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The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 2/2/2017

Guests: Michael McFaul, David Sanger

Show: The Rachel Maddow Show Date: February 2, 2017 Guest: Michael McFaul, David Sanger

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC ANCHOR: And thanks to you at home for staying with us for the next hour.

You know how some politicians always sound a little drunk? Like even when there`s no reason to think they`ve been drinking -- I`m not accused of anybody of drinking on the job -- there are some people in public life where there`s just something about them that innately seems a little tipsy, particularly when they`re happy. The best example of this that I know of in American politics is Tommy Thompson.

Tommy Thompson, very impressive career in Republican politics. He served 13 years as governor of Wisconsin, the longest-serving governor in that state`s history. He ran Amtrak for a while. He was health and human services secretary in the George W. Bush administration. He`s got a great resume.

But I continue to believe the reason he was never taken seriously as a presidential candidate when he finally ran for president is because, no offense, I do not mean this as a personal affront in any way, but there is something about him when he speaks that reads a little tipsy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TOMMY THOMPSON (R), FORMER WISCONSIN GOVERNOR: There are 30 teams but only one Packer organization and that is the greatest -- of -- football organization ever in the America`s history. Whereas the Packers are America`s real team and will -- always -- be winners in the hearts and minds of the people of Wisconsin, therefore I, Tommy Thompson, governor of the great state of Wisconsin, do hereby proclaim January 27, 1998, all over Wisconsin, Green Bay Packer day in blue -- honor of all of you the fans.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: Awesome, right? But you see what I mean about sounding a little bit tipsy. Our soon to be new energy secretary, the man who will be in charge of America`s mighty arsenal of nuclear weapons, he also at times has had a little touch of the "seems drunk when he`s not" problem.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICK PERRY, ENERGY SECRETARY NOMINEE: That little plan that I just shared with you doesn`t force the granite state to expand your tax footprint. You know what I mean.

(LAUGHTER)

Like 9 percent expansion.

(LAUGHTER)

I love Herman. Is he the best? I have fun with him. He is a great and interesting guy. And thank you, Herman, for helping pay for the event tonight.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: Who else would you rather have in charge of America`s nuclear weapons and national labs but our new president picked him.

(LAUGHTER)

But this problem, he sometimes seems drunk when he`s not actually drunk, problem, it`s not only American phenomenon. In Europe, in the European Union, there`s no exact equivalent for our position of president, there`s no president of Europe but this is Jean-Claude Juncker and he is the president of the European Commission, and that is sort of the closest equivalent to being the president of the United States of Europe and he, too, has this same problem. He, too has this "seems drunk when he`s not" problem.

Jean-Claude Juncker is the former president of Luxembourg. It`s possible everybody in Luxembourg is like this. I don`t have any reason to know that. I don`t think so.

But what`s clear is that he enjoys his work as president of the European Commission. He maybe enjoys it too much. Also when he`s happy and in a good mood, he likes to slap people.

Here he is shaking a politician`s hand at a big E.U. summit in Latvia. It`s all very normal until slap. Here you go, ready? He smacks him upside the head. Whack!

Here he is walking up to another man. He slaps him, too. Why not? I`m the president of Europe. Smack you upside your head.

The president of the European Commission also likes to compare ties. Here he`s tie touching with one gentleman. Here he is with another foreign leader doing the same thing. This is the E.U. Summit that happened in Latvia last year. Everybody had the same idea about what kind of tie to wear. He didn`t let them forget it.

But it`s this next interaction I want you to watch. This is Jean-Claude Juncker again and check out how he says hello to this guy. This part has sound. The first part is in English. Watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JEAN-CLAUDE JUNCKER, EUROPEAN COMMISSION: The dictator is coming. Dictator --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: "The dictator is coming." Whap! And then he slaps the dictator upside the head.

The man the president of the European Commission is calling a dictator in that video is Viktor Orban. Viktor Orban is the prime minister of Hungary. And when they march against him in the streets of Hungary, they actually call him not the dictator, they call him the victator because his name was Viktor.

When Viktor Orban was a young man in the late 1980s, he started an anti- communist movement in his country. By the time he was 35 years old, he was the youngest every prime minister of his country. He was elected prime minister when he was 35 years old in 1998.

But it`s interesting, he only served one term. He lost in the next election and that apparently made an impression on him. He apparently decided that not only would he come back to power someday in his country, but if and when he got a second shot at power in his country, he would not want to lose that power maybe ever again.

And Viktor Orban did get another shot. He won election as prime minister again in 2010. He won a big victory. His party won two-thirds of the seats in parliament.

And with that huge majority, with that power, they decided they would to rewrite the rules. They rewrote the Constitution. Among other things, they cut in half the number of seats in the parliament. They redrew the boundaries of all the election districts in the country all at once.

Viktor Orban said the old system was too way too complicated. This new way that he and his party had come up with, it was way simpler. It was also designed to make it basically impossible to remove him and his party from power.

And in the next elections, in 2014, support for Viktor Orban`s party shrunk dramatically. They`ve got a lot fewer votes. They dropped from 53 percent of the vote down to 44 percent of the vote, but wouldn`t you know it, thanks to these new simpler rules, even though Viktor Orban`s party got less sport and fewer votes, they kept the same seats. They held on to the same two-thirds majority in parliament. Magic thanks to the simplification of the rules that they rammed through and that only benefitted his party.

He also changed the legal supervision of national elections in his country. So, instead of an election commission with representatives from all the parties, now, it`s just run from -- by seven guys from Viktor Orban`s own party who oversee the elections. And he`s done all of these other things that we now know to watch for in circumstances like this, right? I mean, you know basic political science, you know what creeping authoritarianism looks like.

Doesn`t matter how you got there in the first place, we know what it looks like when you consolidate power so you never leave. He has clamped down on and punished media outlets that are critical of him. He has bolstered and given governments support to media athletes who toe his line if you say nice things about him.

He`s had senior members of opposition parties arrested. Tax evasion is always a convenient charge for that. He has ousted independent judges. He`s packed the courts with his loyalists.

He tried to get away with a big new voter registration requirement that his country had never had before. You have to submit paperwork and sign up with the government in the way you never had to do in that country before. Observers said that that requirement would guarantee people likely to vote against him just wouldn`t be allowed to vote. In that case, trying to institute new documentation requirements for voting. In that case, what`s left of the independent judiciary was able to shut that part down for now, but they tried.

He`s also thrilled his right wing populist supporters by inveighing against refugees and immigrants, and he has also built a wall along his country`s southern border.

And so, yeah, they call him the victator. Or if you`re the pleasantly drunk seeming European president, you can just go straight to call him the dictator, before you smack him upside the head.

Hungary is part of Europe. They have gone along with the European side of the sanctions that the United States government organized against Russia in 2014. But now, Viktor Orban is looking at Vladimir Putin seeing a kindred spirit and thinking maybe, we`re not going to go along with those sanctions anymore.

Viktor Orban sent his foreign minister to Moscow last week and in Moscow last week, his foreign minister declared that those sanctions on Russia may now be counterproductive. So, now, maybe the European part of the worldwide sanctions on Russia that we organized, maybe those sanctions are going to start falling apart. Thank you, Viktator.

Today, Russian President Vladimir Putin took his first foreign trip of the Trump era, the Trump era the Russian government has been so excited about. Naturally, when Vladimir Putin decided to go abroad for the first time in the Trump era, he went to go see the Viktator, he went to see Viktor Orban in Hungary. This is his first trip abroad since Donald Trump has been president of the United States.

And I think part of that is, you know, nationalist, right wing, authoritarian, strong men, dissent crushing would-be leaders for life, those kinds of leaders tend to like each other. But part of that is also the unraveling of this international tool that we led the West in using against Russia, right, the sanctions regime may be falling apart if Putin can pick off individual members, especially on the European side, get them to stop supporting it. So, that may be part of it, too.

Part of it broadly is Russia trying to peel Europe apart, you know? Russia would much rather go back to having countries like Hungary in its orbit. Russia doesn`t want NATO.

Hungary is in NATO. Russia would prefer that they weren`t. Russia would prefer that NATO broke up. Russia doesn`t want a European Union. Russia doesn`t want an international order where the United States is the leader of the West and the international order that stands up to Russia when Russia does things like murder their dissidents and invade other countries and steal other countries` land, right?

So, Russia`s interests are clear. And this trip today, Putin leaves the country for the first time since Donald Trump is president, this trip to Hungary, it`s a nice clear-as-a-bell, geopolitical signal, right, geopolitical move to welcome us to the Trump era. The Trump era where Russia starts expanding its influence on its Western borders again and, frankly, when they want to take something, they just take it.

We`re going to talk this hour about a little bit of the -- some of the -- I don`t know, hairy stuff that`s going on in American national security right now? CNN is citing a White House source today saying President Trump might have hung up on the Australian prime minister a couple of days ago and started a major diplomatic incident with that country, with our close ally because he was, quote, "feeling some fatigue" after having other phone call with other foreign leaders earlier in that day.

To clean up after that mess that`s already under way with other politicians including Senator John McCain reportedly calling the Australian government to smooth things other. It`s reportedly the president`s son-in-law, 35- year-old Jared Kushner, the man on the right there, who`s been tasked with cleaning up the other diplomatic mess the president just made with Mexico. The White House now says President Trump was only speaking lightheartedly when he threatened to send U.S. troops to invade Mexico in his conversation with the Mexican president this weekend.

Maybe even more worrying than Jared Kushner being sent to clean that up is the news today that that same son in law, this 35-year-old real estate investor was also directly involved in the decision to launch the disastrous special operations raid in Yemen this weekend which killed a Navy SEAL and wounded three others and which the Pentagon now says also killed numerous Yemeni civilians, including, they believe, children. They apparently in the White House they did not make the call on launching that raid from the Situation Room with an assembled formal national security team weighing the hard calls and the complexities.

We know what that kind of night looks like in the White House, right? We know what that looks like.

No, the Yemen raid, was disastrous and ultimately fatal, Yemen raid was apparently signed off on over dinner with Jared and Steve Bannon from Breitbart News.

So, we`re going to have more on that ahead tonight. But there`s also one now thing that I want to stick a pin in tonight, it is under way right now. It is extremely urgent. It`s something that has happened exactly this way once before in recent memory. We know how the previous government, how the Obama administration handled it.

But, tonight, we have absolutely no idea how this new administration is going to deal with this circumstance. And looking at the circumstances around this, I think there`s reason to worry. And I don`t say this that often but this is also a circumstance that is literally life or death.

Two years ago, almost exactly, February, 2015, there were protests in Russia that were genuinely threatening to Vladimir Putin. Now, all protests threaten somebody like Vladimir Putin to a certain extent, right? Authoritarians don`t like dissent of any kind.

But these ones two years ago, they were particularly scary and threatening to Putin because they were led by a credible, viable, well-liked, high- profile opposition political leader, a real political threat who was a former deputy prime minister of the country, known nationwide, very popular, very charismatic, very credible. His name was Boris Nemtsov.

And if you remember that name at all, you might remember how this ends. This is Boris Nemtsov in happier times and I`m going to show you a slightly disturbing image here, I`m sorry, there`s your warning -- this is the same man, Boris Nemtsov, murdered.

And in the pictures here of the site of his murder, you can see the Kremlin in the background. His murder was a Friday night in Moscow. He was due to lead a major protest march -- can we go back to that first picture there? Can we go back to the first -- all right.

This was a Friday night, you can see the Kremlin in the background there, there you go. Stop that picture there. Thank you.

That is Boris Nemtsov there on the ground. Nemtsov was due to lead a major protest march against Vladimir Putin and government corruption in Russia the day after this happened. This was late Friday night. He was 100 yards from the Kremlin. He was walking on that sidewalk with a friend, car drove up, guys jumped out, bang, four shots. They killed him there on the street 100 yards outside the Kremlin.

This is the leading opposition politician in Russia at the time, a genuine threat to Vladimir Putin. They killed him on the street right outside the Kremlin the night before he was going to lead an opposition rally in Moscow. That was Boris Nemtsov.

And then, three months after that in 2015, in May of 2015, they tried to do it to his deputy, too. The deputy in his opposition party was a former journalist, fluent English speaker, worked in the United States for years, his wife and children live in Virginia, in Centerville, Virginia. He traveled back and forth between Virginia, between the D.C. area and Moscow and three months after they shot Boris Nemtsov dead, shot him cold in the streets outside the Kremlin, they tried to get his deputy, too, and they tried to get him with poison.

Quote, "Midway through a meeting with fellow dissidents, beads of sweat explicably dotted his forehead, his stomach churned." He later recalled, quote, "It all went so fast in a space of above 20 minutes, I went from feeling completely normal to having a rapid heart rate, high blood pressure to sweating and vomiting all over the place and then I lost consciousness."

Doctors later told him he had been poison. The poison threw him into a week-long coma with a puzzling range of symptoms, swelling in his brain, kidney failure, his legs and arms turned blue. He had multiple organ failure. He barely survived. He was in and out of a coma. He was 33 years old.

And he was a U.S. green card holder. He also held dual citizenship in Britain as well as Russia and the British government, because he had British citizenship, they were able to help directly as best they could, they were able to keep the pressure on in terms of his medical care and the diagnosis of what had almost killed him. His wife and kids in Virginia did everything they could to raise the alarm about this attempted assassination to try to keep him alive, to try to save him. And high level people in the U.S. State Department were reportedly deeply involved as well basically trying to stop what appeared to be an assassination in progress.

Deputy Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, the assistant secretary of state for the region, Victoria Nuland, the senior director for Russia at the National Security Council, when the guy got poisoned in Russia, when another opponent of Vladimir Putin turned up mysteriously almost dead this time two years ago, the U.S. State Department was on it and they finally got him out of Russia in July.

When they got him out of Russia he still needed to be hospitalized. They got him to the United States, they had him hospitalized for further weeks at a place in Virginia. He basically had to learn to walk again. Did I mention he was 33 years old when this happened?

But he did survive. That was two years ago. And now today, literally, this morning, it appears they may have gotten him again. He was back in Russia, he was screening documentaries about the life and assassination of Boris Nemtsov and he collapsed again, same M.O., sudden unexplained collapse and now multiple organ failure. Same thing that happened to him two years ago with what doctors say was an untraceable poison.

We reported a couple of weeks ago on this show on two senior Russian intelligence sources being arrested, one of them getting dragged out of an FSB meeting with a big over his head. It`s been widely reported the two Russian officials and others are being charged with treason specifically for leaking information to the U.S. government. Even more specifically, they`re being charged with treason for leaking information to the CIA.

If that`s true, if that`s what`s happening, then the Russian government clearly is taking this moment to wrap up what it believes are American sources inside Russia. If this is a second assassination attempt on this leading opposition figure then Putin`s government is also taking this moment to resume knocking off some of its opposition figures. Even ones with family in the United States where the U.S. State Department weighed in to help him the last time he was almost killed.

Putin is taking this moment. And why not? It`s a new day. It`s a new era as Viktor Orban and Vladimir Putin proclaimed in their friendly meeting today. It`s a new world.

The American government just got our new secretary of state today. Here he is accepting the order of friendship award from Vladimir Putin in person a few years ago.

Now that he is the American secretary of state, here`s my question: is he going to help in this case? If Putin tried to kill this guy for a second time today, do we help this guy today? Do we try to keep him alive? Do we make the kind of intervention and get involved the way we did two years ago when it seems like they tried to kill him the first time?

I mean, open question this time, right? But tick-tock. He`s in intensive care. He`s on a ventilator. Right now, he`s still in a hospital in Russia. Tick-tock, it`s a new era. What do we do now?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VLADIMIR KARA-MURZA, RUSSIAN OPPOSITION POLITICIAN: I can also speak to the dangers that face opposition activists in Russia from personal experience. Exactly one year ago in Moscow, I fell into a coma as a result of severe poisoning that led to multiple organ failure that was certainly intended to kill. In fact, doctors told my wife who is here today that they estimated the chance of survival around 5 percent. So I`m very fortunate and certainly very happy to be here today and to be speaking and to be testifying before you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: Vladimir Putin was visiting with Hungary`s right wing populist leader today Viktor Orban, nickname the Viktator. One of Vladimir Putin`s fiercest critics was once again lying in a hospital, on a ventilator, in total organ failure in what sure looks like a repeat of what happened to him two years which you saw him testifying about in Congress, when he was the victim of a suspected poisoning by Russian state sources. His name is Vladimir Kara-Murza.

Meanwhile, today, the U.S. just got a new secretary of state, one who accepted the Order of Friendship award from Vladimir Putin just a few years ago. If President Putin did just again, just today, tried again today to kill one of his critics, one with ties to the United States, one who lives here with his family, one who we have helped before the last time he was apparently almost assassinated in Russia, how are we going to respond to it now that it apparently has happened again today? What happens now?

Joining us now is Michael McFaul. He`s a former U.S. ambassador to Russia and a professor at Stanford University.

Mr. Ambassador, it`s nice to have you with us again tonight. Thanks for being here.

MICHAEL MCFAUL, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO RUSSIA: Thanks for having me.

MADDOW: Can you tell us a little bit about what you know about this man who`s fallen ill today for a second time under these suspicious circumstances, Vladimir Kara-Murza?

MCFAUL: Yes, I know him. I know him personally. I`ve known him for a long time. I saw him recently and I just want to thank you, too, for bringing up the news, reminding people of what happened to another Russian friend of mine, Boris Nemtsov.

It was important for people to understand what happened to these people. He was poisoned. I`ve talked to him after that. There`s no doubt in his mind it was for political reasons. He thought it was for assassination and today, I`ve been in touch with many of his friends in Russia and they believe this is a repeat to try to kill him.

MADDOW: He is an American green card holder. His wife and children live in Virginia. He worked for many years in the United States as a journalist. He has been involved in advocating for various Russia-specific policies in our country, including sanctions and anti-corruption measures that the United States has pursued to try to get Russia in line with international norms.

When he was hurt two years ago, when there was this what appears to be an assassination attempt on him two years ago I have read reported that the U.S. State Department basically did everything they could. That the British government got involved because of his dual citizenship but the U.S. government also helped and he was ultimately able to recover at a U.S. hospital.

Is that fair to describe?

MCFAUL: Yes, that`s exactly right. I mean, I saw him after that. I saw him here in San Francisco not long after he recovered and he was very grateful for the help that he got. And he was also, of course very nervous about what the future might hold.

I`ll tell you honestly, I told him not to go back to Russia and he told me that he had to, in large part because of what he wanted to do to keep the struggle for democracy and human rights.

By the way, Rachel, he`s also a former journalist, an independent journalist before he became a political opposition figure. But he need to do that because his close friend Boris Nemtsov had died and I believe he was on tour -- there`s a new movie playing, a new documentary about Boris Nemtsov that`s being played around Russia right now and he was part of that tour. At least a couple days ago, I know that to be true.

MADDOW: I have read that today as well. That`s how his wife described what he was doing. He was traveling around Russia doing screenings of the documentary about his friend who was also assassinated.

Do you -- obviously, we`ve got a new secretary of state as of today. We`ve got a new administration with radically different ideas about the world and particularly about Russia that it`s in its early days of settling in in Washington. Do you expect the U.S. will keep supporting people like your friends? Like this young man now going through another life threatening ordeal? Do you expect the U.S. government will still intervene in life or death consequences?

MCFAUL: Well, what I want and expect are two different things. It`s clear what I want. It`s too early to tell, to be honest. I don`t know what to expect.

This is a real test for Secretary of State Tillerson. Everybody was worried in the hearings and discussion about him as secretary of state. The one thing everybody worried about, would he speak up for activists, would he speak up for democracy and human rights? He`s got a test right in his inbox as he settles into the job.

The second thing I would say is they seem confused about their Russia policy, because on the one hand, you`ve heard the nice kind words candidate Trump, President-elect Trump said and after the phone call what President Trump said with respect to Mr. Putin, but his ambassador at the United Nations today rightfully, in my opinion, was criticizing the escalation of the war in eastern Ukraine.

So, I think they`re rather confused about their Russian policy, and therefore, it`s too early to predict where it`s going to go.

MADDOW: For this young man, there`s no time for confusion at this point. So, let`s hope that at least in terms of that part of their policy, they sort it quick.

MCFAUL: Great point.

MADDOW: Michael McFaul, former U.S. ambassador to Russia -- thank you for being here. Appreciate it.

MCFAUL: Thanks for having me.

MADDOW: All right. Much more ahead tonight, busy night. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: Two months ago, a U.S. Navy Seahawk helicopter was escorting an aircraft carrier out of the Persian Gulf, when it had what the Navy described as a, quote, "unsafe and unprofessional encounter with an Iranian boat, an Iranian patrol boat." And we`re told that Iranian patrol boat trained a weapon on the U.S. helicopter.

A few months before that, Iranian patrol boats raced full speed right at an American Navy vessel. They got so close the American ship fired three warning shots at the Iranian boats. And, of course, 2016 started off with these harrowing images of 10 American sailors being taken into Iranian custody. They were held in Iran for 15 hours before finally being released but not before Iran got plenty of propaganda value out of parading these U.S. sailors before the cameras.

And those were just the major incidents. In all, the U.S. Navy says it counts 23 provocative incidents by Iran in 2015 and 35 last year. And one reason Iran is able to do this kind of stuff is simply geographic opportunity.

The U.S. has lots of military personnel on Iran`s doorstep in every direction. We have major American deployments in Afghanistan which borders Iran and also Iraq which borders Iran. We have thousands of troops in lots of Iran`s other neighbors, our Navy`s Fifth Fleet is based in Bahrain, right across the Persian Gulf from Iran. That would be the Persia of Persian Gulf.

But when the new U.S. national security advisor took to the podium on the White House briefing room yesterday and said that the administration was, quote, "putting Iran on notice," when the White House press secretary followed that up by saying about Iran, quote, "we are not going to sit by and not act on their actions." We`re not going to not act. When the White House yesterday surprised everybody by threatening Iran with something but we don`t know what nobody gave the U.S. military stationed all over Iran`s backyard nobody gave the U.S. military in the region a heads up.

A spokesperson for the U.S. Central Command in the Middle East told "The Guardian" newspaper they had no heads up whatsoever that the White House was about to threaten Iran from the podium in the White House briefing room. They heard about it just like all the rest of us did, when it happened, despite the fact that they`re actually there. They`re the ones right there in easy reach of Iran and its military.

A spokesman for CentCom told "The Guardian" last night, quote, "We saw the statement as well. We`re waiting for something to come down the line. We have not been asked to change anything operationally in the region." Which means before the threat, they weren`t taking any like force protection measures, they weren`t moving anywhere to make sure they were in a defensible position, you know, nothing special.

The Iranian military is belligerent and aggressive with our military forces in their region on a good day and it`s a big deal to be threatening any country like that, but particularly Iran when we do have them surrounded by our troops and you`re not even going to give our military force protection to know this is coming in case Iran reacts to this threat? Which is not hard to imagine?

It`s just wildly reckless toward American lives and American interests. It suggests there`s something very wrong with how this White House is making national security decisions out of the gate and we can be very specific about that. Hold that thought. That`s coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: Presidential daily brief has been around in some form since the Kennedy administration. It used to be small enough that JFK could tuck it into his suit pocket. That`s how he liked to receive it.

President George W. Bush got his presidential daily brief, his PDB, in this form. He got on paper in a binder. President Obama, famously, was the first president to prefer to get his PDB on a fancy secure iPad.

Now, this new president has his own system.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: He did receive an intelligence briefing today. Director Pompeo was here. General Flynn, his national security adviser, his briefer. So, he receives an intelligence briefing and the PBD everyday.

There is the difference between the raw intelligence and the analysis and I think he is constantly updated by his national security team and other intelligence officials. But every single day, he does receive the PDB, and then I think on top of that, he`s receiving intelligence briefings from his team. He does get the PDB every day.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: First of all, it is the presidential daily brief. It is the PDB, it`s not presidential briefy day, right? It`s not -- it`s the PDB. Presidential daily brief, right?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SPICER: The PBD everyday. Received the PBD. He does get the PBD everyday.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: The PBD, BBD, the PCP, the BLT, you know, the PB&J, he gets the MRI, whatever, OK? It`s the PDB. What do you think PDB stands for?

But the thing the press secretary said about how the presidential daily brief is just raw data, that may be more important. That`s something they`ve been hammering since the transition.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SPICER: This briefing, the PBD, is raw data, that the intel committee provides to him and it is truly just that, it is raw data. He then receives everyday a security update from his national security team. That is more of a -- analysis of that data and intelligence and recommendation on policies that he might want to consider. When he sits down for the PBD, the intel community`s goal and responsibility is only to provide raw data and let the NSC team and the president-elect make their -- draw their own conclusions and analysis from that data.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: When they remember that it`s called a PDB, and I think maybe he was still saying PBD there. I don`t know.

The White House has been trotting out this line, whether or not they know what they`re talking about in terms of the acronym, they`ve been trotting out this line basically that the presidential daily brief is not that important because it`s sort of just stuff that doesn`t make sense, right? It`s just raw data. It`s just, you know, numbers and letters.

That`s not true about the presidential daily brief. We looked into this question specifically. We talked to David Priess, who`s a former CIA officer. He`s a PDB expert. He literally wrote a book on the presidential daily brief.

He used to write personally the component articles that went inside the presidential daily brief. He told us, quote, "The president`s daily brief does not consist solely of raw data. Primarily, the PDB offers the president the intelligence community`s experts` assessment of various foreign developments. A president may choose to have raw intelligence reports including in his PDB package, but the core articles in the PDB have long been analytic assessments, not merely raw data."

So when the White House says it`s just raw data, no. The PDB, the PB&J, the BLT, the BVD, it`s not just raw data. And it`s a big deal that the president get this intelligence briefing everyday, they produce it for a reason.

You know, and for them to be wrong about the acronyms, for them to be wrong about what the major daily product of the intelligence community for the president`s -- for them to be wrong about that stuff is worrying on its face, but there`s a larger point to this. Their explanation for why the president doesn`t need this daily intelligence briefing is because it`s just raw data, it`s nothing that he can really use, and besides, he`s got this guy, and this is the guy who makes sense of the intelligence world for the president.

This General Mike Flynn, the national security advisor. He, the White House keeps telling us, he is the one who briefs the president everyday. He tells the president what the president needs to know. Forget the briefers from the intelligence community. It`s Mike Flynn. He`s the one who explains stuff to the president.

Now, for any number of long time even conservative old hands at foreign policy, Mike Flynn has been a very worrying choice to be national security advisor. But the president picked him and he does now sit at the head of the National Security Council, that`s the structure in place now. And as this presidency itself starts to unfold we are discovering more and more everyday about how it works. I`m not sure it`s making anybody feel better when it comes to national security.

Over the weekend, we got news of that raid on an al Qaeda compound in Yemen. This was president Trump`s first counterterrorism operation that he green lit as president, the "New York Times" reports today that it was basically a disaster from start to finish. Obviously, one American Navy SEAL was killed, three additional U.S. service members were wounded. A number of civilians were killed, including CentCom now says they believe children.

But when it came time for the president to make the call about whether or not the -- this mission was worth its risks, whether the United States government understood the risks well enough and the potential benefits well enough to order that mission, when it came time to decide whether to send these elite American troops into harm`s way, the president`s first real life-or-death decision, he did ask for some help.

Again, "The New York Times" reports today they didn`t go to the Situation Room, they sat down at the president`s dinner table and sitting at the dinner table with him when he authorized this disastrous raid this weekend along with the defense secretary and the head of the joint chiefs of staff he had General Flynn. He also had Steve Bannon, his chief strategist, sort of ideological counselor whose most recent credential is running a right wing website, he, of course, was given a permanent seat at the National Security Council.

Also at the dinner table making this life or death call was reportedly Jared Kushner, the president`s son-in-law who before joining the White House was a real estate mogul who inherited a lot of properties in the tri- state area from his dad. That`s who was with the president as he made this decision about whether or not the authorize this raid in Yemen over the weekend.

Today, reporting on how that all played out, "The New York Times" described it this way, quote, "almost everything that could go wrong did go wrong."

Joining us now is David Sanger. He`s national security correspondent for the "New York Times" and one of the authors of "The Times" piece on what went wrong with the raid in Yemen.

Mr. Sanger, it`s nice to have you here. Thanks for being here tonight.

DAVID SANGER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Great to be back with you, Rachel.

MADDOW: For the -- for us to understand the accountability chain here, obviously this is something where under the Obama administration, the initial planning had already started. There had been weeks if not months of planning around the possibilities of this raid. But it was ultimately the Trump administration, including the president himself, who made the call that this should go ahead?

SANGER: That`s right. And from everything we can understand, President Obama never actually authorized this one in the end. It had been sent over to the NSC by Ash Carter, the secretary of defense under President Obama. But in the end, partly because the Pentagon wanted to do this raid on a moonless night and there wasn`t one left while President Obama would be in office, he did not approve it.

But I think it also appears as if he had some significant reservations because there was a lot in the package of options about what could go wrong and so there were a number of reasons to do this. And so, there are reasons presidents choose drone strikes and drone strikes are controversial for their own reasons and for some very good reasons, but when you do a raid like this, you`re putting a lot of Americans at risk and then, of course, you`re putting the possibility of civilians at risk.

And in this case, someone heard them coming and certainly they ran into far more of a firefight than they expected for something where they were just trying to grab computers, cell phones and we don`t know yet whether the -- whether they got much intelligence out of this.

MADDOW: In terms of the difference and the planning around risks and benefits around a rare ground operation like this versus air strikes, versus use thing drones. Obviously, one of the things that`s remarkable about this raid is that there have been so few raids like this in Yemen. We`ve been involved militarily in Yemen doing counterterrorism work, having special operations forces based there or near there, doing drone strikes for a very long time now, for years now. But this is only as far as we know the third ground operation like this.

Is part of the calculation on that, whether or not you`re going to upset the domestic government? Obviously, the Yemeni government has its own problems and they`re involved in that civil war, they`ve got a lot of things going on. But do they actually find it easier to accept for domestic purposes an air strike than they do that there are American troops on the ground, not only in harms way themselves but killing Yemeni citizens and dying themselves on Yemeni soil?

SANGER: In this case, there were American troops from the ground, and there were troops in the UAE that joined, that`s another thing that made this an unusual kind of strike. I think there are two issues here. One is the question of sovereignty, admitting that you have foreigners there, in a failed state like Yemen that`s hard. If you go back into the WikiLeaks documents from 2010, you`ll find an exchange -- a great exchange General David Petraeus had with the head of Yemen at the time, that -- in which the Yemenis wanted to say, let`s say it was our drones, as if Yemen had drones, right? So, yes, that`s sensitive.

But the bigger issue is this -- if you get into a ground fight like this one and you end up killing civilians as it appeared happened, quite tragically, including some children, you`re adding to the narrative that the al Qaeda forces there have of these Americans who drop from the sky and kill people in a village. And, you know, when the story is told there, the part about the al Qaeda leaders who were there or the part about the intelligence you recover is likely to be left out.

So, you have to go do that question that Donald Rumsfeld used to ask, which is, are we creating terrorists faster than we`re killing them? And that`s certainly a risk when you`re doing this.

MADDOW: David Sanger, national security correspondent for "The New York Times" -- David, I really appreciate your time tonight. Thank you.

SANGER: Great to be with you.

MADDOW: Thank you.

All right. We`ll be right back. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: I love this. Look at this. Great visual.

These are ordinary constituents. They got to their lawmaker`s office. They end up standing in the hallway outside their senator`s office. They`re in the hallway, having a complete conversation with a box.

Staff members are behind the door. They will only speak through the box. What happened next is surprisingly informative about the way politics are happening now. It`s got kind of a happy ending. And that`s next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: For weeks now, Republican Congresswoman Barbara Comstock`s constituents in Virginia have been bombarding her office with request for a town hall. Last week, her office sent out an invitation. If constituents had questions, they should join the congresswoman at her mobile office hours she`d be holding in town. Success.

Constituents showed up in big numbers. But their congresswoman didn`t show up. Her office said it wasn`t an error on the invitation. They swear she was never going to be there in the first place.

So, now, cue the embarrassing headlines about Barbara Comstock standing up her constituents.

This week in Arkansas, members of an Indivisible group scheduled a meeting with Senator Cotton`s staff was scheduled for Wednesday morning in their Little Rock office. They were going to talk about Obamacare and cabinet.

But the night before, Senator Cotton`s staff called them and canceled with no explanation. And today, another group showed up to try to meet with Senator Cotton`s staff. His wouldn`t let them inside the door. They explained through an intercom that not only would there be no meeting, they couldn`t even let them past the door, quote, "because of recent threats."

This story was heavily reported in the local press. Throughout the day, protesters showing up outside Tom Cotton`s office.

And then, hey, look what happened, pressure works.

Indivisible Ozark, the Indivisible chapter in that part of Arkansas says Senator Cotton called them personally, and apologized for the cancelled meeting, and told them he will hold an actual, real life in-person town hall event sometime this month. The pressure got them that far.

Town hall events have been sort of touch and go for lawmakers recently in both parties. But we might be getting a new one on the schedule soon from Senator Cotton, thanks to his constituents who would not give up. And a local press who covered their efforts. Who wants to go next?

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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