RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Honestly, if that`s the guy at the end of the bar talking, the other thing to know about that is that that`s a bad bar.
CHRIS HAYES, "ALL IN" HOST: Well, that`s a bad bar that also has nuclear code. So, it`s bad in a lot of different ways, I think.
MADDOW: Yes. So, I`m just saying. Like there are good bars and there are bad bars.
HAYES: That`s true.
MADDOW: If that`s the dude at your bar, get a better bar.
HAYES: Go to a different bar.
MADDOW: Exactly, agree. Thank you, Chris.
HAYES: Good drinking advice from Rachel Maddow tonight.
MADDOW: Thank you, my friend.
And thanks at home for joining us this hour.
I`m going to show you a taped -- a little piece of tape that I find funny. It`s not funny, but I will admit that I find it funny.
On March 31st, they did that thing in the Oval Office that they`ve gotten pretty good at now. They had the executive orders and they`re big leather folders like menus. They had them laid out. The president had his presidential ceremonial pens, the ones the president sometimes has trouble with the caps on. They had them laid out. They had the relevant stakeholders and public officials standing by. They had a little podium set up where the president could make remarks ahead of time.
You know, that when they do executive orders, you don`t have to do them in this ornate stage way, but they do. And they do it in this stage way because they want reporters and photographers to be there to witness these signings.
And the problem with that system is that sometimes those reporters ask questions even when you don`t want them to, and there is now -- I think we now have good evidence, there`s one category of question that basically works like freeze tag on this president. You ask him about this one thing is tag and he freezes, he forgets what he`s doing and in this case, the whole point of the photo-op just falls apart, he just left the room.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you very much.
REPORTER: Mr. President, today with your tweet were you trying to tell the justice department to grant immunity to Michael Flynn? Were you trying to do that, Mr. President? Was that your intention, Mr. President, sir? Mr. President, was that your intention, Mr. President? Was that your intention, sir?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you, guys.
REPORTER 1: So, he didn`t sign them?
REPORTER 2: He did not sign them.
REPORTER 3: He did not sign them, right?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: The little menus with the executive orders still sitting there in the desk, Mike Pence`s like, I have to go get them, follow the president out, we`re really not going to sign me, sir, no, we`ll just do it.
That happened in March 31st, right after Mike Flynn asked for immunity in exchange for his testimony and the Trump Russia affair. The president was doing a photo-op to signed two executive orders in front of reporters, with those, you know, stakeholders standing nearby while he did the signing. But he got asked about Mike Flynn, and that apparently was it, OK, forget it, no signing, this thing is over.
And so, Mike Pence has to go back and get the executive orders off the desk and he really does bring them to that other room where presumably the president signed them later. I checked on the White House website today. They do say he signed those eventually just not when he was supposed to. That was March 31st.
Today, that same game of freeze tag got played again in the Oval Office, again at a signing ceremony with the executive orders and little menus and everything, at least this time though he had already signed the things in the menus before somebody said the magic words that froze him like a stone.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: Any regrets about Michael Flynn?
TRUMP: Thank you very much.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: If you want to turn this president to stone, ask him about Mike Flynn.
And this particular game of free stack does not just afflict the president, and it`s also in a sort of different way, but I think it`s the same affliction for this congressman, Republican chairman of the House Intel Committee, Congressman Devin Nunez.
As chair of the intelligence committee investigating the Russian attack on the U.S. election last year and whether the Trump campaign was involved in it, the intelligence committee under Devin Nunez held one blockbuster public hearing and after that first blockbuster public hearing, they had a second one scheduled for the following week. Their second public hearing was due to include public testimony from Sally Yates from the woman who had been the acting attorney general in the first days of the Trump administration before Trump fired her for refusing to defend his Muslim ban in the courts.
But Sally Yates was not due to testify before the Intelligence Committee about getting fired about the Muslim ban. She was due to testify about Michael Flynn, everybody turned to stone.
There was very intense interest about what Sally Yates would say about Mike Flynn, because she appears to have had a key role in the process that eventually led to him being fired as national security adviser but the sequence of events that led up to that firing, particularly with regard to Sally Yates` involvement in it, that sequence of events really is insane, and still totally unexplained. And she is one of the only people who might be able to shed some light on it other than the top people at the White House, who so far aren`t talking about it.
I mean, just think about how that`s stacked up. In the transition, right after the election but before the inauguration, we now know that Mike Flynn had fairly extensive discussions with Russian officials including repeated discussions with them about U.S. sanctions, sanctions on Russia, Russia obviously wants sanctions against them lifted, some of the sanctions that are on them are on them because of their attack on our election. So, this is very sensitive thing from my claim to be talking to them about. But we know we have those conversations during the transition.
That said, he denied that he was having those conversations at that time and the White House was denying it on his behalf as well.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What I can confirm having spoken him about it is that those conversations that happen to occur around the time that the United States took action to expel diplomats had nothing whatsoever to do with those sanctions.
INTERVIEWER: But that still leaves open the possibility that there might have been other conversations about the sanctions --
PENCE: Yes, I don`t believe there were more conversations --
INTERVIEWER: OK, OK, only one.
PENCE: I can confirm that those elements were not part of that discussion.
SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: So, there`s been one call. I talked to General Flynn about this again last night, one call talks about four subjects. One was the loss of life that occurred in a plane crash that took their military choir. Two, was Christmas and holiday greetings. Three was to facility or to talk about a conference in Syria on ISIS. And four was to set up a -- to talk about after the inauguration setting up a call between President Putin and President Trump.
REPORTER: Any other conversations between General Flynn and Russian members of government?
SPICER: Not that I`m aware of.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: White House spokesman that was January 23rd. It`s his first briefing, two days after the swearing in, right? He`s saying we`ve talked to Flynn about this, definitely no sanctions talk. I`ve talked to General Flynn about this. He told me what he`s talking about he`s not talking to them about sanctions. He has explained to us exactly what all his conversations were with the Russians about -- definitely nothing about sanctions.
That was the 23rd. The next day the 24th, we now know General Flynn was interviewed by the FBI on this matter. He reportedly told the FBI what had by now become the administration`s public line on this subject, nope, definitely no discussions with the Russians about sanctions, didn`t talk to them about that at all.
That conversation between Flynn and FBI agents happen on January 24th -- incidentally, I should mention, it is a crime to lie to the FBI. If General Flynn in fact denied that he`d had any conversations with officials about sanctions when he had in fact had those conversations -- well, that would be a big deal.
And if he did tell them that he didn`t talk to the FBI -- that he didn`t talk to the Russians about sanctions, we also now know that if he tried to sell that to the FBI, the FBI would have known at that time that that was not true, because we now know that General Flynn`s actual conversations with the Russians were subject to FBI surveillance. So, they know what he was talking to them about.
And two days after he had his interview with the FBI where he reportedly lied to them about his contacts with the Russians and what he was saying to the Russians two days after that, this remarkable decision was made but like you know apex of the drama scene in the movie, where the acting Attorney General Sally Yates faced with this information about the national security adviser and what he`s saying and what she knows has actually happened thanks to that FBI surveillance, she makes this remarkable decision to go directly to the White House to warn them about their national security adviser.
Quoting from "The Washington Post" bombshell on this, quote, "The acting attorney general warned the Trump White House that the national security adviser was potentially vulnerable to Russian blackmail," because he had been lying about his contacts with the Russian government, and the Justice Department ad the FBI knew about it, they had proof.
So, she brings that bombshell to the White House. This is like flashing red light, bells and whistles, danger, Will Robinson, right? The national security adviser to the president might be getting blackmailed by the Russians because he`s having contacts with the Russians that he is lying about.
Has anything like that ever happened before in the history of the American presidency? Not that we know of. Huge deal.
How does the White House respond? They do not respond. At least as far as we can tell, no visible response.
I mean, that flashing red warning comes from the Department of Justice six days after the inauguration, January 26th. There is no visible response at all on the 26th or the 27th. On the 28th, we see Flynn in the Oval Office. That`s him sitting in on that disastrous call where Donald Trump yelled at and hung up on the prime minister of Australia.
Another time that day, there he was staring at the back of Donald Trump`s head while Donald Trump held another one of his signing statements photo ops where he holds up the little menu for everybody to see. This was before the mere mention of Michael Flynn`s name at an event like this could bring one of us things to a screeching halt. Three days after that, Flynn still there right next to Jared at the meeting of the cybersecurity experts in the White House.
Roll into February, Flynn is still there in the White House briefing room, putting Iran on notice. Remember that? What did that mean anyway? The days go by, no response. And there`s Mike Flynn at the National Prayer Breakfast.
Meanwhile, they fire Sally Yates. They fire the woman who had come up from the Justice Department to the White House to warn them directly about their national security advisor and him lying about his ties to a foreign government and the prospect of the Russians might be blackmailing him. They fire her, they keep Flynn. They keep him on and on and on and on and on.
Meanwhile, luckily, journalism continues on this subject. On the 8th of February, which is a couple weeks after Sally Yates had issued her warning to the White House, "The Washington Post" asks Flynn directly if he had discussed sanctions with the Russian government. Quote, "Asked in an interview whether he had ever done so, he twice said `No`." That`s the 8th of February.
Then the next day, the 9th of February, Flynn spokesmen issues a new statement saying, when Flynn said no yesterday what he actually meant was more like he can`t remember, might have done, might not have done.
By February 10th, the story -- that story blowing up in "The Washington Post", is getting to be not only serious about Flynn, but it`s starting to get seriously weird that the White House hasn`t commented on it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: Mr. President, what do you think of reports that General Flynn had conversations with the Russian about sanctions before you were sworn in?
TRUMP: I don`t know about it. I haven`t seen it. What report is that?
REPORTER: "The Washington Post" is reporting that he talked to the ambassador to Russia before you were inaugurated about sanctions maybe trying to --
TRUMP: I haven`t seen that, I`ll look at that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Haven`t seen that. The president says, I have seen that, I haven`t heard anything about that. What is it, Flynn, he had contacts with the Russians about sanctions, really?
Because he never heard of this before, he`ll look into it. That was February 10th. The president had been informed about this on January 26th. The White House has known about this a few days after the inauguration.
The acting attorney general had come to the White House and told them about this and there`s Trump more than two weeks later professing total ignorance, what`s this? I haven`t heard about this.
Three days after that, `The Washington Post" is finally able to report the apex drama of this. The trip from Sally Yates to the Justice Department back up to the White House with that blistering warning. They`re finally able to report that that meeting happened the whole thing gets so bizarre it can`t possibly stand and ultimately Michael Flynn resigns.
So, whenever you think about Michael Flynn, the behavior of the White House here is very strange, right? The vice president lied on TV. The White House spokesman lied in the briefing room. All according to them because of untrue information that was conveyed to them personally by Mike Flynn. The nature of those lives was such that the acting attorney general thought not the national security adviser might be susceptible to Russian blackmail which is not the kind of thing you let ride while that person is actively serving as national security adviser.
Informed of that though, the White House just, neh, sat on it for a few weeks.
So, you can imagine the questions, right? Sally Yates, Ms. Yates, thank you for being here. Do we have this story right? Is that really what happened? What can you tell us about what you convey to the White House? And how they responded?
So, the House Intelligence Committee gets into that, right? They have this hearing, they have this blockbuster hearing where James Comey and the FBI admits that, yes, there was an ongoing counterintelligence investigation into the president`s campaign as to whether or not it cooperated in the Russian attack on the United States last year. After that bombshell, we are next going to hear from Yates the next here in a few days is going to be the one that has Sally Yates at, and she`s not going to be there talking about why she got fired, she`s not going to be talking about the Muslim ban or the Department of Justice broadly. She is going to be talking about Michael Flynn.
And so now, freeze-tag now is Devin Nunes` time to become a pillar of salt. The day after the Comey hearing with the Sally Yates hearing scheduled to come up next, Devin Nunes apparently decides to it you know pull the ripcord eject, eject. I got to get out of this thing.
Famously, now, he pulls this stunt where he goes to the White House, he meets with one of his own former staffers who`s working there now, as well as a Mike Flynn protege who the White House insisted on keeping at the National Security Council even when the new national security adviser wanted to fire him. He meets with those guys, they provide him with something, documents, maybe, it was never totally clear that gamely tried to create some other unrelated scandal that is definitely not Mike Flynn.
And what was clear to everybody at the time was that Devin Nunes was behaving strangely, that he was explaining things in a way that didn`t make sense, that he was clearly trying to create a smokescreen. It was cartoonishly obvious that that`s what he was trying to do.
But two material things came out of that adventure. First of all, inexplicably, despite the fact that it had no ostensible connection to that stuff at all, the first thing that happened thereafter is that the Sally Yates hearing got canceled. Oh, good. That was weeks ago now. Sally Yates hearing canceled.
House Intelligence Committee says now they would still like to talk to her but they have not rescheduled the Sally Yates appearance to talk about Mike Flynn. The other material consequence of that Devon Nunes stunt is that Devin Nunes got himself kicked off that investigation. It didn`t lose his chairmanship, but he`s been kicked off anything related to Russia.
When they finally do that Sally Yates hearing, if they ever do it, Devon Nunes will not be in the room when she explains what she knows about Mike Flynn and how the White House responded when she told them the current sitting national security adviser is susceptible to blackmail by the Russians and lying about his contacts with them.
I mean, who would want to be the -- you know, Trump transition committee member Republican chairman of an Oversight Committee when the details of the Mike Flynn and the White House story come out? Would you like to be overseeing the committee at that time?
So, the name Mike Flynn has this remarkable effect on people? You want to see the president freeze to the point that he forgets what he`s doing, ask him a pointed question about Mike Flynn? You want to see the House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes freak out and get himself taken off the board in terms of this particular game? Well, get him closer to the real story about Mike Flynn.
But that Intelligence Committee investigation is not the only board on which that game is being played and that story is next.
MADDOW: Taking money from Russia is not the same thing as colluding with the Russian government in an attack on the United States. That said, taking money from Russia or from any foreign government is something you legally cannot do without specific permission to do it if you are a retired senior military officer of the United States Armed Forces. And on that very specific, almost tactical matter, the House Oversight Committee recently decided it would get into itself involved in that, in just that little part of the Trump-Russia investigation.
They decided, you know, that`s it. They`ll take this little piece of a Mike Flynn part of it just a piece a little morsel bite-sized don`t want to get into too much of this.
I mean, if you are Republican Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz and you are facing pressure like this billboard which went what`s up in his home district, I mean, you want to be seen to be doing something, right? You might want to find like a little adjunct part of this scandal that you could work on, right? You`d like to find a little piece of it you could bite off and chew and swallow easily so it looked like you had done something. You`ve done your part.
Well, it turns out this little piece of it ended up not being all that easy to chew and it is not going down well. The House Oversight Committee under Republican Chairman Jason Chaffetz and Democratic Congressman Elijah Cummings, they started an exchange of information and requests for documentation with various Pentagon agencies about this very specific issue, former National Security Adviser Mike Flynn having taken money from foreign governments.
From that exchange of letters and requests and information, we now know that this part of the story is probably going to get bigger and not smaller. First of all, we learned today that the Defense Department says he never asked for permission to take money from Russia or money from Turkey, which he now admits he did after registering retroactively as a foreign agent.
We now know that he was warned in writing that he needed to get advance permission. We also know from the Defense Intelligence Agency that he did not ask for that permission to take the foreign money. It`s just definitely and clearly something he needed to do and actually knew he needed to do. And we have learned that the Defense Department inspector general has opened up a whole new investigation into Mike Flynn on these matters.
And so, poor Jason Chaffetz, right? He thought this would be like an easy little thing to break off and look tough and nonpartisan about then it would be over. But looking into this turned up top stuff about Mike Flynn but turned up way bigger political problems for Jason Chaffetz.
And so, now, this guy this committee chairman this ambitious committee chairman who used to love being on television this guy who relishes this image he has created for himself as a hard, tough, super tenacious oversight guy now having built up that reputation planning to run for higher office on it for the rest of his life, now, he is having moments like this in his interviews.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: Do you think Michael Flynn broke the law?
REP. JASON CHAFFETZ (R), UTAH: It doesn`t appear as if he complied with the law.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Breaking the law is such a harsh language. He said not complying --- the law is still there for others to comply with, so it`s not broken.
In addition though to what they have turned up about Mike Flynn apparently hiding his income from foreign government, which is something he needed to get permission for, the Chaffetz committee has now stumbled onto a much, much bigger problem, a particularly big problem if you`re a Republican congressman who`s supposed to be doing this oversight.
The problem they have stumbled into is not about Mike Flynn. It`s about the White House. The White House stonewall -- and I will interject here just for a second to say that I believe the White House made a tactical error here in handling this scandal. I don`t think they are tactically dumb and I`m not sure why they made this error, maybe I will be proven wrong that this was not an error at all.
But if you`ve ever studied the history of American political scandal, you know that when you`re going to stonewall, you have to build the stone wall piece by piece, you don`t just start off by saying, no, you can have access to nothing. That`s way too alarming to people who are watching you supposedly try to be reasonable, right?
You`re supposed to start off looking accommodating, mature, reasonable about these matters and then you work up to your stonewall. So, you don`t set off people`s alarm bells right at the beginning.
But in this case, the White House decided when it comes to Mike Flynn -- turn to stone -- they would refuse to hand over any documents whatsoever about him. I mean, he was the national security adviser. He was fired because of lying about his foreign government contacts. He retroactively registered as a foreign agent after they fired him.
The White House was explicitly warned about him by the Justice Department weeks before the White House said anything about it let alone fired him. He now may be facing criminal liability potentially for lying to the FBI and/or for illegally taking foreign money without permission from the Defense Department to do so. Like this is not someone who they can brush off questions about, and say, it`s inappropriate that anybody would be asking about him or that they`d have to answer for anything related to this particular hire.
But the White House has decided to provide zero documents on Flynn, which now makes the White House as much the subject of this part of the scandal as Flynn himself.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D-MD), OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE RANKING MEMBER: Earlier this week, the White House refused, absolutely refused to produce even a single document, not a single document in response to the bipartisan document requests that I said with our Republican chairman, not one syllable. I watched Sean Spicer make all kinds of excuses and about how hard it would be to comply with our requests. Come on, man.
General Flynn served in his position for 24 days, so that excuse to the White House will not fly, and honestly, I do not understand why the White House is covering up for Michael Flynn, I don`t get it, after the president fired him lying.
So, the president pride of the lying about a communication with the Russian ambassador. They should be bending over backwards to help us. It does not make any sense and it makes the American people think the White House has something to hide.
There`s obviously a paper trail, ladies and gentlemen. There is a paper trail that the White House does not want our committee to follow. But let it be known that we will follow it. We will follow it with everything we`ve got.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Elijah Cummings is the top Democrat on the Oversight Committee. That was his reaction to the White House refusing to hand over any documentation whatsoever about Mike Flynn`s time in the White House before he was fired.
All the Democrats on that oversight committee followed up that blistering statement from Congressman Cummings today by sending a letter to their own chairman, to Jason Chaffetz, "Hey, Mr. Chairman, they are demanding that he not let this slide from the White House."
He has always seen himself as being such a tenacious oversight chairman. Well, the White House is saying, no, you can`t have any documents. The Democrats on the committee are now demanding of their own chairman that he at least not take that lying down, that he at least requests a meeting with the White House to press for those documents, which they are refusing to hand over.
And, Jason Chaffetz, faced with this kind of pressure -- Mike Flynn, and the White House stonewall part of the Mike Flynn story, Jason Chaffetz has decided to poof himself out of this story, bye.
Last week, he announced that he would not run for reelection. Since then, he`s been toying with potential dates for when he might leave Congress without saying anything conclusively since this Flynn stuff blew up and specifically since the White House announced but it wouldn`t produce a single document related to Mike Flynn Jason Chaffetz has since discovered, aww, a pre-existing condition, aww, my foot I had got to go right now.
He hurt his foot a long time ago and now he has announced on Instagram as of late last night that he`s leaving Congress immediately. He`s definitely leaving the oversight committee because he has to go take care of his foot urgently, and we wish him a speedy recovery.
The Mike Flynn story is one piece, only one piece of what we don`t understand about this White House and its connections to Russian officials and any potential connections between the Trump campaign in that Russian attack. The Mike Flynn story is only one part of it.
But one thing we now know to be true, one thing we can see with our own eyes is that anytime any high-ranking Republican with access to classified information gets close to the Mike Flynn part of this story, gets asked pointed questions about the Mike Flynn part of the story is potentially going to sit there in a committee room while more is discussed about the Mike Flynn part of the story -- they freeze like a deer in headlights, from the president on down.
That`s not a good sign. Watch this space.
MADDOW: I`m interrupting what I was planning on doing at this point in the show tonight, because I want to bring you this as breaking news tonight. I think this is important. Ostensibly, this should not have been a news- making event. The president did an Oval Office interview ahead of his 100th day in office with "Reuters" tonight, and "Reuters" has just gone to air with what the president said in a portion of that interview and this just -- this is the sort of thing that may have international consequences. Some of it is anodyne but, you know, it would be weird for anybody else sort of anodyne when it comes to Trump.
It`s about North Korea. Trump asked if he considered North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to be rational, said he was operating from the assumption that he is rational.
This is the quote from the president, quote, "He`s 27 years old. His father dies, took over a regime, so say what you want but that`s not easy, especially at that age. I`m not giving him credit or not giving him credit, I`m just saying that`s a very hard thing to do. As to whether or not he`s rational, I have no opinion on it. I hope he`s rational."
So, first remarks on whether or not the leader of North Korea is sane.
But then, there`s this. Apparently, "Reuters" asked him about the prospect of there being military conflict between the United States and North Korea, the president said, "We`d love to solve things diplomatically, but it`s very difficult."
And then he said this and this is the sort of thing that American presidents don`t typically say and this is why I`m interrupting our broadcast tonight to bring you this because it`s just -- this resonates -- and this has the potential to resonate in a very bad way. What the president apparently said to "Reuters" tonight is, quote, "There is a chance that we could end up having a major, major conflict with North Korea, absolutely."
North Korea`s whole public stance is that they are trying to defend themselves from military belligerents and impending attack from the United States. This will be construed by the North Koreans as the threat of an imminent military attack by the United States. I don`t -- I have no idea if that`s how the president meant it, but this is the kind of remark that a U.S. president doesn`t usually make about a sensitive situation like this. That`s what he just told "Reuters" tonight.
Again, quote, "There is a chance that we could end up having a major, major conflict with North Korea, absolutely."
Just spoken tonight. "Reuters" just posted it. We`ll be right.
MADDOW: After a few days of blistering reports about the Senate intelligence investigation into the Trump Russia story, thus far filing no document requests and issuing no subpoenas and then interviewing no key witnesses, not to mention the fact that they have not hired a single full- time staffer.
After days of the Senate Intelligence Committee getting hammered by those reports, now, new news on that front. The Senate Intelligence Committee has hired for its Trump Russia investigation a former top intelligence lawyer with 13 years experience at the National Security Agency. Excellent.
Her name is April F. Doss. She was reportedly hired by the ranking Democrat on the committee, Mark Warner, so that the Democrats on the committee added her to the staff. I should tell you that the Republicans on the committee, including the Republican chairman, so far, they say they see no need for any more staff. No need for any more bodies working on this thing.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. RICHARD BURR (R), NORTH CAROLINA: To date, we feel like we`ve got a sufficient amount of bodies to do the job. But if we find out that additional ones are needed, we`ll add them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: We`re fine, we`re fine, relax.
But the Democratic side of the committee did hire this new senior counsel. If you`re trying to figure out what kind of firepower she`s going to bring to this investigation, don`t know. Judging by her public record, she seems like she`s somebody who kind of takes no guff. Basing that on some of her public comments, in January for example, she told reporters that a Trump administration proposal to search your browser history and search her phone contact list if you wanted to enter the United States, she said that proposal, doing that everybody who comes into the U.S. would do more harm than good.
She said, quote, "There is no conceivable session in which all of the information from every person who wishes to enter the U.S. on a visa has anything to do with national security or lawfully authorized intelligence gathering activities." Quote, "To do that sort of collection on this scale would be quite detrimental to intelligence activities because you would get so much garbage that has nothing to do with anything."
Well, all right then. And now, she`s going to be special counsel to the Senate intelligence Trump-Russia investigation.
The only other thing I can tell you about her, according to a highly confidential source known as LinkedIn. According to LinkedIn, her middle initial F stands for Falcon. April Falcon Doss joined the Senate Russia investigation on May 1st.
I don`t know if that`s good news or just news. It definitely makes me want to name somebody Falcon from here on out. But now you know what I know about it. I will let you know if we learn any more. Meanwhile, the investigation in Congress continues to uncover more and strange and off plumb details. We learned today from documents turned off by the House Oversight Committee that former national security advisor, Mike Flynn, got warned by the Pentagon about taking payments from foreign governments without prior approval from the army. It then appears that he went ahead and took that money from foreign sources without getting the permission.
And now, as we learn more about what happened with Flynn, and we wonder more about how he ended up as national security adviser in the first place, now with the White House insisting that they will provide zero documents about him to the oversight committee that`s asking for them, not a single piece of paper in response to their questions about him, now, we`re on to a more serious line of questioning about this, right? I mean, the White House may just be embarrassed that they didn`t do a very good job vetting someone for such a high-level and sensitive national security position, given all these big red flags we now know about him. That`s kind of the best-case scenario, they`re embarrassed and they don`t want to show what they knew.
The worst case scenario, of course, is that they did know about the contacts with the Russians and him lying about the contacts with the Russians and the foreign payments and him lying about the foreign payments, they knew all that and that`s part of what they knew they were getting and that`s part of what they wanted. That`s, of course, the worst case scenario, but it`s hard for me to even understand the implications if that`s true.
Joining us now is Clinton Watts. He`s a former FBI special agent. He`s a cyber security expert who testified at the first public hearing of the Senate Intelligence Committee`s Trump-Russia investigation. He testified again today at the Senate Armed Services Committee on Russia and their cyber strategy.
Mr. Watts, I really appreciate your time tonight. Thank you for being here.
CLINT WATTS, FORMER FBI SPECIAL AGENT: Thanks for having me.
MADDOW: Let me just ask you about the Mike Flynn story, big picture. You`ve done a lot to I think educate people as to how Russia approached their attack on the U.S. election -- how they do their work, what they`re trying to get, how they think strategically on these matters.
How does the Flynn part of this story make sense in terms of the overall Russia situation?
WATTS: Well, the one issue that they could come to terms with and really match up with Flint on was fighting what Flynn would call radical Islam. Flynn saw them as an ideological partner and fighting jihadist, particularly in with regards to the Syrian conflict but also throughout the entire fight globally.
Where his downfall really comes from though is I think his vengeance, his revenge against the Obama administration which let him go against his will and Clinton being an extension of that. And so, he took all with such zeal this that he accepted money from a state propaganda outlet from Russia. He knew this would compromise him ultimately, so it`s bizarre that he wouldn`t declare it, take advice from the lawyers at the DOD and that he would then later try and hide these things, even filing the form saying that you`ve taken money from a foreign government just in the past couple months is admitting that you were trying to deceive before.
So, it`s puzzling why the guy who was in charge of counterintelligence for the entire military basically at one time a briefing that you get every day or every year, excuse me, that you`re in the military would do something like partner up or cozy with a foreign nation and receive money from them. That`s basic counter-intel 101.
MADDOW: And in terms of the counterintelligence aspect of this or I guess from a counterintelligence perspective, the reporting that we`ve got now and it won`t all be borne out until we get to the end of these investigations, but what appears to be the case about Mike Flynn is him not telling the truth about the number of contacts he had with the Russian government, him not telling the truth about what he was talking to Russian officials, about him not requesting permission to take money from foreign sources, him not disclosing foreign source income that he took from at least one, two, three, four different sources -- three of which were Russian and one of which appears to have been Turkish but may originally have been Russian in terms of the source of the funds, he was -- appears to have been deceitful about all of those things.
How does that factor into the sort of counterintelligence angle on this whole story?
WATTS: Well, what you`re always looking for are two things, lies of commission, which you`re actually committing the lie -- if you`re deliberately deceiving, and then lies of omission, those things that are left out mysteriously. And this is a repeated pattern for the Flynn investigation. You can go back over a year-long period and you can see this repeated pattern come up.
I know when I was in the military, General Flynn was a very respected person. But it seems whenever he kind of had his downfall at the DIA, some sort of anger took over with him I guess, and he started to have these judgment errors.
So, the question is, was he actually doing Russia`s bidding for them or was he just so vengeful against the Obama administration that let him go? And so, ideologically, in the fight against radical Islam that he would compromise himself and actually partner with another country that was trying to influence our election.
MADDOW: The Department of Defense inspector general now says that that office has opened up a new investigation into General Flynn. The oversight committee chairman appears to be driving at trying to recoup money from him, the money that he accepted without having prior permission to take it from foreign sources. But there is this other element of it that won`t be about repercussions for him. It`s about the questions that the White House has to answer.
Can I just ask your take, Clint, on the White House saying that they have no documentation about Mike Flynn`s time as the national security advisor designate, as the national security advisor, nothing about his vetting, nothing about his hiring and nothing about his firing that they are willing to turn over to Congress?
WATTS: I don`t think it`s so much about hiding things. I think it`s about incompetence. This administration has shown time and again that they partnered with people to win a campaign and they didn`t really know who they were getting into bed with.
This is perfect from the Russian perspective by the way about how you influence someone`s your position. You use useful idiots. You use agents of influence and you pair them around a person that would not necessarily vet or question who was saddling up to him.
Trump is a businessman and he takes on partners and lets them go based on success and failure. When he needs them, he`s their biggest champion. Then, when he doesn`t need them, he suddenly says that he doesn`t know them anymore.
And when you see someone like that, that makes him ripe for manipulation. Russia would salivate seeing something like this, because they can use several different avenues -- Carter Page, Paul Manafort, General Flynn, someone who`s ideologically aligned with them on terrorism -- to shape the president`s view, and this is what`s most dangerous about it is the White House probably isn`t aware, probably didn`t do any vetting, and the reason there`s no documents to turn over is because they never had any documents to begin with.
MADDOW: And you`re saying that lack of vetting itself is essentially creating a keyhole that the Russians can insert a key into and do what they want, that essentially opens a line of attack for them.
WATTS: I can`t imagine any other Republican candidate going into the election last year that would see General Flynn appear on the stage at an RT event and speak on RT, a state-sponsored outlet, would bring them inside their administration. It`s hard to even fathom.
MADDOW: Clinton Watts, former FBI special agent, cyber security expert, thank you very much for helping us to understand all this. You have an invaluable perspective on this, sir. Thank you.
WATTS: Thanks, Rachel.
MADDOW: All right. We have story tonight with cheerleaders and baton twirlers, also tens of millions of unaccounted for dollars. That`s next. Stay with us.
MADDOW: OK, we have a follow-up tonight on a story that we have been covering that you guys, our viewers, have had a huge response to. It`s funny been doing the show for a few years now, you never know what is going to like, like it`s like tap on somebody`s knee, that little triangle-shaped hammer like the doctor`s office, your leg goes like this. Like every once in a while we do a story and we don`t see it coming but we get a ton of feedback back from you guys.
This is one of those stories -- we`ve had a ton of feedback, a ton of questions about it. We have had requests for supplemental information about this story. Well, now, tonight, I do have some follow-up news to share with you on this.
It`s about the inexplicably oversubscribed fundraising for the inauguration this year. When newly elected Barack Obama brought in $53 million to pay for his inaugural in 2009, that was unprecedented fundraising. It blew everybody away.
But then you know what? That 2009 Obama inaugural, it did turn out to be the biggest inauguration ever, by a lot, biggest inauguration -- actually the biggest Washington, D.C. live events of any times ever. January 2009.
Then, eight years later, though, a numerically strange thing happened, because the next president`s inauguration, the one that happened this year in January. it was comparatively small, and I do not say that to be mean, but just as a matter of fact, as a numerical matter, as inaugurations ago, the inauguration this year was not all that well attended.
And that`s important because to pay for that smaller, relatively modest, not particularly star-studded inauguration that happened this year, the Trump folks nevertheless raised more than doubled the amount of money that Obama had raised eight years ago for his gigantic inauguration in 2009. Obama raised $53 million for the biggest inauguration ever, $53 million.
The Trump folks raised a hundred and seven million for their small inauguration. Why did they do that? Still not sure.
But we are starting to get some interesting pieces of the answer. Last week, the Trump inaugural committee filed its donor data for the inaugural with the FEC. It was over 500 pages long, with over 1,500 individual donors listed, and we reported here after that filing came out that one of the donors, a man who donated over $600,000 to the inaugural committee, his son ended up getting a private meeting with members of the National Security Council, so he could pitch them on his 10-point plan, his 10-point foreign policy plan for changing our relations with Venezuela and dropping U.S. sanctions on that country.
And that, of course, raised the question of how he got that meeting, right? I mean, whether the administration was effectively selling access to the National Security Council. And actually, he got a second meeting with Steve Bannon, too. Also selling foreign policy audiences with the president`s top staffers -- is the White House selling those things to their donors in exchange for donations to the inaugural committee which is mysteriously enormous?
That`s as far as we were able to report this story -- that story thus far. But since then, other people have been doing their own reporting on it including through something that started at "The Huffington Post" that`s called the Citizen Sleuth Project. Reporter Christina Willkie at "Huffington Post" has taken the lead of what is effectively a crowdsourcing effort and everyone pitch in and Google these guys efforts to trace all the donors, to trace the names, to trace the -- you know, LLC names, to trace all of the inexplicable initials associated with those 1,500 inauguration donors, to trace them and their donations.
And what they have found through their Citizens Sleuth effort basically is already a farce and a mess. I mean this is a legal document. This is an FEC filing. This is supposed to be for real.
But the folks in "Huffington Post" nevertheless found really, really big errors, really big, like comically big errors. For example, the Trump folks attributed a $25,000 donation to the inauguration to Katherine Johnson. Does that name ring a bell? Katherine Johnson?
Did you see the movie "Hidden Figures"? Katherine Johnson, the legendary Presidential Medal of Freedom-winning NASA mathematician played by Taraji P. Henson in "Hidden Figures". The Trump folks reported her as a $25,000 donor to the Trump inauguration.
And if -- you know, Katherine Johnson is sort of a generic name. Maybe they meant a different Katherine Johnson. No, they listed the address of Katharine Johnson as NASA headquarters. Just to make it really, really clear.
I have to tell you, Katherine Johnson of NASA did not make a $25,000 donation to Trump`s donation. But nevertheless, it`s in the filing. The Trump inaugural committee has now apologized for that.
But they`re also now saying that they`re going to go back and clean up the filing altogether. They have now told "Huffington Post," quote, "We plan to amend our report to reflect any changes that we have become aware of, including many of those donor records or technical glitches that we have recently become aware of."
So, that`s something. But the larger question still stands. Where is all the money? What`s this giant fund for? I mean, they did not spend all the money on this inaugural. If it cost $50 million to put on the largest and most attended and most elaborate inauguration in history in 2009, it did not cost double that to put on this inauguration, with the middle school cheerleaders and the baton twirlers and the marching bands and nobody in the parade stands and 3 Doors Down as the biggest headliner. It just didn`t.
So, what did they do with the money? Where is the money now?
And I`m not teeing up this question because I have some big cable news reveal of an answer to share with you. Really, nobody seems to know what happened to those tens of millions of dollars that they collected that went into the Trump Inaugural Committee for the inauguration that could not have been spent on the inauguration. Where is that money?
All we do know is enough to worry about the likely existence of a large multimillion-dollar unaccounted for slush fund that is attached loosely to the new White House. All we know is enough to keep sticking a pin in that on cable TV news until the White House either comes out and explains this, or Congress starts an investigation.
I mean, this would typically be the kind of thing that Congress would investigate. I am all for Citizen Sleuth at "The Huffington Post", those readers looking for this. I`m all for the mike.com which did the initial reporting on the meeting about the Venezuela ten-point plan, right? I`m all for us here on MSNBC tying these things together ourselves.
But even before we knew about the illegal and messy filings here, this is the kind of flashing red light follow the money thing for which once upon a time there would have been an official aggressive investigation. If we lose the expectation that stuff like this gets looked into, we will lose something important about what is decent and expected in our country and what counts as corruption. Watch this space.
That does it for us tonight. We will see you again tomorrow.
Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD" with the great Lawrence O`Donnell.
Good evening, Lawrence.
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