The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 3/28/2017

Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: March 28, 2017

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Chris Hayes, you were already an honorary member of the Rachel Maddow family because my family loved you so much, but this is now actually over the top. Like I`m now ejected from my family in favor of you, because you`ve made my father so much happier than anything I have done in the 43 years I have been alive.

You are amazing. It was great. Thank you.

CHRIS HAYES, "ALL IN" HOST: We had a great time. It was wonderful to see him.

MADDOW: It was really nice. Thank you.

And to the people who are at Chris` event who applauded my dad when somebody said at the event, "Hey, Rachel`s dad is here," I just want to tell you, each and every one of you made me burst into tears at my desk today when I heard that news.

So, Dad, I love you. And everybody who was nice to my dad, you`re all going to heaven.

All right. Point of personal privilege over.

Thank you all at home for joining us this hour. Good to have you with us.

There`s a lot going on tonight. We`ve got two big stories that we are following. One out of New York that started as a criminal justice matter today. The other one that happened in Washington that is not at this point a criminal matter, but may eventually end up being a criminal matter.

But in terms of understanding the importance of these two big stories that broke today, I want to go back to 2015 for a second. 2015, two years ago. It was the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II.

And, you know, it`s not often that you celebrate the 70th anniversary of a world event, right? But you can see why a lot of people wanted to make a big deal out of the 70th anniversary of World War II, instead of waiting around for a more, you know, obvious numerical milestone, like the 75-year anniversary. I mean, people who fought in World War II are disappearing from the earth. Even the youngest of them are old enough that with each passing year, you lose the opportunity to personally pay them tribute before they pass.

So, the 70th anniversary, we made a really big deal about it around the world in 2015. It was a big deal here in the United States. It was a big deal anywhere that World War II veterans were able to come out and be recognized by their countrymen.

But you know what? In Russia and in China, in 2015, even as everybody is making a big deal of it, Russia and China went to a whole other level. They went hog wild for the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. And not just in the way that had them celebrating, you know, the survivors of that war, the folks who actually fought in those wars.

What Russia and China did for that anniversary in 2015 is that they decided to hold absolutely gigantic, unprecedentedly gigantic displays of their own national military power. It was an unusual thing. China organized what may have been one of the largest military parades in modern international history.

China showed off -- look at these -- the tanks and missile launchers. A lot of them in this weird intense digital blue camo. They showed off their domestically made drones and aircraft. In fact, they took great care to make sure every single weapon, every single missile, every single vehicle they showed was domestic, was Chinese made. No foreign weapons.

They rolled out dozens of what they call carrier killers. They`re Chinese- made missiles that the Chinese say, they say these missiles are big enough and powerful enough to sink an American aircraft carrier in a single strike. That`s these missiles here.

China`s military has over 2 million people in it. They put a lot of them in this parade for the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. They even at one point had helicopters flying over the parade route spelling over 7-0 for 70 years. It`s just massive.

And according to reports from the time from 2015 when it happened, 80 percent of the weapons that China displayed in that huge parade had never before been seen by the general public until they put them in that parade.

This was the reviewing stand that day. You see President Xi of China looking for very happy there, standing next to him, looking exactly the way he always does in every picture where his shirt is on, is Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Putin was not to be outdone in 2015, though. Russia also staged an absolutely enormous military display to mark the 70th anniversary of the defeat of the Nazis. The Russians rolled more military equipment through the streets of Moscow than they had ever done before, including over the entire history of the Soviet Union. Biggest Russian military parade ever in 2015.

They did a flyover like they do at all these things. But the Russian one, at one point a flyover that involved more than 100 aircraft. Yes, the Chinese spelled out 70 with their helicopters while the Russians spelled out 70 with their fighter jets. Missiles and tanks and tens of thousands of troops, no expense spared. Biggest one they`ve ever had.

And it was a little weird that both Russia and China chose to do that in 2015. It was like this kind of North Korean-style display from both of those countries. Incidentally, I should mention, North Korea also held a parade.

But, you know, in North Korea, while that`s impressive, that`s not weird, right? That`s like what North Korea does. What`s North Korea famous for? Prison camps where they work and starve their own people to death in massive numbers, bizarre leadership that kills their relatives with anti- aircraft guns or packs of dogs. Super creepy force displays of coordinated mass gymnastics and, of course, unbelievably enormous military parades. Tah-dah!

And, look, in 2015, they did the thing with the 70 as well. I think those were like biplanes. Anyway.

No expense spared. Russia, China, North Korea.

There`s no law against parading your military, whether or not it`s an important anniversary. But through American eyes, this is a little weird, right? If this gives you the willies to look at, it`s because it`s supposed to. This is an unabashed, uncomplicated, undisguised display of military threat, military prowess or national insecurity, depending on how you look at it. I mean, this is not something that we do here in the United States.

Although, when our new president was planning his inauguration this year, there were some strange signs that maybe the United States was going to approach the Trump inauguration with sort of a Pyongyang accent.

The president-elect told "The Washington Post" the week of his inauguration, before he was inaugurated, quote, "We`re going to show the people as we build up our military. We are going to display our military. That military may come marching down Pennsylvania Avenue. That military may be flying over New York City and Washington, D.C., for parades. I mean, we`re going to be showing our military."

The day after the president-elect made those comments to "The Washington Post," with nobody quite knowing what to make of that, "The Huffington Post" took him seriously and followed up with sources who were described at the time as being familiar with the plans of the presidential inaugural committee. What those sources said at the time was, in fact, the Trump administration was really making inquiries, really was talking to the Pentagon about rolling the tanks down the streets of Washington, D.C. Tanks, missile launchers, MRAPs. What else you got?

Jessica Schulberg was the reporter on this piece for "The Huffington Post" right before the inauguration. This is from her piece at the time. Quote, "During the preparation for Friday`s transfer of power, a member of Trump`s transition team floated the idea of including tanks and missile launchers in the inaugural parade." The source said, quote, "They were legit thinking Red Square/North Korea-style parade."

There was -- I remember that week, right, leading up to the inauguration. There was a lot to get used to. There was a lot weird in the news that week. That report in particular, though, stuck with me. I think it stuck with a lot of people even after the White House denied it.

Asked for an on-the-record confirmation of what "Huffington Post" was learning through its sources, the White House demarked and said that all requests for comment on this issue should be directed to the Defense Department. They weren`t going to talk about it at all.

The reporter Jessica Schulberg explained when she asked the White House in December about these plans, they had heard about, to use military equipment during the inauguration, quote, "a Trump aide refused to address the matter on record but offered a vehement off-the-record denial." A vehement denial.

Oh, don`t be crazy. We were never considering that.

Well, that "Huffington Post" reporter stuck with that story. She filed a Freedom of Information Act request, not with the White House but with the military, because remember, there was an asker but also an askee.

And now, she`s been able to publish the evidence showing that in fact, the Trump folks, the Trump inauguration committee really was, quote, "seriously considering adding military vehicles to the inaugural parade."

Quote, "The conversation started as, can you send us some pictures of military vehicles we could add to the parade." Defense Department official says to his or her colleague, quote, "I explained that such support would be out of guidelines."

Quote, "I`m extremely reluctant to produce an improvised list of military vehicles that we might be held to. Also concerned that we need an opportunity to staff this request and to make deliberate decisions about vehicle choice and configuration, paint scheme, uniform for crew members, et cetera before we start providing pictures which might be regarded as binding."

So this e-mail from one Pentagon official to another, which has now been released by the Freedom of Information Act request, shows the Pentagon freaking out because the Trump folks really did ask them to do this thing. They wanted a picture book of options about what the big military stuff looks like. We now have this direct evidence because the Trump people really did want to run freaking missile launchers and tanks down Pennsylvania Avenue, not for the commemoration of the end of World War II, or some other not nonsensical reason, they wanted to do that just to celebrate Trump. Look at all our missiles, everybody.

And you know, credit to Jessica Schulberg, that reporter, for staying on that story and giving us what is now the real history of what happened there -- the real story of it -- which we otherwise would not have gotten without her reporting and without her continuing to report after the White House vehemently denied it.

And I think there are two revelations that come out of this, one big and one small. The small one is, oh, my God, they wanted to do that. The bigger revelation from this is that there is no use in going to this White House for factual information. And I don`t say that lightly, and I don`t say that with any ad hominem intention. I mean it because they proved it.

Even if the thing you are trying to get factual information about is just the behavior of this White House, hey, White House, hey, administration, did you guys do this thing? Whatever they say in response to a question like that should not be taken as evidence as to whether or not they did that thing. It sounds terrible to say that about your own government, about the leadership of your own country, that they can`t be trusted in any circumstance to give you factual truthful information.

But in the case of this administration, I really don`t mean it in a mean way. I mean it in a specific and strategic way. I mean it in terms of how we as Americans should be approaching the news about our new president, how to approach what counts as factual advancement of our understanding of what is happening in our country and in our politics and in our government.

I mean, they proved literally on day one, they proved from their swearing in day that they will flat-out deny stuff that they have done and they will say they`ve done things when they haven`t done those things. And that ends up being important for approaching a hilarious and creepy story like this - - like they want to show off cruise missiles on the National Mall.

It`s interesting for a story like that but it`s really important when it gets to the big stuff. And that dynamic, that important dynamic of remembering to ignore what they say, that is the key dynamic at work in the two big stories that broke today.

As I mentioned right at the top here, one of these happened in New York. It is a criminal matter. The other one happened in Washington. And it is not a criminal matter, at least yet, but it might be. And that`s next.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: Today in New York, the FBI and federal prosecutors from the southern district of New York announced the arrest of a man who works for a Turkish state-run bank. This man has been arrested and charged with conspiracy to evade sanctions on Iran.

Now, the fact he works for a Turkish government-run bank, a state-run bank controlled by the government of Turkey and he`s been arrested for those particular charges, that is potentially awkward right now for the Trump administration because that would be the same Turkish government that we now know had Trump`s national security adviser secretly on their payroll, working for them, working for the Turkish government while he was participating in top-secret national security briefings and had access to all of the most sensitive intelligence in the U.S. government.

So, that`s an awkward thing here for the administration, if the Turkish government was simultaneously sponsoring an effort through one of its government-run banks to evade sanctions on Iran and also simultaneously paying somebody right at the center of Trump`s national security apparatus. That`s bad.

This is also awkward politically because this is happening right before Rex Tillerson, the secretary of state, is due to go to Turkey. He`s going to be in Turkey the day after tomorrow. But that arrest announced today is also awkward for the administration because of what the prosecutors are describing as the crime here.

This guy who was arrested today works at this Turkish government-run bank. He`s being charged with conspiracy to evade sanctions on Iran. The person he allegedly conspired with is another guy who is being prosecuted by that same office, by what used to be Preet Bharara`s office in the southern district of New York.

And this other defendant who was allegedly involved in this conspiracy to evade the sanctions on Iran, that other defendant made news yesterday when it was announced in this Iranian sanctions case, he has hired for his defense team, Rudy Giuliani.

So, in this federal prosecution out of the southern district of New York, the Turkish government is wrapped up in an alleged conspiracy to evade the sanctions on Iran, to do business with Iran, despite U.S. laws that ban that. That`s the same government that put Trump`s national security adviser secretly on its payroll, and now, one of the defendants in that case has hired Trump`s best friend basically to run his defense.

Hypothetically, if this prosecution in any way links back to the Trump administration or to the Trump transition or to the Trump campaign, once again we`re going to have another question of whether or not Attorney General Jeff Sessions should recuse himself from overseeing that case because of his own personal entanglements here, his own personal involvement with, hypothetically, the people or entities in question. But also once again, it`s Preet Bharara, it`s that same office in the southern district of New York, Preet Bharara`s office once again.

You know, if you had to pick one window through which you`d have to watch all of the scandals in this new American era, you might choose as your window, the window that used to be Preet Bharara`s office. You might choose that as your vantage point, because -- I mean, there`s this Turkish banking case today.

That same office is also prosecuting just off the top of my head, right, also prosecuting Deutsche Bank and its Russian money laundering scandal. Russian money laundering proving to be a key line of inquiry when it comes to Trump`s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort. Deutsche Bank is also the president`s largest personal lender, with him reportedly owing them more than $300 million.

Preet Bharara`s office is also the office that prosecuted the number two official at a Russian state-owned bank called VEB. We talked about this last night. The New York branch of this Russian bank, the guy who`s the number two guy in charge there was at the same time he was working at that bank, also secretly a Russian spy, working at this bank in New York as his cover story, but really he appears to have been an agent of Russian intelligence. And we know that because Preet Bharara`s office prosecuted him for it and convicted him and he`s now serving his sentence at a federal prison in Ohio.

We now know, I can report tonight, that the director of that bank, the gentleman on the right here, he`s the guy who inexplicably met with the president`s son-in-law, with Jared Kushner during the transition, in a meeting that was not disclosed until yesterday morning`s "New York Times." We can now fill in a few more details on that meeting or on the man who met with Jared Kushner.

This head of this Russian-owned -- this Russian state-owned bank who had this convicted Russian spy as the number two official in the New York office, this guy heading up that bank, he met with Jared Kushner in either December or January during the transition. We now know that he was personally appointed to his position running that bank by Vladimir Putin. Putin installed him in that job personally last year. Not that long ago.

At the time that Sergey Gorkov was appointed to that job, "Reuters" reported that he had been recommended for the job by this man, who`s a former finance minister under Vladimir Putin. He`s also almost famous in journalistic circles in this country because he`s the guy who organized in Moscow a big meeting between Donald Trump and a whole bunch of Russian businessmen while Trump was in Moscow in 2013 to hold his Miss Universe pageant.

That guy who organized that meeting for Trump reportedly recommended Sergey Gorkov for his job. Putin installed Gorkov in that job last year, right before his second in command in New York was tried and convicted as a Russian spy. Sergey Gorkov then in December or January for some reason was meeting with Jared Kushner. And again, it was not disclosed until yesterday. And once again, that story runs through Preet Bharara`s office because they convicted the spy.

Preet Bharara`s office also has geographical jurisdiction over any potential criminal cases that may arise involving the Trump administration and Trump Tower. If there was ever, for example, to be an Emoluments Clause criminal prosecution bought against the president for receiving money from foreign governments through his businesses, that prosecution would likely be brought by the Preet Bharara`s office in the southern district of New York. In fact, it was two days after ethics groups asked Preet Bharara to start such an investigation into the president that Preet Bharara was suddenly notified by the Trump administration that he was fired, after previously being told after the election he`d be allowed to keep that job.

And the White House explanation for that U-turn, for them telling Preet Bharara he got to keep the job and then suddenly deciding no, he`s fired, the White House explanation for that was basically -- don`t even ask. There`s nothing to see here. Nothing personal. Nothing specific to Preet Bharara. This was all just routine.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I mean, I -- this is a standard operating procedure for a new administration around this time to ask for the resignation of all the U.S. attorneys.

REPORTER: I was wondering. Did he the president ask Preet Bharara to stay on during their conversation during the transition or not?

SPICER: I was not privy to that conversation. Again, I don`t -- I`m not really sure how it`s relevant at the end of the day. The Department of Justice asked all remaining 46 at this time that they asked for all of them to submit their letters of resignation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: Who knows if they asked him to stay on even though they said publicly at the time that they asked him to stay on? Who knows? He`s now just one of 46 people who got fired. Why are you asking about him? It`s totally routine.

The White House explanation is that there`s nothing weird here. There`s nothing to see here. There`s nothing special about Preet Bharara being fired even though he had previously been asked to stay. It`s fine. Stop asking.

At which point you should say, OK, yeah, but you also said you didn`t ask for missile launchers for the inaugural parade, right? And now we know you did.

Democratic senators have now decided that they don`t necessarily trust the White House in terms of their explanations on this matter. A letter was sent to Attorney General Jeff Sessions from Senators Richard Blumenthal, Jeff Merkley and Elizabeth Warren. They`ve posed some pointed questions that they say want Attorney General Jeff Sessions to answer such as, quote, "Why was Mr. Bharara fired? Two, which White House or justice department officials are responsible for the decision to fire him? Three, was Preet Bharara involved in or conducting an investigation of Secretary Tom Price at the time he was fired?"

Secretary Tom Price was reportedly buying and selling stocks in health care companies while he was simultaneously sponsoring and voting on legislation that would affect the stock price of those companies. It`s been previously reported that Preet Bharara`s office was investigating that as a potential criminal corruption case when Preet Bharara was suddenly fired with no explanation. The senators go on. A, if Bharara was investigating Secretary Price at the time he was fired, were you aware of that investigation? B, was President Trump aware of that investigation? C, were other White House or Justice Department officials aware of that at the time Mr. Bharara was fired?

Then the big one. Was Mr. Bharara conducting any other investigations of president Trump, his family or administration officials at the time he was fired? If so, what was the nature of these investigations? Were you aware of them when he was fired? Was President Trump aware of them when he was fired? Were other White House or Justice Department officials aware of that at the time Pete Bharara was fired?

In other words, we know what you have said about this matter. We`d now like to have actual information. The senators are looking for a response from the attorney general by Monday. We`ll see. The Department of Justice is a little busy right now.

"Washington Post" breaking a bombshell exclusive story today that the Trump administration, including the Justice Department, tried to block the testimony of former acting Attorney General Sally Yates in the Trump-Russia investigation. Sally Yates and two other former administration officials were due to testify at an open hearing today in the House Intelligence Committee investigation of Trump and Russia. "Washington Post" reports that Thursday of last week, quote, "Yates and another witness at the planned hear, former CIA Director John Brennan made clear to government officials that their testimony to the committee probably would contradict some statements that White House officials had made."

So, Sally Yates, John Brennan communicated that information to the government on Thursday, according to "The Washington Post." Then, of course, on Friday, following day, this hearing that was supposed to be today got canceled for no apparent reason. They`d said it was so they could hold a closed hearing with other national security officials. There`s no closed hearing held.

The White House, naturally, is denying there was any effort to shut down Sally Yates` testimony. No pressure on her whatsoever on what she can say or could not say. No anxiety even at the White House about the prospect that she might testify at a hearing that has now been canceled.

But, you know, it`s one thing to hear the White House say that, to recognize that they are articulating those words. It is another thing to look for the real story, to look for proof and "The Washington Post" and NBC and other news organizations have now published the letters that were exchanged between Sally Yates and the Department of Justice and the White House explicitly laying out the administration`s threats to her about her testimony being in violation of the presidential communications privilege and the deliberate process privilege.

I mean, the White House insisting up and down today that they did not try to shut down Sally Yates` testimony in the Trump-Russia investigation. But who cares what the White House says?. "The Washington Post" has the goods. They have shown their work. We can see it for ourselves.

And their lead today stands. The Trump administration sought to block former acting attorney General Sally Yates from testifying to Congress in the House investigation.

That hearing where she was going to testify was canceled for today. It has not been rescheduled. There`s no explanation of why.

We don`t know how these investigations are going to go. And we really don`t know what the FBI is doing or how well they`re doing their work. The House investigation with this canceled hearing today, it may be blowing up as of right now, not only did they have their mythical closed door hearing today nor their open hearing. They`re not holding anything hearings. They`re not holding any meetings. They`re not even meeting just to speak to each other.

The only thing that`s emerging as even a partisan consensus around that investigation is the Democrats now uniform insistence that Chairman Devin Nunes must go or must at least be recused from this investigation. That`s the House.

The Senate investigation, we got no idea yet. We`ll see the first public hearing on the Senate side on Thursday of this week. We`ll have the first press conference on the matter from the chairman and top Democrat on that committee tomorrow at 2:30 p.m. Eastern. I will definitely watch that.

We don`t know what`s going to happen with these investigations, but there are now a lot of them, and every venue from the criminal courts to the network news. And not listening to what this White House says on any one part of it, so far that`s the only sure shortcut anybody has come up with for getting at the truth about this administration and whatever it is they want to not be discovered about them and Russia.

I mean, we learned this on day one. We learned this on day one if we were paying attention to the right lesson there. They really did want tanks rolling down Pennsylvania Avenue when Trump was sworn in. They inquired about tanks rolling through the inaugural parade and that`s freaking hilarious on its face.

But their lying about it at the time turns out to be a favor to all of us. Those blunt day one stupid lies about a stupid thing gave us all the head start we needed for learning how to find them out and get the truth. They gave that to us on day one. Lesson learned.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: Oleg Deripaska is a Russian billionaire who made his money in aluminum. He`s close to President Vladimir Putin. He travels with Putin.

In that "Associated Press" bombshell a few days ago that reported that former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort had signed a $10 million a year contract starting in 2006 to, quote, "influence politics, business dealings and news coverage inside the United States to benefit Putin`s government," in that "A.P." report from a few days ago, Oleg Deripaska is reportedly the guy who paid Paul Manafort all those millions of dollars for that work, starting in 2006 and ending who knows when.

Well, today that same guy, Oleg Deripaska, took out an ad in both "The Washington Post" and "The Wall Street Journal" to respond to him being named in conjunction with this scandal. He took out the same quarter page ad in both papers. This is nice.

"I demand that any and all further dissemination of these allegations by the "A.P." or any other media outlet must cease immediately."

Oh, you demand that? Is that how you`re used to this working? You ever spent any time here? Oh, no, I`m sorry. I forgot you were reportedly barred from entering this country because of your alleged ties to organized crime. So you may not know how we do it here.

He also says, quote, "I am ready to take part in any hearings conducted in the U.S. Congress on this subject in order to defend my reputation and my name."

The good news is we might have a popcorn boom in this country if our congressional hearings on Trump and Russia actually are going to involve a real live Putin-connected bullying Russian oligarch who is already listing his demands for the American press. Bad news is, come on, what`s with the quarter page ad? You`re supposed to be some ginormous billionaire with globe-spanning powers of financial intimidation. All you can afford was a quarter-page ad?

A complaint about that in "The Washington Post" today and I think he was kind of joking, but I think he`s right. If you are a billionaire trying to push us all around, go big or das vi dania, big guy, come on.

But the Paul Manafort story, even beyond the question of whether or not Oleg Deripaska paid him to promote the interest of the Putin government in the United States, the Paul Manafort part of this is getting to be a bigger part of the story as time goes on, particularly as Manafort`s finances are getting subject to the full rigors of the unfettered American fourth estate.

Today, WNYC, as well as NBC News, published reporting -- new reporting on Paul Manafort`s money, specifically on Paul Manafort`s real estate dealings, and the interesting large cash flows in and out of those investments. Both news organizations outlining a chronology of real estate purchased by shell companies associated with Mr. Manafort.

In three separate instances, Mr. Manafort used shell companies to purchase properties in New York City, each time for millions of dollars. Each purchase was paid for in full so no mortgage. No loans.

And in each of those three instances, the ownership of the property was later transferred from the shell company to Mr. Manafort for zero dollars. He then proceeded to take out huge multimillion-dollar mortgages against the properties, against these properties that were already paid for. Why would you do that?

It`s a weird sort of intricate story but not that complicated a story, but it`s puzzling in terms of normal real estate deals, right? It`s a puzzling portrait of the way he was dealing with large amounts of cash and expensive New York real estate. Some experts say the pattern seems to fit the pattern that`s used in typical money laundering schemes.

Now, Mr. Manafort has responded to these reports saying that these were ordinary business transactions, that it is common practice to purchase real estate in this manner and he says his transactions were executed in a transparent fashion. That`s his response.

I should also tell you one of the WNYC reporters on this story will be on with Lawrence O`Donnell right after this show and you`ll want to see that.

But, you know, on that same day that we got that reporting, NBC`s chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel got a whole different news story on Paul Manafort and his money. And it`s a story that Richard had to go halfway around the world to get, as is his want. And Richard is here next.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT: Long before he was President Trump`s campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, was paled millions by a Russian billionaire with close ties to Vladimir Putin, according to one report, secretly promising to greatly benefit the Putin government by influencing politics and media coverage.

Now, NBC News has learned that U.S. Treasury officials are following the money trail Manafort left behind. It led them and us to a small island in the Mediterranean.

To find out more we came here to Cyprus to the city of Limassol which has a reputation for beaches and as a hub for money laundering. The city has attracted so many Russians, in fact, it`s been dubbed "Limassolgrad".

This is where some of the money Manafort got from the Russian tycoon went. Banking sources with direct knowledge of the transaction tell NBC News at least 15 accounts were opened here for more than 10 companies, all linked to Manafort. The sources say that in one case, a million dollars landed in one of these accounts and left it on the same day.

TOM CARDAMONE, GLOBAL FINANCIAL INTEGRITY MANAGING DIR: Movements of large amounts of money very quickly in and out of account is very similar to what money launders do.

ENGEL: Eventually even in Cyprus, Manafort`s accounts raised suspicions. In 2012, the internal auditing system at Laiki Bank flagged some of the accounts for possible money laundering according to the banking sources who also said when the bank asked for more information, Manafort chose to close the accounts, without answering the questions.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MADDOW: NBC chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel went all the way to Cyprus to report on questions surrounding Paul Manafort`s finances.

Late today, a spokesperson for Mr. Manafort responded to NBC`s reporting saying in part that all of the Cypriot accounts held by Mr. Manafort were, quote, "legitimate entities and established for lawful ends."

As for the bank accounts that were shut down by Manafort in 2012, the spokesman says, quote, "Mr. Manafort has no specific recollection of this but understands from others that the accounts were, in fact, shut down together just prior to the mid-June 2012 government takeover of Cyprus popular bank following the collapse of the country`s banks." That`s what they`re saying.

Joining us is Richard Engel, NBC News chief foreign correspondent.

Richard, thank you so much for being with us tonight. I really appreciate it.

ENGEL: Absolutely. How are you?

MADDOW: I`m good.

So, tell me, what kind of investigation is this? You mentioned in your report, you describe it as a Treasury Department investigation. How should we understand that?

ENGEL: Well, there`s a lot of investigations which you mentioned. Some of this is a media investigation. I know Treasury Department officials are looking into this and I think you were starting to build out some of the facts that have come to light. And I think it`s important to go back and look at them chronologically.

MADDOW: OK.

ENGEL: You mentioned the "A.P." So, the "A.P." had this bombshell report last week, and it said that in 2005, there was allegedly this memo that Manafort wrote promising services, promising this Russian oligarch that he would work to benefit the Putin government.

Manafort has denied that he ever worked for Putin and today, this ad that clearly unimpressed -- left you unimpressed was in the newspapers in which the billionaire Oleg Deripaska said that that`s untrue. It`s fake news. That he never had this relationship with Manafort in order to benefit the Putin government.

But the "A.P." is sticking with its reporting and says there`s this memo in 2005, OK?

2006, there is a business relationship which Manafort has acknowledged with Oleg Deripaska. He says it was to provide business consulting services, nothing to do with helping the Russian directly -- the Russian government directly.

Then, in 2007, we found out, there are all of these business relationships that start opening in Cyprus with accounts, multiple accounts and multiple companies opened up, all linked to Manafort in Cyprus. Cyprus has long had a reputation for a place where you can move money discreetly into and out of Russia, Ukraine, other countries in Eastern Europe, but particularly Russia. So, this web of companies and accounts starts opening in Cyprus linked to Manafort.

Then this -- these continue to operate from 2007 until 2012 when suddenly a bank audit is triggered. It`s triggered under the "know your customer" program. And this program, bank officials sent out a request and they said, can you provide more information about these multiple accounts? And as you saw in the clip you aired earlier, particularly when there`s activity like a lot of money coming into one account and then a lot of money quickly leaving, it`s not unusual for bank officials to ask for more information.

And then, suddenly, the accounts were closed. So, when you take all of these things together, I think that`s why Treasury Department officials are asking questions. That`s why journalists are asking questions. That`s why several senators we`ve spoken to are asking questions and they want to know more about how these pieces link together.

MADDOW: Richard, can you --

ENGEL: Why were the accounts opened? Why were they closed? Whose money was it? And tell us more about the Oleg Deripaska connection.

MADDOW: Speaking of telling us more, can you hold on for one second? Because the part you were able to find in Cyprus talking to Cypriot officials I think people have not regally grokked yet and I would love to ask you about that if you can hold on for just one second.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: Back with us again, again, is Richard Engel, NBC News chief correspondent, talking about his exclusive about Paul Manafort`s finances in Cyprus.

Richard, I just want to clarify something with you. You were talking about sort of the timeline. 2005, there`s this reported memo where, according to the "A.P.", Manafort is, essentially, pitching his services to Oleg Deripaska. 2006, we believe or it`s reported that a deal is signed. 2007, as you found in Cyprus, a number of accounts linked to him start opening thereafter, there`s a lot of money moving in and out of multiple accounts associated with Manafort that some experts say fit the patterns of what looks like money laundering.

My question for you is about Cyprus and how they`re dealing with it. If U.S. Treasury is looking into this, if U.S. senators are looking into this, if you`re there looking into this, I mean, Cyprus used to really be known as money laundering hub, they`ve tried to clean up their act in that regard -- are they cooperating in terms of handing over information, making this stuff available to Americans who may be looking for it?

ENGEL: They are. The attorney general in Cyprus told us that his office, particularly an office is set up to fight money laundering, is cooperating, has handed over information about Manafort, and his activities in Russia, to investigators at the Treasury Department.

When we spoke to officials at Cypriot banks, that he say that their systems of controls have gotten better, that they don`t want this reputation any more, we reached out to the Bank of Cyprus, they are trying to distance themselves, in particular, from Mr. Manafort and say that just -- the fact that there was this internal investigation triggered shows that they were not asleep at the wheel. That Manafort`s activities there were specifically flagged and that more questions were asked to provide more information about why money was moving through across these accounts and who it belonged to and where it was going, that he then closed down the accounts. That, itself, experts tell us, raises red flags.

Now, in the statement that you quoted earlier, a spokesperson -- a spokesman for Manafort said that all of his accounts were legal. They were set up for legal purposes. That it is legal to do offshore business in cypress and that it`s a convenient way for doing transactions in Russia and Ukraine, transactions, which he has acknowledged that he was taking part of and which he says were not in order to benefit the Putin government.

MADDOW: And everything in that statement, factually, true. It`s also as you reported true that he was conducting financial business in Cyprus in a way that triggered Cyprus` internal checks against trying to prevent international money laundering.

Fascinating story. I know you had to go halfway around the world and then stay up all night to give us this story -- Richard, thank you so much. I appreciate it.

ENGEL: I think we`ll be hearing more about it to come, as well.

MADDOW: Oh, yeah, hopefully sooner rather than later. Thank you, my friend.

All right. We`ve got more to come here tonight as well. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: The White House today made as big of show as possible of signing what they hope will be a full 180-degree reverse of some of the most important policies President Obama enacted to fight climate change and fight pollution.

This White House is having lots of failures in the policy arena, but on environmental stuff, they really are full steam ahead.

That said, there have been some embarrassments in this part of their agenda. The day they approved the Keystone pipeline, we learned that a pipeline oil spill in North Dakota was one of the biggest spills in that state`s history, not a great day to promote your new pipeline approval.

Then, there was this chest-pounding crowd pleasing announcement that the only way Keystone and Dakota Access were going to get approved if they were all made with 100 percent U.S. steel. Well, the president has approved both of those pipelines now, and they are not going to be made with 100 percent U.S. steel.

Today, though, the White House thinks they had a great photo-op occasion when they lined the president up with these colors of Benetton tableau around him to brag about his executive order to allow increased pollution from power plants. And the president, and his back up band here today, they presented this as a done deal, as a fait accompli.

But there`s one thing to know about this particular thing that he did today, it is an executive order, but this will change that he ordered today, it is likely to be in litigation and otherwise fought over tooth and nail at each of about 40 different steps in what`s about a 40-step process that it will take to actually do what he presented today as if it was done.

And, you know, if the health care fight taught us anything, it`s that that fight against what the president is doing on environmental stuff, that fight, itself, is going to be a source of mobilization of focus of people who disagree with him on the issue of climate change and disagree with what he`s doing on the environment. This, today, looked like something that it was not. This today was not just, you know, a man at home in his milieu-- a man in an environment where he feels comfortable.

This really was the start of what will be a huge yearlong fight. They presented this as a done deal today. A lot of people reported it as a done day. This was actually day one of what will be an epic battle on climate.

That does it for us tonight. We will see you again tomorrow.

Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL".

Good evening, Lawrence.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END

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