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The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 3/31/17

Guests: Ned Price, Clinton Watts

Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: March 31, 2017 Guest: Ned Price, Clinton Watts CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST:  All right.  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.  Have a great weekend. 

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

God decided to give me an ice storm for my birthday this year.  So, we`re broadcasting from western Massachusetts tonight.  Super happy to be here with a very nice group of people, sort of my home studio because I live in western Massachusetts.  But it`s been a very, very long time since I have been here. 

And I am grateful to everybody for all the hard work, who made this possible. 

Thank you tonight for being with us as well.

There`s a lot going on tonight.  Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders are in the other half of this state they are co-headlining a big, big rally in Boston.  This is an event that has attracted thousands of people sold out event here in deep blue Massachusetts.

And, you know, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren probably still are the highest-profile Democratic or Bernie Sanders case Democratic-ish politicians in the whole country, at least they are the highest profile Democratic politicians not named Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama.

But, you know, when times change especially when times change radically, you never quite know who`s going to become the new center of the political universe and in the few short scandal-ridden weeks that the Trump administration has existed, we have grown some new Household name Democrats as a country.  They haven`t eclipsed the more famous ones, but they`re starting to get pretty famous on their own like this previously obscure California Congressman Adam Schiff.

Adam Schiff is the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.  Most folks could not have picked him out of a lineup this time last year.  But Adam Schiff has fast become one of the highest profile people in his party not necessarily because people look at him and think, hmm, President Schiff, although maybe some people do think that.  I think more of a reason he`s become so prominent in the past few weeks, in the past couple of months, is because of the sense that when the White House turns on the TV and sees Adam Schiff there talking, important people in the White House with secrets to hide start grinding their teeth and maybe throwing stuff and conceivably, they start calling his Republican counterpart on the intelligence committee to plot some new smokescreen to try to throw Adam Schiff off the case.

Well, tonight, newly prominent Adam Schiff met with Donald Trump.  Apparently, it was not a big showdown.  It`s possible it wasn`t even a planned event at all.  But Adam Schiff went to the White today to review intelligence documents and apparently while he had what his office is describing as a cordial meeting with the president.  I bet.

This trip to the White House today was to review documents, documents that were apparently thrown up as a smokescreen for the Trump-Russia investigation that`s being led in part on Adam Schiff and Devin Nunes` House intelligence Committee.  These are the documents that Republican Chairman Devin Nunes apparently obtained from White House officials and then gave a big press conference to make a big show of him carrying those documents back into the White House, which is where they came from in the first place.  The White House has still not admitted that the White House itself was the source of those documents for Devin Nunes -- at least they haven`t admitted it overtly. 

There`s a whole bunch of problems here in terms of the way this thing has rolled out.  Devin Nunes explicitly told a reporter that he did not obtain those documents from White House officials.  But apparently he did and apparently now, the White House is at least implicitly admitting that they were the source of the documents because today they made those documents available to Adam Schiff and how else could they be showing them to Adam Schiff tonight if they never had them in the first place? 

The White House still not explains why they previously covered up where they came from even if they are implicitly admitting now that it was them.  In print, this is sort of the cover-up part of the scandal I guess, experiencing it though in day-to-day life as it keeps unrolling, it feels less like a -- this feels less like a scandal and more just like a fiasco.  It just feels like a mess.

But after reviewing those documents at the invitation of the White House tonight, Congressman Adam Schiff did release this statement about what he saw.  Quote, "Today, staff director and I reviewed materials at the White House.  It was represented to me that these are precisely the same materials that were provided to the chairman, Chairman Devin Nunes, over a week ago.  While I cannot discuss the content of the documents, if the White House had any concern over these materials, they should have been shared with the full committees in the first place as part of our ordinary oversight responsibilities.  Nothing I could see today warranted a departure from the normal review procedures and these materials should now be provided to the full membership of both committees."

And then he closes with this, "The White House has yet to explain why senior White House staff apparently shared these materials with but one member of either committee, only for their contents to be briefed back to the White House."  The White House has yet to explain that.

And he`s right, it remains weird and unexplained that the White House is now implicitly admitting that it`s the source of these documents, that it has these documents that can show them to Adam Schiff.  They`re still not saying why they wouldn`t admit to that before.  The White House will still not say who let Congressman Devin Nunes into the White House grounds to obtain these documents in the first place last week, or why White House staffers gave the information specifically to him, all that remains unexplained.

And now, we`re left with more than just the fiasco, more than just the mess now we`re left with some serious questions.  Now, we`re left with the question of why White House staffers were looking at this information and leaking it in the way they did and whether that indicates that the White House was tracking the progress of the FBI`s investigations or even trying to pervert the course of those investigations in Congress.

Today, NBC News reported that before the Obama administration left and the Trump administration came on board, Obama administration officials made a list of documents related to the Russia investigation basically in order to keep them safe.  Quoting from the NBC News report today, quote, "Obama administration officials were so concerned about what would happen to key classified documents related to the Russia probe once President Trump took office that they created a list of document serial numbers to give two senior members of the Senate Intelligence Committee."

Quote, "A former Obama administration official tells NBC News that after the list of documents related to the probe into Russian interference in the U.S. election was created in early January, after that list of numbers was created, he, the former Obama administration official, hand carried that list of serial numbers to members of the Senate Intelligence Committee."  The purpose was to make it, quote, "harder to bury the information."

So, the investigation into the Russian attack on our election last year, it started obviously during the Obama ministration.  The Obama administration was worried that the Trump folks would erase it, would get rid of what had been found already.  So, NBC News reports tonight that Obama administration officials made a list of all the documents that existed at the time Trump took over.  And now, the Senate Intelligence Committee can look at that list and they can know they can find out if any of those documents related to the investigation have in fact been mysteriously disappeared.  They`ve got basically the table of contents just in case somebody`s been burning the chapters. 

And maybe making that list was not such a bad idea.  Remember what a weird thing about when we found out that Steve Bannon was getting a seat on the National Security Council, right?  This is the freaking National Security Council.  Steve Bannon is the publisher of a right-wing website who lives on Seinfeld royalties.  What is he doing on the National Security Council?

After an initial freaked out that Steve Bannon was on the principals committee of the National Security Council now and the CIA director and the Director of National Intelligence and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs were not on that principals committee, after a furor over that development those other high-ranking officials were reinstated at the National Security Council.  But Bannon didn`t go.  They kept Bannon there as well.

Even after they got rid of General Michael Flynn as national security advisor, replaced him with H.R. McMaster they still kept Steve Bannon on at the National Security Council.  H.R. McMaster was reportedly told that he could hire and fire at will on the National Security Council, that didn`t turn out to be true.  He did try to fire a young man named Ezra Cohen- Watnick and the White House including Steve Bannon intervened to keep Ezra Cohen-Watnick in his job.

And now, Ezra Cohen-Watnick from the National Security Council, as well as the top lawyer at the National Security Council, have both been named as two of the people who took intelligence intercepts that may or may not be related to investigations into the Trump campaign in his potential collusion with Russia, they took those intercepts and they fed them out of the White House for political effect. 

Weird that Steve Bannon`s on the National Security Council, right?  Still, especially if the National Security Council is now turning out to be the vehicle by which the White House is trying to kibosh these investigations.

Joining us now is Ned Price.  Until mid-February of this year, Mr. Price worked at the CIA as a spokesman and senior analyst, before he quit that job.  He is also in the past served as spokesman and senior director at the National Security Council.

Mr. Price, thank you for taking the time to be with us tonight.  I appreciate you being here.


MADDOW:  So I highlighted the role of Adam Schiff here because he has been very aggressive in not just pursuing this investigation but also raising questions about what the White House has done here, how the National Security Council in this case has behaved.  He`s basically described National Security Council`s as being implicated in laundering intelligence, as hiding the origins of intelligence that was fed out and made public for political purposes.

As somebody who worked on the National Security Council, how does that strike you as an allegation?

PRICE:  Well, it is absolutely credible and it certainly appears to be what happened here.

Look, Rachel, you know, President Trump made a name for himself as a showman and I think what we`ve seen over the past week has been little more than amateur political theater, except the stakes in this case or certainly much higher than who gets the apprenticeship with the Trump Organization and this is really about our national security.

Look, I think the true nature of this incident began to reveal itself earlier this week when Chairman Nunes finally confirmed that, yes, he met his sources on the White House grounds.  That was the clearest indication to date that this was a scheme that was cooked up by the White House, including by apparently these two senior National Security Council officials. 

And I say scheme cooked up because they didn`t need Chairman Nunes to go down to the White House to have this furtive surreptitious meeting.  They didn`t need this middleman.  They -- these two senior NSC officials could have made the five minute or so walk from the fourth floor of the Eisenhower Building where Mr. Cohen-Watnick`s office is located, to the Oval Office if they felt they had something important that the president needed to see needed to see.

But instead, as Vice Chair Schiff said, they laundered this information through Devin Nunes who has proven himself to be a willing pawn of the White House for a couple reasons.  One, they wanted to add credibility to these documents.  Two, of course, they wanted to obscure the source.  This couldn`t be coming from the White House.

And, three, Rachel, I think importantly, they wanted to distract from the unmitigated disaster that was the HPSCI, the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence hearing last Monday, in which Director Comey admitted for the first time that there is an active, ongoing counterintelligence investigation that could well reach into the White House.

And, frankly, they succeeded.  If it hadn`t been so ham-handed, they may have gotten away with it.  But eventually, this caper has caught up with them.

MADDOW:  Ned, one of the things that people are starting to get increasingly concerned about and this NBC report today about Obama administration officials making a list of the serial numbers of documents related to the Russia investigation and taking it with them are taking it down the road, taking it to the Senate Intelligence Committee so it exists somewhere outside the administration after the Trump folks got on board people are worried about the prospect that within the White House and within the National Security Council, there`s the possibility not just for tracking the investigations into the Trump-Russia situation but potentially for sabotaging them, or disappearing key aspects of those investigations and the intelligence work on which they are based.

Can you tell us if those fears are based in reality?  Is that far-fetched?  Is that something people should worry about?

PRICE:  Well, up until January 20th, I would have said, no, that`s outlandish.  We wouldn`t have an administration and power that would work and subvert the system in that way.  But unfortunately, now, I`m not so sure, and if that report is in fact accurate, I think it may well have been prudent to preserve that intelligence and to ensure that there is a documentary record.

But it`s also important to note that the NBC News report doesn`t allege that the previous administration gave this information solely to Senator Warner, the Democratic senator, that we -- the Obama administration gave it to the entire Senate Intelligence Committee.

Look, there`s another challenge here that I think we`ll need to be cognizant of and vigilant against, and that is this administration reaching directly into the Department of Justice.  Of course, Attorney General Sessions has purportedly recused himself from this investigation.  But this administration, the Trump administration, has shown no compunction against breaking that previously inviolable wall between the White House and the Department of Justice and even the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and I think we need to be concerned in and watch to ensure that this is not the case, to ensure that this information this investigation can go wherever it needs to go.

MADDOW:  Ned Price, former spokesman analyst of the CIA, former spokesman and senior director at the National Security Council.  Ned, thank you for joining us this evening.

PRICE:  Happy early birthday.  Thank you, Rachel.

MADDOW:  Thank you very much.

All right.  Tonight, we have a guest who is very smart, who has been saying something very, very scary.  We are not going to have a cocktail moment today but nobody will blame you if you have a little tipple in this commercial break.  See you in a moment.  See you in a moment.  We`ll be right back.


MADDOW:  One week from tonight, Republicans say they intend to have confirmed the president`s pick for the United States Supreme Court.  They intend to put the nomination of Neil Gorsuch before the full Senate for a vote on Friday, week from today.

Now it is not at all clear whether they are going to get there on this vote.  The top Democrat in the Senate, Chuck Schumer, has been saying that Democrats will filibuster this nomination.  He says Republicans should not get to confirm a Supreme Court pick, while the cloud of this Russia investigation is hanging over the president.

Well, Chuck Schumer tonight is one crucial vote closer to bringing that filibuster fight to the end the Democrats want.  Progressives, by and large, have been on board with Chuck Schumer and actually pushing him in this direction.  The big question for the Democrats has been whether they`re centrist members, the more conservative members, would go along with it too.

Well, tonight, centrist Democrat Claire McCaskill who has struggled openly with whether to block this nomination, tonight, Claire McCaskill announced which way she is going and she is going for the filibuster. 

Senator McCaskill saying tonight, quote, "I cannot support Judge Gorsuch because his opinions reveal a rigid ideology that always puts the little guy under the boot of corporations whether it is a freezing truck driver or an autistic child, he`s shown a stunning lack of humanity.  The president who promised working people he would lift them up has nominated a judge who can`t even see them."

This decision by Senator McCaskill takes away a vote that Republicans had been counting on for Gorsuch.  They need eight Democrats on their side in order to get around the filibuster.  So far, they only have two.  They have Heidi Heitkamp from North Dakota and they have Joe Manchin of West Virginia and that`s it.  Republicans are running out of Democrats who could be one over on this.

Will Democrats stick together and successfully filibuster the Gorsuch nomination?  If they do that, will Republicans then respond by using the nuclear option and taking away the power to filibuster altogether?

Mistakes in this are super high the outcome is quite unclear and that, of course makes for agita left, right and center.

Happy Friday.  We`ll be right back.


MADDOW:  This is a check.  I think we`ve got a picture of the check here for $7.2 million.  As you can tell, it`s an old check, hard to read $7.2 million, obviously, a ton of money.

But back when this check was signed in 1867, it was tons and tons of money.  $7.2 million back in 1867 was about $125 million in today`s money.  That`s what we got paid -- excuse me, that`s what we paid as a country to get Alaska.  That`s what we paid for Alaska. 

The country that cashed that check from the United States of America was Russia.  That`s what we got Alaska from.  Russia was sort of strapped for cash at the time.  The Crimean War hadn`t turned out awesome.  They weren`t getting much out of Alaska anymore.  They were worried would be hard to hold on to for the long run.  So, they cut a deal.  The U.S. Secretary of State William Seward gave them that check for $7.2 million and they gave us territory that was one fits the size of the entire continental United States.  Nice deal.

That deal was made 150 years ago yesterday.  And William Seward, secretary of state, he took a ton of heat for it.  People thought it was an expensive bad deal for America.  They called it Seward`s folly.

But now, of course, were quite psyched to have Alaska.  You know who`s not psyched that we have Alaska now?  Russia.  They have seller`s remorse. 

I mean, they haven`t been grinding their teeth about it for all 150 years, but they are sort of grinding their teeth about it now.  This is a Russian magazine called "Military Industrial Courier", which I promise you I do not read on the regular.  But this got picked up in the near times yesterday. 

This article in the Russian "Military Industrial Courier" is called "The Alaska we`ve lost."  Darn you, William Seward, for snookering us on that deal.

Yesterday, Russian President Vladimir Putin was at an international forum in the Arctic where he was not only complaining about Alaska, he was complaining that the United States is unfairly using Alaska as part of our plot for world domination.  He said, quote, "What we do is contained locally while what the U.S. does in Alaska, it does on the global level." 

So, the United States is using our unfair toehold in Alaska for purposes of global oppression, obviously.  I mean, you would not expect this sort of thing if you weren`t looking for it, but there is the bit of Russian nationalistic fervor right now around the issue of Alaska. 

In 2011, in the White House under President Obama started there we the people petitioning system on the White House website, if you get enough people to sign up on any petition, the White House have to answer.  And it turned into all sorts of stuff, right?  Everything from the Death Star to gay rights to the war in Syria to 9 million different petitions about legal pot. 

But in 2014, one of these petitions popped up and it was about Alaska.  And the Alaska one, it didn`t break any records or anything in terms of the response to it.  But something about the petition itself seemed a little off, and then the response to the petition was definitely off. 

This is it.  We`ve got snap of it.  It`s not posted online anymore, so we`ve got the diligent national heroes at the Wayback Machine to thank for having captured this screenshot, the snapshot of it when it had about seven thousand signatures. 

But check it out.  You can -- you can read it for yourself what`s wrong with this picture.  Quote, "We petition the Obama administration to Alaska back to Russia.  Groups Siberian Russians cross the isthmus now the Bering Strait dash ten thousand years ago.  Russian began to settle on the Arctic coast first visited Alaska during the expedition, Shestakov and D.I. Pavlutsky 1729 to 1735, years, vote for secession of Alaska from the United States and joining Russia."

Let me guess, Google translate Russian to English wasn`t all that awesome in 2014, right?  So, I mean it seems like an odd thing at the time, right?  This oddly translated give us back Alaska thing.  Who wants this?

It got a little bit of news pick up at the time and it ended up on the White House website.  But then almost instantly, it got 39,000 signatures.  Hmm, 39,000, where did those come from they can`t all be people who think it`s hilarious?

Well, I`ll let former FBI special agent former executive officer of the counterterrorism center at West Point, now an academic counterterrorism expert named Clinton Watts pick up the part of the story from there.


CLINTON WATTS, FORMER FBI SPECIAL AGENT:  In April 2014, Andrew Weisberg, J. Burger and I noticed a petition on the website, Alaska back to Russia appeared as a public campaign to give America`s largest state back to the nation from which it was purchased.  Satirical are nonsensical petitions appearing on the White House website are not out of the norm, but this petition was different having gained more than 39,000 online signatures in a short period. 

Our examination of those signing and posting on its petition revealed an odd pattern.  The accounts vary considerably from other petitions and appeared to be the work of bots.  A closer look at those bots tied in closely with other social media campaigns we had observed pushing Russian propaganda months before.


MADDOW:  That`s Clinton Watts testifying at the Senate Intelligence Committee about some of the more ham-handed Russian influence operations that he`s noticed in his counterterrorism work, counterintelligence work in the United States.  Noticing how even you know stupid stuff like that around a poorly spelled White House petition.  Even when it`s dumb, it gives you a place to start in terms of seeing what tools they have, in terms of seeing how they operate.  So, basically, getting 39,000 signatures instantly on this groovy mistranslated White House petition about Alaska and Russia, it gave away a little bit of how they work. 

So, there`s -- their signature because of things like that, because they operate in lots of ways serious and not, some of those signatures were already clear to counterintelligence people by the time those same Russian forces were operating inside something very high-profile.  They were operating inside the U.S. presidential election.


WATTS:  The final piece of Russia`s modern active measures surfaced in the summer of 2016 as hacked materials were strategically leaked.  The disclosures of WikiLeaks, Guccifer 2.0 and DC Leaks demonstrated how hacks would power the influence system Russia had built so successfully in the previous two years. 

As an example, on the evening of 30 July 2016, my colleagues and I watches RT and Sputnik News simultaneously launched false stories of the U.S. air base in Incirlik, Turkey, being overrun by terrorists. Within minutes, pro- Russian social media aggregators and automated bots amplified this false news story. More than 4,000 tweets in the first 78 minutes after launching this false story went back to the active measures accounts we`d tracked in the previous two years. 

These previously identified accounts almost simultaneously appearing from different geographic locations and communities amplified the fake news story in unison.


MADDOW:  Clinton Watts, former FBI special agent on how the Russian attack worked in a nuts and bolts way, what it looked like to see it unfolding and how they did their work.  What he`s talking about is what intel people called active measures, and that`s a term of art that civilians like us don`t often use.  But in this case, what it means, as far as I understand it, is not just grabbing information, not just stealing secrets and then using that information back home for their own purposes.  Active measures means you are instead deploying whatever weapons you`ve got back here back at us. 

I mean, in pure terms, sort of in the platonic ideal of spy agencies, what they do is they spy.  They just steal information.  But in real life, there are active measures.  In real life, they do stuff.  They don`t just listen in.  In real life, they wage war.


WATTS:  Today, Russia hopes to win the second Cold War through the force of politics as opposed to the politics of force.  While Russia certainly seeks to promote western candidates sympathetic to their worldview and foreign policy objectives, winning a single election is not their end goal. 

Russian active measures hope to topple democracies through the pursuit of five complementary objectives.  One, undermine citizen confidence and democratic governance.  Two, foment exasperate divisive political fissures.  Three, erode trust between citizens and elected officials and their institutions.  Four, popularized Russian policy agendas with in foreign populations.  And five, create general distrust or confusion over information sources by learning blurring the lines between fact and fiction, a very pertinent issue today in our country.

From these objectives, the Kremlin can crumbled democracies from the inside out.


MADDOW:  So that`s how Clinton Watts put it in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and that`s generally what U.S. intelligence agencies say we are up against, why Russia launched this attack and how. 

But there`s one last piece of it that I think we have been missing, that tells us a little something about Russia and potentially tells us a lot about ourselves, at least about our current political situation.  The investigation into whether or not Russia had help, had American collaborators in its attack it`s probably the most salient part of it for us as Americans now that we`re quite sure that Russians mounted the attack and were more and more comfortable understanding how exactly they did it .

Thomas Rid is a British cybersecurity expert who also testified to the Senate Intelligence Committee this week.  He gave new details this week about just how intense the attack was on the Clinton campaign.  In one month-long period this time last year, from March 10th to April 7th, he testified yesterday that hackers working for the Russian military intelligence service, GRU hackers, made personalized specific attacks on 109 different staffers from the Clinton campaign, 109 different staffers targeted in that one month.

Jake Sullivan one top Clinton adviser got hit 14 times alone last March, 14 separate attacks by Russian military intelligence, all personally tailored specifically to him to try to compromise his data, just in one month. 

So, we`ve now got this good understanding of how hard the Democratic Party and the Clinton campaign got hit by Russia.  The Russians really targeted them.  They really tried hard to hurt Hillary Clinton and help Donald Trump during the presidential, general election.  But what we did not necessarily get before is that the Russians reportedly didn`t just help Trump win the general election, they helped him win the Republican nomination as well.


WATTS:  Through the end of 2015 and start of 2016, the Russian influence system began pushing themes and messages seeking to influence the outcome of the U.S. presidential election.  They were in full swing during both the Republican and Democratic primary season may have helped sink the hopes of candidates more hostile to Russian interests long before the field narrow.  Senator Rubio, in my opinion, you anecdotally suffered from these efforts.


MADDOW:  Senator Marco Rubio took that in stride in that moment in the hearing.  He later confirmed in the hearing that his office was aware of him being targeted by Russian cyber attackers, you know.  And part of that is trivia about how the Republican primary went down now, right?  Just as it`s interesting trivia about the general election, as to how the Russians helped Trump there as well.  I mean, honestly, none of us can say the way a particular election would have gone in the absence of any one factor, including the Russian attack.

But the investigations now in our country are twofold.  One is how the Russians pull it off.  We`re getting more and more information on that every day.  It is fascinating, boy, they`ve come a long way from there give Alaska back to the Russia of petitions, right? 

But the other thing that`s being investigated, the more salient thing for us as a country the forward-looking thing in terms of what we`re doing now with who`s in power now and what the accountability is now, the more important part of the investigation is, did the Trump campaign coordinate with them?  Were they in on it?  Were they not just incidental beneficiaries of something Putin was doing because he hated Hillary Clinton?

If it is true that the Republican primary was also a battlefield for the Russians, that`s an important piece of this, because if that`s true if they did help in the primary as well as helping in the general, that means they weren`t just wanting Hillary Clinton to lose, they weren`t just trying to affect the general election, so a not Hillary candidate could win.  If they were working in the primary as well to elect a specific candidate in the primary, that means they were not agnostic as to who got to the general election, they specifically wanted Donald Trump.  They wanted him more than anybody else.

Why is that?  What did Russia find more attractive about him than anybody else on offer?

Stay with us.



SEN. JAMES LANKFORD (R-OK), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE:  My question is, first, why did he think he could get away with it this time?  This is not new for the Russians.  They`ve done this for a long time across Europe, but it was much more engaging this time in our election.  Why now?  Mr. Watts?

WATTS:  I think this answer is very simple and is what no one is really saying in this room, which is, part of the reason active measures have work in this U.S. election is because the commander-in-chief has used Russian active measures at time against his opponents.  On 14 August 2016, his campaign chairman, after a debunked -- 

LANKFORD:  When you say his, who`s his?

WATTS:  Paul Manafort -- 


WATTS:  -- cited the fake Incirlik story as a terrorist attack on CNN and he used it as a talking point. 

On 11 October, President Trump stood on a stage and cited a -- what appears to be a fake news story from Sputnik News that disappeared from the Internet.  He denies the intel from the United States about Russia.  He claimed that the election could be rigged.  That was the number one theme pushed by RT, Sputnik News, white outlets all the way up until the election.  He`s made claims of voter fraud that President Obama is not a citizen, that, you know, Congressman Cruz is not a citizen.

So, part of the reason active measures works and it does today in terms of Trump Tower being wiretapped is because they parrot the same lines.


MADDOW:  Clinton Watts testify in the Senate Intelligence Committee on the Russian attack on our elections and how the Trump campaign acted to amplify what the Russians were doing, whether they knew that`s what they were doing or not. 

Former FBI special agent Clinton Watts joins us now.

Mr. Watts, thank very much for joining us tonight.  I know you`re in demand after you made quite an impression at this hearing this week.  Thanks for spending time with us this evening.

WATTS:  Thanks for having me, Rachel.

MADDOW:  I`d like to start by asking about that question that I just raised about willingness.  You described repeatedly moments where you saw Donald Trump the candidate and other people in his campaign, including his campaign manager, amplifying what had been done by the Russians reiterating it, ratifying it, giving it more substance by repeating it as if it was true information, is there any way to tell whether they knew that`s what they were doing or whether it could have been totally unwitting?

WATTS:  I can`t prove that, but what is remarkable is at times, the synchronization and essentially rapidity of taking Russian messages that are put out by propaganda outlets and spinning them into campaign stumps or using them as talking points was quick.  You see Stone who says I`ve heard that WikiLeaks has something coming out.  He`s a communicated openly and publicly with Guccifer which is a Russian hacker.

Why go to a Russian intel operation?  Why go to Russian propaganda sites like RT news and take their talking points to use against another American?  It`s curious. 

And there`s two parts with.  So, is it, one, he`s complicit and coordinating?  I think that`s unlikely.  Maybe his aides were at some point and I think that needs to be investigated. 

But the other part is opportunistic.  And why be opportunistic when your motto is America first?  But you`re clearly not putting Americans first if you`re using Russian propaganda.

MADDOW:  Let me ask you about one specific incident that you laid out in a little bit of detail in your testimony this week, which is about this fake story that there had been an attack on the U.S. base in Turkey that`s called Incirlik.  Can you explain -- just kind of walk us through how that was -- what was fake about that?  How it was used and how it then surfaced in real time in this -- in the campaign?

WATTS:  Yes, there were two real things that were going at Incirlik that night.  One, there was a small protest outside the gate, and, two, there was increased security around the base.  So, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was flying into Incirlik the next day, until they an increased security to essentially tighten things up this is after the coup if you remember in Turkey. 

That story was then changed and manipulated into there`s a terrorist attack, a Benghazi style terrorist attack that is hitting Incirlik air base and there are loose nukes out there.  There is a being overrun in terms of a Benghazi style attack.  That comes out from overt outlets, state propaganda outlets, RT, Sputnik News simultaneously. 

Within just a few minutes, you see many amplifying accounts which we call gray accounts.  Very pro-Russian accounts websites that take those conspiracies, spend them even further and then amplify those stories with bots.  The goal is to get it into the top trending stories on Twitter, such that mainstream media needs to react to it.

The way they do that is they use hashtags.  The ones they wanted to create panic with where nuclear, the media, to try and get a reaction from mainstream media outlets just like MSNBC.  The third was Trump, to get Trump supporters to see it, and the fourth was Benghazi.  You`re essentially communicating that story is another Benghazi style attack, trying to bring in real Trump supporters into this story to further promote the conspiracy.

MADDOW:  So, that started as a -- that started in terms of the way they created it and then the Trump campaign cited it as if it was a true story without reference to the origin of the news or without checking it with U.S. sources.

WATTS:  Right, and it wasn`t even just that the story was debunked.  It happened at the end of July, we published I believe is on the eighth of August, and on the fourteenth of August was when Paul Manafort went back and cited that story whenever he was doing an interview.  So, why would you take a Russian propaganda line to begin with in a story that had clearly been debunked in the days before and then regurgitate that is your own talking point against the Clinton campaign?

MADDOW:  Clinton Watts, would you mind sticking with us just for one more quick question?  I have -- I`d like to ask you about what how you feel about the state of this investigation and sort of our defenses at this point.  Do you mind staying with us for just a sec?

WATTS:  Yes.

MADDOW:  Great.

Clinton Watts testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee this week.  Former FBI special agent.  He was the former executive officer at the Counterterrorism Center at West Point.  He`s a counterterrorism expert.  Obviously, he`ll be right back with us.  Stay with us.


MADDOW:  We`re back now with former FBI special agent Clinton Watts who testified to the Senate Intelligence Committee about the Russian attack on our election last year. 

Mr. Watts, thank you again for sticking with us.

WATTS:  Thank you.

MADDOW:  You have seen a little bit of this investigation close-up now.  You testified in this open hearing in the Senate committee this week. 

I just have to ask you given what you have seen in your own work on this, what you testified about and what you know of how the United States was responding, what do you make of the state of the investigations thus far?

WATTS:  I think what`s interesting is I saw a really great bipartisan committee yesterday when I was at the Senate.  Great questions from both Republicans and Democrats, very responsible.  There wasn`t a lot of politics thrown into it, and that`s not necessarily what I expected having watched the House investigation the week before.  To be honest, I was a little bit nervous about going in there.

But every senator that was there yesterday, I truly believe had America`s best interests at heart.  And I thought both the chairman the co-chairman did a great job of moderating that session.  And it did restore my hope a good bit that we can get to some resolution on what`s really going on with the Russian meddling and get a full picture of that.  I`m only speaking of it in terms of the influence approach, but get a full understanding of everything that`s going on.

MADDOW:  As a former FBI special agent, do you believe that the FBI has the capacity to get to the bottom of this, get to the bottom even if the possibility of collusion?  Some people have suggested that some of this would be better handled by the CIA than the FBI for example?  Do you think the FBI`s up to it?

WATTS:  I think the FBI is not only up to it but the right place to do it.  They do investigations especially retroactively like this better than anyone in the world.  I think what would help them a lot was the political meddling to not short-circuit the investigations.  Every time we have alternative intelligence processes running through the White House, when we have legislators moving between the executive branch for special briefings, that`s going to shut down sources of information that`s going to extend and cloud the investigation.

We need to give the FBI time to do the good investigation and clear things up.  And they can only do that if they`re given the resources and space to do it and not push politically in one direction or another Clinton.

MADDOW:  Clinton Watts, former FBI special agent, counterterrorism, counterintelligence expert, who I think helped a lot of people understand more about this than we did before your testimony this week -- thank you, sir.  I appreciate your time being here tonight.

WATTS:  Thanks for having me.

MADDOW:  All right.  We got more ahead here tonight.  Do stay with us.


MADDOW:  Sunday this weekend will mark one week since the big protests in Russia last weekend.  They were the largest anti-government protest since 2011 and 2012.  Tens of thousands of people took to the streets in dozens of cities all over Russia to protest against corruption.  In Moscow alone, tens of thousands of people showed up.  There may be a repeat of those Russia protests this weekend and we know this because it seems that the Russian government is trying to take pre-emptive measures to shut those protests down.

Prosecutor general`s office has asked a state media regulator to block access in Russia to YouTube videos and social media postings that have called for people to take o the streets again on Sunday.  I don`t speak Russian but these are reportedly scans of the letter the prosecutor`s office sent to the media regulator, asking them to block access to these videos and posts so people won`t know that they are being called on to go out and protest.

It`s unclear exactly who is behind what would be this weekend`s new round of protests.  The guy who was behind the last ones, the anti-corruption opposition leader, presidential candidate Alexei Navalny, he was arrested last week at the start of protest.  He was given a 15-day prison sentence, so he`s still in jail now.  No word yet on whether they`re going to try to stretch out his 15-day sentence for longer than that.

But in addition to him being in jail tonight, basically everybody who works for him also got put in jail.  More than a dozen of his staffers of his anti-corruption group got arrested and put in jail.  They all to tonight are still in jail.  Their offices were apparently ransacked.  All their paperwork and computers were taken by the Russian police.

This is the sort of thing that would have lit up the U.S. State Department as recently as a few months ago.  But, so far in this case, the United States has released exactly one statement about Russia`s treatment of its citizens in this regard.  It was from the state department it came out in the middle of the night Russia time and there`s been nothing other than that.

Russian President Vladimir Putin now threatening a further crackdown on protests, threatening to make penalties for protesting even stronger.  Even with that brand new threat, there is no response from our White House crickets.  At that same public appearance, Vladimir Putin tried hard to downplay his connections with the Trump White House, saying, this guy Rex Tillerson everybody says I know him, I`ve only met him a couple times. 

He said, quote, "If Mr. Tillerson comes, I met with him several times before, two or three times.  We will be sure to discuss this issue if I meet him again."

Two or three times, really? 

Here are five times we can name when Vladimir Putin met with our now Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.  These are all from when Tillerson was ahead of Exxon, and that`s literally just from the first page of a Google Image search.  The oldest picture we found in our cursor research was from 2005.  That`s him all the way on the left, Rex there. 

Then there`s this lovely one from 2011 when Tillerson went to Putin`s summer home in Sochi to sign a gigantic oil deal.  The most recent one, almost the most memorable is this one from the summer of 2013 when Putin awarded Rex Tillerson the highest non-citizen honor anybody can get in Russia.  Putin pinned it on Rex Tillerson lapel, shook his hand, toasted him with champagne. 

See?  They`re buddies.  They go way back.

But as Russians plan to take to the streets if they dare this weekend, with the leading presidential candidate opposition figure still in jail and his organization having all its staffers jailed and having its papers torn apart and having its computers confiscated by the Russian government, that is the sort of thing that the U.S. used to rail against.  In this case, I think that Vladimir Putin knows there`s no threat that he`s going here from his old buddy Rex given many heat for at this time.

That does it for us tonight.

Now it`s time for a special edition of "THE LAST WORD", "March Madness," a look at this very chaotic month in the very young Trump presidency.

Good night.