Show: The Rachel Maddow Show Date: February 26, 2017 Guest: Al Franken
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Thanks, my friend.
CHRIS HAYES, "ALL IN" HOST: You bet.
MADDOW: And thanks to you at home for staying with us for the next hour.
OK. This is one of those A-blocks that isn`t going to sound like anything else in the news and it will sound like it comes out of nowhere. But every once in a while, we do something like that in this show because I think there`s something going on in the news that even though people aren`t following it, I think might end up being really important. So bear with me here. This is something that`s going to seem like it is out of the blue. But you will soon see why this could be one of the most important things in the world.
All right. When he won they called it the world`s biggest consolation prize. It was 1990, the Berlin wall had fallen the year before, the whole Soviet Union would disintegrate by the following year, 1991. But in 1990, Mikhail Gorbachev in the words of "The Guardian" newspaper at the time, he, quote, "took the Nobel Peace Award for losing the Cold War." Consolation prize.
Mikhail Gorbachev, of course, was the last Soviet leader. He did win the Nobel peace prize in 1990 as his country collapsed. And when you win a Nobel Peace Prize, you get a medal, you go to a big ceremony in Norway, you give a big speech, but you also get a big pile of money.
And it`s interesting. That Nobel Peace Prize that Mikhail Gorbachev won in 1990, it was worth a little more than a half million dollars in today`s money. And one of the things he decided to do with his Nobel Peace Prize money is he bought some office supplies. He bought some very early computers and printers and other office equipment and he bought that stuff because he decided he would use his Nobel Peace Prize winnings to set up a new newspaper in Russia.
And that literally was its name. "New Newspaper" in Russian, and that`s "Novaya Gazeta". New newspaper, "Novaya Gazeta".
And that paper, "Novaya Gazeta", got off the ground in 1993, independent paper with an investigative bent. It came into its own over the course of the `90s as the old Soviet Union became the new kleptocratic, oligarch-run Russia, and as an intense little man named Vladimir Putin rose from the KGB to be the head of the successor agency to the KGB, the head of the FSB, and he rose from there to be prime minister and then president and then prime minister again and then president again.
And unlike us, Russia has no long-term political consensus about the idea that there ought to be a free press, that there ought to be an aggressive and independent press holding its politicians accountable for their actions. But for 24 years, "Novaya Gazeta" has done its best and they have done great independent, hard hitting investigative work and they have paid a brutal price for in the Putin`s Russia.
"Putin`s Russia" was actually a book written by the paper`s star reporter Anna Politkovskaya. Anna Politkovskaya published "Putin`s Russia" in 2004 before she was murdered in 2006, in the elevator bank of her apartment building in Moscow.
"Novaya Gazeta` has had a lot of reporters assassinated in Russia over the years. And "Novaya Gazeta" has struggled. Mikhail Gorbachev actually came back a few years ago and made another new investment in the paper to keep it going.
They have repeatedly been cyber-attacked within an inch of their life as a publication. They have taken their knocks. They have lost their reporters and staffers.
But they are still there. They are still ticking. They persevere. And today, they have just reported something very dramatic that happened in Russia that may turn out in the end to actually be about us.
"Novaya Gazeta" reports today that in early December, there was a high level FSB meeting under way. Again, FSB is what the KGB became. It`s a high level FSB meeting underway. It was a regular meeting that included the deputy chief of the cyber unit of the FSB. That unit is called the Information Security Department of the FSB.
And the deputy chief of that unit was at that meeting sitting at the table when officers burst into the room, grabbed him, they grabbed the deputy chief of the cyber unit at the FSB. They grabbed him at this meeting in front of all the other people at the meeting, they put a bag over his head and they bodily dragged him out of the room. And that`s the last time anybody`s ever seen him.
"Novaya Gazeta" reports that this happened in the first week of December. It`s now being -- it`s just being reported now.
Now, other Russians publications corroborate that timing today, noting that all evidence of this FSB official, his name is Sergei Mikhailov, they say all evidence of him on social media, anything he might have posted online, all came to a halt. He disappeared online as of December 5th. Disappearing online is one of the things that would happen to you if you, say, had been disappeared into a Russian prison.
There are also now multiple sources reporting that this former high-ranking FSB officer, he has not just been arrested. He has been charged with treason.
Article 275 of the Russian criminal code, you can be charged with treason if you`ve provided financial, technical or advisory or other assistance to a foreign state or intelligence organization considered hostile to the Russian government. They`re charging him with treason.
"The New York Times" says this is the highest profile detention for treason within the FSB since the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991.
And so, we are piecing this together from Russian news sources, from the corroborating information that we can get, from what is starting to be some Western reporting on this arrest. But this is a dramatic thing, right? I mean, imagine if the head of a cyber unit in the CIA or the FBI sitting there in a meeting at the CIA or the FBI and officers come in, throw a bag over his head, drag him away and nobody hears about it for more than a month and nobody sees him since.
But this dramatic thing that happened in Russia, it`s dramatic for Russia, it may also be important for what`s going on in our country right now. And I am fully aware there`s a lot going on in our country right now. There`s a lot to see, there`s a lot to follow, there`s a lot to absorb.
I mean, we just got this vague non-specific order of some kind from our new president saying he`s going to build a wall between us and Mexico. Today that resulted in the Mexican president cancelling his planned visit to Washington then our new president tried to say the Mexican president didn`t cancel on him, it was a mutual agreement.
Then, the White House announced the way they were going to pay for this wall was a big tax on all Mexican imports into this country. They announced that, then within a couple hours, they dropped that, and they walked that back and said, no, no, of course, we`re not going to do that, even though we just announced we`re doing to do that.
We were told all day that we should expect an order from the president, maybe today, maybe tomorrow, initiating some sort of federal review into his bananas absolutely unsupported contention that there were millions of illegal votes cast for his opponent in this past election.
Also today his chief strategist, who was the head of a right wing pro-Trump website before Trump hired him to run his campaign, he initiated an interview with the "New York Times" today. "The New York Times" didn`t call him, he called them in order to announce to the world through "The New York Times" that, in his view, the media is the opposition party in America and the American media should henceforth keep its mouth shut.
So, when there`s a grand new presidential administration in Washington and when it`s one that is behaving this erratically and radically and saying stuff this crazy and this unprecedented, it can be dizzying over the course of a day. It`s easy to go through any daily news cycle, just minute to minute pinging back and forth between all the crazy stuff they`re saying. You know, this fights they`re starting, the lies they`re telling, the stuff they say they`re going to do even if maybe they`re not going to do it, you can overwhelmed, you can get very caught up in the churn on days like this.
But that noise level is going to be there every day, right? That`s what the campaign was like, too. That`s why, you know, Trump and his campaign got all the free news coverage in the world because they know how to make newsworthy noise. They know how to safe stuff that gets attention and generates outrage and backlash. They know how to make every new pronouncement the start of a new news flurry as people react and get bewildered and overwhelmed and angered by what they do.
But if we have learned anything thus far in covering the Trump brand of politics, it`s to not focus so intently on what they`re saying that we miss what is being done. To not focus so intently on every new pronouncement that we lose focus on what is actually going on that we can observe in the world.
And if these reports from "Novaya Gazeta" and others Russian sources are accurate, that a senior FSB official in the cyber unit got dragged out of an FSB meeting with a bag thrown over his head and he`s arrested for treason and is now in prison awaiting what is expected to be a secret military tribunal on those treason charges -- well, we need to notice that is happening and, we need to ask whether that has something to do with us. In part, we may need to ask whether the treason he committed, whether the foreign government that he`s charged with aiding and abetting is our foreign government.
Because over the closing months of our presidential election and right up through the blame duck period before the new president was sworn in, we -- the American people, we had dropped on us a series of news bombs about Russia influencing our election, right? There was the unconfirmed dossier of dirt on Donald Trump that the Russian government had allegedly collected and was allegedly using against him to get him to do their bidding. That unconfirmed super inflammatory dossier of information was reportedly collected by a well-respected former MI6 British intelligence operative.
It was published online last month whereupon that former British intelligence operative promptly disappeared. He took himself off the grid. His business partner said he did it for his own safety.
Before that, there was the joint intelligence report from the NSA, the CIA, the FBI, the Office of Director of National Intelligence. We all saw the unclassified version, high-ranking officials in our own government saw the classified version. But either way, it contained these very detailed allegations about a Russian government campaign designed to influence our election ordered and directed from the highest levels from Putin`s office and carried out through cyber attacks, through strategic leaks of stolen information, through complex, sophisticated propaganda efforts designed to hurt Hillary Clinton`s chances in the election and bolster Donald Trump`s.
Before that, it was the statement in October when the Department of Homeland Security and Director of National Intelligence warned ahead of the election there was a concerted Russian government effort to influence our election, including hacking operations to steal and publicize information from the Democratic Party and the Clinton campaign in order to hurt them both.
Before that, in September, there was the warning published by the FBI saying that boards of elections in individual U.S. states had been hacked. The IP addresses they named and publicized in conjunction with those attacks were later traced back to a server farm in Russia.
All of -- so, all of these reports, right, intelligence reports, news reports, these will all be part of the history of this presidential campaign and this presidential election. But now in the early days of this presidency, those reports also form the basis of live, current, forward- looking concern about whether not just the election but this presidency might potentially be compromised by foreign influence. And it`s not an abstract concern. It inflicts a lot of the way we are processing the day to day, fast-moving, sometimes overwhelming news that we`re getting out of this new administration, right?
I mean, when Republican senators decided none of them would oppose him, that cleared the way for our next secretary of state to be an American businessman who is thought to have a closer personal relationship than any other living American with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The man who is slated to be our next secretary of state is the recipient of the Order of Friendship Award which Vladimir Putin personally pinned to his chest not that long ago. The highest award the Russian government gives to a Russian citizen. He will now be our secretary of state. Hasn`t been confirmed but now that the Republicans who said they were concerned about him and his ties to Russia have decided they don`t care that much, now, his nomination is all but assured.
And now that his nomination is all but assured, today, we learned that they, boom, just cleared out the entire upper echelon of experienced management at the U.S. State Department. The State Department that Rex Tillerson is about to take over. People who have been there since the 1970s, people who have been there since the `80s, career senior management, career foreign service officers, career diplomats.
One former high-ranking career diplomat who was first appointed by George W. Bush said today, quote, "As a career diplomat, I experienced many presidential transitions and I never saw anything like this dangerous purge of public servants now underway at State." Now underway at State ahead of Rex Tillerson taking over.
Another former assistant secretary of state tweeted today specifically about the suddenness, the sudden rush to get all the top-level people out of the State Department. Quote, "Tom Countryman, foreign service officer, acting T at State", which means he was the person in charges of arms control and international security.
According to this one report, he was told to leave the State Department tomorrow. He was given that instruction today. He was on a plane flying to Rome for a nonproliferation meeting. He was ordered to turn around and fly back and be gone from the State Department by tomorrow.
He`s a career foreign service officer, right? Somebody operating at such a high level of American diplomacy he`s identified by one letter.
Right now, Tom Countryman is still listed on the State Department web site. Read it yourself. It lists his service at U.S. embassy going back to 1982, serving everywhere from Serbia to Egypt to Greece to Italy. It says at the bottom his foreign languages are Serbo-Croatian, Arabic, Italian, Greek and German.
Yes, we better get that guy out of there quick. Couldn`t possibly imagine we`d need him or anything.
And we don`t -- it`s not like they got somebody to replace him, or any of these people who left tonight. But that guy, among others, right, out. That particularly guy, they took him off a plane, told him to turn around and get out according to this one report. Why the rush?
Well, we`re also getting first reports tonight, including from a reporter at Politico.com who cites several sources in saying that the Trump administration has drafted and started circulating text of an executive order that would unilaterally lift U.S. sanctions on Russia. This is -- NBC News has not confirmed these reports but this is out there. These rumblings are out there.
And you put these things together and these are forward-looking concerns, right? I mean, if we`re going to get this close ally, this unusually close ally of Vladimir Putin to be our secretary of state and we`ll get the top tier of the State Department otherwise cleared away and quick with these rumblings that there may be a fast and unilateral move to drop the U.S. sanctions on Russia, how do they explain this stuff? Why is all this happening?
I mean, what has Russia done to deserve getting out of the sanctions that our country put on them? I mean, the sanctions are there for a reason. The sanctions got put on Russia because they unilaterally annexed part of another country and took their land. Has Russia done something to all of a sudden not deserve sanctions for that? What has changed?
What is the explanation for this radical shift toward giving Vladimir Putin what he wants in exchange for him giving us nothing? Especially when actions like that are likely to come at some political cost here in the United States for the new administration.
We broke news last night of the new national polling data that shows when you ask the American people their opinion of Russia right now, it`s very negative. You ask the American people their opinion of Russia, their opinion of Vladimir Putin, it`s very, very negative.
That is also true even if you just ask Donald Trump supporters. Even Donald Trump voters are not hot on Russia. They`re really not hot on Vladimir Putin. And so, the new president and the Trump administration will likely pay a political cost if they actually do follow through with the stuff they appear to be doing for Russia and for Putin.
So, why are they doing it? What explains it? These are not backward- looking concerns, these are current concerns about whether or not the American presidency has to a certain degree been somehow captured by foreign influence. How do we figure out if that`s true?
We maybe have the start of an answer and that is next.
MADDOW: So, we`re reporting tonight on concerns about potential Russian influence over the U.S. presidency and some provocative new reports from Russia that may bolster some of those concerns here in this country. And again, these are not concerns just about how the election went in November, these are current concerns and prospective concerns about our new president and his presidency going forward. These are potent enough concerns that there`s now at least one new political ad about it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AD NARRATOR: The president has a secret. What is it? It`s the reason Donald Trump always puts Vladimir Putin first, why Trump insults and abandons our allies but basks in Putin`s praise. Why he compares American intelligence officers who protect us to Nazis and covers for Putin`s attacks on our democracy. He hides connections to Russians and troubling stories keep coming.
Is Donald Trump compromised? How can we trust him if he won`t come clean?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That ad is running on national cable. It`s being run by a group formed by Evan McMullin. Remember him? Former CIA officer who ran a conservative campaign in a few states against Trump in the presidential election this year.
But the questions that are raised in this ad, again, prospective questions, not questions about the election looking back, they are questions about the presidency highlighting the fact that these concerns about potential Russian influence, they`re not going to go away the further we get from the election. Those concerns and questions are going to recur and get more acute and potentially get more troubling if the new administration continues its current tack toward Russia. If they behave toward Russia in the way they have telegraphed.
And, you know, there will be an investigation into Russian efforts to influence our election on Trump`s behalf. They will be carried out by the intelligence committees in the House and the Senate. Both of those committees, of course, headed up by Republican chairmen who are not excited about taking on those investigatory responsibilities.
The FBI investigation into ties between the Trump campaign and the Russian government, that alleged investigation that the FBI won`t confirm or deny, that will presumably continue under the FBI if it exists already even though Jeff Sessions will now be the Department of Justice and Senator Sessions said he will not necessarily recuse himself from any investigations of the Trump campaign even though he personally was formally part of the Trump campaign.
So, there`s -- the investigations will continue however much confidence you have in them moving forward under this Congress and administration. But even without those we have these existing declarations from the intelligence community, right, which we got under the previous administration. We`ve got the investigation they gave us already before Trump took over. And as we now see the Trump administration starting to act, including the way they`re starting to act toward Russia, for a while at least, we`re sort of on our own, as citizens in terms of our assessment about whether or not what the intelligence community told us is true, whether or not Russia did interfere to help elect the guy who is now our president.
And one of the things we as citizens and certainly we in the press have been watching for in order to assess the veracity of those claims from our own intelligence community, what we have been watching for in part are signs from Russia, signs in Russia that might corroborate anything that we`ve been told by our intelligence agencies here in the United States about what Russia did.
I mean, in public obviously all Russian officials, the Russian government up and down completely deny all of it. They always deny everything, right? But according to them publicly, they say they had absolutely nothing do with trying to influence our election, it`s all poppycock.
Well, once our intelligence community made detailed allegations about what the Russian government did to influence our election, we have been since watching to see how Russia would react to those detailed allegations, because think about it for a second -- I mean, even if, you know, you knowing nothing about how Russia operates in particular, even if you know nothing about spying other than what you read in spy novels, think about it, right?
If these allegations about what Russia did, these allegations from our intelligence community, if they`re all false, if it`s all made up and Russia had nothing do with interfering in our election, then we should expect zero response in Russia to those allegations. There`s no reason for them to respond to any of it. It`s all poppycock, it`s all made up, who cares?
But if our intelligence community told us true things, if what they told us is not made up. If some of it is what Russia did, if even what that ex-MI6 agent put in that dossier on Trump, if any of that was published was true, you would expect a reaction inside Russia.
I mean, think about it. Your -- put yourself in their shoes. You`re some Russian, high ranking official, you know, imagine you`re Vladimir Putin. You`re flipping through this dossier, which you know has been circulating widely, ultimately.
It gets published in the United States, you`re flipping through it or you`re flipping through these intelligence community documents about Russian interference in the election, you`re flipping through it, and you`re thinking, no, that`s made up, that`s made up, that`s made up. Hey, wait a minute that bit is true. We did do that.
If you`re the Russian government, if you`re a Russian official and anything the U.S. intelligence agencies, anything that unconfirmed dossier turns out to be true, you act, right? Because that`s a problem for you and the Russian government. Because how did the West find out?
You then have to figure out how the U.S. government, how American intelligence, how Western intelligence sources got hold of some true thing the Russian government secretly did.
I mean, if the Russian denials were correct and they had nothing to do with our elections, they`d have no response to any of these allegations in the West, that Russia helped elect Donald Trump. But if any of it was right, they have to find the mole. They have a responsibility in Russia to find out how that true information about their own actions got out. Who leaked it? Who knew what the Russian government was doing and fed that true secret information to the West?
What we have been watching for in part is Russian efforts to plug the hole. Find the leaker, find the mole, punish someone who had access to real Russian government information, punish someone for letting that real Russian government information out into the world, to people who should not have in the foreign governments and Western intelligence services.
And now, we have news that the deputy head of cyber operations at the FSB has been arrested and they threw a bag over his head at a meeting, dragged him out of the room, charged him with treason and disappeared him into a Russian prison.
In addition to that, we are also told there is one additional head that has rolled at the FSB. There are conflicting reports as to whether he has also been arrested or whether he has just fired, but his job in the FSB was that he was deputy director of counterintelligence. What`s counterintelligence? Finding spies.
It was his job at the FSB, at the Russian spy agency, to stop spies, to stop Western intelligence agencies from penetrating the FSB and getting Russian government information, to stop anybody in the FSB from delivering sensitive information to any foreign source. Those are the two heads that we now know have just rolled in Russia. One guy charged with treason and one guy who was in charge of making sure that nobody at the FSB ever went rogue and decided to help the west figure out what Russia was doing.
Again, this is being described as the highest profile treason arrest in the FSB since the collapse of the Soviet Union. They are never going to tell us what these treason charges are about. I mean, unofficially, Russian media sources report the guy with the bag over his head with the treason charges, he may have tipped off U.S. intelligence agencies to what Russia was doing to influence our election. That`s how it`s being reported in Russian press, in the non-state controlled Russian press.
If that`s true, then him getting arrested is sort of all but confirmation that Russia did it, right? You don`t need to plug the leak if somebody is making something up. You do need to plug the leak, you do need to arrest somebody for treason if they`re giving out real information.
And for us here in the United States watching the action of our new president and wondering what motivates those actions, this is our first foreign corroboration that he really may have been helped on his way to the presidency by a hostile foreign power, which creates new urgency for us to know whether his actions toward Russia now as our president are a thank you, are reciprocal, or some kind of payment for what they did.
Yes, listen to what they say, but watch what is going on as well.
We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: Today in Philly, Republican members of Congress gathered for their annual retreat. The newly Republican president made an appearance. The newly elected prime minister of the U.K. was there, which is weird. Foreign leaders aren`t supposed to make partisan addresses to one political party in our country but, hey, all bets are off now, right?
But what the Republicans also got in Philly today was thousands of protesters -- look at that -- right outside their meeting. Protesters held a dance party outside the Republicans` hotel last night, which is awesome. And then 5,000 freaking protesters marched through the city streets today outside their meeting site.
Protest organizers expected about 3,000 people. They reportedly got about 5,000 people, and if you were wondering what the Democrats were up to while Republicans were facing this in Philly today, we ended up finding the Democrats today as well. The Republicans were turning Philly inside out with thousands of protesters. Senate Democrats were, in contrast, laying low in Shepherdstown, West Virginia.
And because it`s not work, it`s a work retreat, we get to see them all in jeans and sweatshirts. I see you, Minnesota.
Eventually, though, even though the Democrats` gathering was super low key, even the locals figure out all the Senate Democrats were in town and that`s how we got this tape today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I), VERMONT: We have a delusional president.
(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)
Who is way out of touch with the needs of the people of West Virginia and working people all over this country.
SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Let`s be clear on this. The Republicans have the power in Washington.
They have the Senate. They have the House. They have the White House.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have the people!
WARREN: It is now up to us.
(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)
We can whimper, we can whine, or we can fight back!
(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)
Are you ready to fight?
(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Pass the megaphone, everybody.
Several hundred people showed up at the site of the Democrats` retreat in West Virginia today to make their views known. Senate Democrats responded by going out and talking to everybody, passing the megaphone, they promised to keep fighting the good fight.
But that is literally just shouting on a hillside in West Virginia. And in Washington and in their home districts, Democratic members of the Senate, Democratic members of the House have seen protesters flooding their offices, especially for Senate offices. Protesters have been demanding to know why Trump cabinet picks are sailing through.
Again, these protests we`ve been highlighting in legislative offices and Senate offices around the country, they`re not just targeting Republicans. They are targeting Democrats, too.
Callers today have reportedly been jamming the phone lines of both Republican and Democratic senators trying to get senators to vote against Betsy DeVos for education secretary. I mean, it`s demonstrations, it`s phone calls, it`s confronting them at their retreat in West Virginia.
But check this out, tonight, we have an exclusive early look at an ad by the Progressive Change Campaign Committee against the nominee for the secretary of the treasury, Steve Mnuchin. They`re asking voters to call their senators and ask them to vote no on Steve Mnuchin. This is part of the pressure against the Trump cabinet, too. Have a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We raised six children in this house. They called us the Brady bunch of Ewing Avenue. The bank said I could live here after Monroe passed away, but they lied. Just days after his funeral, I got a letter telling me to leave.
Steve Mnuchin ran the bank that is trying to take my homes. Now, Donald Trump nominated him to run our economy as treasury secretary. We can`t let that happen.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That ad will start running this weekend in Virginia, Delaware, Nevada and then in Washington, D.C. starting Monday, and maybe that will have an effect.
But you see Republicans and Democrats getting targeted both on the Senate on these picks because for the most part, Democrats have allowed the Trump cabinet picks to sail through. I mean, they`re not slowing down the process.
We saw Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts going after Ben Carson hard during his confirmation hearing, but then she turned around and she voted for Ben Carson in committee. You saw Dianne Feinstein stapling Mike Pompeo, but then she voted for him to make him director of the CIA. Until yesterday, the only Senate Democrat to vote against every one of Donald Trump`s cabinet nominees thus far was New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand.
Will they hold the line when even more controversial picks come up for their votes?
Let`s ask one of them. Senator Al Franken of Minnesota joins us next.
Stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. TOM PRICE (R-GA), HHS SECRETARY NOMINEE: I have no idea what stocks I held in the `90s or 2000s or even now.
SEN. AL FRANKEN (D), MINNESOTA: I find it very hard to believe you didn`t know you had tobacco stocks. Last year was the hottest year on record. The year before was the hottest year on record then. This is going to be hotter. This is happening and sea level is rising.
REP. RYAN ZINKE (R-MT), INTERIOR SECRETARY NOMINEE: And I`m not an expert in this field. What I do know --
FRANKEN: But that to me is a copout. Because no one --
ZINKE: I want to be honest with you.
FRANKEN: I`m not a doctor but I have to make health care decisions.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Senator Al Franken of Minnesota and the rest of his colleagues in the Senate have given the new cabinet nominees a bruising in the confirmation hearings the last couple weeks. Senate Democrats have been fairly relentless in their questioning, but when it`s time to vote, Senate Democrats in most line have fallen in line and voted to confirm the Trump nominees. They`ve made noise in the hearings but in the end, they have said, yes in pretty big numbers, and I don`t necessarily understand why. I`m not saying it`s a bad thing I just don`t understand it.
Here to help me understand is Senator Al Franken of Minnesota.
Senator, thanks very much for being with us tonight. Appreciate your time.
FRANKEN: Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: I thought there would be more Democratic no votes to more Trump nominees.
FRANKEN: Well, take Mattis.
MADDOW: Go ahead.
FRANKEN: Take Defense Secretary Mattis. You`re right Kirsten is the only one that`s voted against every nominee to come before us because she`s the only one who voted against Mattis and I think that -- Mattis is against torture. Mattis is a well-respected intellectual. We know that we can`t stop these nominees but, believe me, he`s one of the best picks that we`ve seen among all the nominees.
MADDOW: Obviously, General Mattis` vote was overwhelming as you said. We`ve seen overwhelming votes and you shared in the yes votes for Nikki Haley and for John Kelly at Department of Homeland Security. Should we just -- is there an overall Democratic strategy around these things or is every senator just making their own call because there`s no Democratic plan to try to stand together on these?
FRANKEN: Well, you`re right. We had a retreat this weekend. We talked about nominations and you talk about DeVos. She`s someone that I -- there`s not going to be one Democratic vote for her and we`re trying to find Republicans who will vote against her because she`s an ideologue who knows next to nothing about education policy as we demonstrated -- she demonstrated, really, in her confirmation hearing.
Price, I -- he`s unacceptable. I mean, there`s going to be a lot of these nominees who we`re going to do everything we can to defeat. As you know, these nominees need 51 votes and we have 48, so we need some Republicans to defeat some.
But you will see Pruitt, you`ll see a number of these nominees who will virtually all of us will oppose them and I`m sure the same -- I`m sure that`s true with DeVos. I`ll bet you it`s true with Price.
MADDOW: Should we expect that because of some strategic whip effort among Democratic senators or do you just think everybody agrees on their own terms that somebody like Betsy DeVos doesn`t deserve a vote? What I`m trying to get at is, is there an overarching Democratic strategy or do we have to predict these votes based on what we know about each one of you as individuals?
FRANKEN: Well, we discussed it today and we have a strategy. I`m not going to tell you the strategy today, tonight.
MADDOW: That is one of the most heartening things I`ve ever heard from a Democrat, to be said, it`s sounds --
FRANKEN: We have real discipline.
MADDOW: It makes it sound like there is a strategy.
I know, in general, you guys are being tight-lipped about what happened at the retreat that you had this week, this time you spent in West Virginia.
Can you tell us anything about what kind of conversations, what topics you guys are talking about and how you felt about those several hundred people showing up to cheer you on but give you criticism, too?
FRANKEN: That was actually terrific because they were basically there to cheer us on. And a handful -- we didn`t want 48 senators descending on them, so we send -- a handful went out.
We did talk to some Trump voters who we invited in. Joe Manchin in -- of West Virginia was our host and there were a lot of Trump voters in West Virginia. And so, we talked to a number of them. We thought that was good for us to hear.
And we talked obviously a lot about the ACA and about -- we -- our sense is that there are a number of Republicans getting cold feet now because they have no plan to replace this and they`re all over the place.
The president has said that everyone will have an insurance. Tom Price is someone who has put forward plans to replace that do not provide any protections for people that Republicans say now they want to -- you know, the pre-conditions that don`t discriminate against people with pre-existing conditions. No annual caps, yearly caps. Stay on through your 26th birthday, reducing the donut hole and the prescription drugs. All the stuff that is in the ACA.
To me, it`s much easier -- the ACA isn`t perfect and we saw the premiums in the exchanges spike this year. To me, the much easier thing is to address that, and there`s definitely ways to address that and bring those prices down and bring those costs down and to go after pharmaceuticals.
This is something actually that President Trump has talked about, we hope he`s sincere about it. So, to me, I -- we`re trying to strategize so that we can keep ACA and fix what`s wrong with it and expand on in the way that Donald Trump seems to be talking about because he wants everyone to be insured.
MADDOW: I can hear you calling him on his rhetoric right now. What Republicans choose to do about it I think is much less predictable.
But Senator Al Franken, I really thank you for joining us tonight. Thanks for being here, thanks for your time.
FRANKEN: Sure, Rachel.
MADDOW: All right. We`ll be right back. Stay with us.
MADDOW: It`s easy to ignore one person. It`s actually pretty to ignore 10 people. But when thousands of people are all yelling the same thing at you all at once -- which is now starting to be a daily occurrence in this country -- you do at least have to consider listening to them, it turns out.
Hold that thought. Some interesting protest success stories next.
MADDOW: December, 2009, a group of business leaders took out a full page ad in the "New York Times". It was addressed to President Obama and Congress on the subject of climate change. Quote, "If we fail to act now, it is scientifically irrefutable that there will be catastrophic and irreversible consequences for humanity and our planet." Business leaders, signed by dozens of business leaders, including at the bottom, Donald J. Trump, Donald Trump Jr., Eric Trump and Ivanka.
That wasn`t that long ago. 2009. But naturally, things have changed. Our current president now says nobody really knows if climate change exists.
And in the first big fight of the transition after he was elected, his team demanded to the Department of Energy they hand over the names of all staffers in that agency who had worked on climate change issues in any capacity. And that demand for names, that led to an immediate public outcry. A lot of news coverage of that. Our shows and a lot of media outlets asked the Energy Department for their response.
They sent us this defiant statement that included this line in bold letters. We didn`t bold it. They did. "We will not be providing individual names to the transition team."
That bold push back and the outrage around that request, apparently, it worked. The very next day, the transition backed off. They said their request for those names was not authorized.
Public pressure works sometimes. This week, same story. Monday, an internal memo was sent to all scientists at the USDA, the Agriculture Department, banning them from sharing research in any public facing way. Don`t show the people. Don`t talk about what you are doing. But there was a public outcry and 24 hours later, that order to gag all the scientists at the Agriculture Department, that order was rescinded. Public pressure sometimes works.
And we may be watching the latest example play out right now. Yesterday, we woke up to this headline in "Reuters". "Trump administration tells EPA to cut climate change page from its website." The "Reuters" said that the climate change page including a myriad of data that could be disappeared that very day, except -- cue public outrage -- and by night fall, this was the headline. Quote, "Trump administration backs off plan to scrub climate pages from EPA website."
I mean, this stuff could still disappear. The administration, you know, says everything is subject to review. And they`re warning today about sweeping cuts to the EPA budget and work force. But for now, we are starting to see public pressure on these guys. Public pressure is on a lot of the stuff they are doing.
If you go to the EPA website right now, that climate page and all its data is still up. It is still there. How long that lasts? I don`t know.
But pressure is probably what kept it up. I usually say watch this space. But in this case, watch this page. We will too.
MADDOW: We`ve got one more thing to show you tonight. And I`m making you a promise. After you see it, you will never again be able to see Barack Obama talking to Donald Trump without laughing. Trust me. We`ve got one more thing to show you tonight. This will make you happy.
Stay right there. That`s next.
MADDOW: Best new thing in the world. The geniuses behind Bad Lip Reading were the best thing about the 2016 election. They always deliver. And so, now behold, the bad lip reading version of the inauguration.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, you cherry.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I`m always looking good.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, yeah, sure.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You are certainly not going to be. You are bad company.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can`t win.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You suck. Now`s your chance.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can be a funny winner can`t you.
I`m important. You want to be me, don`t you. Quite a figure. Quite a figure and no.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you wearing a big boy shirt.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah, probably never will again.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I`m going to barf.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Pretend I like you but I hate you inside.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You`re a creep.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think you are old, like dirt.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Repeat after me, I make grease pellets in my sweat.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I make grease pellets in my sweat.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Crush it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You think?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, I`m teasing you. You look depressed.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don`t feel good.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now raise your shrunken hand and repeat after me. I`ve got to get a grip. You saw me squat.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I got to get a grip. You saw me squat.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now, let`s party.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No music, just me. You know what I want later, a hamburger and milk duds and not fish.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It`s all fun.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yay.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just remember who brought you here.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, my prince. Thank you.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I win
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: God bless you, bad lip reading. You are a national treasure.
That does it for us tonight. We`ll 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