Show: The Rachel Maddow Show Date: February 27, 2017 Guest: David Remnick
CHRIS HAYES, "ALL IN" HOST: That is "ALL IN" for this evening.
THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right now.
Good evening, Rachel.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Thanks, my friend.
HAYES: You bet.
MADDOW: And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. Happy Monday.
I`m going to warn you, this A block, you know, sometimes, sort of -- the show has evolved the part where I sometimes I do a long big A block and it has a like a big arc and ends with an exclamation point. This is one of those A blocks. This is one of those things that you have not been otherwise hearing about in the news, but stick with me. This is worth it.
Check this out. OK, let`s say you are a thief. You`ve stolen a bunch of money or maybe you`re a crook and you have obtained a bunch of money through illegal means, through drug dealing or fraud or prostitution or something. Or, you know, let`s being very discrete about it. Let`s say you somehow have amassed a large amount of money and you just don`t want to talk about where it came from. In any of these hypothetical circumstances, I want you to imagine though that you`re not some Podunk, thief, crook, shady bastard. You`re big time.
So, you`ve got this ill-gotten games and it`s not like a briefcase full of money. We`re talking millions of dollars, tens of millions of dollars, hundreds of millions of dollars that you have amassed through, let`s not talk about it, means. If you want to ever be able to actually use that money and enjoy that money, you can`t move it around just in like, you know, bags full of loot. Once you`re talking about millions and tens of millions and hundreds of millions of dollars, there aren`t enough briefcases and duffle bags in the world for you to move that money around easily. And if you want to buy big rich guy stuff, if you want to buy like, you know, a private island or a fleet of Ferraris, or something, do you show up to pay with hay bales full of $20 bills, somebody is going to notice that, somebody is going to start asking questions.
And if you decide to deposit all of your money in a bank, they`re going to want to know where that came from in most banks under most laws, in most countries. So, if you`ve made lots and lots and lots of money in some shady way, you need something to do with that money that makes the money look sort of legit, just so you can use it. And we often think of that process of making illegal or shady or secret money look legitimate, we often think of that as like a mob thing, right? Like an organized crime thing, money laundering.
But money laundering can also be a bank thing if you know the right kind of bank to go to. A couple weeks ago, the big German bank, Deutsch Bank, they got fined $630 million for money laundering. Apparently, Deutsch Bank moved roughly $10 billion out of Russia and disguised that source of those funds, made it all looked legit. It`s all tied to some big Russians stock fraud scheme or something.
But it`s funny, some of the accounts that were involved in that $10 billion money laundering scheme, some of those accounts were personally held by relatives of Vladimir Putin, and by some of Vladimir Putin`s closest and oldest friends. And when this money laundering scheme, including their accounts, was exposed at Deutsch Bank, the Russian authorities, the Russian central, decided they needed to look into this. They were very concerned about this scheme to siphon money out of Russia without anybody knowing where it came from.
The Russian Central Bank looked into this scheme and they decided to fine Deutsch Bank $5,000. Let me mention again here that the fraud here, the money laundering scheme here was $10 billion. But that`s how much the Russian central bank levied against them as a fine.
Luckily, though, this was not just a Russia thing. This scheme did involve a Deutsch Bank office, yes, in Moscow, but also in New York. And interestingly, also in Cyprus. Stick a pin in that for a second. We will come back to Cyprus.
Because of the New York connection, this giant multibillion dollar money laundering scheme ended up in the crosshairs of the Obama Justice Department. And, yes, when the Russians looked into it, they may have decided to only to fine Deutsch Bank $5,000 when Loretta Lynch and Obama Justice Department looked into it, they ended up fining Deutsch Bank $630 million. Needless to say, they took slightly more seriously than the Russians did.
For the people at the top when these things happen, though, it always seems to be a soft landing, doesn`t it? I said the offices involved in this Russian money laundering scheme were in Moscow and New York and Cyprus. When the last chairman of Deutsch Bank needed a new job after Deutsch Bank, where he landed was, very softly, as the chairman of the Bank of Cyprus.
And Cyprus is a lovely place in a lovely part of the world and has a lot going for it. But in global finance, Cyprus is basically the locking black briefcase into which Russian oligarchs stuffed their ill-gotten gains before they handcuffed that briefcase to a Russian a henchman somewhere. This is where the Russian oligarchs launder their money.
And so, Deutsch Bank takes part in this huge scam to launder Russian money, to basically smuggle billions of dollars out of Russia through its offices in Moscow and New York and Cyprus. The bank chairman from Deutsch Bank then personally ends at a bank in Cyprus. He was appointed chairman of that bank by its two largest shareholders. One of the two largest shareholders of that Bank of Cyprus is a close personal friend and business associate of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
One of the other major investors in that bank, this is where it gets good, is a Russian oligarch who they call the "King of Fertilizer". I know, some of my critics call me the "Queen of Fertilizer", but they mean it differently. But the "King of Fertilizer" guy, that this is where the news comes home tonight, for Americans who are trying to make sense of our new president in this new government that he`s putting in place and what really explains their behavior when other political norms don`t seem to.
Because the "King of Fertilizer" is just an amazing story. He`s not the richest person in Russia. That would probably be Vladimir Putin. But he does hold the title for what is believed to be the most expensive divorce in modern history. As part of his divorce proceedings, at one point, a Swiss bank awarded his wife $4.5 billion as her divorce settlement. Wow.
You know, and a couple`s divorce would usually be a private matter, especially one involving people we don`t know from other countries, why do we care? The reason we all have to care about it, the reason we all have to know about it now is because it`s becoming part of what we need to understand about our current American presidency.
The split-up of this couple reportedly started in 2007, 2008, thereabouts. The divorce settlement in the end wasn`t finalized until 2015. But it was very, very lurid, this seven, eight-year period of this divorce, it was in papers all the time. It was international news. It had all of these tabloid aspects to it.
At one point, she accused him of having orgies on his yacht with young girls. And he accused her of stealing jewelry, in fact, had her arrested as a jewel thief at some point.
Mostly what they thought about, though, was dividing their money. She thought that he was entitled to a multibillion dollar settlement in the divorce and -- this is important -- she accused him of hiding her money so she couldn`t get access to it. She accused him specifically of, quote, "secreting and transferring assets in order to avoid his obligations." She basically said in order to keep her from getting her hands on what she believed was his money, he started putting his money in places she couldn`t get to it. He started putting his money in very large chunks, in the largest chunks he could into trusts in foreign countries, trusts that own stuff or held assets -- anything to get his money off his balance sheet. So, she couldn`t get it in the divorce.
And that`s the thing that happens in ugly divorces. But when you`re the "King of Fertilizer", when that happens in your divorce, it makes the "Today" show.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: This is 15th Central Park West in New York City. It`s one of the most exclusive addresses and home of the most expensive condo. As you mentioned, with so many struggling to pay rent and mortgages, a college student just bought it and it will not even be her primary residence.
It`s a sweeping view that`s breathtaking and record breaking. For the new, young owner, it`s just a part-time pad. The ten-room penthouse graced the cover of "Architectural Digest" magazine just last year. It sits atop of what`s considered the most expensive building in all of New York.
Outside, a wrap around terrace overlooking Central Park. Inside, guests can tour the private library. But those guests could be college students. That`s because, according to "Forbes" magazine, the new owner is the 22- year-old daughter of a Russian billionaire. Ekaterina Rybolovlev is studying at an undisclosed college in America, but she`s a resident of Monaco. Price tag for her new part-time place, 88 million bucks, all paid for by daddy.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The trend right now is you`re seeing a lot of money come from overseas to purchase these super high-end properties. It`s a great investment for them and a lot of people think it`s safer than the stock market.
REPORTER: In 2008, Ekaterina`s Dmitry Rybolovlev, also bought this 33,000 square foot Florida estate from Donald Trump. He paid the Donald $95 million in cash.
He may reportedly lose it in an ugly divorce battle that could cost him half his worth. But the New York penthouse should be safe. It`s in Ekaterina`s name.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Again, this is a divorce that went through six different venues, six different courts. At one point, there was a $4.5 billion judgment for the wife -- $4.5 billion.
She accused her husband of parking all his money in overseas trusts that held very expensive assets. So she couldn`t get access to more of his money and those trusts did things like hold very, very, very expensive real estate all over the world. The Greek island where Jackie Kennedy married Aristotle Onassis, I think it`s called Skorpios, he bought that island for $150 million.
The actor Will Smith had a nice house in Hawaii. He bought that for $20 million. This guy apparently has an adjoining compound of properties in the Swiss Alps that he bought for $135 million.
And locking up your money in assets like this, specifically to shield them from your ex-wife who you hate, it`s probably kind of a fun way to stick it to your spouse and avoid the accountants and the courts, right? But it also creates, if you think about it, this incredible opportunity for anybody in a position to sell something really, really, really expensive, because this guy`s motivation is not to get a good deal on any of these things, right? This guy is trying to park as much of his Russian money somewhere else, as much of his money as he can. He needs it tied up in real estate and these big assets in other countries. The bigger the deal, the bigger the price tag, the better.
I mean, you want to be the guy who owns the Greek private island when the "King of Fertilizer" starts looking for islands to buy to shelter his money from his wife, right? You want to be the real estate broker in New York City looking to sell the single most expensive private apartment in New York City when that guy comes around looking to spend as much money as he possibly can. The more money, the better.
I mean, for the right kind of person, for the right kind of seller, this guy, the "King of Fertilizer", Dmitry Rybolovlev, he`s just a walking cash register if you have the right kind of thing to sell him.
Behold, la maison de l`amitie. My only thing worse than my Russian pronunciation is my French pronunciation. But la maison de l`amitie, it means House of Friendship, House of Amity. Remember the Amityville horror?
House of Amity, this house, was built in 2001 by a zillionaire, American zillionaire who moved from New England down to Palm Beach, Florida, but then sadly he promptly went bankrupt. While he was still Richie Rich, before he went bankrupt, he did build this astounding house. It is tens of thousands of square feet. It has 22 bathrooms.
Think about that, 22 people can go all at the same time. Although, watch out if they all flush at the same time. Kaboom.
This zillionaire guy built this incredibly gaudy, gigantic mansion in Palm Beach, Florida, in 2001. By 2004, it had been seized by the bankruptcy court, and he and his wife were on their way to facing tax evasion charges.
But this house was put up on auction, in conjunction with the bankruptcy in 2004. The person who bought the house on auction is now President Donald Trump. He bought it for $40 million. And then that big house in Palm Beach, it sat set empty for two years. It became of this sort of this local legend in Palm Beach real estate, because the house was thought of as -- locally, it was thought of as a monstrosity.
It was frequently described as gouch (ph), rococo (ph), it had like fake art everywhere. You know, art inspired by real painters. Sort of copies of stuff painted on the walls. Parts of the interior of the house were cobble stone, which nobody could probably explain. It also reportedly had a terrible mold problem.
But Donald Trump bought it for $40 million in 2006. It sat empty for two years. And then in 2008, along comes Dmitry Rybolovlev, the "King of Fertilizer", right, going through the mother of all divorces, needing the biggest ticket items you could possibly imagine as ways to shelter his money from his darn wife, the bigger the price tag, the better, I`m buying Greek islands, I`m buying the most expensive apartments in New York City, I need places to put my money.
And Dmitry Rybolovlev turns around in 2008 and pays Donald Trump $100 million for that house, 2 1/2 times what Trump had bought it for two years earlier. Why did this guy spend $100 million on that property? I don`t know. We know he never moved in. In fact, some reporting on the sale indicates he never once set foot in it and it`s now being torn down.
Trump and Rybolovlev have commented publicly that they never dealt with each other publicly throughout that sale. They only worked through intermediaries, which is interesting for a financial transaction that big, right? That was the single highest priced paid for a single American house at the time of that transaction. That record actually may still hold. That may be the single most expensive house transaction ever in the United States.
And they never met? They only went through intermediaries? Who were the intermediaries?
Well, the "King of Fertilizer", Dmitry Rybolovlev, who popped $60 million neatly into Donald Trump`s pocket during this transaction, he doesn`t have much of an American profile but he does have one very important American connection. Remember I said that he`s one of the major shareholders in that Bank of Cyprus? The chairman of that bank, as I said, is the former chairman of Deutsch Bank, which just paid $630 million fine for laundering illegal Russian money.
He was installed as chairman at the Bank of Cyprus by the two vice chairman of the bank. One of the vice chairman of that bank is, as I mentioned, Vladimir Putin`s close associate. But the other vice chairman of that bank is an American. The American is in fact the single largest shareholder in that bank, that bank that includes the guy whose firm was just done for the Russian money laundering and Vladimir Putin`s very close associate. I should tell you, the vice chairman who that guy replaced was not only also a close Vladimir Putin associate, he was a guy who Putin was in the KGB with before he became Vladimir Putin.
This bank is also owned in part by the Russian "King of Fertilizer" who did this inexplicable deal that Donald Trump miraculously stumbled into, that netted him $60 million for doing basically nothing. There is one American who was in the middle of that bank, who was the single largest shareholder in that bank. There`s one American in that bank. And tonight, that American was just confirmed as our nation`s new secretary of commerce.
His name is Wilbur Ross. He`s an American businessman, long-time friend of Donald Trump. Not much experience in international banking but inexplicably ended up the majority shareholder in a Cypriot bank with all sorts of ties to Vladimir Putin and to a Russian oligarch who somehow through some intermediary, we don`t know who, ended up stuffing $60 million into Donald Trump`s wallet, paying him $100 million for something that Trump had just bought for $40 million, and that the oligarch apparently had no personal interest in whatsoever, he never even bothered living in it and maybe never even visited.
But Trump and that oligarch, no questions asked, they`ve never met, no connection whatsoever except through Wilbur Ross, Donald Trump`s old, old friend who will be sworn into the cabinet tomorrow as commerce secretary.
And there`s basically two things to know about this story going forward. One in terms of explaining this presidency, the other in terms of what happens next in our politics.
I mean, in terms of explaining this presidency, you should know that at the time this magical deal emerged out of nowhere that put tens and millions of dollars in Donald Trump`s pocket, at that time, Donald Trump was financially having a very difficult time. It is a matter of public record that he was fighting very hard, among other things, to avoid paying off a big loan that he had with Deutsch Bank.
Deutsch Bank needs the money, that means Trump needs the money, that means Trump needs to get the money. So, it`s mysterious windfall infusion of cash from the Russian guy came at the right time for now President Trump.
Every investigative reporter in the country is trying to figure out whether there is some reason that our new president seems so beholden to Russia and to Vladimir Putin. Well, this part here, it`s not like a loose thread. This is like a rope ladder hanging down from the ceiling begging people to crawl up this and look around.
So, that`s one thing to know about this story. The other thing to know about this story is what happens next in the administration. We`re going to talk later on this hour about what`s happening with the investigation or lack thereof and to Trump and his Russia ties.
But meanwhile, he is slowly hercule-jerkeley (ph) staffing up his administration. This weekend, his nominee to be secretary of the navy dropped out. That follows a similar decision by his nominee to be secretary of the army who also dropped out. That follows the firing of his national security adviser and then his next two picks to be national security adviser, reportedly turning him down.
We also learned this weekend that Michelle Flournoy was just asked by Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis if she would become his deputy at the Pentagon. Michelle Flournoy tells Politico.com, she said no. She turned down Mattis. She will not become deputy secretary at the Pentagon because she didn`t feel like in good faith she could join the Trump administration.
They`re having trouble staffing up in a lot of ways, but for whatever reason, Wilbur Ross, tonight, got through. That may not end up being a political blessing to this administration, because now, Wilbur Ross, with all of his unexplained, mysterious Russia ties, now he`s a cabinet secretary. Now, he`s secretary of commerce and any scandal that ends up affixing to him on this subject will affix to the administration, throughout the time that he is in office.
And the big problem with Wilbur Rossi s that the scandal about him and Russia may ultimately be a scandal about Donald Trump and Russia and we`re going to be joined tonight by David Remnick, the editor of "The New Yorker," who has just bylined a mega story on Trump and Putin.
Among the news that Remnick has turned up is this. You remember that 35- page dossier with all those salacious details supposedly about Donald Trump, that unconfirmed dossier of dirt that Russian supposedly have on Trump, well, here`s "The New Yorker".
Quote, "The 35-page dossier, which included claims about Trump`s behavior during a 2013 trip to Moscow. The dossier concluded that Russia had personal and financial material on Trump that could be used as blackmail, and said that the Russians had been cultivating, supporting and assisting Trump for years. According to current and former government officials, prurient details in the dossier generated skepticism among some members of the intelligence community. But in the week that followed, they confirmed some of his less explosive claims relating to conversations with foreign nationals."
One intelligence official tells "The New York Times", quote, "They are continuing to chase down stuff from the dossier and at its core, a lot of it is bearing out."
And now, here is what is shooting up right now like a flair in the night sky, quote, "Some officials believe that one reason the Russians compiled information on Trump during his 2013 trip was that he was meeting with Russian oligarchs who may be stashing money abroad." And that, according to some officials, is why Russia was compiling dirt on Trump, because he was helping them find places to put their money.
Wilbur Ross was confirmed as commerce secretary tonight. David Remnick from "The New Yorker" joins us in just a minute and I feel like I`m finally starting to understand this.
MADDOW: Sometimes a new news story itself isn`t the most important thing. Sometimes the most important thing about a brand-new news story is that it upsets people and therefore shakes something loose. Outrage denials. Confirmation or denial of certain facts.
That happened over the last few days when the White House reacted with outrage to the new stories that the White House chief of staff had leaned on the FBI about the FBI investigation into contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia.
The White House was outraged at those stories. They were so mad about those stories. They pushed back hard on those stories and in doing so, they confirmed that the White House chief of staff did speak with the FBI about the ongoing investigation, which is not the thing you`re supposed to concede and confirm.
The White House chief of staff is really truly not supposed to do that. They hated the story. They reacted with outrage to the story but in so doing, they confirmed he did it.
That`s happened over the last few days. And it has now happened again on a story that is way weirder and more obscure. This is the new weird, obscure news story. These are text messages reportedly received by the daughter of Paul Manafort, who was Donald Trump`s campaign manager until last summer.
Quote, look at this part, "Tell him he has 24 hours before I leak all the S-word to the cops." Whoo, it`s like a bad cop TV. You`ve got 24 hours before I take this to the feds. These threatening texts.
They are reported on by politico.com. The hacks suggest Manafort faced blackmail attempt. Quoting from their report, "A purported cyberattack of the daughter of political consultant Paul Manafort suggests he`s a victim of a blackmail attempt while he was serving as Donald Trump`s campaign chairman last summer."
Paul Manafort confirmed to "Politico" that the hacked texts are real. He says his daughter did receive them. He says she got those threatening texts and the threats to go to the cops. She got them along with an explanatory note purportedly from a member of parliament in Ukraine. The note threatens that this Ukrainian politician has, quote, "bulletproof facts" about Paul Manafort taking off the books payments from one of his former clients, from the ousted Putin-supported Ukrainian dictator who Paul Manafort did, in fact, work for in Ukraine for years.
Paul Manafort says he never received that off-the-books money from that dictator. He also says even though his daughters did receive these threatening texts that now "Politico" has now published, he says he had nothing to do with any of it, it`s all just a smear campaign.
Then, we have no idea if the note or these threatening texts about Paul Manafort, we have no idea if they are actually from this Ukrainian politician. For his part, he denies having anything to do with any of this.
But there`s also a claim in the middle of the story that is specific to our new president. The person who sent these, what appear to be blackmail threats to Paul Manafort through his daughter, this person also claims to have evidence that Paul Manafort got paid to set up a meeting between Donald Trump and a Ukrainian guy who`s close to that pro Putin dictator. Manafort allegedly arranged this meeting in 2012, long before Donald Trump was ever running for president.
So, those are the allegations. Those are purloined texts. That`s the story for what it`s worth. Was Paul Manafort being blackmailed?
What do I make of this? I have no idea. There`s denials all around from people who are supposed to be the good guys in this story and people who are supposed to be the bad guys in the story. Everybody denies it. I don`t know what it means.
But like I said, sometimes the story itself is less important than what it shakes lose. With regard to that claim that Paul Manafort was paid to arrange a meeting between Donald Trump and this pro-Putin politician in 2012, both Paul Manafort and the White House are pushing back on that allegation to "Politico" and this is where it gets good because their rebuttal to that charge is that Paul Manafort couldn`t have been paid to do that, he couldn`t have been paid to arrange such a meeting, because why would anybody go to Paul Manafort to get to Donald Trump in 2012?
Paul Manafort and Donald Trump had no connection back then. Paul Manafort, in fact, never worked with Donald Trump before he became his campaign chairman in 2016. And I think they see that as a great rebuttal to this story.
But in offering that confirmed information to bat back this allegation that really bothered them, they do raise a whole other way more interesting question. I don`t know and I don`t really care whether Paul Manafort was the target of blackmail while he was running a campaign. But you know what`s turning out to be really interesting? The question of how Paul Manafort ended up being Donald Trump`s campaign manager. Who picked him for that?
Hold on. Hold that thought. Stay with us.
MADDOW: When Russia said about trying to influence the presidential election this first year, it wasn`t their first rodeo. Under Putin, Russia has done this all over the world. They have developed a particular M.O. for disrupting other country`s political activities.
In our presidential election, our 17 intelligence agencies say now, equivocally, that we all got to see Russia at work, undermining our election here in the United States in 2016, trying to help Donald Trump`s chances of getting elected president.
But it`s not just us in the French presidential election this year. One candidate is basically bankrolled by Russian bank loans, and her opponent says he`s been the victim of multiple Russian sponsored cyberattacks, and a torrent of Russian origin fake news reports.
In the Netherlands this year, they have decided they`re going to hand-count every ballot in next month`s elections because they are so worried about Russia meddling. This comes after a group of Russians, who no one knew were Russians, basically ran a propaganda op on a Dutch referendum last year, to get a anti-Europe, pro-Putin outcome that Russia wanted from that election.
When Sweden was debating whether or not to enter a military partnership with NATO, Swedes started showing up to town halls full of fears sparked by bogus news stories about rogue NATO stockpiles of nuclear weapons and NATO soldiers raping Swedish women, it was almost certainly a Russian disinformation campaign aimed at swaying the vote and keeping Sweden out of NATO.
Russia is good at this. They do it all over the world. They change their tactics from place to place but the goal is the same, right? Insert pro- Russian candidates or political operatives, exploit divisions, empower disruptive forces, destabilize the democratic institutions in the western alliances that compete with or that challenge Russia.
We can see Russia operate that way in country after country, and we know that Russia interfered in our election, too.
Now think about Paul Manafort, the sudden appearance of Paul Manafort running the Trump presidential campaign last year. From an American political perspective, Paul Manafort doesn`t make all that much sense as a person you would bring on to run your presidential campaign. He`s a lobbyist type, honestly best known in Washington for repping really controversial dictators like Yanukovych in Ukraine or Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines.
And he hasn`t been involved in Republican electoral politics in a very long time. He`s been so not involved in Republican electoral politics that "Politico" ran a piece about him in 2014 about the fact that nobody knew who Ukraine`s man in Washington was. Nobody knew this mystery man. Ukraine`s U.S. fixer, where was he?
Manafort`s current location a mystery. Manafort has all but vanished from the Washington scene.
That was 2014, all but vanished. And then two years later, there he is running an American presidential campaign. If you look at it through Russian eyes, you think about it from a Russian perspective, when he disappeared from Washington and nobody in Washington knew where he was, well, the Russians knew where he was. He was in Ukraine, right, spending years laying the groundwork to put up a pro-Putin autocrat in power who then looted his country for the benefit of Putin`s oligarch friends.
I mean, from a Russian perspective, Paul Manafort is a high profile guy. Who could be better than Paul Manafort to run an American presidential campaign? Wasn`t that an American guy who ran that campaign for Yanukovych in Ukraine?
According to new reporting in "New Yorker" magazine, intercepted communications among Russian intelligence figures during the campaign included frequent reference to Paul Manafort.
I mean, take the view from Moscow. If you know a guy who needs a presidential campaign manager, how about our friend Paul? Right? From the Russian`s point of view, who would be the better choice to run Donald Trump`s presidential campaign?
From our perspective in the United States, Paul Manafort made no sense. Who`s he? From the Russian perspective, he`d be the obvious choice.
Or take Carter Page, right? This name Donald Trump seemed to pull it out of the hat when he was getting pressure last spring for not having any declared foreign advisers on his team. Carter Page, he said, I can give you some of the names. Carter Page, that`s my foreign policy adviser.
From an American perspective, that made no sense. Carter Page`s American foreign policy resume is nonexistent. He was a mid-level oil industry consultant who had spent some time in Moscow. One American executive with experience in Russia told "Politico", quote, "You`d have to dip really far and wide to find a guy like Carter Page. I mean, wow."
But from a Russian perspective, I mean, here`s how carter page is described by a spokesman for the Russian state oil company. Quote, "He`s an extremely well-informed authoritative expert on Russia. People really respect in this industry. He`s a very serious guy. He has a good reputation," says Russian oil company, Russian state-run oil company.
I mean, Carter Page is well-known in Russia. He gives speeches slamming American policy. In Russia, he gets featured on Russian TV. He`s a big deal from the Russian vantage point.
Even consider Rex Tillerson. Did you know that Rex Tillerson and Donald Trump had never met before the campaign, never met before the election? All of a sudden, Rex Tillerson, Mr. Got the Russian Order of Friendship Awarded to him by Vladimir Putin personally, all of a sudden he`s secretary of state in the United States? How did that happen? He and Trump had literally never met before Trump became president-elect.
The White House adamantly denies that Donald Trump had any dealings with Paul Manafort before this campaign. And they`re telling us that to try to tamp down one of these scandalous news stories that they don`t want anybody following up on.
But by confirming that, they raise this question, what was this obscure guy, this guy who had been a frequent conversation among Russian intelligence officials, how did he end up running the Trump campaign? How did he get that gig? Where did he get his references from?
MADDOW: This weekend in Russia, thousands of people marched through the streets of Moscow. They were there to mark two years since the murder of prominent opposition politician Boris Nemtsov. Boris Nemtsov was shot to death late at night while walking down the street literally just outside the Kremlin. He had been due to lead a major protest march the following day. And he was killed, shot in the back.
Among the marchers commemorating his death this weekend was current leading opposition figure Alexei Navalny. Alexei Navalny is a smart, characteristic opposition leader. He is funny and very uncompromising in the way he stands up against Putin. Alexei Navalny did unexpectedly well when he ran for mayor of Moscow recently and he had declared his intention this year that he was going to run for president next year against Vladimir Putin.
Obviously, that can`t stand. Two weeks ago, an obscure court in Russia convicted him on random embezzlement charges involving timber futures. With that conviction, the government now is seeming to indicate that Mr. Navalny will no longer be allowed to run for president against Vladimir Putin. He`ll be disqualified from having his name on the ballot because of that terrible embezzlement conviction.
And that hammer fell on Alexei Navalny, one of our nation`s smartest Russian watchers said this, quote, "The Trump administration notably said nothing. The Russian see friendly faces in this administration."
That observation comes from David Remnick, editor of "The New Yorker", who has just co-bylined a heavy duty new report on Russia and Trump and what "The New Yorker" is calling "The new Cold War."
David Remnick, thank you for being here.
DAVID REMNICK, THE NEW YORKER: Great to be here.
MADDOW: Obviously, there`s a lot of different threads to pull here.
REMNICK: A lot.
MADDOW: There are some important thing that I feel like is new ground that you guys have reported in this long piece that gives a lot of important context. One, something that I just mentioned, Russian intelligence officials frequently discussing Paul Manafort. Also, some current and former officials thinking that part of the reason that Russia may have been interested in Donald Trump even before he declared his presidential intentions is because he may have been a money thing, that he may have been -- Russia may have been interested in the way he may have been helping Russians move their money out of that country.
REMNICK: Well, I think the reason Vladimir Putin was most interested in Donald Trump has to do with Hillary Clinton. Trump could not stand Hillary Clinton. And a lot of the pieces, the historical context of what we`re talking about here, remember, the person who moved NATO eastward was Bill Clinton, and this is considered in the world of Vladimir Putin a grave threat to the security of Russia. It`s not some minor geopolitical move that he doesn`t care about. This is a grave threat to him in his mind.
Remember, Putin came to office in 2000, appointed by Boris Yeltsin who -- and his first deed was to ensure the safety and non-prosecution of Boris Yeltsin, and almost instantly shut down state television, which was quite free, had an unprecedented in the history of Russian communism and Russian history.
In the beginning, Putin was relatively up in the air where the West was concerned. He even considered the question of whether Russia should join NATO. And he gave up hope after a while, for reasons you can justify or not justify, having to do with Kosovo, having to do with NATO. And his policy turned.
So, when it came to Obama who considered Russia a regional power, a grave insult to Russian ego, and then he considered the possible presidency of Hillary Clinton, he was -- he wouldn`t have it. I don`t think the Russians ever thought that they could turn an election around. I really don`t. And I don`t think necessarily they did turn this election around.
It`s hard to quantify what effect --
MADDOW: Won`t be able to prove it either way.
REMNICK: How do you stack it up next to the FBI letter? How do you stack it up next to a very poor campaign in certain respects by Hillary Clinton herself, to say nothing of the, you know, the appeal like it or not of Donald Trump?
But at a certain point, he was -- he just could not bear the idea of Hillary Clinton. So, I think, to some extent that this campaign, if that`s what we find out it had been and we want more evidence -- I do. I want more concrete evidence, not just assertion by the intelligence community. It was to destabilize a Clinton presidency.
MADDOW: You think they expected her to win and the damage that they were doing was something that they could continue --
REMNICK: Of course. Rachel, everybody expected her to win. You expected her to win. The polls expected her to win.
MADDOW: Trump expected her win, yes.
REMNICK: Trump on the day of the election, as I`ve heard from Trump, expected her to win.
So, they succeeded, in some sense, beyond their wildest dreams, and now, they are freaked. If you go to Moscow and you talk to people in Moscow now, there`s a lot of buyer`s remorse. There was an order sent down to Russian television, enough with celebrating about Trump. They are really worried about the lack of stability from Trump in all senses, and they don`t want to -- and they also see that the criticism of Trump, having to do with Russia, is going to undermine his ability to help them.
MADDOW: "New Yorker`s" new piece is called "Trump, Putin and The New Cold War", David Remnick as our guest, can you stay for a moment? I have other questions to ask you.
REMNICK: Of course.
MADDOW: I`ll be right back with David Remnick from "The New Yorker", stay with us.
MADDOW: We`re back with David Remnick, editor at the "New Yorker". "New Yorker`s" just front paged a story called "Trump, Putin, and The New Cold War."
David, thank you.
In terms of the big look you were taking at the stuff, the ongoing reporter of "The New Yorker", what do you think is necessary in terms of a proper investigation here? I feel like a lot of good reporting has given us a lot more information than we had even six months ago. What`s your take on that?
REMNICK: Well, our reporting will continue for the "New Yorker." I`m sure "The New York Times," the "Washington Post" are spending hours and hours on this and everybody else.
But there`s certain things that investigative reporters can do, but there are certain things a well-intentioned, independent investigatory body, whether it`s law enforcement or Congress can do that`s quite different -- having to do with subpoena power, having to do with calling witnesses and all the rest. And you`re now seeing tension in Congress about what to do about this.
And you`re seeing much more reluctance on the House side. After all, they have to run every two years.
REMNICK: Somebody like John McCain is throwing caution to the wind, he`s never going to run again probably and he wants -- it`s interesting to see Senator Burr, a Republican, who has had an interesting relationship with the president, being quite forthright about the need for an investigation. It`s almost amazing.
MADDOW: While also telling reporters, telling -- I mean, Burr -- when Burr and Nunes --
MADDOW: -- started calling reporters and telling reporters to get off the story, there`s nothing there, by the way, I`m the chair of the intelligence committee, so I should know, that, to me, made me give up all hope for Burr.
REMNICK: Do not give up all hope.
REMNICK: Don`t do it. Don`t do it.
REMNICK: In other words, look, I think, at the risk of self- congratulation, I don`t mean about the "New Yorker" but as an institution, the press is rigorously going after this and it should because it goes off into many different directions, whether it has to do with the question of potential collusion, about financial deals, about banking, which you pointed out at length, the political questions about how this was handled, by the way, by the Obama administration. You know, that`s all very interesting for not just for historians.
Inside the Obama administration, when they knew that this was a question, John Kerry raised among the principals of the National Security Council, maybe we should have a 9/11-type independent commission. And the Obama administration, President Obama, finally felt that that would politicize the issue over much and they said no. And underneath all that reluctance was this confidence or overconfidence that Hillary Clinton was going to win.
MADDOW: And that whatever was happening with disrupting the election would never be enough to prove it.
David Remnick, thank you. Appreciate it.
REMNICK: Always. Always.
MADDOW: We`ll be right back. Stay with us.
MADDOW: I know, I know, Republicans control everything in Washington now. Democrats are back on their heels in Washington and in the states and blah -- I know, I know, I know. It`s true. It`s all true.
But little known fact, since November, since the presidential election, every special election in the country has gone blue. Or at least has swung hard in that direction. It happened this month in Iowa, when a Democrat won an open seat in the Iowa legislature. It then happened the following week in Virginia. Democrats held on to an open statehouse seat.
The Minnesota House also had a seat up for grabs this month. That`s a district that went for Donald Trump by almost 30 points. But in that special election, the Republican did win, but she only won by six points. Trump carried it by 30. She carried it by six, a deep red district in Minnesota.
Well, now, this sort of swing has happened again, this is an election that we`ve been covering, looking ahead to in Delaware. Heading into this weekend, the Senate in Delaware was split 50/50 between Democrats and Republicans and there`s one empty seat because somebody vacated a seat in the Senate to go become lieutenant governor. So, it`s heading into this weekend, it was 50/50, it was even-steven in the Delaware Senate with that open seat.
That tie in the Senate with that open seat made the election this weekend for that open seat basically a national race because Democrats really wanted it hold on to that state Senate. Well, on Saturday, the Democrats won that seat. A Democrat named Stephanie Hansen won that seat in the Delaware state Senate. She won by a lot. And that doesn`t just mean that she gets the seat, that means Democrats get to keep the Delaware Senate.
Counting Delaware this weekend, Democrats have gone 3 for 4 in special elections since the presidential race. And in that fourth one, they radically closed the gap in a deep, deep, deep red district.
Now, the Democrats have a chance to keep that streak going. Tomorrow, the great state of Connecticut is going to be voting on two state Senate races. Right now, like it was in Delaware, right now, Connecticut Senate is tied. It`s even. And there are two seats up for grabs.
One of them is considered to be a safe Republican seat. The other considered to be a safe Democratic seat. But if either party can pull off an upset, if one of those races can swing the other way, it will change which party controls the Senate in the state of Connecticut.
Oh, it`s all very exciting. We`ll keep you posted. Watch this space.
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.
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