked away.
Other members of Congress also came out of the meeting looking angry today. We`ve also now heard from a number of congressional Democrats that the source of their anger was the FBI Director James Comey, reportedly refusing to answer Democrats` repeated questions about whether the FBI was investigating ties between Donald Trump`s campaign and the Russian government while the Russian government was hacking into American political institutions and trying to influence our election.
Now we`ve got another new piece of this and honestly, it`s a little unsettling. But you remember the British spy, the former MI6 guy who has now disappeared in Britain, apparently having gone into hiding for his own safety. That dossier he produced on Donald Trump and Russia, it has now been widely reported that that ex-spy started collecting that information first on behalf of a Republican client who was paying for that information until Donald Trump got the Republican nomination for president.
Thereafter, the paying client apparently became a Democratic source -- we don`t know who. But it was an unbroken period of several months in which this ex-spy was accumulating this information on Donald Trump and his ties in Russia. It was allegedly from sources inside Russia.
And, again, this is not to assert anything about the veracity of the claims in the dossier. I don`t know if any of that stuff is true and neither do you.
The intelligence community itself says they cannot speak one way or the other to the veracity of those claims. The Director of National Intelligence says they have not determined whether those claims are true. We don`t know if any of it is true.
But the first reporter who found this ex-spy, who found the guy putting together the dossier on Donald Trump and the Russians, the first reporter who found him was David Corn at "Mother Jones" magazine. He was the first person to report sort of vaguely on the existence of this dossier. David Corn did not report any of the salacious details from the dossier that are out there now, but he did publish that right before the election. And David Corn today has now published for the first time his interview with the ex-British spy who compiled all this information.
David Corn says in writing up this interview that the ex-spy did not particularly enjoy talking to the press, that he doesn`t want to be a public person, he took pains in his discussions with David Corn that David should never reveal too much about him.
But he did tell us one really, really, really important new thing. He says he started collecting this information on Trump and Russia on behalf of a private research firm in the U.S. that was, again, first financed by a Republican source, later financed by a Democratic source.
The important thing that David Corn just added to this story today because he got this interview on record with the spy who made this dossier before the guy disappeared and went into hiding, the important thing David Corn taught us today, the thing he added to this story is that regardless of who was paying for that information, regardless of whether it was a Republican source or Democratic source, regardless of the fact that it was an American research firm that hired him to do the investigation, eventually, this ex-British spy collecting the info, he decided what he was finding out about Trump and Russia was sufficiently concerning to him that he decided this couldn`t continue as just some private firm political opposition research exercise.
The ex-spy, the guy collecting the information, decided this was important enough that it needed real attention from people in a position to do something about it and in the summer, this past summer, during the election campaign, this past summer, this ex-spy who was collecting all this information -- he gave it to the FBI. He handed over that information directly to the FBI.
This former spy said that the -- he soon decided the information he was receiving was sufficiently serious for him to forward it to contacts he had at the FBI. He did this he said without permission from the American firm that had hired him. He told David Corn, quote, "This was an extraordinary situation."
Within a few weeks, according to David Corn`s reporting, the FBI responded to him and asked him for information about his sources in putting together this dossier.
So, think about that for a second. This summer, during the campaign, while the FBI director was breaking long-standing policy in order to go public with his lengthy derogatory public commentary on the FBI`s investigation into Hillary Clinton`s e-mails, even after the FBI determined no charges should be brought against her from that investigation, at the same time he was doing that, the FBI, his agency, also had in its possession information from a trusted, friendly, known quantity British ex-MI6 agent which indicated at least just at the surface level that the Republican candidate for president had not only been put in a position where he could be blackmailed by the Russian government, but his campaign was actively colluding with the Russian government to basically commit espionage against the United States and help Russia attack our country.
The FBI had that information as of this summer and was making inquiries about it. But publicly they didn`t see beep about it, even as they repeatedly said all sorts of things about their ultimately fruitless investigation into Hillary Clinton`s e-mails.
I mean, had the FBI looked into what was in that dossier and found that it was all patently false, they could tell us that now, right? I mean, the dossier has now been publicly released. If the FBI looked into it and they found it was all trash, there`s no reason they can`t tell us that now. They`re not telling us that now. They`re not saying that. They`re not saying anything.
I mean, first of all, James Comey, the director of the FBI has broken all the rules now in terms of what can be said, what can be disclosed to the public about a current investigation, even one involving a high-profile political figure. He broke those rules for this campaign in a way that very seriously hurt Hillary Clinton`s chances of being elected president. He already broke those rules. So, once those rules are broken we know he can say whatever he wants about an investigation.
Second of all, the Director of National Intelligence has come out and said, "We don`t know if all that stuff in the dossier is true." If the FBI had, in fact, assessed that stuff and found it to be untrue, if they had found it to be false the FBI could say so. But they`re not saying anything.
And according to David Corn`s interview with the ex-spy who produced the information, they`ve had that stuff since this summer. What is going on with our FBI?
Tonight, after saying for weeks that there would be no Senate or House investigation of this matter, the Senate Intelligence Committee finally said, yes, we`ll look into this. Senate Intelligence Committee said tonight they now are going to look into Russian cyber activity and other measures directed against the United States, including in the 2016 presidential election.
Importantly, they also say they`ll look into counterintelligence concerns related to Russia and the 2016 election, including any intelligence regarding links between Russia and individuals associated with political campaigns.
As recently as this morning, the Republican chair of the Intelligence Committee said he wouldn`t look into any of that. He had no interest in doing an investigation into any of that, particularly into anybody involved in a political campaign and what they might have done. He said, "It`s the FBI that ought to do that kind of investigation." As of this morning that was his line. As of tonight, yes, there`s an investigation.
This story has been sort of a -- more or less nebulous worry cloud since Russia hacking the DNC became evident this past summer. But with these developments today, all of a sudden, this is starting to feel like a life-and-death story. All of a sudden, this is starting to feel like the most important political story certainly in the world, with one week to go before we are supposed to swear in Donald Trump as president of the United States.
Watch this space.
MADDOW: So, happy Friday. I know how all this sounds. I know that the news right now can be both surreal and even a little bit frightening. But first, it`s better to know than not know, always. And second, this is a good time to tap really smart people who have really broad horizons who are in a position to know, to help us understand what ought to actually be scary and what might be okay even though it seems scary.
And that`s the part of the show that comes next. Stay right there.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: Thank you, Mr. President-elect. On that intelligence report, the second part of their conclusion was that Vladimir Putin ordered it because he aspired to help you in the election. Do you accept that part of the finding? And will you undo what President Obama did to punish the Russians for this or keep it in place?
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT-ELECT: If Putin likes Donald Trump I consider that an asset not a liability, because we have a horrible relationship with Russia. If Putin likes Donald Trump, guess what, folks? That`s called an asset, not a liability.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: What`s your reaction to Russia interfering in our election to help you win? Answer, well, they helped me win, so obviously that`s good.
We have been watching this story unspool in more or less surreal terms for months now. As of today, it feels like it finally came completely off the spindle.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER: Let`s hope for the best. Let`s hope that any further investigation will remove all doubt that the Russians were not successful in affecting policy in the United States as they affected the politics in the United States. You`ve heard me say long before any of these briefings I wonder what the Russians have on Donald Trump that they are so insistent on his election.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Let`s hope for the best, says Nancy Pelosi.
Tonight, one week before the inauguration, Senate Intelligence Committee announced an investigation attacking our election, including intelligence regarding links between Russia and individuals associated with political campaigns. This is where you want, like, a historian to tell you, "Don`t worry, don`t worry, this only feels unprecedented. But we`ve been through something like this before."
Michael Beschloss, NBC News presidential historian, should we not worry, not worry? Does this only feel unprecedented? Have we been through something like this before?
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS, NBC NEWS PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: No, not -- a little like this, Rachel, but maybe not entirely.
In modern times, no, we have not had a situation where a new president comes in and there`s already an investigation beginning, although 1973, when Richard Nixon was coming in for his second term, there was something that, as you know, was called the Senate Select Committee on presidential campaign activities and the purpose of that was to investigate whether Richard Nixon and the people around him had done bad things during the `72 campaign to get himself reelected.
MADDOW: Have we ever had a situation in the past where it wasn`t just political epithets, it wasn`t just something people said casually as a way of insulting one another but there was an actual investigation, a substantive concern, about whether or not a presidential campaign might have been colluding with a hostile foreign power?
BESCHLOSS: Nothing close to this. I mean, if you`re really reaching far, George Washington fired his second secretary of state who was a guy named Edmund Randolph under suspicion that Randolph was an agent of the French but nothing like this.
MADDOW: Michael, in terms of this next week as we head toward this inauguration, within of the things that I have noticed and I know that you`ve thought about this in historical terms is how unpopular, deeply unpopular this president is, this incoming president is, compared to other recent incoming presidents. When Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, people like that, his immediate predecessors were coming in at this time, heading in toward their inauguration. They were viewed roughly positively.
That`s not the case for Donald Trump. This investigation presumably isn`t going to help that. Can you contextualize that for us? How unique that is?
BESCHLOSS: Yes, I think it is unique and I think Donald Trump has missed a big opportunity the last couple of months because usually, especially if you have a president who comes in with a pretty modest electoral college majority as he has and big popular vote loss, almost three million votes, usually a president like that will do things like appoint a number of people from the opposite party to his cabinet, talk about unity, do other things that comfort people who did not vote for him.
But I think it`s hard for even the most ardent Trump partisan to say that during the last couple of months he`s done that, and the result has been there was a Gallup poll today saying this has been the most unpopular presidential transition in all the time that they`ve recorded those things.
MADDOW: Michael Beschloss, NBC News presidential historian. Michael, let me also before I say good night, let me say thank you for being such a great resource for us. We are more than ever looking for historical precedents and historical analogies and stuff to understand what`s been going on and you`ve been such a great resource for us and my staff here. We`re really grateful for you.
BESCHLOSS: That`s so kind of you. Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: Thanks, Michael.
All right. It`s a a big news night this Friday night. Please do stay with us.
MADDOW: In the spring of 2015, before he was even a presidential candidate, the man who`s now the incoming president traveled to Charleston, South Carolina, and he gave a speech. Now, this was almost two years ago. Nobody was paying all that much attention to him at that point. That speech got no national attention.
But he did say something that caught the attention of the local press while he was there. He said he had made an investment in Charleston, South Carolina. But he wouldn`t say what it was.
This was the Charleston "Post and Courier" later that day. Quote, "Trump said he already has invested in something in the Charleston region. He declined to elaborate."
"The Post and Courier" quoted him saying, "I`ll announce it at the appropriate time. It`s very interesting." Honestly, nobody knew what he was talking about. Nobody outside of Charleston really cared what he was talking about.
But now, now we know what he was talking about. And it turns out he`s right, it is very interesting. And the thing is, now, it`s national news. This is such a weird story. It is clear as a bell. It is driving Republicans bananas and it comes up as our final story tonight.
Stay with us for that.
MADDOW: Seven days out from inauguration day, hundreds of thousands of spectators and well-wishers are expected in D.C., as are hundreds and thousands of protesters, all at the same time. Everybody be nice to each other, OK?
But you don`t to wait until the inauguration itself to see some of what this is going to look like. Tomorrow, Saturday, about 25,000 people are expected to descend on the national mall for a huge civil rights march. Also in D.C. tomorrow, there`s an immigrants` rally, undocumented immigrants and immigration rights activists from across the country are all bussing into D.C. to take part in the final big immigration rally while President Obama is still in office. That`s on Saturday.
Then, on Sunday, it`s the day of action you`ve heard Senator Bernie Sanders talk about on this show and lots of other places. There`s going to be roughly 50 rallies across the country. Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon was here last night. He told me he`ll be at one of these rallies happening at home for him in Oregon on Sunday. Bernie Sanders and Chuck Schumer are both going to be at one of these rallies in Warren, Michigan.
All this week as the Senate and then the House took their first votes towards revealing the Affordable Care Act, we`ve been watching small protests pop up at congressional offices around the country. Many of these are part of the Indivisible movement. This grassroots DIY movement that`s sprung out of the Indivisible guide. The Indivisible guide is a simple how-to book that walks you through how to protest your own particular members of Congress.
Today, Florida protesters called their own senator, reportedly flooded the phone lines of Senator Marco Rubio`s D.C. office, pleading with him to vote know on the Rex Tillerson nomination for secretary of state. Today in New Jersey, people who live in the district of Republican Congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen, they converged on his office in a friendly protest to tell him they don`t want him to vote to repeal Obamacare.
So, yes, we`re going to see a lot of it this week end in D.C. and there are over the next week going to be a bunch of big national protests. But we`re also seeing these individual members of Congress, individual senators targeted by their own constituents all over the country. Multiple times per day, we`re getting reports of these popping up all over the place, and we know more of them are scheduled for this weekend, particularly alongside that day of action with all those rallies that are going to happen on Sunday.
Joining us now once again is Ezra Levin. He`s a former policy adviser to Congressman Lloyd Daggett and he is a co-author of the Indivisible guide, which is this organizing guide for anti-Trump protesters. It`s written by former congressional staffers, best practices for organizing locally and rallying your member of Congress, either Republican or Democrat, to reject the agenda of the incoming president.
Mr. Levin, it`s great to have you with us again tonight. Thanks for being back.
EZRA LEVIN, "INDIVISIBLE" GUIDE CO-CREATOR: Thanks so much for having me.
MADDOW: So, we`ve been watching online at your website and in the ways that we can see you on social media. Can you tell us since we last talk to you a week and a half or so ago what has happened in terms of your organizing efforts? In terms of the number of people signing up, the numbers of groups who are doing this kind of work?
LEVIN: You know, it`s been absolutely phenomenal. The website has been up for all of one month. We`ve had four million page views. We`ve had about half a million people download the guide, 116,000 people have signed up with their zip codes and e-mail addresses in every single congressional district in the country.
And most excitingly, I`m about to break a little bit of news tonight, we`ve had 3,002 groups register on the website. This is extraordinarily exciting, not just because that`s a large number, but because they`re actually taking action. They`re meeting themselves in person and they`re going to their congressional offices in their home districts and states.
MADDOW: In the guide -- because it is really a how-to guide -- you spell out basically how to form an organization. You tell people, "join an existing group if there is one near you that aligns with your values. But if not, if you`re starting something, here`s some first steps to do, some first steps to reach people, ask people to co-found it with you, have your first meeting and then start planning your actions."
Is it -- now you`re talking about 3,000 different groups. Are people generally following that -- those steps you guys suggested? They`re meeting first and immediately getting out there and targeting their members of Congress, or are people doing a bunch of different things?
LEVIN: That`s right. They`re doing it and they`re not waiting for us. This is a movement that is being led at the ground level. We`re seeing places like Indivisible Austin bring together 150 people to figure out how to resist the Trump agenda and setting up times to go on visit with their local members of Congress.
We`ve been urging folks this MLK weekend to start out by meeting with their groups locally and make a plan to go to your local district offices on the 17th, 18th, or 19th of next week, and make it clear to that member of Congress that from day one of the Trump administration, you`re going to be watching them and making sure they resist the Trump agenda.
MADDOW: Ezra Levin, former policy adviser to Congressman Lloyd Doggett, one of the authors of the "Indivisible" guide -- this is sort of a phenomenon you have started here. Ezra, I hope you don`t mind if we keep checking back in with you to see how things are going.
LEVIN: It would be great. But it`s really the people on the ground who started. We`re just trying to help.
MADDOW: Appreciate it. Ezra Levin, the "Indivisible" guide -- all right. Thank you.
We will be right back. Stay with us.
MADDOW: This show is staffed by a very friendly army of weirdoes and nerds. One of the things I have learned about our army of weirdoes and nerds is that anything any time we`re doing results in us having to explore a super creepy abandoned industrial site, we consider that to be a good day in news research. We don`t get to spend nearly as much time as we would like to on this show prowling around places like this full of rotting chemical drums and broken roofs.
Tonight, our moment has come, get your boots, get your head lamp. You get to come.
We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: I love this story.
In Greek mythology, the titans were giants, giant beings with supernatural strength. The word "titan" is generally used to mean big, right, "titanic". When the car company Nissan wanted people to forget they made teeny toy-sized trucks in the `80s they named their first full-size truck "The Titan." To drive home without any subtlety at all that their truck is big, it`s huge. It`s a titan.
But in Greek mythology, the titans were people, they were a race, a family of giants. And one of the titans was a dude named Atlas. He was huge and strong just like the other titans, but the reason we associate him with the globe and with maps is because Atlas was condemned for eternity to hold up the sky.
The titans went to war with Zeus and the Olympians, titans lost. Atlas` punishment was hey, you, giant guy, you have to hold up the sky forever. So, Atlas, holding up the sky, he was a titan.
That`s why it was a little weird when in 2010, a company got founded in South Carolina and it named itself Titan Atlas. That`s weird because Atlas was a titan, right? Calling something Titan Atlas is if like if McDonald`s expected you to order your meal by requesting a hamburger Big Mac, or if Nissan had named their truck the Nissan truck Titan. It makes no sense to call something Titan Atlas.
But, of course, it sounds big. It sounds strong. And sometimes people who want to seem big and strong, they overcompensate. So, Titan Atlas was the company.
As a company, they ended up being neither big nor strong. They were based in South Carolina. They were a company that made panels that could be used in pre-fab buildings.
The guy who started the company took a multimillion-dollar loan to try to get the business off the ground, but it just didn`t really work out. Within a few years, the company went bankrupt and then something important happen -- Donald Trump came in and saved them. Interesting, right? Right before Titan Atlas was going to default on its loan and have the bank presumably come repossess the building that they had, Donald Trump bailed them out.
Formed a company, as million companies for a million different little transactions like this one, formed a company, took over the $3.5 million loan this business couldn`t pay, took over the building their business was based in and it all became his. And the reason he did it, the reason he bailed them out, he took over this bankrupt company and took over their property in South Carolina is because Titan Atlas was founded by his son.
Donald Trump swooped in and rescued Titan Atlas from everything other than the shame of its name because that particular failed business venture was his son`s failed business venture. And here`s why it is all of our titanic problem -- because that building, the site of that company is apparently a mess. A business that rented space on that building says the roof leaked so bad, all their merchandise was destroyed in a rainstorm, even though the stuff was inside the building when the storm happened.
Barry Meier from "The New York Times" wrote about the site saying it was littered with rusting equipment and rotting chemical drums. This is a seven-acre derelict factory site in South Carolina that may have serious pollution problems. The incoming president not only owns it, he wants to redevelop it.
And this now becomes all of our problem because the state of South Carolina has to decide what it`s going to do about this. You can`t redevelop and rent out some place if it is full of toxic pollution, right? That wouldn`t be OK.
But if it`s not your pollution, if you had nothing to do with it, if you had no connection to the previous owners who polluted the place, than under South Carolina law, you`re not responsible for cleaning up that pollution. The state, the taxpayers, they may step in and pay for the cleanup. But they are clear they don`t want you to pull off a scam here. You can`t pollute the place and then switch the name of your company and pretend you had nothing to do with the terrible old company that left such a terrible expensive mess. You can`t do.
Because of that in South Carolina, this is national business because Trump filed an application with the state of South Carolina saying, yes, you know, actually, this site, the taxpayers need to come in and pay to clean up any pollution here, because if there`s any pollution here, I had nothing to do with it. I have no connection with the previous owners of this company. I have no connection to them.
To be clear, the previous owner of the previous company was his son. It was Donald Trump Jr. But the state of South Carolina has to decide if they believe that the incoming in president has no connection to Donald Trump Jr. who he bailed out to buy this possibly polluted seven-acre falling down factory site in South Carolina.
If the South Carolina government decides they`re going to buy that argument that there is no connection between Donald Trump and Donald Trump Jr., then the taxpayers of South Carolina are going to be on the hook for the environmental mess that needs to be cleaned up here. If the South Carolina government decides not to buy that argument from them, than the incoming president will have to pay for that cleanup himself. I mean, think about this -- the incoming president has a personal, financial stake in this matter reviewed by South Carolina. There are state government officials in that state right now who have to decide if they will buy this spectacular argument that Donald Trump has no connection with his own son, and therefore, the taxpayers of South Carolina must be on the hook for any pollution his son left behind in their state. They have to decide if they will buy that argument.
You think the taxpayers will get a fair shake here? You think any fear or fever is likely to play a role until this particular government decision about the president`s wallet?
We talked to the Trump Organization about this. They told us a couple of things that didn`t really check out. First, they told us that this whole deal is settled and complete, over and done. Nothing left for the state of South Carolina to decide. That was a surprised to the state of South Carolina who told us they haven`t executed a contract with the incoming president`s company. Prior to doing so, they told us they will, quote, "review all relevant information and pertinent facts."
The Trump Organization also told us that this whole fight isn`t about Donald Trump Jr.`s bankrupt company. It`s about other companies that have owned the property in the past. Again, news to South Carolina.
South Carolina told us they haven`t agreed to that interpretation of things. They told us when assessing Donald Trump`s connections with previous companies who own the site, they would look at the past ownership chain for this property which, of course, includes Donald Trump Jr.
This is a lousy position to put these poor people in the state of South Carolina, right? I mean, forget the taxpayers potentially being on the hook for the pollution. People who work in government in South Carolina are asked to make a decision about Donald Trump`s income, about Donald Trump`s profit or loss on his financial bottom line. How can they make that decision fairly when he`s going to be the president? I mean, what will the president do to them if they decide against him?
Decisions by government are not supposed to materially affect the president`s personal income.
This week, the president-elect announced with great fanfare he is not divesting from his businesses and he doesn`t feel like he has to. That night, the head of the independent office that`s supposed to head off financial conflicts of interest for public officials, he spoke publicly, the Brookings Institution, and said that the president-elect hasn`t consulted the ethics office and the president-elect`s plan would not avoid financial conflicts of interest.
Of course, it won`t. Having Don Jr. try to dump potential pollution costs on the state of South Carolina, that`s not going to help relieve the people of South Carolina from the mess they are in here anymore than having Don Sr. make that application instead.
This is a mess. This isn`t a hypothetical scenario. This is happening right now. South Carolina has to make this decision.
So far, Republicans in Congress do not care. This is the headline today, "The Republicans sign off on Trump`s ethics plan."
So far, the only response from Republicans in Washington to this unprecedented ethics problem for the new administration and the new president, their only response thus far has been to threaten, to subpoena and to implicitly threaten the funding of the Office of Government Ethics guy, because he had the temerity to say out loud what the incoming president is planning on doing here with his business is not going to work in terms of avoiding conflicts of interest. It`s not going to work. It`s not going to work. Just ask South Carolina.
Think of the South Carolina government officials who are having to make this decision right now about whether or not Donald Trump might have to pay for this thing. It`s not going to work.
It`s also not going to work for Republicans in Congress to attack an ethics office, again, instead of grappling with the ethics problems that are why ethics offices like these exist. They tried to get rid of the Office of Congressional Ethics. They had to reverse that, do a U-turn on that, pretend like they never tried it.
They are now going after the Office of Government Ethics that oversees the executive branch. It`s not going to work. They are going to have to U-turn on that too.
This is not a little thing. The ethics issues are not at all settled. We are one week from the inauguration and this is big and it`s going to get bigger, like Titan Atlas bigger. Watch this space.
That does it for us tonight. We will see you again Monday.
Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL". One of his guests tonight is David Corn, who broke some major news today.
Good evening, Lawrence. Congratulations on having David tonight. THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END