Show: The Rachel Maddow Show Date: January 17, 2017 Guest: Charlie Savage
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC ANCHOR: And thanks to you at home for staying with us for the next hour.
You know, we knew this was going to be a busy news week. We knew that, you know, in a week like this, we should count on an unpredictable rush of news over the course of the week. We were not wrong about that.
Today has been a little bit nuts. This afternoon, the president released his last major batch of pardons and commutations including one for the former deputy chairman of the joint chiefs, Marine General Hoss Cartwright. He was facing serious prison time for talking with a reporter about a top secret covert action against Iran. General Cartwright will be pardoned for lying to the FBI about those conversations.
Army Private First Class Chelsea Manning who leaked reams of military and diplomatic files to WikiLeaks, she will not be pardoned for her crimes but she will have her sentence commuted after serving roughly seven years in prison. She`ll be getting out of prison in May. We`re going to have Charlie Savage from "The New York Times" here in just a moment to talk about those cases.
We can also expect President Obama himself to talk about those cases tomorrow in what will be his last ever presidential press conference.
With only two more full days of this presidency before the next one starts, today was the day when one of the women who accused the incoming president of inappropriate sexual behavior, a former contestant on his reality show, she today announced that she is filing a lawsuit against the president- elect, against the man who on Friday will become the next president. Her lawyer says as part of the lawsuit, she may subpoena recordings made on the set of the reality TV show "The Apprentice." Those tapes, of course, have been a source of rumor and speculation as to what Mr. Trump was caught on tape saying, if anything, while he was filming that show. We may know if the lawsuit releases those tapes as part of its discovery process.
Amid confirmation hearings today for the would-be secretaries of education and the interior, there was a little bit of drama today about the nominee to be health secretary. Democrats are pushing to delay the health secretary`s confirmation hearings amid new corruption allegations against Congressman Tom Price and his stock trading while he`s been in Congress.
There was also some new drama about the CEO of Exxon, as well, who the incoming administration wants to make secretary of state. A big red light started flashing on the political dashboard tonight that indicates some concerns that they may not be able to get Rex Tillerson confirmed as secretary of state.
So, there`s lots going on right now. We`re going to have more on almost all of those stories. Big night, lots of stories still developing into the evening tonight. We sort of expect that every night this week is going to be like that.
But for getting at what continues to be the biggest story in the country of all right now, to get at that one tonight, weirdly, it might help to know that there used to be an official travel agency of the Soviet Union, I kid you not. Early, Joseph Stalin created an official travel agency for the USSR. It was called "Intourist".
If you were a foreigner, and you wanted to visit the young Soviet Union, you`d had to go through Intourist and they would manage your trip, and I do mean manage. They managed hotels all over the Soviet Union. All these Intourist hotels.
And if you wanted to come visit the Soviet Union as a foreign tourist or as a foreign business traveler, you would have to stay in one of these Intourist hotels.
This whole Intourist system was set up by Stalin and everybody who worked at these lovely, very Soviet-looking hotels, they would keep an eye on you while you were having your Russian visit. They would keep a very, very, very close eye on you.
Quote, "The bellboys, drivers, cooks and maids all worked for the NKVD, which is the secret police agency later known as the KGB." Also on the payroll at these hotels were the prostitutes who were deployed to entrap and blackmail visiting foreign politicians and businessmen.
And these Intourist hotels, they were all over the Soviet Union and they all operated basically the same way. There would be a normal if somewhat terrifying and brutalist Soviet hotel experience for most visitors. But if some foreigner came through who was potentially influential in his or her home country, some decision maker who might useful to the Soviet state at some point, well, then they would basically deploy their intelligence assets. They would deploy them to the foreigners` hotel room.
Part of the reason we know the details of this is because one of these hotels, one of these Intourist hotels in the former Soviet Republic now called Estonia. Estonia is no longer part of the Russian federation. Estonia is its own thing.
But they had one of these Intourist hotels and it`s in private hands now. And a few years ago, the new owners of the Intourist hotel in Estonia, they opened up a museum to highlight all the listening devices and hidden cameras and microphones and spying stations that they found inside the hotel after it was no longer a Soviet spying operation. They started running a museum where they would show how the KGB would spy on people staying in special rooms in this hotel where potentially influential or important foreigners would be assigned to stay when they came to visit.
The KGB would mount entrapment operations. They basically would set up these foreigners to be blackmailed by the Soviet Union. Out of the 400 hotel rooms in this hotel in Estonia, the KGB had 60 of the rooms wired.
They also had a monopoly on prostitution at the hotel. All of the prostitutes that they allowed to work at the hotel, all of them were KGB. And we know this in part, we know this in detail with the visuals and everything because it`s a museum now. So, you can see, you know, the holes in the walls and the ways the KGB spied on foreigners and made their blackmail tapes, it`s kind of amazing, right? It`s all an open secret now.
Also, if you`re ever in Estonia, best tourist detour ever. Go see the KGB spying on the hotel room museum. It`s on the 23rd floor.
And, of course, now, the KGB doesn`t exist anymore. KGB became the FSB, which is two whole letters different than the KGB. Ultimately, the head of the FSB became this guy and this guy got to be who he is now. This guy got to be president of Russia in a very KGB kind of way.
In the immediate post-Soviet era, Boris Yeltsin was president of Russia, right? He was the first president of Russia after the Soviet Union collapsed. And when Boris Yeltsin was president of Russia, first president they`ve ever had, Russia was a mess, a mess in lots and lots of different ways. Politically, they were a mess. They went through five different prime ministers in three years while Yeltsin was president.
In the late 1990s, there was a powerful federal prosecutor who was looking into President Yeltsin, looking into other people in Yeltsin`s government, looking into them for, allegedly, skimming off lots and lots of money into private foreign bank accounts. As prosecutors looking into high-level corruption in the new Russian presidency.
And then, lo and behold, a grainy tape turns up that shows that federal prosecutor in a hotel bed with two very young-looking prostitutes. And maybe it`s just a grainy tape and who can say if that`s really the prosecutor?
But then the head of the FSB, came out and publicly confirmed -- yes, I hereby attest that is the prosecutor. That is definitely him, I`m the head the KGB -- I mean the FSB and I can hereby assure the public that this terrible person doing terrible things with these prostitutes in this terrible video filmed in this terrible hotel room, I can hereby tell you that is this terrible prosecutor, who incidentally has been looking into corruption by the president.
And so, because of that grainy tape, the prosecutor who`s looking into Yeltsin lost his job and President Yeltsin was very thankful and he named yet another new prime minister, he named as his new prime minister, the head of the FSB, Vladimir Putin. And that put a stop to the musical chairs at the top of the Russian government and it never started up again because Vladimir Putin has not given up power since.
How Vladimir Putin stopped just being a KGB guy and got political power in the first place was by producing at just the right time and in just the right way, just the right sex tape to use for political purposes. Ahem.
Today in Russia, President Putin spoke to reporters about the American intelligence community concluding that Putin himself and his government interfered in our presidential election to help Donald Trump win that election. He also addressed the dossier of alleged dirt on Donald Trump in Russia that was published by BuzzFeed even though U.S. intelligence and BuzzFeed has not verified the claims in it.
Obviously, this is a dossier the incoming president strenuously denies. Well, Mr. Putin said today he also denies that any of that material is real. He says it`s all made up. He says it`s absurd to think that Russian intelligence, the Russian government would even try to collect damaging information on someone like Donald Trump while he visited Russia.
Quote, "Putin said that Trump wasn`t a politician when he visited Moscow in the past, and Russian officials weren`t aware that he held any political ambitions."
To be clear, Donald Trump spent time in Russia in 2013. That`s after he had talked publicly about running for president in the 1980s and the 1990s after he kind of started to run for president in the year 2000, and after he add said repeatedly he was going to mount a run in 2012, he had very publicly for decades been flirting with running for president before he got to Moscow in 2013.
But the Russian explanation today for why they definitely wouldn`t ever bother collecting any sort of intel on Trump while Trump visited Russia, their explanation is that they had no idea that he had any political ambitions, why would they think that? President Putin told reporters at the Kremlin today it is, quote, "complete nonsense" to believe that Russian security services, quote, "chase after every American billionaire" while those billionaires are in Russia doing business.
Vladimir Putin also made comments today about how he didn`t think that Donald Trump would ever visit prostitutes, but if he did Russian prostitutes are, quote, "undoubtedly the best in the world." I raise that not because of its news value but just so we all know what we`re dealing with here.
There are two full days left of the Obama administration. One of the things that has happened in the very last days of the Obama administration is that the outgoing president has accelerated the deployment of U.S. troops to -- right next to Russia. These are American marines from Camp Lejeune arriving in Central Norway this week. This is the first time that foreign troops have been posted to Norway since the end of World War II.
But Norway has 120 mile long border with Russia. Russia has been pushing at its own borders militarily over the last several years, including, of course, invading and taking over part of Ukraine and the countries that border Russia that we are sworn to protect from Russian aggression because we are in a treaty alliance with them in NATO, those countries are getting nervous about Russia.
And so, Marines from Camp Lejeune are stationed in Norway now and a U.S. deployment much larger than that just arrived in Poland as well. This happened this past week -- the largest troop deployment in Europe since the end of the Cold War. A thousand troops going up to several thousand troops stationed in Poland. The Kremlin is furious about it.
But Poland wants American troop there is. They negotiated for it at the last NATO meeting to get American troops into Poland, because, again, they want Americans there. They want some protection. They want American protection if Russia decides to push out of its borders again.
This is the Third Armor Brigade combat team from Ft. Carson, Colorado, now based in Poland. This is a deployment that was supposed to start later this month. President Obama moved it up to start earlier, so, they are there now as he is leaving office.
And these troops, along Russia`s edge, these troops in Norway as of this week, in Poland as of last week, soon to be in Estonia and Bulgaria and Romania, U.S. troops in all these countries that Russia can see from its house, this is an unheralded story of how President Obama is leaving office. This is part of the way that President Obama is leaving office, by pushing up these deployments and getting those troops there and Russia hates it.
But our allies around Russia`s edges, they say they want it and we have said that we will be there for them and President Obama has really hurried this up in these last days to show our allies that we are there for them, and he`s done in the a rush before he leaves office.
And there is a lot going on in politics, right now, I know, with the confirmation hearings and the repeal Obamacare efforts starting to seem like it`s maybe going off the rails, and the protests against the new president in Washington and around the country, just the inauguration drama itself. There is a lot going on in inauguration week.
But this is the last few days of the Obama administration and this really is a thing that is happening. The outgoing president is very quietly leaving a whole bunch, leaving of thousands of troops on Russia`s doorstep on his way out the door.
And here`s the question -- is the new president going to take those troops out? After all the speculation, after all the worry, we are actually about to find out if Russia maybe has something on the new president? We`re about to find out if the new president of our country is going to do what Russia wants once he`s commander-in-chief of the U.S. military starting noon on Friday. What is he going to do with those deployments?
Watch this space. Seriously.
MADDOW: Today, we learned two new things about the Exxon CEO who has been nominated to be the secretary of state.
The first thing we learned is that they`re going to vote on his nomination on Monday. Now, the math on this is easy, if all 10 Democrats on the committee vote no -- which is possible -- then just one Republican on the committee voting no would be enough to have Rex Tillerson`s nomination fail in the committee. Now, in almost all cases, failing in committee means the end of a nomination. And that brings us to the second thing we learned today about this nomination.
The second thing we learned about it is that failure in committee in this case would not be a problem. Committee Chair Bob Corker today told CNN that Rex Tillerson will get a full Senate floor vote whether the committee approves him or not, which is good to know and important to know.
What this means is that next Monday`s vote may be interesting. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida may yet have his chance to actually do something interesting and vote no on a nomination that he appears to have grave concerns about. But the Republicans in the Senate have decided they`re going to move it to the floor and approve him anyway even if that happens.
Just to be clear, this is something they can do, but it would be very, very unusual for them to do it. This sort of thing is exceedingly rare. If you want to find the last cabinet member to be confirmed after failing in committee, you have to go all the way back to the Roosevelt administration in 1945.
But it looks like they might bend over backwards and do that this year for Exxon. It really couldn`t happen to a nicer corporation or a bigger or more powerful one.
Watch this space.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TOM BROKAW, NBC NEWS ANCHOR: In this year of revelations about spies, moles and counterspies, there is also the case of Samuel Morison. Next Wednesday, he`ll be sentenced for espionage.
However, as NBC correspondent Carl Stern reports now, this case is different. Morison wasn`t spying for a foreign country. He said he was trying to warn us about a Soviet threat.
CARL STERN, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Samuel Morison may have changed America in a way he never intended. He is the first man convicted of spying for making information public and could be sentenced to 40 years in prison. He worked for the Navy as an expert on fighting ships and had a part-time job, with the Navy`s permission, as the U.S. editor of a British military magazine.
What got him in trouble were these satellite photos of construction of a Soviet nuclear aircraft carrier which he obtained in his Navy employment. He cut off the "classified" designation and sent them off to the magazine. He got no extra pay for them, yet the government decided to charge Morison with espionage for leaking the classified photos.
STEPHEN TROTT, JUSTICE DEPARTMENT: We are not -- I don`t think we are heavy handed or crazy about this. But when we`re confronted with a situation that`s serious and we believe the Morison case was serious, we intend to follow through and prosecute.
STERN: But why hit so hard at Morison, a decorated veteran of Vietnam combat, who could have been published by a demotion or being fired?
WILLIAM COLBY, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: This is an attempt to impose greater discipline upon the all too current habit of talking, showing documents, giving documents away to the press.
STERN: Since World War I, when they were enacted, the espionage laws have been used to convict spies, not leakers. News organizations and so-called whistle-blowers feel threatened.
FLOYD ABRAMS, NEWS MEDIA LAWYER: For them to drag out a 70-year-old espionage law and accuse one of its employees of violating that law because they`re a bit piqued at what he did is very dangerous.
LOUIS CLARK, GOV`T ACCOUNTABILITY PROJECT: When you have an administration willing to use the espionage laws toward that end and willing to use the criminal laws toward that end, in an unprecedented fashion like this, I see the type of chill as being absolutely disastrous.
STERN: If Morison`s conviction is upheld on appeal, the government will have more power to control information than it has ever had before.
Carl Stern, NBC News, Washington.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Samuel Morison was convicted in 1985. Samuel Morison then became the first government employee ever imprisoned for leaking classified information to the press.
You heard in the package there, he did face 40 years in prison. When he actually got sentenced, though, he got sentenced to two years in prison and then after serving eight months, he got paroled. He was then pardoned by President Clinton in 2001.
Then, there was Thomas Drake. Thomas Drake was a former NSA employee who said he had concerns about wasteful spending at the NSA. Motivated by those concerns, he said, he leaked information about the NSA to a reporter at "The Baltimore Sun."
Thomas Drake was cautious. He used encrypted e-mail to communicate with that reporter but his leak was discovered, anyway. He got indicted in 2010. He faced 35 years in prison, but in the end, he struck a plea deal, and all he got was 240 hours of community service, plus one year`s probation.
Then, there`s John Kiriakou. He was a CIA analyst. In 2012, he was charged with leaking classified information about a fellow CIA officer. Mr. Kiriakou served two years in federal prison.
There are other people who leaked classified information to the press, for a variety of reasons, whistle-blowers or not. There are a lot of them who got much lighter sentences then Chelsea Manning did in August, 2013. Private First Class Manning was sentenced to 35 years in her late case.
And that case was a very big deal. It was a huge amount of information, more than 700 files, including about 250,000 diplomatic cables from American embassies around the world. Dossiers detailing intelligence assessments about prisoners at Guantanamo, video of an American helicopter attack in Baghdad that killed two journalists.
The Manning leak wasn`t generically to the press or even to an individual press organization of the kind we usually expect with leaks like this. It was to the organization WikiLeaks.
And we think of WikiLeaks with a lot of different associations now, right? They went on to become a whole different kind of political deal. Their editor-in-chief Julian Assange went into exile to avoid rape charges in Scandinavia and then despite his exile in an Ecuadorian embassy, WikiLeaks became apparently a vehicle for the Russian government`s efforts to interfere with our election this year.
That all happened after Chelsea Manning leaked classified information to WikiLeaks for which she earned 35 years in prison, an unheard of sentence for somebody charged with leaking government information.
Well, now, today, we`ve gotten two big pieces of information about those two last people I mentioned. President Obama today commuted Chelsea Manning`s sentence. She will be released in May after serving approximately seven years in prison. That`s one big piece of information.
But then there`s this from WikiLeaks. Last Thursday, as news started to circulate that Chelsea Manning might be being considered for a commutation or a pardon, the group tweeted this, quote, "If Obama grants Manning clemency, Julian Assange will agree to U.S. extradition despite clear unconstitutionality of the Department of Justice`s case."
Just a short time ago, the group also tweeted this about the extradition deal, saying that according to Mr. Assange`s lawyer, everything that Julian Assange has said, he is standing by.
Two big pieces of news, presumably more on the way.
Joining us now is Charlie Savage, national security and legal reporter for "The New York Times", the author of "Power Wars: Inside Obama`s Post-9/11 Presidency."
Mr. Savage, thank you for being here.
CHARLIE SAVAGE, NEW YORK TIMES NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Oh, my pleasure. Thanks for having me.
MADDOW: Is this an unexpected development from an administration that has been so aggressive in prosecuting people for leaking government information.
SAVAGE: Unexpected in the sense that just as you said they`ve already at this point prosecuted nine or ten leak cases, that`s double depending on how you count it, all previous presidents combined. And so, ending an administration, both with this commutation and, as you mentioned earlier in your show, the pardon for General Cartwright who was not charged with leaking but the lying to the FBI arose in the context of a leak investigation, is an interesting twist at the end of Obama`s time in power because he will be remembered as a president who presided over tremendous criminalization of leaks.
Not unexpected in the last couple day, there have been rumblings about Manning. I think you already played or maybe it was the earlier show Josh Earnest talking on Friday and carefully distinguishing or making an argument for distinguishing Ed Snowden from Chelsea Manning in terms of both of them requesting clemency. And that was a sign they were taking it seriously.
MADDOW: You know, you`ve already seen some angry reaction to this. You`ve seen House Speaker Paul Ryan and other figures on the Hill come out and say that this is outrageous. That this sort of clemency shouldn`t have happened. That this leak was so damaging that any mercy is inappropriate here.
But it seems like part of the argument being made by supporters of Manning`s and people who were supporting the decision is about the disproportionate nature of the sentence. That 35-year sentence looks for me just from a cursory reading of this stuff that that is very, very different from the other kinds of sentences that have been meted out by this administration or others in terms of this kind of crime.
SAVAGE: We don`t have a lot of cases to compare it to because until recently criminal prosecutions and especially successful ones of leakers was exceedingly rare. There`s about a dozen cases you can look at. Most cases that result in a conviction you`re looking at one year, two years, three years. I believe the longest other sentence, the next-longest sentence is three and a half years.
So, the Manning sentence is an order of magnitude greater than anyone else has ever received. Of course, her leak was, to be fair, to be fulsome of our discussions, it was qualitatively different than most other leaks. She was a bulk leaker, not "here`s the secret" but "here`s all the secrets."
And it`s clear that the military and the prosecution was trying to throw the book at her and make an example out of her to deter this new kind of leak that she basically was the first to figure out could be done and did carry out.
MADDOW: Charlie, what do you make about this prospect of Julian Assange from WikiLeaks coming back to the United States saying that he`s already contesting any case against him of that the Justice Department might mount here. But if he does stop fighting extradition and comes to the United States, what would you expect from that case?
SAVAGE: Well, I`m not sure there are charges pending against him. There`s not been any kind of confirmed report. He`s not an American citizen, you know, and so maybe there`s something they could extradite him for or maybe this is just grandstanding and trying to make himself the center of attention.
MADDOW: I can`t imagine he`d want to be the center of attention.
Charlie Savage, national security reporter for "The New York Times", the author of "Power Wars", Charlie, thank you for coming in tonight.
SAVAGE: Thank you.
MADDOW: All right. Still ahead tonight, what to expect when you are expecting an unusually small inauguration. Stay with us.
MADDOW: An army of ants. If you have one ant, that`s just an ant. But if you have a bunch of ants together, that is an army, an army of ants.
Same thing with one goose but a gaggle of geese. One cow, one deer, but it`s a herd if it`s cows or deers or any other ungulate in large numbers. If you have snails, that`s called a route of snails, which is awesome. If you have a whole bunch of crows, famously, that is a murder of crows.
We have names for all these things when they come in groups and some of the names are weird. But we need a new one now, because there`s a new phenomenon that`s going on in politics right now that keeps happening over and over and over again, and this is sort of thing that we know what to call it when it happens once. What we don`t know, what the word for it is, is when it happens six times in a row. One time I can name it. But when it happens six times in quick succession, I have no idea what you call that.
If you have ever wanted to name a multiplicity of something, tonight is your night to do that with a new phenomenon in politics. That story is coming up.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: The largest event held in Washington, D.C. was President Obama`s first inauguration in 2009, 1.8 million people in attendance to see Barack Obama sworn in as president for the first time, 1.8 million people.
At this week`s inauguration, homeland security officials say they expect the crowd to be maybe 800,000 or 900,000 people. And that`s fine. That is impressive. That is a ton of people.
Unless you have publicly called for your movement fans to set the all time record for crowd size at an inauguration, then getting less than half the size the crowd of your predecessor it probably doesn`t feel awesome.
Last week, the incoming president said his inauguration day this week is turning out to be "even bigger than expected." Then today, there was this, quote, "people are pouring in to Washington in record numbers, Bikers for Trump are on their way." Bikers for Trump are on their way.
That is not just short hand for anybody with a Harley and a red baseball hat tucked underneath their helmet. Bikers for Trump is an actual group with that actual name, Bikers for Trump. Now that is not to be confused with Bikers 4 Trump who Bikers for Trump say is actually a scam group. While we`re keeping track, consider also the two million bikers to D.C. which is a bitter rival of Bikers for Trump, which says that Bikers 4 Trump is a scam.
So, you got all that? About the rival/scam Trump biker groups and their mutual recriminations?
I should also mention that the Bikers for Trump group, they say they have received a permit to demonstrate at the inauguration on Friday. Their founder says more than 5,000 Bikers for Trump will be at the inauguration to form what he calls, quote, "a wall of meat" against any protesters along the inaugural parade route.
So, that`s one thing to look forward to at the inauguration this year -- a four stroke rolling defensive wall of meat. I don`t think they`re bringing meat. I think they think of themselves as meat. I think.
But it`s possible the whole thing is kind of a hoax since a lot of the photos inspiring such confidence that the bikers are roaring into town appear to be photos of stuff like, you know, toy drives for kids from years ago. So, who knows whether the bikers will, in fact, provide a wall of meat at the inaugural parade? That is in the realm of "imagine if", along with the new president calling for record attendance this Friday.
For now, it`s all what if. But from the realm of math, we do have this new Monmouth poll that came out which says the incoming president has a favorability rating of just 34 percent. A new "Washington Post"/ABC poll says Donald Trump`s favorability is 40 percent. In that poll, that`s the lowest it`s been for any incoming president in their four decades of polling on this subject.
CNN has the favorability a little bit higher but barely, they`ve got him at 44 percent. A new NBC/"Wall Street Journal" poll out tonight calls president Trump the most unpopular incoming president in the history of that poll as well. NBC/"Wall Street Journal" has him at 38 percent. Lowest ever.
And you might think those polls are rigged, as the president-elect said today. You might say the bikers are on their way to form their "wall of meat", but we are seeing a wave of protesters for and against this nomination descending on the capital, filling the streets.
The National Park Service says they have provided 22 permits to first amendment groups for this week with more permits still pending. That`s way more permits than they have been given out before -- and at least that part of this inauguration, that part having to do with protest against the incoming president, that is already planned to be the biggest ever.
MADDOW: This was earlier this evening here in Washington, D.C. Three days out from the presidential inauguration, these are anti-Trump protesters who marched through much of downtown D.C. tonight. They held signs. They caused some road closures. Some protesters tonight ended up outside the president-elect`s downtown D.C. hotel.
You see that guy holding a sign with an eye on it? Some people held protest signs that had the letter "I" on them. They said that represented what they say is the president-elect`s illegitimacy as president.
Another protest in D.C. is scheduled to be held tomorrow afternoon. These protests in the streets are starting as the list of Democratic members of Congress who plan to boycott the inauguration continues to get longer by the day.
Those aren`t the credits for the end of the show. Those are the members of Congress we know as of tonight aren`t going.
NBC News confirms that at least 50 Democratic members of Congress have said they`ll skip Friday`s inauguration. We don`t think 50 would be a record, but we do think it`s the most in at least 40 years to stay away from a presidential inauguration.
Joining us now is Michael Beschloss, NBC News presidential historian.
Michael, it`s great to have you here, especially in this big week.
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS, NBC NEWS PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Right.
MADDOW: For a presidential historian, is this a little Christmassy?
BESCHLOSS: It`s just as exciting as it could be.
MADDOW: Well put.
What is the history of significant protest at inaugurations? I feel like I`ve seen a lot of them, I`ve been to a few of them. There`s always some degree of protest. But what about large scale protest? And is it ever important?
BESCHLOSS: It does happen. In 1973, some members of Congress did stay home because they were angry at Richard Nixon about the fact that he had extended the Vietnam War for four more years through his first term and there were actually beer cans and beer bottles thrown at the presidential limousine. But that didn`t affect Nixon much politically because the war was over two days later, so that was a dead letter.
I think the difference here is that if this inauguration turns into a big mess with a lot of protest and anger and what we remember of this is not a great unifying speech by a president and a lot of good feeling, but instead, a lot of bad feeling, that could really impair this president as he starts.
MADDOW: One of the things that is hard to understand and also sort of hard to put in context about what we`re seeing with the president-elect`s approval numbers, is that, obviously, the big headline is there`s never been an incoming president in modern history of polling that`s had numbers this low.
BESCHLOSS: Never has been.
MADDOW: We`ve never had an incoming president who`s had numbers upside down.
BESCHLOSS: Nothing like this.
MADDOW: Viewed more unfavorably.
But what`s happened is over the course of the transition, his numbers have gotten worse.
MADDOW: That`s also unprecedented, isn`t it?
BESCHLOSS: He threw this away. Because what a president usually uses the transition for is to say to the people who didn`t vote for him, "I`m better than you may think, I`m going to make appointments of people you may like, I`m going to say things that you like, you know, I want to give me a new chance."
Instead, what Donald Trump said was, you know, I`m going not going to pretend to do that. I`m going to put out tweets. I`m going to be combative. I`m going to strike some people as impulsive and a lot of people who might have been open to persuasion decided that they did not like Donald Trump.
And so, you find this odd situation where he won the popular vote high 40s. These numbers of these polls are saying, you know, high 30s. That means if they`re reliable, some people who voted for him are walking away.
MADDOW: The other thing we are watching, I had sort of like an informal bet with my staff that no matter what happens with the inauguration numbers in terms of crowd size, Donald Trump will lie about the crowd size.
BESCHLOSS: I think it will be -- he`ll say it was three times, you know, whatever the real numbers were, we`ll see that in a tweet.
MADDOW: It`s unfair for me to project that he will lie. But because he has promised it will be record numbers --
MADDOW: That it will absolutely great.
BESCHLOSS: So, it has to be above 1.8 which is the Obama number.
MADDOW: Yes. And Obama number, I mean, just to put that in context, too, in historical terms, the Obama number at 1.8 was a remarkable number. Obviously, there were so many things about that moment in history and also he was -- George W. Bush was incredibly unpopular, this new president was incredibly popular, the first African-American president, so many things made that possible. I don`t know that we`ll ever see that again.
The next-closest record to that was like a third behind it. That was LBJ in 1965 with 1.2 million. So, nobody`s ever gotten close to what Barack Obama did in 2009, right? That`s an unattainable number for anybody any time soon.
BESCHLOSS: And unlikely to see something like that. It`s meaningful for Trump, because he has said, he`s relying on his presidential term by essentially being able to say to Congress, members of Congress, Republicans who don`t like him or who are skeptical of him, you know, you better vote with me on these controversial programs or else I`ll tell the voters in your district or state to vote against you. If his numbers are down, that`s a pretty weak threat and he`s going to have a hard time getting those passed.
MADDOW: He`s been so explicit about that threat. That threat is often implied by a lot of presidents but this one he`s been saying, I won your state by x amount and I`ll go back there.
BESCHLOSS: And you better be afraid. And it either works or doesn`t and we will see.
MADDOW: Yes, it doesn`t work when you`re at 38 percent approval rating.
BESCHLOSS: I would say that`s right.
MADDOW: Michael Beschloss, NBC News presidential historian, Michael, it`s always good to have you here.
BESCHLOSS: Always good to see you, Rachel.
MADDOW: Much more ahead tonight. Please do stay with us.
MADDOW: Maybe the first thing to know about the nominee to be secretary of education is that she`s sitting not just on one but two enormous family fortunes. Betsy DeVos is very, very, very wealthy, and for ethics officials, that sheer amount of her wealth and the sprawl of her financial interests makes her difficult to vet. I mean, you`ve got to know what she`s got in terms of assets and financial entanglements in order to know where she may have a conflict of interest with her new job. But how do you sort that out?
"The New York Times" reports that Mrs. DeVos and her husband have investments in 250 companies that are registered to a single address in Grand Rapids, Michigan --250 companies at one address and that`s just one sliver of their holdings.
"The Wall Street Journal" says she has indirect stake in a student loan company. Going to be education secretary?
It`s complicated but the education secretary oversees the nation`s student loan program. It`s important to understand that Betsy DeVos has a conflict of interest there, or if she doesn`t.
Another question here for Betsy DeVos, the more than $5 million in fines that her political action committee was ordered to pay for campaign finance violations several years ago. That PAC was part of a campaign over education in Ohio. The PAC says the old fines don`t matter anymore, but Senate Democrats are making an issue of that since she would now be secretary of education. Now that she`s about to become education secretary, it seems important to know all of that -- the direct investments, the indirect investments, $5 million in fines related to an education-related campaign.
If you check with the independent federal Office of Government Ethics, you will find a list of certified financial disclosures. These are the reports that they have gone through and signed off on for nominees. And at the top of this list are the most recent nominees from the incoming administration. Steve Mnuchin, the guy who would be treasury secretary, he`s there. Elaine Chao is there. Congressman Price is there.
Betsy DeVos is not there, not on that list. Her investments, her financial forms haven`t gotten that certified stamp of approval from the Office of Government Ethics. Apparently, they are still working on it, and yet, there she was tonight on Capitol Hill testifying in front of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. She testified even though senators on this committee don`t have a full report on her finances and her financial vetting. That`s unusual. It`s not unheard of but that is unusual.
And this committee she`s up against tonight is a tough lineup. Look at the Democratic line up on this committee. Patty Murray, Bernie Sanders, Al Franken, Chris Murphy, Tim Kaine, Elizabeth Warren, and they apparently came ready to make this a contact sport this evening.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I), VERMONT: Do you think if you were not a multibillionaire, if your family had not hundreds of millions of dollars to contributions to the Republican Party that you would be sitting here today?
SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Have you ever managed or overseen a trillion dollar loan program?
BETSY DEVOS, SECRETARY OF EDUCATION NOMINEE: I have not.
WARREN: How about billion dollar loan program?
DEVOS: I have not.
WARREN: OK, no experience managing a program like this.
SEN. MICHAEL BENNET (D), COLORADO: I really wish we had a second round of questions.
SEN. CHRIS MURPHY (D), CONNECTICUT: I think this is a real shame. This rush job, this inability to allow the public to see this debate.
SEN. PATTY MURRAY (D), WASHINGTON: I don`t know what you are protect Ms. DeVos from. She should get robust scrutiny. She is going to oversee the education of all of our kids.
SEN. AL FRANKEN (D), MINNESOTA: Well, in terms of throwing numbers around, you said that student debt has increased by 1,000 percent since --
DEVOS: Nine hundred eighty percent in eight years.
FRANKEN: I`m sorry?
DEVOS: Nine hundred eighty percent.
FRANKEN: That`s just not so. It`s increased 118 percent in the past 8 years.
DEVOS: Well --
FRANKEN: So, I`m just asking if you`re challenging my figures, I would ask that you get your figures straight.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Democrats have said they intend to ask a lot of questions of the cabinet nominees for the new administration. They intend to conduct a thorough grilling. Tonight, we got a taste of what they mean by that.
Tomorrow, it will be Tom Price`s turn to face the same Senate committee. Tom Price has been nominated to be the new healthy secretary. Tonight, citing many mounting questions about Congressman Price`s investments in health companies and the corruption questions surround them, Democrats on that committee are asking to have the Tom Price hearing postponed until they get more information on his stock trading and whether or not it was corrupting.
We have no word yet on whether they will get that delay. But if they don`t, we`ll have the Tom Price round tomorrow. I wonder what they will ask him about.
MADDOW: Last time we counted, there were five Goldman Sachs alum joining the new White House.
Senior strategist in the White House, Goldman Sachs. Nominee for treasury secretary, Goldman Sachs. Head of the National Economic Council, the president of Goldman Sachs. Head of the SEC, which is the top cop that polices Wall Street, he`s a former lawyer for Goldman Sachs.
After those four, the Trump administration created a new adviser job at the White House for another partner at Goldman Sachs. That brings us to five Goldman Sachs hires for the new populist-looking-out-for-the-little-guy White House.
But then, remarkably enough, they found another one, another Goldman Sachs guy will now be taking over the White House Office of Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs. Goldman Sachs hire number six. This week, the new hire could be found in Davos, with other masters of the universe.
While in Davos, he gave an interview to a Russian state-run news agency saying that the U.S. sanctions on Russia haven`t worked, that sanctions have probably galvanized Russians with the Russian president, whatever that means. He also said maybe he could help arrange for new U.S. investments in a Russian investment funds, which by the way, the U.S. put sanctions on in 2015 -- but, hey, this is a new day. This is the day of Goldman Sachs alums sliding into federal government with nameplates and business cards, half dozen of them so far, which presents sort of a new challenge.
If this comes up, we may need a new collective work for a group of Goldman Sachs people, you know, like flock or heard or pack, like a portfolio of Goldman Sachs hires, or a hedge, or a hedge of Goldman Sachs hire, a purse, a gamble, an anti-regulatory framework. I don`t know.
I don`t -- what do you call it when you hire six people from Goldman Sachs one right after the other?
Send us your suggestion. Send us your best and most printable suggestions for the collective noun we need a blank of Goldman Sachs hires. Think it up, write it down, don`t use the word "murder." Send it us, go to sendittorachel.com. Sendittorachel.com. We thank you.
That does it for us tonight. We will see you again tomorrow.
Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL."
Good evening, Lawrence.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END
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