The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 3/27/2017

Guests: Jim Himes, Michael McFaul

Show: The Rachel Maddow Show Date: March 27, 2017 Guest: Jim Himes, Michael McFaul

CHRIS HAYES, "ALL IN" HOST: And that is all evening for this -- "ALL IN" for this evening.

THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right now.

Good evening, Rachel.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: I think we should start a new thing where at the end of your show every night, you just tell people where they can come meet you.

HAYES: Yes, exactly. Here`s where we`ll all be, everybody.

MADDOW: Come and get it.

(LAUGHTER)

MADDOW: Well done, my friend. Thanks, Chris.

HAYES: Good night.

MADDOW: Good luck tonight.

And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.

In the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union were the opposing superpowers in the world, right? Two huge countries with huge militaries, huge nuclear arsenals and international influence well beyond the bounds of their already considerable home territory. It was -- it was a match and oppositional force between equals.

That was the simplistic construct of the Cold War. But despite that simplistic construct, the whole superpowers model, the U.S. and the Soviet Union were not really equal counterparts. They were not equal in terms of their strength, their ability to project power, their resilience. The United States was far stronger in terms of our economy versus theirs.

In terms of international influence, the Soviet Union had tight and oftentimes brutal control over the states and territories that were within their orbit, but their orbit was kind of limited. The United States had influence and involvement and even an accepted leadership role over a much bigger portion of the globe or at least a much higher number of other countries, both just in terms of who`s in our own hemisphere but also our role in international institutions, countries we were in alliance with, countries we had treaties with, that we could look to as friends for all sorts of things, not just our standoff with the Soviet Union. We had more influence in the world.

The United States we can also now tell in retrospect was far stronger than the Soviet Union in terms of our ability to manage our own destiny. We were more stable. For all our faults, we were more stable. I mean, the United States did not collapse. Soviet Union did.

That said one area where the U.S. and the Soviet Union were quite evenly matched other than the nuclear stuff, right, one other area where both sides had a lot of capacity and neither side could clearly outperform the other, one place where the dueling superpower myth was kind of true was in intelligence, our spy agencies. As opposed to almost every other aspect of competition between our two countries during the Cold War, the spy agencies fought each other and tried to beat each other every single day and they were really well matched adversaries.

And the spy versus spy stuff didn`t stop at the end of the Cold War, so one of the ways you can tell that they`re spy agencies and our spy agencies were well-matched that you can talk to us intelligence officials even today and they will tell you how much respect they have for the Russian capability, for Russian capacity when it comes to spying and intelligence.

Still though, even if the spy agencies in our two countries are well- matched and I think most people would say they are, they`re equally good, that doesn`t mean that they`re the same. For example, one of the things that they`ve got that we do not is a KGB university. Yes.

I mean, if you want to join the FBI or you want to join the CIA in this country, yes, you go off and you do training, right, but it`s not literally spy college. In Russia, they`ve got a spy college and it`s not a conceptual thing. That`s the building. It`s a spy university.

It was founded by Lenin in 1922, went through a few different names over the years as Russia changed the names of its various spy and security agencies. For a while, it was called the Central School of the NKVD. Then, it was called Dzer-Zhinsky Higher School of the KGB, when it became the KGB. Felix Dzer-Zhinsky was the founder of the Soviet secret police. So, oh, that was a nice honor for him. They named KGB college after him.

And then after it was Dzer-Zhinsky Higher School of the KGB, it became known as the Academy of the Federal Security Service of Russia, FSB school. It`s an actual college. It`s got a cryptography institute like you might expect. They`ll teach you everything else you need to know to become a loyal spy in Russia`s estimable intelligence agencies.

Russia`s FSB academy is in the news today because it is where this guy went to school. The FSB academy is the alma mater of this man whose name is Sergey Gorkov. Gorkov was born in 1968. So, I think that means he`s years 48 old, 49. He`ll turn 49 in December.

The same year I graduated from college in California, in 1994, he graduated from spy college in Moscow. He went to the FSB academy.

And after that, he went on to work at the Yukos Oil Company, right up through the time when the Russian government came in and seized all the assets of that oil company and took it for themselves. He then landed a really sweet job. It`s funny, he didn`t have all that much of an impressive resume, but he was really well-connected and so he went from spy school to Yukos, to being deputy chairman of the biggest government-run bank in Russia.

It`s a bank that -- I don`t speak Russian -- I think it`s called Sberbank. That`s how I would pronounce it. It`s a little close to sperm bank in terms of the phonetics but I`m just going to go with Sberbank, I don`t know how else to say it.

He was deputy chairman of that largest state-run bank in Russia from 2008 until last year.

Now if the name of that bank is familiar to you from recent news, if you feel like you`ve seen that name recently, it`s because on Friday, we learned that Sberbank is in trouble in the United States. The federal prosecutor`s office in New York that until recently was run by Preet Bharara before the Trump administration inexplicably and suddenly fired him, that prosecutors office brought charges against Sberbank, again, the largest government-run bank in Russia. They brought criminal charges against them in conjunction with granite mining firm.

You don`t need to know all the details, I`m not sure I grasp all of them. But basically, the bank is charged with helping to destroy an industry in Russia and helping pick a monopoly winner to take over all the granite mining in that country. That`s a very typical story in terms of how Russian corruption works under Vladimir Putin.

He`ll pick an industry, destroy what exists there and hand it over to one of his partners, hand it over to one of his friends. That`s -- when people talk about the oligarchs, that`s kind of the dynamic when it comes to Putin and the oligarchs.

So, this bank is the largest state-run bank in Russia, Sberbank, and the reason it made American news on Friday is because the bank announced on Friday that they have hired an American lawyer to defend them in this case. They have hired one of Donald Trump`s personal lawyers. When "The New York Times" published some of Donald Trump`s tax returns last year and Trump threatened to sue "The New York Times", this is the lawyer who threatened to sue "The New York Times".

When "The New York Times" wrote last year about all the women who have come forward to accuse Donald Trump of sexually abusing them and from Trump threatened to sue the paper for that one too, this was the lawyer who he said to threaten to sue them. BuzzFeed reports that the same Trump lawyer also represented Trump at his Atlantic City casino financing. This is the same Trump lawyer who`s also threatened to sue other people who have written negative things about Trump over the years.

But now, this guy who has been a Trump lawyer for a decade and a half, he`s now just been hired by the biggest state-owned bank in Russia. And until last year, Sergey Gorkov, the guy who went to KGB college, he was deputy chairman of that bank.

He is no longer deputy chairman of that bank though because he is still rising in his career. He`s now no longer deputy chairman of anything. Sergey Gorkov, the guy who went to KGB college, he is now the chairman, he`s now the head guy at another government-owned Russian bank and this one is a doozy and this is the one that gets into American politics.

January 26 -- excuse me, January 26, 2015, 11:45 in the morning, at an A&P Supermarket in Riverdale, New York, FBI agents swooped in at the supermarket and arrested dude who was just doing his grocery shopping he wasn`t bothering anybody, what`s going on? This guy got handcuffed. He got taken out of there without incident, he didn`t fight.

It turns out that guy they picked up in a supermarket was a Russian spy and he worked at Sergey Gorkov`s bank. Federal agents picked up that guy at the supermarket in January 2015. They charged him with being an unregistered agent of a foreign power and unregistered agent of Russia. They arrested him at that supermarket in 2015. In March of last year, March 2016, he pled guilty.

The criminal indictment in this case was absolutely riveting. He not only used his position at the bank to secretly gather information that he sent home as intel to the Russian spy services, he also full-on stole U.S. government documents which is part of how they caught him. He was particularly involved in trying to steal information here about U.S. government sanctions against Russia, which Russian institutions are going to be targeted by the U.S. government for sanctions, which people were going to be targeted.

Ostensibly, he just worked at this bank but he wasn`t undercover Russian agent and because he didn`t like have a connection to an embassy, he didn`t have any overt connection to the Russian government other than working at this bank, he didn`t have any way to secretly transmit his intel home to Moscow center, to the -- to the spy hub back home and so he would it`s all laid out in the indictment. He would surreptitiously meet and hand off scraps of paper and do dead drops and those passive passes thing where they walk past each other and drop stuff in each other`s pockets, all of that spy movie stuff.

He and these other Russian spies would do that around New York, and two other spies were charged in the case, but they both got out and fled back to Moscow before they could be arrested. The one who got caught and put on trial in New York, he got 30 months in prison when he was sent this last year for being a Russian spy. His day job when he wasn`t being a Russian spy was that he was the number two official in New York for this bank, which is called VEB.

Likes Sberbank, VEB is a bank that is also controlled by the Russian government. The Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, he`s on the supervisory board of the bank. This is the bank that Putin famously uses to direct billions of dollars in financing and bailouts and strategic assistance to his favorite Russian oligarchs.

In 2009, that`s the bank that paid four and a half billion dollars to Oleg Deripaska. Oleg Deripaska is the billionaire who allegedly put Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort on a $10 million a year retainer to promote the interests of Putin`s government in the United States and around the world. Oleg Deripaska, the oligarchs closest to Putin for a long period recently. Putin shoveled four and a half billion dollars to him through that bank.

This bank is basically Putin`s to do with as he wishes. He funds his favorite oligarchs. He uses it to mess with countries that he wants to mess with. For example, if he wants to mess with Ukraine, he`ll have this bank drop eight billion dollars into the hands of some of his oligarch partners for them specifically to go grab a bunch of important assets in Ukraine. So, then Russia`s president`s friends own all these critical assets in Ukraine that means Ukraine is tied even closer to Russia and to him, Ukraine has even less hope of maintaining or achieving its independence. That`s what he uses this bank for.

The financially disastrous Sochi Olympics, Putin funded the construction of all this Sochi Olympics stuff through this bank. It`s his bank, he controls it. His prime minister is on the board of this bank and the new chairman of that bank is the guy who started off his career in KGB school, Sergei Gorkov.

And today, we learned that Sergey Gorkov met with Jared Kushner, which is nuts in its own right, right? But perhaps the most nuts thing about it is that we are only finding out about it now.

I mean, Michael Flynn was fired as national security advisor ostensibly for not fully disclosing his contacts with the Russian government. Attorney General Jeff Sessions got close to not being able to hold on to his job, had to recuse himself from all the Trump Russian investigations because he was not fully forthcoming about his contacts with Russian government officials.

Nevertheless, we`re learning today, for the first time, from "The New York Times" that Jared Kushner met with Michael Flynn and the Russian ambassador during the transition, then there was a follow-up meeting, a second meeting with the Russian ambassador to which Jared sent his assistant -- and other news, Jared has an assistant. But now, we have learned that in addition to those two meetings with the ambassador during the transition, Jared Kushner also met during the transition with Sergey Gorkov, the head of Putin`s own state-run bank which he uses for all sorts of things and where he`s got just the right guy with just the right training at the top to keep things sort of in-house.

This is a bank that was targeted directly by the U.S. government in sanctions after Putin invaded Ukraine and took Crimea. This is a -- it wasn`t just like generically affected by banking sanctions on Russia generally. This bank was named specifically, singled out for sanctions because it acts as an agent for the Russian government, because it is controlled directly by Putin and his government. Why is the guy running that bank getting a meeting with Jared?

Jared Kushner is 36 years old. He`s not that much older than Sergey was when he got out of spy school in Moscow. Maybe they talked about that.

The White House and the bank have now both confirmed that the meeting took place. There has been no credible explanation thus far for why this meeting between Jared and the head of this Russian bank was not disclosed until now, particularly when other senior White House officials were getting fired or having to recuse themselves from major parts of their jobs because of their undisclosed meetings with Russian government officials and frankly they`re undisclosed meetings with Russian government officials were with officials who would raise far fewer eyebrows than the head of a sanctioned bank linked both directly to Putin and to the Russian spy services.

Incredibly, this news about Jared Kushner comes on the same day that the White House has announced that Jared Kushner is about to take charge of kind of everything in the White House. I mean, he already had an unusually expansive portfolio.

We already knew, for example, that Jared Kushner, the 36-year-old son-in- law of the president, we already knew that he was the White House point person on Middle East peace and China and Canada and Mexico, including building the wall. We`re also told he was in charge of trade deals in the White House, which is kind of a big responsibility on its own.

We learned today from the White House that in addition to all of those things, Jared Kushner is now being put in charge of something called the White House Office of American Innovation. Through that office, in addition to all of those other things he`s responsible for, did I mention that Middle East peace is one of them? In addition to all of that other stuff he`s in charge of, he will now also be in charge of the V.A. -- what "The Washington Post" describes today as reimagining the V.A. Oh good.

After inheriting his dad`s real estate company, he should definitely be able to handle that one super fast, second largest agency in the U.S. government, one of the -- one of the largest organizations on earth responsible for the care of tens of millions of American veterans.

In addition to reimagining the V.A., he will also be in charge of the one trillion dollar infrastructure plan that his father-in-law is planning, and he will be in charge of installing brand-new technology and data infrastructure for every single department and agency of the federal government, and he will be in charge of broadband policy for the nation, and he will be in charge of getting rid of the opioid crisis.

That`s all Jared -- that`s all Jared`s portfolio now, we learned today on the same day but the Senate Intelligence Committee confirmed that it will be summoning him to testify on his previously undisclosed contacts, not just with the Russian ambassador, but his contacts with the Russian spy guy -- I mean, banking chairman at the head of a Putin controlled Russian bank with multiple known links to Russian spy agencies that`s currently under sanctions from the U.S. government.

I don`t know how much time he`s going to have to spend preparing for that testimony, but I hope it doesn`t get into the time he`s otherwise going to spend on China, Canada, Mexico, the wall, Middle East peace, trade deals, broadband for the country, the opioid crisis, trillion dollars worth of infrastructure, overhauling the technological and data infrastructure for every department and agency in the federal government, and reimagining the Veterans Administration. Hope it doesn`t cut into any of the time he`s had to set aside for those other little projects.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: A little bit of breaking news. The top Democrat in the House, Nancy Pelosi, just moments ago has called for the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Congressman Devin Nunes of California, she has called for him to recuse himself from the Trump-Russia investigation that he`s supposed to be leading in the House. We`ve had calls today from the senior Democrat on that House Intelligence Committee that Chairman Nunes should recuse himself. We had calls earlier in the day today from the top Democrat in the Senate, Chuck Schumer, that Paul Ryan should step in and replace Devin Nunes, either in that role or specifically -- either in that role specifically or running that committee generally.

There`s a lot in motion on this story right now. It was a week ago today that the FBI director confirmed that there`s an ongoing counterintelligence investigation into the Russian attack on our elections last year and into whether or not the Trump campaign knowingly colluded in that, whether they cooperated in that attack.

That confirmation from the FBI comes as the -- came up at the first open hearing on the Trump-Russia issue that was held by the House Intelligence Committee.

The second open hearing of that committee on that topic was supposed to be tomorrow morning. It was gonna be tomorrow until quietly on Friday, the Republican chairman of the Intelligence Committee, Devin Nunes, canceled that public hearing.

Initially, he said that it wasn`t cancelled, it was just postponed indefinitely. Nothing to see here, just a little scheduling conflict. This isn`t a substantive decision at all.

He said he had to cancel -- I mean, postponed indefinitely that public hearing scheduled for tomorrow because he said the committee instead needed to go into a closed session tomorrow where they would hear more closed-door classified testimony from the guys who testified at the hearing last week, from the FBI director and the head of the NSA. That`s how Devin Nunes explained why he had to cancel tomorrow`s public hearing, because that closed-door session was going to happen instead.

Well that closed-door session tomorrow has also just been canceled and oddly even though that was the excuse for getting rid of the public hearing, they didn`t reinstate the public hearing when they found out that the closed-door session wasn`t going to happen tomorrow either, right? It`s weird. If it`s just a scheduling conflict -- I mean, you`ve had this happen, right?

You like have a long-standing plan with a friend and then something comes up for work and you`re like, I`m so sorry, I -- we have to reschedule. I`ve got this thing that comes up for work -- oh, wait the work thing got canceled too. We`re back on, right?

That`s happened, right? You`ve had that happen in your life? That`s the explanation that the house intelligence chairman gave for cancelling that public hearing tomorrow, the explanation for why he gave that, the explanation of why you canceled that now has fallen apart, but there`s still no public hearing. And it`s still not reschedule.

It is really starting to look like that House intelligence investigation under the leadership of Devin Nunes, it`s -- it`s looking like it`s blowing up. I mean, there are screaming calls today from Democrats that Chairman Nunes should recuse himself from this investigation or that House Speaker Paul Ryan should just replace him as chair of that committee.

After Devin Nunes called not one but two dramatic press conferences last week and said he was rushing to the White House with troubling information about Trump transition officials, turning up in American intelligence intercepts, there has been a lot of speculation and wondering since then, a lot of unclear and contradictory information from Nunes himself as to where he got that troubling information that he didn`t show to his own committee, that he rushed straight to straight to the White House with once he got it. Today, Chairman n Nunes confirmed that where he got that information from was, quote, "The White House grounds." Huh?

On the night before his breathless press conferences last week where he insisted they had to deliver this damning information directly to the White House, we now know that he went to the White House, or cryptically to the White House grounds, to receive that information in the first place. And if that sounds absurd to you, you are not alone. There`s nobody on either side of the aisle in Washington who says they have any idea what Devin Nunes is talking about in this regard or what he is up to, and that includes the intelligence agencies that are talking to members of Congress, and that includes other intelligence committee officials who are supposed to have access to all the same information that he has.

So, they`re all these calls for him to recuse himself from that investigation. The House Intelligence Investigation of Trump in Russia is in a very weird place. We will have more on that in just a moment with one of the senior Democrats on that committee.

The Senate intelligence investigation of Trump and Russia proceeds. It`s now going to include this bizarre new information that we got today, belated, inexplicable revelations about Jared Kushner taking a secret meeting with the chairman of a Russian state-owned bank that is under sanctions by the U.S. government and that is both linked to the Russian intelligence services as an institution and headed up by a chairman who started his career at the FSB academy, a Moscow spy school, he`s the one who met with Jared.

The Senate Intelligence Committee, their first public hearing on this issue will be on Thursday. So, we will get one public hearing this week. But my god, I mean, every news day is like another, right? Who knows what we will have reported by then?

Joining us now is Congressman Jim Himes of Connecticut. He`s a Democratic member of the House Intelligence Committee, which is in such turmoil right now in terms of Trump-Russia investigation.

Congressman Himes, it`s really nice to have you with us tonight. Thanks for being here.

REP. JIM HIMES (D), CONNECTICUT: Hi, Rachel.

MADDOW: I imagine it frustrates you to hear somebody like me say the House Intelligence Committee investigation appears to be blowing up. I imagine that is not how you want your investigation to be described?

HIMES: No, that is not. And I`m -- we`re in a bizarre moment right now where not only is the investigation frozen for obvious reasons, with hearings being canceled, but the committee is frozen. We ordinarily have a meeting at 5:00 p.m. on the day that we all return, which was today, to go over the previous week`s activities and that was canceled. We had a Thursday meeting to talk about something totally different, I think, than Russia, and that was canceled. So, we are in suspended animation right now.

MADDOW: So, you`ve got -- just let me confirm it to you. You`ve received no information in terms of what Chairman Nunes was talking about last week about these incepts that he said he was so concerned about. You haven`t had an intelligence committee meeting, an internal meeting. And there hasn`t been a rescheduling of what was originally going to be another public hearing tomorrow, and the closed door hearing that was also scheduled for tomorrow, subsequently scheduled for tomorrow. That has also been canceled?

HIMES: That`s exactly right. I arrived back today, went to our offices and discovered that not only have the Democrats received not one single fact about the chairman`s rather bizarre behavior last week, but it appears that none of the Republicans or frankly any of the staff on the committee have been briefed on any of this.

In the meantime, yes, we`re left kind of -- with a situation where two things -- two things are going to happen here. One is because of the chairman`s behavior now, how is the American public going to trust him when he stands with ranking member Adam Schiff and says, here`s our report. And secondly, and this doesn`t get covered a lot, but an investigation, of course, relies on people from the intelligence community, maybe whistleblowers coming forward and saying, here`s what I know. And you hope that they do it legally through whistleblowing channels.

But at this point in time, with Chairman Nunes, you know, doing what he did, can you imagine if you are a whistle blower, or if you are just an intelligence officer, do you want to sit in a close room with the chairman in the Intelligence Committee with the possibility that the chairman may then jump into a car, not one car, but two cars, and then show up at the White House to brief the exact entity that is being investigated? This is going to put a really chilling effect on our ability to do this investigation.

MADDOW: Congressman, I know that you have said that the Democrats should not back out of this investigation because if you`re not there, there won`t be an investigation. I`ve heard you articulate that argument. It also seems to me, that what you`re describing here and the way that you`re talking about it, it also feels like Chairman Nunes is beyond the point of no return, in terms of whether or not he can lead this investigation. In your estimation, is there anything he could do that would reinstate him as a -- you know, as a trusted, and appropriate leader for this investigation or is the only way out of here that he recuse, gets replaced or that the whole investigation ends?

HIMES: Yes. I know. Your frame is exactly right. I mean, we`re sort of in a box as Democrats, because other than the Senate -- and, by the way, we could wake-up tomorrow and discovered that some, you know, harebrained activity had tanked the Senate investigation. So, we kind of feel like we`re hanging on by our fingertips here, you know, hoping that we can continue to make the kind of progress that we did in the open hearing on Monday.

Now, by the way, that`s not progress that the White House particularly appreciated, which maybe why we are where we are today, but you`re absolutely right, I think the only way after all this bizarre behavior and this record of acting in the interest of the very group being investigated -- that is Trump and his people -- the only way for us to proceed with any credibility, and I agree with ranking member Adam Schiff on this, is for Devin Nunes to recuse himself as chairman for this purpose. You know, something a little reminiscent of what the attorney general had to do with respect to Russia contacts.

MADDOW: One last quick question for you, Congressman. We`ve been discussing this revelation in "The New York Times" today apparently tied to the Senate investigation that Jared Kushner had this unexplained and previously undisclosed meeting with this guy who`s the head of a Russian government-controlled bank with very close ties to President Putin and to the Russian spy services.

Did you -- as a member of the House Intelligence Committee, did you learn that today in "The New York Times", or is that information that has been surfaced already in your investigation?

HIMES: Well, this is pretty rapidly breaking. I think I knew a little bit before the media had it. But -- and I know that you have been covering it.

Look, this is -- we`ve seen this movie before. We saw it with Paul Manafort, with Roger Stone, Michael Flynn, all of these people around the president who had extensive contacts with Russia.

Look, I`ve run five campaigns, granted not presidential campaigns. I`ve run five campaigns. I`d be shocked if anybody associated with any of my campaigns had any contact whatsoever with Russia.

So, again, we get back to the reason for this investigation in the first place, which is the bizarre intensity of the contacts with Russia, coupled with the president`s completely solid refusal to level any sort of criticism at the country that all of his people have been happily meeting with for so long.

MADDOW: Democratic Congressman Jim Himes of Connecticut, member of the House Intelligence Committee, this is -- these are fascinating times. You`re right in the middle of it, sir. Thanks for helping us keep apprised. I appreciate it.

HIMES: Thanks, Rachel.

MADDOW: I will say that what the congressman was just saying there about how these things all fit together, it -- the part of this right now that beggars belief for me is that we are still now at this date at the end of March still learning about new contacts between Trump officials, Trump campaign officials, Trump transition officials, Trump administration officials, new contacts we`re still learning about now with Russia.

If you are in the Trump administration and you are sitting on contacts that you know you had with Russian government officials and you haven`t said so by now, time is running out when that stops to feel like a scandal. It`s remarkable to me that somebody could still be sitting on that this deep into this story, but who knows what`s going to come out next?

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: So, earlier this month, we reported that Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny had posted nearly an hour long video outlining and showing a whole bunch of secret properties owned by the Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. Dmitry Medvedev officially lives just on his government salary and has no other source of wealth or income.

Alexei Navalny`s anti-corruption group actually flew drones with cameras over the walls of Dmitry Medvedev`s 45,000 square foot mountain chalet in Sochi. They sent another drone with a camera over the fence of this gigantic country house, country house complete with its own large man-made lake.

There was also this 30,000 square foot mansion in the Moscow suburbs. It also had its own lake, different shape. They also got this footage of his 17th century villa in Tuscany, complete with its own vineyard, and the not one but two yachts that the prime minister owns and has reportedly named after his wife, aw.

Dmitry Medvedev is a public servant. He has never declared any legal sources of income whatsoever other than his government salary as prime minister, which is a nice salary but it`s not like two yachts a vineyard in Tuscany in your own 45,000 square foot ski chalet nice. It`s not that kind of nice.

But it turns out there`s more. There`s also this Dmitry Medvedev estate which was previously discovered by Alexei Navalny anti-corruption group. This has some very notable features. It has a multi -- see that? Looks like a sort of waterslide. That`s a multi-layered cascading swimming pool.

Also, a big greenhouse. It`s got three helipads. It`s got two large garages. It`s also got a modest little house built specifically for Mr. Medvedev`s ducks. The duck house, this little island in the middle of one of his manmade lakes.

And for some reason, that particular piece of apparently corrupt to opulence, the fact that he had a home for his ducks, that has really annoyed people in Russia. And the reason I know that is because this weekend, tens of thousands of Russian citizens took part in anti-corruption protests all over the country sparked in part by these revelations about their prime minister, Medvedev, and lots of people at these protests were carrying ducks -- rubber ducks, inflatable ducks, paper ducks, ducks on sticks. It`s all a nod to this allegation that Putin`s prime minister, Dmitry Medvedev, is living in such excess on a government salary that he can afford to build a house for his ducks at one of his many, many mansions.

Foreign reporters estimates that about 60,000 people took part in this weekend`s demonstrations in dozens of cities across Russia these anti- corruption protest, these were the biggest protests to hit Russia since 2011 and 2012. Those anti-government protests were so threatening to Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2011 and 2012, that the country passed new laws there after that said basically, you`re not allowed to protest the government anymore unless the government explicitly allows you to have a protest against them, which doesn`t happen all that often.

The murder, the oppression, the exiling, the harassment of opposition figures in Russia, everybody thought that had kind of stomped the life out of the opposition there, out of people being willing to visibly oppose Putin. But this weekend, people really did turn out and it was not just in Moscow. The demonstrations also took place in Vladivostok and St. Petersburg and in 82 towns and cities across the whole of Russia.

Tens of thousands of people protesting the Putin government. Russia without Putin, Russia will be free.

At the large protest in Moscow, Russia`s most visible opposition figure who plans to run against Putin for president next year, he was arrested in Moscow. That man is Alexei Navalny, the guy whose anti-corruption group put together those drone videos of Prime Minister Medvedev homes.

He`s also the guy who was dyed green recently. He was campaigning in Siberia when somebody came up to him on the street and through a chemical all over him that literally died him bright green.

This weekend, Alexei Navalny was arrested at these protests that he helped organize.

A lot of people, it`s interesting, reported that he got sort of a slap on the wrist. He got charged with the equivalent of a three hundred and fifty dollar fine and he got days in prison.

But keep in mind about him -- one of the things they do to opposition figures in Putin`s Russia is they bring all sorts of different criminal charges against people in the opposition. Alexei Navalny right now is serving a suspended sentence over an embezzlement charge related to timber futures, the charges, the trial on the timber futures thing that`s something that very widely believed to be nonsense charges that were designed to harass him, but also to give him a criminal conviction that would keep him from qualifying to be on the ballot to run against Putin for president next year.

So, that cooked up, trumped-up embezzlement charge, he`s on a suspended sentence for that already. And so, yes, when he got arrested at these protests in Moscow this weekend, they just gave him a 15-day sentence for illegally protesting. But that on top of him already having this other suspended sentence, that could conceivably be a pretense for them to -- you know, as we say in this country, lock him up for a much longer time.

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TV ANCHOR: Tens of thousands of people took to the streets in Moscow on Sunday in an anti-corruption demonstration against the Russian government. Police say more than 500 people were arrested, but a human rights group says that number is actually closer to 700. Among those detained, Alexei Navalny, the opposition leader who is President Vladimir Putin`s most prominent critic.

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MADDOW: Joining us now is Michael McFaul. He is former U.S. ambassador to Russia. He is now a professor at Stanford.

Mr. Ambassador, thank you for your time tonight. I appreciate you being here.

MICHAEL MCFAUL, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO U.S.: Sure. We`re very glad to be here.

MADDOW: So, we`re very focused in this country on the Russian attack on our election last year, the investigations into that continuing revelations about unexplained contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian officials, that`s an area of intense focus for us in this country. In that light, as we`re thinking about that, what do you think is important for Americans to understand about these protests in the streets against Putin at home this weekend?

MCFAUL: Well, first, Rachel, I just have to say I never thought I`d see the day when somebody would go into the detail that you just did to talk about Vnesheconombank and Sberbank. That was quite brilliant.

MADDOW: How do I do in saying Sberbank? I was a little worried bout that.

MCFAUL: You did just great, seriously.

MADDOW: OK.

MCFAUL: That was a just a fantastic piece. I even learn some things, given I used to deal with both of those banks when I was ambassador.

But to your point, I think what this underscores is the nature of the Russian regime that we`ve kind of forgotten about, let`s be honest. We`ve been focused internally here, what the Russians have done internally here and what they`ve done with Americans forgetting about the nature of this regime.

And I think what you saw on display in -- on Sunday was, A, as you rightly pointed out before the break, the protest movement that was much bigger than anybody predicted. I think even the protesters were surprised. But, two, how they were just smashed, literally hundreds of people arrested, maybe up to a thousand. Mr. Navalny`s in jail for 15 days, but he may be facing future sentences. That`s the nature of the Putin regime that Mr. Trump wants to be friends with.

MADDOW: In terms of the threat to Putin here, obviously, we have talked in the past about how part of the impetus for this influence campaign that they apparently ran on our election last year may have been Putin`s intense fear of being toppled in a revolution at home or an uprisings at home, his intense hatred for then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton when she criticized the fairness of his elections in 2011, the parliamentary elections there, and then implicitly supported the protests that rose up against the Putin government then.

Is Putin right to feel worried that his own people aren`t really with him that he is in danger from increased democracy and people being allowed to speak their mind?

MCFAUL: Well, I -- you know, I teach about democratization here at Stanford, and I would say to him if I were advising him, this would be very easy to negotiate with these people to open up and your regime would be fine. But that`s never been his tactics, right? His tactics have always been to crack down and I think it shows an extreme paranoia, extreme insecurity by the way that they responded to these protests.

That shows that he`s just not comfortable. You know, we`ve seen the official public opinion polls, but this shows that there`s something else going on inside Russia and you raised a very important point, this was a -- this was a bit of banter and Twitter with me and other Russians last night, he can`t blame Hillary Clinton anymore, right? He can`t blame me for these protests.

These are Russians protesting against him without any support whatsoever from the outside.

MADDOW: Michael McFaul, former U.S. ambassador to Russia, professor at Stanford now, I appreciate you being here with us tonight, sir. Thank you.

MCFAUL: Thanks for having me.

MADDOW: We`ve got much more head tonight. Please stay with us.

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MADDOW: Tomorrow, the administration is expected to roll back the clean power plan rule, the most ambitious climate change initiative of the Obama presidency. It was put in place to among other things cut back pollution from coal-fired power plants. Trump is due to kill that tomorrow.

But while everything is chugging along on the White House`s environmental policy side, there appears to be some unexpected and as yet unexplained drama around how the personnel side of things is working when it comes to environmental stuff. Specifically, there appears to be some real drama in the EPA.

Politico.com today has a very dishy article and I say that in the best possible way. It`s about White House infighting, back-biting, suspicions. It claims among other things that senior administration officials have now taken to calling reporters, to ask those reporters if other administration officials have been talking to those reporters and talking smack about them. Not a healthy dynamic.

But in them in the middle of all this dish on how bad things are at the White House right now, there`s this very specific news from a Trump official who has just quit the EPA. Quote, "The back story to my resignation is extremely complex. I will be writing about it myself. It`s a story not about me but about a much more interesting set of events involving misuse of federal funds, failure to honor oaths of office, and a lack of loyalty to the president."

Misuse of federal funds? Tell me more, Mr. Former EPA Appointee who has just quit.

We do not know what that is about. We wait with bated breath for his autobiographical resignation backstory which he promises is coming soon.

While we wait for that, we do have one other story, one last story tonight which includes what really appears to be quite blatant corruption on another issue that`s in this same wheelhouse. And that story is coming up. Stay with us.

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MADDOW: During the Republican convention last year, you might remember there was one change that the Trump campaign actively sought to insert into the Republican Party platform. They decided they would gut the part of the platform relating to Ukraine and Russia. They made it much nicer to Russia.

And at the time, that seemed weird that the Trump campaign would pick that just one thing to change when they clearly didn`t care about anything else in the whole party platform. It was weird.

Now, we also know that it was kind of telling given all the Russia stuff that`s emerged since then. Well, now, look at this. This is not about Russia, but it`s the same dynamic.

Right after the inauguration, the administration declared a freeze on all new government regulation, stop them all, except one. The Trump administration may one exception for one pending IRS rule which they did allow to proceed and go into effect. It`s the, quote, "qualifying income from activities of publicly traded partnerships with respect to minerals or natural resources rule". Super obscure tax rule that`s the one thing they allowed to go forward.

Why? Who on earth would care about that?

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DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We`ve got Carl Icahn. Carl Icahn endorsed me. So many people endorsed me. I have the greatest businessman in the world, Carl Icahn. Many endorsing me. I will call the executives or I`ll have Carl do it. I want Carl Icahn negotiating for me.

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MADDOW: He loves him some Carl Icahn.

The president`s billionaire investor friend, Carl Icahn, it turns out loves that obscure IRS rule. He says because of that obscure IRS rule, that`s why he bought an eighty-two percent stake in an oil refinery business in 2012. He spent over two billion dollars on that because he saw that rule coming, and that would make it all worth it.

There`s been only one problem with that investment. There`s an environmental rule the renewable fuel standard that`s really been eating into the profits of that refinery that he owns four-fifths of.

Last year, Carl Icahn fired off an 11-page letter to the Obama administration complaining about that rule. He told them the rule is broken and it needs to be fixed immediately. The Obama administration was not persuaded. They did not pull the rule. That was in August.

Four months later, after Donald Trump`s election victory, Carl Icahn got himself appointed to the new administration as a special advisor to the president for regulatory reform. It`s not an official White House position. Carl Icahn is not taking a salary. That means he`s not bound by any disclosure agreements or any conflict of interest rules. He gets to keep all his assets, including his oil refining business.

And in his new advisory role, Carl Icahn has been working triple time to get that regulation overturned that`s keeping them from making money at his refinery. Eliminating that rule should earn him nearly a quarter billion dollars a year. The stock price of his company is already up fifty percent since that election, presumably with expectations of what Carl Icahn is going to be able to do for that company.

This is the kind of thing we point and laugh at in other countries when we explain like why it`s frowned upon for Americans to do business there, because they`re so flagrantly corrupt. But we`re not immune to this kind of thing now.

Today, seven Democrats sent a letter to Carl Icahn, citing concerns about his role within the administration, suggesting he may be breaking federal conflict of interest laws. We`ll see where this goes.

Maybe he will decide that they`re right, he shouldn`t be in this position of making all this money for pushing a role change that lines his pockets, that might happen. It might. We don`t know. Watch this space.

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.

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