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The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 5/2/17

Guests: Oren Dorell

KAREN FINNEY, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST:  I think that`s really important.  And I think looking at the record of the candidate is really important.  And, look, I think, quite frankly, I`m sure I`m going to get plenty of tweets about this, I do think that with Hillary, you know, we put out very detailed plans --

CHRIS HAYES, "ALL IN" HOST:  I`ve got to say, Karen --

FINNEY:  -- and how she`d pay for it and all that.  We thought that was important.  We thought that mattered.  And look now, people would sure love to know a lot more details about what Donald Trump would do.  So, I think that matters as well. 

HAYES:  Karen Finney and Josh Barro, thank you. 

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.

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

There`s a lot going on tonight.  We got some late-breaking news about former National Security Adviser Mike Flynn.  And the former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates who appears to have blown the whistle on him.  That story may dominate tomorrow`s news, particularly because FBI Director Jim Comey is going to be back on Capitol Hill testifying tomorrow in open session. 

Today, senators from the Intelligence Committee were bussed over to CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, to go look at classified information at CIA headquarters related to the Trump/Russia investigation.  The senators would not say what they looked at, of course, because it was classified but we did all get to see them get on the Scooby van and go over to Langley and their little -- it`s kind of cute.  It`s both stealth and adorable.  How I think of the Senate Intelligence Committee. 

So, that story, the Trump/Russia investigation, you should expect that`s going to get big again.  That may blow up again over the next 24 hours or so.  Particularly with that Comey testimony tomorrow and what`s breaking tonight on Flynn. 

So, we got the latest on that, including some absolutely hair-curling new reporting from "USA Today."  The reporter from the "USA Today" new scoop on that subject is with us tonight. 

In Washington, D.C., tonight, as we speak, the day`s news is not yet over.  We`re on proverbial political death watch yet again tonight for the Republicans` continued efforts to kill the Affordable Care Act. 

Starting this morning over the course of today into this evening, Republicans have been trying very hard to mount a third attempt at repealing Obamacare.  Now, they are not even trying to get any Democratic votes.  This is a 100 percent Republican effort in a Congress where they have Republican majorities in both houses of Congress.  But nevertheless, it is starting to look tonight like their "repeal the Affordable Care Act" effort is going to fail for a third straight time. 

It is not done yet, though, but it`s not looking good for them.  So, all eyes are on that continuing effort tonight in Congress.  An effort that, if it is successful, it will cause more than 20 million Americans to lose their health insurance.  They want to try to get a vote on it tomorrow.  They`re reportedly twisting arms tonight.  We`ve got eyes on Washington tonight, and we`ll have more on that ongoing story ahead this hour. 

But we`re going to start tonight with something that had you -- had you asked me this morning when I woke up what would be on tonight`s show, I never in a million years would have guessed this, but this is just something I want you to see.  I want you to experience this. 

I swear it`s real.  And I say that because for a big portion of the day, after I heard about this today, I thought it was a joke.  I thought it was a prank.  I did not believe it could have been real. 

But we have now confirmed that this is real.  This really happened.  We have the tape of it.  I think, ultimately, it`s amazing just to experience it in the moment but it`s also kind of an incredible snapshot of what`s really going on, nuts and bolts in American politics right now. 

American political reporting beltway media stuff tends to be really focused what people say they are doing.  And what people say to reporters and how people describe their own aims and intentions.  If you mute that and just watch what happens, you just watch what they do, sometimes you get a lot more insight into what they are capable of doing and what you should expect next.  And, boy, did we have a stark example of that today.  And it`s nothing that anybody said they were going to do. 

All right.  Here`s the story.  You know that on Friday, Congress reached the last-second deal to fund the federal government for a week.  To avoid a government shutdown on a minute after midnight on Friday night, which would have been the president`s 100th day in office. 

Then, over the weekend, they came up with a longer deal to keep the government funded until September.  Now, that is generally good news for everybody who doesn`t want the federal government to shut down. 

But that deal is a real thing.  It`s a specific thing.  And as people started reading through the details of that deal, it became clear that the Republicans in the Trump administration didn`t get the things they promised they were going to get out of that agreement.  And the Democrats pretty much got everything they were insisting on. 

We talked about this a little bit on the show last night.  Some of these details have now become widely known.  The Republicans did not kill the National Endowment for the Arts or the National Endowment for the Humanities or the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, even though they said they would. 

They did not slash the Environmental Protection Agency by 30 percent, even though they said they would.  EPA only gets a 1 percent cut. 

They did not kill federal funding for Planned Parenthood, even though they said they would kill federal funding for Planned Parenthood.  They did not kill funding for sanctuary cities even though they said they`d do that, too.  But they clearly, obviously, did not get any money to build a freaking wall between us and Mexico.  And on and on and on down the list -- exhaustively, actually, down the list. 

So, by the time we were on the air last night, talking about this development and funding the government, I think people broadly have started to figure out this first big legislation of the Trump era really, the first significant legislation this president will sign will be a checklist of what Democrats insisted on and none of the things the Trump administration said they were going to force the Democrats to go along with.  And it really is true, down the line, 100 percent.  The only thing the Trump administration got part of that they wanted was increased military spending.  And the Democrats weren`t opposed to that. 

So, this is a difficult thing from a political perspective, if you think about it from the -- through the eyes of the Trump administration, right?  After the 100 days benchmark, with all the media attention, all the political attention on that, all the attention the administration itself put on that benchmark.  By the 100 days benchmark by which the new president had passed zero major legislation, they pass this 100 days benchmark and then head into the next week and you know finally what they do get?  They do get some consequential legislation for the first time.  They do finally get something for the president to sign, something major and it`s nothing that they wanted, right? 

That is not the kind of press they want right now.  And at this point, it`s -- the deal is done.  And the next government shutdown will happen on Friday if they don`t come up with a new deal.  I mean, at this point, it`s pretty much too late to change the deal. 

So, what they decided today was that they wanted to change the press about the deal.  They can`t change the deal.  Let`s just change the way people are spinning this.  Let`s try to make ourselves sound better when it comes to this deal. 

I know we have to -- let`s sell this deal better.  And that`s where the tape comes in. 

So, today, the administration decided they needed to change the spin.  And they needed to change the story here, change the headlines, get some good press.  And so, they convened a big conference call with the Trump administration`s new budget chief.  It`s him on this conference call with a whole bunch of experienced, top tier national reporters. 

The whole idea was to change the spin.  Make it look more like a win for them.  And it started off normal.  This is what it sounded like before things went wrong. 


MICK MULVANEY, OMB DIRECTOR:  I said yesterday in a briefing here in Washington that, you know, the Dems were trying to take credit for a win.  That`s fine.  That`s understandable.  I think in the last 24 hours, though, we`ve seen them try and take it some place that it is simply not sustainable, which is that they won and that we lost. 


MADDOW:  That`s how the conference call began.  You can hear as people joining the call or at that point, the way those tones go, those are people signing in.  Those are people joining, getting on the call. 

At that point, like that`s what you expect that call to be like.  Don`t believe these Democrats when they say they won anything here.  Now, we`re going to explain our own new spin on this about how we won this.  So, that`s how the call started.

But then it took a very dramatic turn.  Started off normal, like you just heard, but then this is what happened in real time.  This is how reporters all over the country experienced the rest of the call as it was happening.  Just listen.


WAPO REPORTER:  This morning, the president on Twitter called for a government shutdown in September to try to fix this mess.  Can you please address those comments?  Do you think a shutdown will be necessary later this year to get the budget system fixed? 

MULVANEY:  Well, again, right now, I`m not worried about September.  I`m worried about this deal that`s in front of us.  But I think the president`s tweet was we might need a shutdown at some point to drive home the point that Washington needs to be fixed.  I think that`s a defensible position, one we`ll deal with in September. 

The truth of the matter though is, now, as we`ve averted a government shutdown in a way that allows the president to fund his priorities. 


MULVANEY:  By the way, for those of you who put us back on hold, if you could mute your phones, that would be great.  I enjoy the classical music, I do. 

All right.  Hold on a second.  Is there a way to -- who would like to ask a question?  This is going to be a disaster. 

DOUG OBEY:  Doug Obey with Inside EPA.  I just wanted to ask, you mentioned that the Democrats didn`t get renewable energy subsidies.  What do you -- which subsidies are we talking about here? 

MULVANEY:  They could ask for new subsidy (AUDIO GAP) 

OBEY:  Hello? 


OBEY:  You`re breaking up.  Hello? 

REPORTER:  Is there another question here from "A.P."?  Is anyone still there? 

OBEY:  Yes, the audio is breaking up. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  This is unbelievable! 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  The phone is muted? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Is there anybody left there? 


MADDOW:  The person just screamed, this is unbelievable. 


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  The system is not working very well. 



MADDOW:  Is the music changing? 





UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Your conference is ending now as requested by the host.  Please hang up. 


MADDOW:  And that`s the end of it.  That`s how it ends.  As requested by your host, your conference call is ending now.  Click.  Like the most mercifully please hang up in politics ever.

The amazing thing was like the three different versions of the song, like each of them louder.  We did not adjust the volume of that at all.  All we did was put the subtitles up so you could hear people laughing and screaming.  This is incredible!  And all of the things they were saying. 

But that volume was how people experienced it.  That was what the White House did today.  That was the Trump administration today.  This was the White House. 

This was the president of the United States of America using all the powers of the federal government to try to re-spin the disastrously bad press they`re getting about the first significant legislation that the new president will sign.  And that`s the budget director on the phone with all those reporters when that happened.  You can imagine the Trump imagine director being like, this is not what I signed up for.  This is not what they told me to expect. 

Is this background music coming from us? 

So after starting the day with that, which really happened, they then decided to take a second crack at it.  They decided to give the budget guy a second chance to try to re-spin this story.  This time, no calls, no technology.  We`ll do it live. 

They put him at the podium, at the regular press briefing, where they gave him pictures to illustrate the border wall he insisted will get built, even though the president didn`t get the money from Congress and while he pointed at them, the pictures disappeared while he was talking about them.  No, you can`t even do pictures!  Oh, they`re there are back again. 

So, this was at the regular press briefing today.  This is our second crack at it for the administration.  And then look how that briefing ended. 


REPORTER:  Will you guys just e-mail where that wall is from so we can identify a location? 


REPORTER:  Sean.  Sean, come on, Sean. 

REPORTER:  What about the Putin call? 

REPORTER:  Where did Sean go? 


UNIDENTIFEID FEMALE:  Just sit.  No one leave.  Sit and wait.  Let`s see.  Sit and wait.  Let`s see. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  He said he`s not coming back. 

REPORTER:  He`s not coming back? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Not coming back. 



MADDOW:  No, he`ll come back.  Let`s sit here and wait. 

What about the Putin call?  Let`s sit here and wait.  April Ryan is like, you guys, let`s sit here and wait.  Peter Alexander is like, I just checked.  He`s not coming back.  That cannot be. 

This is the White House press -- this is what they`re doing at the White House press briefing?  He`s just getting up and walking out?  They convened a press briefing and now they`re not taking any questions and there will be no speaking?  Peter Alexander is like, yes, really, he just bailed.  He`s not coming. 

That was the White House today.  No questions.  No follow-ups.  Sit and wait all you want.  The new president is going to sign his first big thing since he`s president and we`re having a hard time talking about it. 

So, I just wanted you to see that.  There`s a lot to get to tonight.  There`s a lot going on in Washington.  But one thing -- one thing we -- one thing to know about today`s news is there is something wrong with the background music today.  This -- where is that coming from?  This did not work today.  You guys, come on.


MADDOW:  So, this has been an interesting pattern to see develop.  First one was Devin Nunes as the House Intelligence Committee closed in on a blockbuster public hearing that was going to feature the former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates, a hearing that was likely to focus on former National Security Adviser Mike Flynn and his contacts with the Russian government.  House Intelligence Committee Devin Nunes called off that next public hearing.  It still hasn`t been rescheduled and he simultaneously got himself kicked off that House intelligence investigation. 

So, he was first.  But then it happened again, as the House Oversight Committee, I think maybe unexpectedly stumbled into information about contacts between Mike Flynn and Russian officials.  Their questions about Flynn`s contacts with foreign governments and his payments from foreign governments led to revelations that the Pentagon had launched a new independent investigation into Flynn. 

As soon as that happens, House Oversight Chairman Chaffetz also decided that he, too, needed to get out of dodge.  Congressman Chaffetz first announced that he was going to quit Congress and then he said he needed to leave Congress immediately, yesterday for surgery on an old foot injury. 

Then on Friday, as that news was publicly announced about the Defense Department inspector general running its own investigation into Flynn`s ties with foreign governments, then it was a third guy, the attorney general of the United States, Jeff Sessions, saying that he, too, was bailing on anything -- any investigations related to Mike Flynn.  On Friday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that he will recuse himself specifically from anything involving Mike Flynn that comes up at the Department of Justice.  Nunes, Chaffetz, Sessions -- guys keep disappearing themselves from this investigation, particularly when it gets close to Mike Flynn. 

And now, we may be starting to see why.  This afternoon, members of the Senate Intelligence Committee boarded a Scooby van and went to CIA headquarters at Langley, Virginia.  They reviewed classified intelligence related to the Russia investigation.  Committee members were tight-lipped after returning to the Capitol because they were reviewing classified information. 

But we did get two sort of teasers from the top Democrat on the committee, Senator Mark Warner.  He said it was helpful to have the whole committee at that briefing at CIA headquarters because there`s a whole lot of information that cannot leave that building.  OK, we don`t know what that information is that cannot leave the building. 

But then Senator Warner also told reporters, quote, "You will be hearing from us shortly."  We don`t know what that means either but we`ll stay tuned. 

And this is about to heat up because tomorrow, FBI Director James Comey is going to testify before a different Senate committee in open session.  He`ll be testifying before the Judiciary Committee in the Senate tomorrow.  That hearing is scheduled for 10:00 a.m.  It`s an open hearing.  It is expected to get into the Trump/Russia investigation, at least as far as Director Comey will allow that. 

Then the following day, on Thursday, FBI Director James Comey and the NSA Director Mike Rogers will testify behind closed doors before the House Intelligence Committee, all specifically on the Russia investigation.  This will be the House Intelligence Committee`s first hearing since way back in March, March 20th, when Director Comey testified that the FBI is, in fact, conducting a counterintelligence investigation into Russia`s role attacking the 2016 election, as well as possible collusion with the Trump campaign. 

So, Comey is going to be testifying in open court tomorrow.  Comey and Rogers testifying behind closed doors on Thursday.  Those will both be a warm-up act for this coming Monday when former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates is due to testify before a Senate subcommittee.  She`ll be there along with former National Intelligence Director James Clapper. 

Now this is going to be the first time we`ve heard from Sally Yates.  Her first appearance on Capitol Hill since she was fired by the Trump administration in late January after she said she wouldn`t defend the Muslim ban in court.

The reason she`s going to be testifying has nothing to do with that.  As far as we know, the reason she`s going to be testifying is to talk about the warning that she gave the White House about then serving National Security Adviser Mike Flynn and his ties to foreign governments and his contacts, his communications with Russian government officials. 

Well, now today, we`re learning more about what to expect from Sally Yates and we`re getting a window into why everybody might be freaking out every time they get close to the Mike Flynn investigation.  CNN reports tonight that Sally Yates is prepared to testify that she gave a, quote, "forceful warning to the White House regarding then national security adviser Mike Flynn."

According to CNN`s report tonight, quote, "In a private meeting January 26th, Sally Yates told White House counsel Don McGahn that Mike Flynn was lying when he denied in public and private that he had discussed U.S. sanctions on Russia in conversations with Russian ambassador to the U.S.  Flynn`s misleading comments, Yates said, made him potentially vulnerable to being compromised by Russia.  That`s according to sources familiar with her version of events.  She expressed serious concerns to the White House counsel, making it clear that Flynn could be fired." 

Now, the reason this is a big deal is because this directly contradicts what the White House has been saying about Mike Flynn.  Directly contradicts the administration`s version of events surrounding Mike Flynn including White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer who has told reporters that Sally Yates simply gave the White House a friendly heads-up about Mike Flynn.  From CNN`s report, quote, "Yates is highly motivated to set the record straight about her warning regarding Flynn."

Now, we should note it wasn`t just Sean Spicer who tried this line that Sally Yates had done nothing more than give the White House a casual heads- up about Mike Flynn.  That wasn`t just Sean Spicer like mispronouncing Bashar al Assad.  This was something that the White House actually rolled out through multiple staff as their official explanation of what happened when they got warned by the acting attorney general about Mike Flynn and didn`t fire him for almost three days later. 

It wasn`t just Sean Spicer.  White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus also tried to say that when Sally Yates came to the White House, it was just a friendly heads-up. 


REINCE PRIEBUS, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF:  Look, here`s what happened.  Yates came in, gave a heads-up to the White House counsel.  White House counsel looked at the matter, the next day or the day after, the investigation was closed.  No longer going on. 

Then the issue shifted to whether or not something was done that was wrong.  The vice president was then looped in on this situation and we talked to the vice president about whether or not Michael Flynn was being honest or not.  The vice president knew that there was an FBI interview.  And then ultimately, we decided, after about ten days, bringing the vice president in, that we decided that he wasn`t being honest.  That`s a timeline.  It happened very quickly, Chris.

  CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS HOST:  But the vice president says he didn`t know for 14 days that he had been misled by Michael Flynn. 

PRIEBUS:  No, the vice president knew that he were -- what the vice president didn`t know, I believe, was that Sally Yates gave an initial heads-up to Don McGahn.  Some time after January 27th, it was -- our legal counsel got a heads-up from Sally Yates that something wasn`t adding up with his story.  And so then our legal department went into a review of the situation, and some time after that, when Sally Yates refused to do her job as attorney general, like two days later, we had to get rid of her. 


MADDOW:  She just gave us this little heads-up.  It was like, you guys, post-it note.  And then, like two days later, we had to get rid of her. 

So, the White House explanation about what happened with Mike Flynn, what did they know about Mike Flynn and his ties with the Russian government and his ties with foreign governments and his payments from foreign governments?  What did they know about that when they vetted him to be national security adviser? 

That has never made any sense in terms of why they took him on as national security adviser.  Their explanation for how they reacted to this news from the Department of Justice, playing down the warning that they got, saying that they responded to it very quickly, even though they kept him on for another three weeks after this warning.  The explanation that Mike Flynn had no idea that -- excuse me, that Mike Pence had no idea Mike Flynn had any of these government ties, none of those things factually makes any sense. 

And Sally Yates is absolutely key to us all starting to get the real story and starting to make sense of it.  So, she`s due to testify on Monday.  This testimony from Comey tomorrow.  Testimony from Comey and Rogers behind closed doors on Thursday.  Sally Yates will testify on Monday.  We`re already getting reporting about what to expect from that. 

We`ve got Nunes bailing.  We`ve got Chaffetz bailing.  We`ve got Jeff Sessions bailing.  Everybody who gets near the Flynn investigation is bailing. 

So, this story is about to get bigger, not smaller.  Clearly, Mike Flynn is at the center of some bull`s-eye here.  But, you know what?  One last point here -- we`re also starting to see something else that`s interesting.  And that is how Republicans in Congress may be trying to bottle this up. 

The head of the Senate Judiciary Committee is Senator Chuck Grassley.  He has now sent kind of a shot across the bow at the FBI, ahead of James Comey`s testimony tomorrow before Grassley`s committee.  Grassley just sent a letter to the FBI director, casting doubt specifically on the dossier.  Remember the dossier, the Christopher Steel dossier about the Trump team`s connections to Russia? 

In this letter, he tries to undercut not just the dossier but tries to undercut the FBI for having ever relied on this dossier in the first place.  So, watch that line from Chuck Grassley and Senate Republicans as of tomorrow. 

We also just got this news from the top Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee today.  Senator Bob Corker now announcing that his committee will not pursue any sanctions against Russia for attacking our election.  Because why would they do a thing like that? 

I mean, you are starting to see not just some interesting new information come out about this investigation.  You are starting to see somewhat amazing Republican reaction to these investigations as they move forward.  Things are about to get really interesting in terms of this investigation, in terms of this story and in terms of how they`re going to cope with it in political terms as we learn more.

Watch this space.


MADDOW:  Some remarkable new reporting from "USA Today."  Did you see this story today? 

Just one of those things where I`m not sure I can improve on this.  Just should know this exists.  I`m going to read this lead.  Quote, "A former member of the Russian parliament is gunned down in broad daylight in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev.  A longtime Russian ambassador to the United Nations drops dead at work.  A Russian-backed commander in the breakaway Ukrainian province of Donetsk is blown up in an elevator.  A Russian media executive is found dead in his Washington, D.C., hotel room.

What do they have in common?  They`re among 38 prominent Russians, 36 men and two women who were victims of unsolved murders or suspicious deaths since just the beginning of 2014. 

The list contains 10 high-profile critics of Russian President Vladimir Putin, seven diplomats, six associates of Kremlin powerbrokers who had a falling out.  Two are possibly connected to a dossier alleging connections between President Trump`s campaign staff and Kremlin officials.  A dossier produced by a former British spy and shared with the FBI.

Twelve of these people were shot, stab or beaten to death.  Six were blown up.  Ten died allegedly of natural causes.  One died of mysterious head injuries.  One reportedly slipped and hit his head in a basketball bath.  One was hanged in his jail cell and one died after drinking coffee.  The cause of six deaths was reported as unknown."

This is a new report just out from "USA Today."  Headline as you can see here is "Mysterious rash of Russian deaths casts suspicion on Vladimir Putin."

Again, this list goes back to the beginning of 2014.  So, you know, it`s the last three years-plus.  The risk of being on the wrong side of Vladimir Putin is not a new risk that we have just become aware of in this country.  For example, Vladimir Kara-Murza who we had on this show on Friday night, he was first apparently poisoned in Russia in 2015.

But what is different now for us Americans, what is different now about this trail of dead Russians, as one Senate intelligence committee witness memorable put it recently is that now, Vladimir Putin`s government is accused by U.S. intelligence agencies of attacking our election last year to hurt Hillary Clinton`s chances and to swing the election to Donald Trump, and now, there is an open counterintelligence investigation at the FBI as to whether or not the Trump campaign cooperated in that Russian attack. 

And so, now, because of that, now, Putin`s trail of dead Russians isn`t just a story about him and his governance.  Now, it`s a backdrop to what we`re trying to learn about us and our governance.  It was the last open hearing on the Russian attack where expert witness Clint Watts advised investigators, advised congressional investigators of what they ought to do is follow the trail of dead Russians. 


CLINT WATTS, EXPERT WITNESS:  Follow the trail of dead Russians. 


MADDOW:  That`s struck everybody as maybe -- maybe being hyperbolic when he said it?  I don`t think he meant that as hyperbole.  I don`t know if congressional investigators literally took that advice, but "USA Today" did and what they found reads like the script for a horror movie. 

Joining us now is Oren Dorell.  He`s a foreign affairs reporter for "USA Today."  He is the author of this chilling article today. 

Mr. Dorell, congratulations on this reporting.  Thank you for being here. 

OREN DORELL, USA TODAY FOREIGN AFFAIRS REPORTER:  Thank you.  Thank you for having me. 

MADDOW:  Let me just ask, what was the genesis of this reporting and how did you go about compiling what is -- what is a very long list? 

DORELL:  I`ve been following this story of Russia and its involvement in Eastern Ukraine for a long time and also its involvement in the previous election of the United States.  But -- and I came across another reporter, Sarah Hurst, who is in the U.K., in Britain, who had been keeping tabs of suspicious deaths in Eastern Ukraine and in Russia basically since the Russian involvement in Ukraine began in 2014. 

And I came across this list that she compiled and she had been following media reports and media reports and Russian media and Western media and then checking some of these people looking at their social media sites.  Yes, social media sites.  And together, I kind of verified some of the work that she was doing, but we worked together and she compiled the list.  I kind of checked what she had and added a few details and together, we put this all together. 

MADDOW:  And you`re clear in the report that you`re not necessarily alleging that all 38 of these people were murdered deliberately by the Putin regime, but you have to decide what you consider to be a government- linked death or a death that counts as reasonably suspicious to be on this sort of a list.  What`s the line for you between that sort of reasonable suspicious for a specific death and what may just be coincidence or conspiracy theory? 

DORELL:  So, that`s a very good question.  And what really -- there are two factors that go into this.  One is what connection do these people have to the Kremlin and to people in power.  Do they have information?  Do they -- you know, one is looking at the victim or the person who died and what their connection is to the Kremlin.  A lot of these people are -- all of these people have information that people in the Kremlin would not want out. 

They`re diplomats.  They`re military leaders in Eastern Ukraine.  They`re people who either were involved in corruption as participants and got caught, or they`re people who were trying to expose corruption either as government officials or as reporters or activists.  Others are people who were somehow -- had information, some other information, you know, a couple of them are involved in this -- were alleged to be involved in -- connected to this Trump dossier which, obviously, is another type of information that people don`t want out. 

Another aspect of this was, you know, really looking at the history of Russia.  There`s a long history of -- unfortunately, of people being killed who are either enemies of Vladimir Putin or enemies of the Russian state and Soviet state before that.  The Soviets developed all kinds of chemicals and means of killing people that were almost untraceable. 

We have -- people have spoken to -- people who worked in this field for the Soviets, and they describe what they had.  And there have been people under the rule of Vladimir Putin who we know have been murdered. 

Alexander Litvinenko, the former KGB agent and FSB agent who defected to Britain was killed with plutonium 210.  It`s a radioactive substance that can only be made in a few places in the world, and one of those is in Russia.  And in order for that material to have made it to London where he was given that material, a decision, according to the British government, a decision would have had to have been made at the highest levels of the Russian government. 

So, there`s a long history.  We looked at people at the ways that people died.  A lot of them -- there are a lot of outright murders.  There are a few that, you know, are very suspicious.  There are a few who died of natural causes, but allegedly, but some of them are very -- were rather young.  So, you know, we don`t know which of these people are on the list were murdered, but we think -- we think it`s worth asking the question. 

MADDOW:  Yes, and what you`ve provided is, as I said, scary but essentially a reference list that I think a lot of people will use when they -- as people do further reporting on this story, not just in terms of the Russian government but in terms of this American connection as well. 

Oren Dorell, foreign affairs reporter for "USA Today" -- thank you for talking to us about this stuff.  It`s scary stuff to cover.  I really appreciate the work that you guys did and thanks for talking to us about it tonight. 

DORELL:  Thank you.

MADDOW:  Thanks.

I will say just to underscore Oren`s point there about people`s involvement in or exposing of corruption.  One of the things you find again and again and again as you start following the Russian side of this, that when there`s corruption, when there`s particularly large scale corruption, people who are exposed to that corruption from all different sides end up being in danger.  Not just people who make it publicly known, not just people who investigate it, but people who resist it, people who go along with it, people who profit from it, people who can tell tales about it.  Everybody who is touched by corruption ends up being in danger.  And in Russia, in the case of Russia, often that means mortal danger. 

All right.  Much more ahead tonight.  Stay with us.  


MADDOW:  Quick programming note.  Tonight, I`ll be on an excellent television show called "Late Night with Seth Meyers."  Two fair warnings.  One, I will still be wearing the same $20 blazer.  If you think it looks frumpy from the front, you should see it from the patented 34-degree side angle that happens on late night shows. 

Number two, there will be a belabored analogy involving "The Silence of the Lambs". 


MADDOW:  There`s never been a presidency, an administration that was this overtly hostile to the press.  But at the same time, there`s never been a president who was more addicted to the news about himself and who is more responsive to the news that he supposedly thinks is so worthless.  So, it is a weird tension.  I think it`s a dangerous time for the First Amendment and for the free press in this country.  At the same time, we`re oddly influential with the guy who wants to kill us. 

SETH MEYERS, COMEDIAN/TV HOST:  Yes, it`s a weird dance.  It`s like one of those movies where the serial killer is also clearly in love with the person who is trying to arrest him. 

MADDOW:  So you`re Clarice? 

MEYERS:  Yes. 


MEYERS:  The press is Clarice and he`s Lecter.  It`s like a cat and mouse game and, like he`s definitely going to kill some other people but maybe not me. 

MADDOW:  And he`s age inappropriate and you can`t figure out what she sees in him.  I know.

MEYERS:  Tell me about the lambs. 



MADDOW:  But if the press is Clarice, and the president is Hannibal Lecter, who is Buffalo Bill?  And when do we get the delicious claret. 

"Late Night with Seth Meyers" tonight is 12:35 a.m. Eastern.  But we`ve got more ahead tonight in the meantime.  Stay with us.


MADDOW:  In January 1950, President Truman`s secretary of state, Dean Acheson, made a mistake.  He was making remarks to the National Press Club and he described a defensive perimeter within the Pacific region in which the United States pledged to protect that defensive perimeter under all circumstances. 

He described that defensive perimeter in the Pacific region and he did not include Korea in that defensive perimeter.  Didn`t mention the Korean Peninsula.  And who knows if it was a connected event or not, but six months after those remarks by the secretary of state, North Korea invaded South Korea and the Korean war began.  Since then some scholars have pointed to Dean Acheson`s comments, his misstatement of what U.S. policy was at the time or at least his policy disconnect from his president, scholars have pointed to those remarks from Acheson as having played a factor in the start of the Korean War. 

Historians` assessments, at least some of them, when he misstated U.S. policy or he gave voice to his own mistaken interpretation of what he thought U.S. policy was -- well, maybe he green lit North Korea, maybe he somehow convinced North Korea that now would be an OK time for him to invade the South since now, the U.S. government was implying that the U.S. wouldn`t jump in in response if North Korea made that move. 

Now, whether that`s a fair assessment of Acheson and Truman and the start of the Korean War, there are now starting to be some parallel worries that that same type of communication disconnect, that same kind of American policy not all happening in one voice, that same type of concern may be at play again.  Those worries may be playing out with this new administration, over and over again. 

One example, just this past weekend, President Trump praising Kim Jong-un, calling him a smart cookie, saying he would be honored to meet with Kim Jong-un.  Meanwhile, if you look at the State Department website, they insist there that the United States and North Korea, quote, "do not have diplomatic relations."  The president, not just praising dictators, but saying things about those dictators that the State Department is shocked by or at the very least they`re not echoing at all.  There`s no united front in terms of what U.S. policy is. 

Take another recent example, Turkey.  In Turkey, they recently had referendum that very narrowly resulted in the president getting way more expansive power than usual.  It, essentially, dissolves parliamentary diplomacy and parliamentary democracy in Turkey.  State Department responded to that erosion of democratic principles with alarm, pointing out concerns by international monitoring groups about irregularities and uneven playing field in the referendum.  At the same time, though, President Trump got the Turkish president on the phone to congratulate him on his big win in that referendum. 

Then, this weekend, it happened again.  President Trump shocked everybody when he invited the Philippines president, Rodrigo Duterte.  President Trump this weekend invited him to the White House.  Rodrigo Duterte is somebody who human rights advocate say has led to the killing of thousands of people of his own citizens and extrajudicial murders and in his way of fighting the drug trade. 

Trump inviting him to the White House shocked everybody who knows anything about Duterte.  It appears, in fact, to have shocked the U.S. State Department and the National Security Council as well, who reportedly had no idea that the president was going to extend this invitation to the Philippine dictator who, himself, brags about killing drug suspects with his own hands. 

There`s lots of ways to look at this phenomenon, people starting to talk about it a lot on the news.  This is about more than president Trump personally, right?  More than just President Trump and his personality and his attraction to authoritarian dictators.  Perhaps more importantly, this is a question of looking at this.  There`s important question that you can get here from looking at this behavior historically, is this dangerous behavior the president is exhibiting as compared to past president.  What`s the risk when the president puts out a foreign policy and a relationship with a potentially dangerous foreign leader that has nothing at all to do with everything else that the U.S. government says about that same person in that same country. 

Historically speaking, is that a dangerous disconnect?

Joining us now is Michael Beschloss, NBC News presidential historian. 

Mr. Beschloss, it is great to have you with us tonight.  Thank you for being here. 


MADDOW:  Past administrations and past presidents have certainly been cozy with bad guys. 

BESCHLOSS:  They have. 

MADDOW:  Is President Trump`s behavior just a continuation of that or is there anything different compared to his predecessors. 

BESCHLOSS:  No, there`s something very different here, you know, look at the presidents of the 20th century and beyond.  Franklin Roosevelt talked about the four freedoms that we wanted to extend around the world.  John Kennedy and his inaugural talked about human rights that we wanted to make sure other countries had.

Donald Trump in his inaugural said, we do not seek to impose our way of life on other countries -- that was a big dangerous signal.  And there`s a direct arrow from that I think his calling up to congratulate those leaders that you were talking about in the Philippines and Turkey and perhaps had a meeting with Vladimir Putin this summer. 

MADDOW:  And, Michael, in terms of the disconnect between Trump and his own government, his own State Department, is that Acheson-Truman analogy the kind of the right place to look in terms of those potential dangers? 

BESCHLOSS:  I think it really is because other, you know, leaders around the world, including the ones we mentioned are looking at the American government and they`re trying to figure out what we`re really trying to convey.  If you`ve got the State Department saying we`re for human rights and then President Trump calls up the leader of Turkey and says congratulations on, essentially, restricting democracy, what does that tell you? 

MADDOW:  Michael Beschloss, NBC News presidential historian -- thank you, my friend.  Nice to see you. 

BESCHLOSS:  My pleasure.  Good to see you, Rachel.

MADDOW:  All right.  We`ll be right back.  Stay with us.


MADDOW:  "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL" is about to start, but I have to make a correction before I go.  Tonight, in reference to the great Jonathan Demme movie "Silence of the Lambs," I got my wine wrong.  I was thinking Clarice, and so I said claret.

But everybody knows that when you eat their liver, you eat it with some fava beans and a nice Chianti.  Chianti, not claret.  I made the wrong wine reference, I`m sorry, I`m terrible and I don`t know anything about wine.  Chianti, I`m sorry. 

All right.  That does it for us tonight.  We`ll see you again tomorrow.  Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL." 

Good evening, Lawrence.


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