Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: May 26, 2017 Guest: Adam Entous, Michael McFaul, Jim Himes, Ned Parker, Jill Wine- Banks
ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.
As you know from last night, Rachel is a bit under the weather. So, we`re giving her the night off.
But we begin with some brand-new blockbuster breaking news from "The Washington Post". First, a report on the bipartisan expansion of the scope of one of the inquiries into possible Trump campaign collusion with the Russian attack on our presidential election. The Senate Intel Committee has asked Trump`s political campaign to gather and produce all documents, e-mails and phone records going all the way back to when the campaign began in June 2015.
We want to note for you, this is a bipartisan request from the Republican chair and the Democrat ranking member of the committee. We`re going to tell you a bit more about this news breaking late tonight a little later in this show. In fact, I`m going to be able to talk to a member of the House Intel Committee about what comes next.
But our top story tonight is the even bigger story in "The Washington Post." The headline, "Russian ambassador told Moscow that Kushner wanted secret communications channel with Kremlin." We`re just going to read here for you the first few paragraphs of this reporting because it is quite remarkable.
Jared Kushner and Russia`s ambassador to Washington discussed the possibility of setting up a secret and secure communications channel between Trump`s transition team and the Kremlin using Russian diplomatic facilities in an apparent move to shield their pre-inauguration discussions from monitoring.
Reading from "The Post": Ambassador Sergey Kislyak reported to his superiors in Moscow that Kushner made the proposal in a meeting December 1st or 2nd at Trump Tower, according to intercepts of Russian communications reviewed by U.S. officials. This meeting also attended by Michael Flynn, Trump`s first national security adviser.
There`s a lot there. Let`s just pause on one staggering fact. Because we can tell you a lot of intelligence experts are pausing on it tonight. Kushner wanted a secret channel to this one particular country, Russia, and he wanted to rely on the Russians to provide the building and the mechanism for that secret plan.
For a businessman, he ought to know that would give the Russians a lot of leverage. They`d control the communications and any recordings made. But with great rewards come great risks, which is truly the kicker of this bizarre story out tonight.
Quote, Kislyak reportedly was taken aback by the suggestion of allowing an American to use Russian communications gear at its embassy or consulate, a proposal that would have carried security risks for Moscow as well as the Trump team.
There is thinking outside the box, and then there`s thinking outside planet Earth, which may explain the next piece of this story which, if you want a spoiler, is also not exactly good news for Jared Kushner.
Quote, People familiar with the matter say the FBI now considers that encounter, as well as another meeting that Kushner had with a Russian banker, to be of investigative interest.
Investigative interest. We will dig into what that means in a moment. We have one of the authors of this piece, reporter Adam Entous, here tonight.
But there`s also some context for this new development. Nine days before the inauguration, "The Post" also reported on a strange meeting that took place in the Seychelles, this remote islands in the Indian Ocean. Erik Prince, you may recall is the founder of Blackwater, allegedly was presenting himself as an unofficial envoy for President-elect Trump and he was there to meet with a Russian close to Putin. That meeting arranged by the United Arab Emirates, and the purpose was reportedly to establish, yes, a back channel line of communication between Trump and the Kremlin.
Now, to be clear, no one has confirmed if that alleged backchannel was ever formally and actually established. But the next clue came from ""Reuters"", this last week. You may remember a report that the Trump campaign had at least 18 undisclosed contacts with Russians during the last seven months of the presidential race, six of those previously undisclosed contacts were phone calls between this Russian ambassador you keep hearing about, Kislyak, and several Trump advisers, including Mike Flynn.
Reading from that report: Conversations between Flynn and Kislyak accelerated after the November 8th vote as the two discussed establishing a back channel for communications between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin that could bypass the U.S. national security bureaucracy which both sides considered hostile to improved relations.
So, throughout the final months of this campaign and then during this pivotal presidential transition, you have these repeated contacts between Trump campaign officials, Trump transition officials, and Russians with one goal being to arrange some kind of back channel communication with Moscow. As if the biggest priority at the time was simply being able to talk without career U.S. security officials being able to hear anything.
And as Rachel was reporting last night, there is also this new information that Jared Kushner is under scrutiny by the FBI in the Russia inquiry, including his meetings with the Russian ambassador and the head of a Russian bank. Kushner was, of course, at the time a top adviser to the president-elect.
Now, it`s not immediately obvious why those meetings in particular would be of such interest to investigators compared to, say, all these other contacts that were taking place earlier and during the campaign. But each of these stories is telling us something. And if you put it together with these new disclosures tonight, think about it. Mike Flynn, the guy who has been having these repeated contacts with the Russian ambassador, trying to set up a back channel line of communication.
And you have Jared Kushner, the president-elect`s top adviser and family member together in this meeting with the Russian ambassador at Trump Tower, suggesting to him that they take someone from the Trump team to secure communications facilities inside the Russian embassy for these secret discussions, which are all designed, according to these reports, with one goal and it can only be described as a weird goal -- to avoid American government ears.
This is a proposal that is so bizarre and some say brazen that the Russian ambassador himself was taken aback.
Now, we don`t know if this secret communications plan using Russian diplomatic facilities was actually put into place. We always want to remind you: Jared Kushner not currently reported to be the subject or the target of a criminal inquiry. He could be the focus of this inquiry because of what he knows, not anything he did.
But the questions obviously piling up as these investigations accelerate. Why did the Trump campaign and the transition go to such lengths to try to get into secret conversations with Russia? What was it they so clearly wanted to talk about with the Kremlin that they were proactively insisting they wanted a way to get other American officials not to find out about it and that they were willing to go to a Russian communications facility to discuss it?
Now, Jared Kushner, to be fair in all this, is a diplomatic and political novice. Maybe it was a ham-handed attempt at some kind of special diplomacy that he thought would work, something ignorant but no kind of criminal plot. Then again, you have Mike Flynn, three-star general, who literally ran an intelligence agency for the Pentagon. He surely knows better. And he reportedly was working on this back channel for quite a while before he even got into the room that December with Kislyak and Kushner.
We know one thing tonight. We know this is all weird, to say the least. Now, was it weird but uniform? Did it stretch across all of the Trump transition`s ham-handed approaches? For example, do we have reports of a back channel to Brazil or Canada? Or do we only at this hour have this report about a back channel to Russia?
Because if so, it seems investigators are going to ask the obvious question. Why Russia? The country known to have meddled in our election, known to be a geopolitical foe in so many ways to the United States. Why indeed?
Joining us now is Adam Entous, the national security reporter for "The Washington Post" who helped break this story.
Thank you for joining us on what I know is a busy night.
ADAM ENTOUS, THE WASHINGTON POST: Very good to be here, thank you.
MELBER: You write in "The Post" that this was first alerted to your team in mid-December awhile ago now through an anonymous letter. Without revealing obviously your sources and methods, what more can you tell us about that letter and how unusual is that?
ENTOUS: Yeah, it was frankly, talking about weird, we got this letter December 12th. And so, this is ten days after this meeting. And this -- the letter basically says that there was this meeting at Trump Tower, December 1st or December 2nd between Kislyak, Flynn, and Jared Kushner.
And then it described what was said in the meeting. That Kushner wanted to have a secret back channel, that the letter didn`t mention anything about using Russian facility or anything like that. And then the letter said that they wanted to -- they also discussed having a secret meeting in a third country, but it -- the letter says that Flynn was deemed too high- profile to do the trip.
So, just so you know what happened inside "The Washington Post" is that our editors, we had no reason to believe that this letter was authentic. We were not able to contact the writer of this letter. So, it just basically sat on our desk as we went about our reporting. It wasn`t until March, "The New Yorker" magazine reported this meeting, said that Kushner met with Kislyak in December in Trump Tower. The next day, "The New York Times" reported that Flynn had taken part in that meeting.
I called the White House and asked them, without telling them about our letter that we had, what was the date of the meeting? And they told me it was either December 1st or December 2nd, which matched the letter. Then basically over the course of recent days, after we had heard that the FBI was investigating Kushner, particularly over these December meetings, including the one on December 1st, December 2nd, our sources told us, basically a thing that was identical to what was in the letter, which is that in that meeting, Kushner had proposed to Kislyak the creation of a secret channel that would not be basically through the established means of communicating between the Russians and the Americans through government channels. It would be through other channels.
It doesn`t specify, like I said, that it would be at the facility. But in these sources revealed to us that in these intercepts of Kislyak after that meeting, he described being taken aback as you noted at this idea that Kushner had raised that maybe they could use Russian facilities to set up this communication.
MELBER: Was the letter handwritten or printed and where was it postmarked from?
ENTOUS: It was typed. I don`t remember -- I`m pretty sure it was a D.C. postmark. But I`d have to double-check the envelope.
MELBER: So just to understand, I really appreciate your breakdown of the meticulous reporting you`ve done. Are you basically saying that what you got originally was a kind of an unsourced item that you didn`t attach a ton of credibility to, and over the coming months, all these other pieces fell into place that made you think this letter was actually predominantly true?
ENTOUS: Yes. I mean, basically, frankly, as we were doing the reporting and you mention the Seychelles story. The reason we figured out the Seychelles meeting was in part because of that line in the letter that I was trying to figure out, was there a meeting in the third country?
Now, we all heard the story about the Prague -- so-called Prague meeting that took place, which was a lot earlier. And this letter referred to a meeting that they were discussing, holding a meeting, this is a meeting taking place December 1st, December 2nd, in which they discussed wanting to have a meeting in the future before the inauguration in a third country.
So, that`s what led me to pursuing this notion that there might be a meeting that took place, and again the letter specifically says Flynn was too high-profile to take this meeting so we figured it wasn`t Flynn but we weren`t sure. So, anyway, that led to the Erik Prince story.
And so, yes, in fact when I read that letter as I have been over the course of recent months, I realize how prescient it was. Like I said, we never figured out who wrote the letter. And, you know, we -- I`m going to withhold some details to try to protect that person.
ENTOUS: But I do think that letter basically spelled all this out. And what our sources told us is that there was signals intelligence separately, which was slightly different because it included obviously Kislyak being taken aback by the suggestion and the idea that Kushner wanted, for some reason that doesn`t really add up to me, wanted to use Russian facilities.
MELBER: Right. I think that`s such an important point to pause on. This, according to the reactions to your story already and our sources suggests this was a failure of the American standard of national security diplomacy, but also a failure of the Russian standard in their reaction.
I want to ask you the basic question, has any of your reporting uncovered an attempt to back channel any other country than Russia?
ENTOUS: Well, I mean, you know. There has been obviously some meetings that took place. You know, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi effectively snuck into New York around the mid-December 2016, about -- shortly after this -- about ten days after this meeting with Kislyak.
And that was also very much under the radar, wasn`t announced. In fact, U.S. officials only found out about the crown prince of Abu Dhabi coming to New York because his name appeared on the flight manifest in Abu Dhabi before his plane took off.
And so -- I don`t know, again, I don`t really quite understand the reason for the secrecy here with some of these engagements. Now, later, keep in mind, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi is the host for that meeting in the Seychelles that Erik Prince attends. Officials told us the meeting in New York, which did not take place at Trump tower, it took place at another location in New York this subject of having this meeting in the third country did not come up.
ENTOUS: But you know -- anyways, that remains to be fully reported out. But the -- certainly there have been -- there were other contacts that were not being publicly disclosed and which were for some reason being cloaked. Such as that UAE meeting that I just mentioned, in addition to the Kislyak communication.
MELBER: Right. As you say, some of that is now of, quote, investigative interest, because of the nature and the approach to it. There are scoops, and then there are scoops.
Adam Entous with a very serious scoop, national security reporter for "The Washington Post" -- thank you for your time tonight.
ENTOUS: Thank you.
MELBER: We turn to Michael McFaul, the former ambassador to Russia, probably the perfect U.S. source on this.
I wonder if we could start with the basics. On a scale of always to never, where does this proposal fit into your experience in U.S. diplomacy with Russia?
MICHAEL MCFAUL, FORMER AMBASSADOR TO RUSSIA: Never. I`ve never heard of anybody asking to come to our embassy from Russia to communicate with people back here in the United States, or vice versa. Again, you know, this reporting sounds very credible to me. And this team from "The Post" has done a fantastic job.
This is strange so, so many different levels, Ari. Let`s just start with the first one. I was also part of the Obama transition team in 2008, I was the Russia person. I then went to the National Security Council to do the Russia portfolio in 2009.
We never spoke to Ambassador Kislyak once during that period. I got to know him pretty well when I worked in the White House, that was my job. The very fact that they were meeting with him already raises my eyebrows, let alone the content which you have just been talking about the last few minutes.
MELBER: You`re saying the timeline, even in a normal environment, of using the transition period to sort of rush to meet with the Russian ambassador and in this case also a banker strikes you as odd?
MCFAUL: Very odd. I want to really underscore how extraordinary this is. We had one phone call between President-elect Obama and President Medvedev, a congratulatory call, and that was it. Medvedev actually came to the country, by the way, a whole bunch of Russians came for a G20 summit, and we chose deliberately not to meet with them because of the principle of one president at a time.
MCFAUL: Moreover, what is the rush? You know, January 21st, you have all those communications. What was the necessity of having this conversation? And, of course, why did it need to be in this confidential channel?
Obviously, I don`t know the answers, but those are very strange interactions between the transition team and the Russians. So, strange that Ambassador Kislyak himself found it to be strange, because of course I`m sure he`s never heard of an American wanting to come into the Russian embassy to communicate with the Kremlin in Moscow.
MELBER: Ambassador McFaul, this is not a movie. If it were a movie, it could be 1950 or 1850, if the key notifying piece of evidence on this story is a letter that was just sent. What do you make, given your experience about who would be in the position to both have that information that has now been corroborated on a number of levels as a reporter just outlined, and then basically decide for their own rationale to send that letter to the "Washington Post"?
MCFAUL: Well, transitions are pretty chaotic times. So, more people have exposure to these kinds of things than normal. But to write that letter, to send it the way they did, obviously, this person thinks that the world needed to know. And that is very consistent with a lot of the leaking that has happened subsequently.
Now, I want to say I am not a big fan of leakers. I think that is -- I took an oath of office not to give classified information. This obviously is before. This is not -- this is part of the transition. But what it says, if you have this kind of very sensitive information and you go to the extraordinary lengths to put it out there, it means that you`re really seriously concerned about the content of what else is going on here. I want to underscore it.
MELBER: I`m glad you mentioned that. I want to ask you that, Ambassador, final question. Obviously, neither of us can get in the mind of this anonymous person, but from your experience, you`re saying your interpretation is that this is more likely some sort of U.S. official or someone linked to U.S. diplomacy who leaked this because they thought it might constitute some kind of malfeasance?
MCFAUL: I -- like you, Ari, I don`t want to pretend I know what motivated people. But listening to the story now, it sounds really crazy.
And, by the way, you said it earlier. It could easily be that this is just a person, Mr. Kushner, that is just way over his head. He doesn`t understand diplomacy. He doesn`t understand intelligence. He knows nothing about the Russians. And this whole idea of a back channel when you`re about to move into the White House for goodness` sakes, you do a direct channel, you don`t need a back channel.
By the way, Mr. Gorkov is not the right channel, I know him. Why meeting with the head of the VEB Bank -- it just suggests naivete to me. That`s one explanation.
But the person that sent this letter, I think, thought that there was something more to it. I don`t want to jump to that conclusion because I don`t know that. But there`s a lot of questions that I think we now need to know the answers. We need to know from Mr. Kushner himself why he was going to these extraordinary lengths.
MELBER: Well, Ambassador McFaul, I know you to be a measured diplomat who uses words carefully. But I understand you to be speaking pretty starkly at least about the questions raised here in this story tonight. Thank you for joining us.
MCFAUL: Thanks for having me.
MELBER: Appreciate it.
Now, since we have come on the air tonight, there is more news, believe it or not, that has broken about Jared Kushner`s contact with the Russian ambassador and the reporter on that story will join us shortly. We`ll also be speaking tonight with a member of the House Intelligence Committee about all this, because it is a big news night. Stay with us.
MELBER: Welcome back.
We have more breaking news this Friday evening. The Russia inquiry widening on a bipartisan basis. And Jared Kushner making that very unusual proposal to the Kremlin during the transition. These are the kind of late- evening scoops that are giving newspaper reporters a pretty good name lately.
Both overtime reports we should note coming into "Washington Post" two minutes apart. The first landing at 7:01 p.m., Russian ambassador told Moscow Kushner wanted secret communications channel with Kremlin.
The headline may sound like a foreign government`s dream, a chance to privately work a presidential aide without the expertise of U.S. intelligence officials and has noted it was though reportedly Kushner`s idea. Ambassador Sergey Kislyak reporting to his superiors in Moscow that Kushner made the proposal during a meeting at Trump Tower, according to intercepts of Russian communications, reviewed by U.S. officials. Kislyak said Kushner suggested using Russian diplomatic facilities in the U.S. for the communications.
To the second scoop which landed at 7:03 p.m. The Senate Intelligence Committee has asked president Trump`s political organization to gather and produce all Russia-related documents, e-mails and phone records going back to his campaign`s launch in June 2015, according to two people briefed on the request.
So, the Senate investigation is widening beyond individual aides to the campaign`s paper trail. Now, is that bad for Trump that it widens to the larger campaign? And if you want to look at the politics that interplay with the oversight, why are Senate Republicans taking this position and why now?
Joining us is Congressman Jim Himes, a member of the House Intelligence Committee.
Thank you for joining me tonight.
First of all, I want to give you the opportunity to react to any of the breaking stories tonight.
REP. JIM HIMES (D-CT), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Well, Ari, like everybody else, I read "The Washington Post" story about an hour ago. And it purports to be based, amongst other things, on some signals, intercepts, signal intelligence. Obviously, I can`t confirm or deny anything related to that. That raises whole other issues around the fairly persistent leaks that we`re getting, if in fact those exist.
But if I take a big step back here, look, I can -- let`s remember where we are here. Number one, there is nothing inherently illegal with people speaking or even inappropriate with people speaking to Russians. If that was all this were, this whole thing were, that`s not illegal. It`s not necessarily inappropriate.
However, it is odd that this administration and the campaign had a long record, multiple news stories, multiple moments, where there was obfuscation or a failure to report contacts, which may or may not be important. OK, so that raises sort of your curiosity. And then again, I don`t know about the story and I certainly can`t comment on its veracity --
MELBER: Well, Congressman, let me -- Congressman, let me jump in. If I understand your logical reasoning here, you`re noting that some of this would be OK but some of it raises questions. Without asking you to confirm or deny the elements of "The Washington Post" story, because I understand the position you`re in on the Intelligence Committee, let me ask you, at a policy level, is there anything inappropriate about U.S. officials trying to apparently route around and hide conversations with any adversary from the men and women who are trained and deputized to do that work in our National Security Council and State Department?
HIMES: Yes, look, I was coming to that. That`s sort of the third level here. You know, not disclosing contacts which has been a pattern here, it raises a lot of questions. Then if there`s anything to the story, look, if it`s true that somebody did ask for some kind of private line, some kind of mode of communication that was secure that was unusual, boy, does that raise a whole bunch of questions.
And again, it`s not dispositive. It doesn`t mean that somebody obviously broke the law or acted inappropriately. It`s just really weird. And it emphasizes the need for the three investigations that are under way -- Senate, House, and FBI.
So, while the White House and the president are saying this is a big hoax and there`s nothing there, there is enough here with some very serious questions. And, Ari, remember, there could be a lot of different outcomes here. It may be that there was some illegal activity. The FBI, of course, will focus on that. It may not be. It may simply be that a transition team engaged one possible outcome, that the transition team engaged in some really weird behavior that raises all sorts of questions.
If that`s what our committee investigation produces, maybe the answer here is that we`ll come up with, you know, best practices and good protocols for how a transition should occur in ways that doesn`t cause confusion and questions to be raised.
MELBER: Congressman, I mean -- that`s restating it, right? The best practices seem to exist that involves the National Security Council not having the Russians handle the security of the conversations, which is again the possible outcome that was proposed in "The Post." So, I think the question really for Congress is what to you do if those so-called best practices aren`t being followed?
The other thing I want to ask you --
HIMES: But remember the purported contact took place prior to this administration, apparently, prior to this administration taking office. So, you`re in this weird world where you`re in a transition, and you`ve got people who are not practiced and perhaps not schooled in how we ordinarily do these things.
MELBER: Yes, point taken.
Final question to you on these investigations, the Senate now going to the wider Trump campaign. What is your view of that and how wide is your inquiry going to go? Should it involve the whole Trump campaign?
HIMES: Well, of course it should. I`m sort of surprised that this is a story. The question is, the question -- there`s a couple of questions before the investigation. One is, what was the nature of the Russian hack? How did it happen if and how did we respond?
You know, question number two, and, you know, Director Comey framed this when he acknowledged the investigation, which is are there any -- was there any coordination or any links? That obviously means that anybody that was associated with the campaign who did work with the campaign is of interest to these investigations. And we`re going to need to investigate to see whether any -- there was any sort of inappropriate contact here.
So, it doesn`t surprise me that the Senate or that the House would be looking at any unusual -- by the way, contacts with the Russians in a campaign are unusual in and of themselves. Not necessarily wrong, not necessarily illegal. But they certainly raise questions and we`re going to look at all of them.
MELBER: Congressman Jim Himes, thank you for joining us tonight. I appreciate it.
HIMES: Thanks, Ari.
MELBER: As mentioned, the reporter who broke another distinct non- "Washington Post" story tonight is currently racing to a studio, THE RACHEL MADDOW team has gotten ahold of him and he`s going to join us in a moment. Stay with us.
MELBER: Welcome back. I`m Ari Melber, in for Rachel Maddow.
We have another bombshell for you tonight. This one breaking over the wires from "Reuters". They are reporting the president`s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, had, quote, at least three previously undisclosed contacts with the Russian ambassador during and after the 2016 presidential campaign, according to seven current and former U.S. officials. And they`re reporting these contacts include two phone calls that happened between April and November of last year, 2016.
"Reuters" reporting this information about the two calls actually sheds further light on what we have been reporting all week. The FBI honing in on various people and what Rachel and Ken Dilanian were reporting, the scrutiny of Jared Kushner, his contacts, of course, now appear more extensive than what the Trump White House had acknowledged.
We want to tell you that an attorney for Kushner is telling "Reuters" that his client, her client, I should say, participated in thousands of calls in the time period and that Kushner has no recollection of the calls as described. The lawyer adding, they`ve asked "Reuters" for the exact dates of these alleged calls so they can look into them and respond, but they say they haven`t received that information yet.
The big news breaking from "Reuters" is the president`s son-in-law, yes, had even more undisclosed contacts with the Russian ambassador last year than previously acknowledged. And it comes at a time of a lot of other shoes dropping about these actions.
I`m pleased to say that Ned Parker is joining us. He is one of the "Reuters" reporters who broke this news and has been busy tonight. What more can you tell us about the story you just wrote?
NED PARKER, REUTERS REPORTER: Thanks for having us this evening. What we found was there were at least three contacts before and after the election starting in April 2016 between Jared Kushner and the Russian ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak, and these contacts focused on how to improve the Russian/U.S. relationship, particularly in the realm of economics and also finding ways to cooperate in fighting terrorism.
MELBER: Your organization, "Reuters", was as I was mentioning in our reporting earlier tonight really the first news organization to nail down that there was this discussion about a potential back channel, and now as you well know, other reporting has added some details to that.
What is your view basically of those new details from "The Post"? Do they match what you think you found or you don`t know yet?
PARKER: They do match, it matches what we found. I think what we`re looking at, the different papers, and I haven`t spoken with the reporters at "The Post," but based upon our own findings on the fact that former national security adviser Michael Flynn had been involved in initiating such talks with ambassador Kislyak after the election to create this back channel, we`ve now found as the "post" has that Jared Kushner was also involved in these discussions.
Our understanding is that these contacts were more than one.
MELBER: Let me ask you the basic question. Why Russia?
PARKER: Russia, at least according to -- from our reporting, was seen as a potential ally for people serving in the Trump campaign on the world stage, regarding fighting terrorism, in Syria, countering China, and also looking at ways to reset the U.S./Russian economic relationship. There was a belief that common ground could be found, a business-like approach to world affairs where Russia could be a partner. That`s how the Russians really pitched both Flynn and Kushner, according to our reporting, and the two and others in the Trump campaign entertained this avenue and the idea that Russia could be an ally.
And frankly, the Obama administration did this as well. What`s strange in the contacts that Kushner has had that our reporting has found, and Flynn, is they did not disclose them. There`s nothing illegal about the conversations. One could even argue it could be constructive. What`s troubling is that they`ve been kept secret.
PARKER: That`s the issue.
MELBER: Mr. Parker, you make such an important point, which is it`s certainly potentially legitimate for any administration to make its own efforts at different foreign policy. Whether you call that a reset, which we`ve seen in previous administrations, or President Obama who was looking to change the relations with Cuba.
But as you point out, there`s one piece that is odd, which is the secretive nature of this. The second is the off the books back channel idea. And then the third is the obvious thing, that even if these Trump aides were 100 percent confident that there was no actual collusion, a matter still under investigation, does any of your reporting find that they considered the appearance or what investigators might call the appearance of a conflict in doing all this in a rush when it was those questions hanging over meddling in the election?
PARKER: Last week, we reported there were 18 contacts before the election, between April and November, with Russian officials and Kremlin-linked individuals, including six calls between Ambassador Kislyak and Trump associates.
We`ve now shown that those contacts involve -- those calls involved both Flynn and Jared Kushner. There`s nothing necessarily wrong about these calls. What`s troubling, again, is the lack of transparency. We know that the discussions that took place with Ambassador Kislyak were about finding ways to improve the relationship between the two countries.
What is odd, according to former advisers to other presidential campaigns, is that these -- this many contacts, 18, during a campaign with different officials from another country, that are in about setting up a visit to that country or arranging speeches or meetings in that country, but simply about policy matters. Having 18, at least 18 contacts, this very well could be the tip of the iceberg, that is unusual, when the campaign is focusing on getting elected at home.
MELBER: Mr. Parker, I appreciate the way you put it. I`m saying this I know you`re not, when I hear you lay out the case like that it makes me say, what the heck were they talking about?
Ned Parker from "Reuters" -- thanks for coming on the show on such short notice.
PARKER: And more to come on this and other stories. Please stay with us.
MELBER: Welcome back.
We have been covering several stories breaking late this Friday evening. The widening of the Senate intelligence probe to include the entire Trump campaign and not just a handful of officials.
And new reports about the nature of the calls between Jared Kushner and Russian officials as well as what basically everyone from reporters to former diplomats have called the strange story of the request for a secret back channel communication. All of this building on, of course, what Rachel was reporting on last night and braving her feeling under the weather to do it, a story by Ken Dilanian from NBC News about Jared Kushner being under scrutiny by the FBI.
Joining me now is Ken Dilanian. He`s intelligence and national security reporter with our NBC News investigative unit.
Ken, your views on everything we are learning tonight?
KEN DILANIAN, NBC NEWS NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Well, Ari, I guess now we know a little bit more about why Jared Kushner is under FBI scrutiny, right? I mean, I`ve been speaking to intelligence officials tonight, current and former, who are flabbergasted by this story and are really calling it a game changer, this "Washington Post" story. Because this is the first time we`ve seen what looked like an active effort to conceal Russian contacts.
This isn`t just about forgetting about disclosing contacts on a security clearance form. If true, if this report is true, the allegation is that there was an active effort by Mr. Kushner to avoid detection by the U.S. intelligence community.
And one other thing that people are remarking about this story is that whoever leaked this story to the "Washington Post" was willing to disclose that the United States was monitoring the communications of the Russian ambassador back to Moscow. That`s really unusual. And it`s a damaging leak. There`s no doubt about it, because that ability to intercept those communications will go away now. The Russians know it exists.
But whoever leaked it was so disturbed by the conduct that they were willing to allow that interception ability to go away, Ari.
MELBER: So, you`re saying something different than what some of our guests have focused on thus far, that number one, intelligence sources are telling you the nature of the allegations in "The Post" report is a game changer regarding Kushner. Number two, the actual sources and methods which we hear about I think from administrations in both parties, what is at risk with too much leaking, that the sources and methods here showing that line back to the Kremlin, which is part of what makes this such a hot, interesting story, you`re saying is now really endangered by the decision to write the letter.
So, can you shed any light on who would have done it and why?
DILANIAN: Well, you know, we`ve seen a pattern of incredible and unusual leaks in this administration that we haven`t seen before. I mean, when you talk about transcripts of conversations or notes of conversations in the Oval Office, about conversations President Trump had with, for example, the Russian foreign minister in the case of that incident where he`s accused of leaking classified information by talking too much about an ISIS operation, or even think of a month or so ago where his angry phone call with the Australian prime minister was leaked.
I mean, these are incredible. And people -- so these are people very close to the center of power who are disclosing these conversations, some of them classified, to the news media. And it speaks to -- you know, we`re talking to some people, you know, close to the situation, we`re very disturbed by what they`re seeing from Donald Trump, Ari.
MELBER: Right, so briefly, the president has said there are more leaks and it`s bad and it`s against him. You`re saying there are more leaks, but it`s a direct response to how he and his aides are conducting themselves?
DILANIAN: Absolutely. He calls it the deep state. And some of these people think of themselves as patriotic Americans who are simply disturbed by what they`re saying.
Now in this case, there will be damage. You know, some of these other stories have been about signals intelligence and they`ve disclosed, for example, that the U.S. intercepts communications among Russians. That`s not really a secret, that`s not telling the Russians anything.
In this case, the Russians learn that we had their conversations with the ambassador back to Moscow. They might have assumed that in the past, now they know it. And that`s a damaging leak but whoever leaked it obviously thought it was more important to get the information out.
MELBER: And thought that, I should note in December when that "Washington Post" reporter recounted to us tonight that the letter first arrived. Thought that in December, was that a concern then before some other concerning information has come out, including your reporting this week.
Ken Dilanian, thanks for staying up late with us.
DILANIAN: Good to be with you, Ari. Thanks.
MELBER: Appreciate it.
Appreciate his time.
Now still ahead, someone who actually helped prosecute Watergate. We`re going to ask her what she makes of the drip, drip, drip and what it portends about these investigations. That`s next.
MELBER: Continuing tonight with the breaking news, which according to intercepts of Russian communications, the Russian ambassador said Jared Kushner wanted to set up secret communications for a back door channel to the Kremlin. Now in a minute, we`re going to bring on a guest who we think can help shed a lot of light on how these inquiries actually play out in real-time as the news reports continue to break.
But, first, we are going to go back in time to June 1974. The country in the throes of the Watergate investigation. The House Judiciary Committee had began its impeachment hearings led by Democrats and some Republicans in Nixon`s own party.
And much to the White House chagrin that week, a major book was dropping, "All the President`s Men" cataloguing reporting that had already shocked so much of the nation as Woodward and Bernstein were, of course, following the money.
A lot of things related to Watergate were coming out or about to come to a head, but President Nixon was not home.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: Getting your picture taken in front of the pyramids is as old as photography. And today, Mr. and Mrs. Nixon had their picture taken here at Giza, not far from Cairo. With them were their hosts, President and Mrs. Sadat, and with the great pyramids in the background, it made as nice a family album shot as anyone could want.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: A family album shot. Watergate? What Watergate? Let`s just get these pictures done.
Now, looking back, we do know Nixon was actually less than two months from the end of his presidency during that photo op. A man who did pride himself on foreign policy was out of town for the beginning of the end of the scandal that would end his career.
Currently, President Trump is on his first foreign trip, getting out of town and overseas, even as the investigations into his campaign ties with Russia unfold. In the week that he has been away, he has lawyered up, retaining personal counsel to represent him, Senate Democrats withholding votes against his nominee for a Treasury Department post because of the related Treasury delay in giving up documents about Russia.
Consider another major story this week as well. President Trump trying to pressure his intelligence director and NSA chief to publicly deny the existence of any existence of collusion into Russia.
And then, now this, the report that his son-in-law is under scrutiny in the FBI inquiry. Not the subject of the inquiry, as we have emphasized. But officials telling NBC he is believed to have significant and relevant information, some of which has been, of course, relevant to "The Washington Post" reports tonight that Kushner discussed attempts to set up a secret channel to the Russians.
And the "Wall Street Journal" reporting today that Donald Trump was consumed with discussion of all these Russia issues even while abroad on this trip.
So, a lot going on while the president is away. But do we expect this story to keep moving this fast? Is there anything that we can glean from history about the pacing of these inquiries, the media interplay between what the White House does and what Congress does or doesn`t do?
In other words, can we learn anything about what is coming next?
I`m very excited to say that we might be learning a little bit from Jill Wine-Banks, a former Watergate special prosecutor.
Thanks for joining tonight.
JILL WINE-BANKS, FORMER WATERGATE SPECIAL PROSECUTOR: Thank you, Ari.
MELBER: You look at the rate of these stories. You think back to Watergate, which many of our viewers obviously lived through. It is really fast their time? Are there parallels or distinctions? And how much does that have to do with the underlying conduct versus in your view the media environment?
WINE-BANKS: The biggest difference is the existence of social media and the Internet. So the news is spreading much faster and is available to everyone who reads to understand what is going on.
Let me just say as a trial lawyer, this is either your best dream or your worst nightmare, depending on who you represent.
WINE-BANKS: Clearly, if you`re representing the Trump people, this is a nightmare. Because the news is coming so fast that`s it hard to keep up with. And it is an accumulation of evidence that could end up being the smoking gun that the June 23rd tape was in Watergate.
The drip, drip, drip that we`re seeing is the worst way to approach handling a case. Its first thing you learns a law student is if you have bad news, get it all out at once. Don`t conceal it, yes.
MELBER: You mention the June tape, which of course is what put audio evidence linking directly to the president, to the Oval Office, to cover- up, that was something that you learned about when and how much did you learn from your investigation versus how much did you learn from those press reports?
WINE-BANKS: The press reports were important early on. And Woodward and Bernstein served a great value to the American public in keeping the attention of the public and therefore the politicians and investigating. But it was really through the subpoenas and the courts upholding our rights to the subpoenas and the president finally agreeing to give us the tapes that led to the down come.
And these particularly the tape we`re referring to as the smoking gun is where Haldeman and Nixon are talking about using the CIA to stop the FBI from following the chain of money which would have led to the investigators finding that the burglars had been acting at the behest of the committee to reelect the president. And it was clear evidence that could not be avoided. And I`m just wondering where now we are in terms of what things will be, where is that smoking gun?
MELBER: And is there a smoking gun? Because there may be more than one theory. It`s going go so far, it look, faster.
Jill Wine-Banks, former Watergate special prosecutor -- thank you for your time tonight.
WINE-BANKS: Thank you.
MELBER: I really appreciate it.
That does it for our show tonight. Rachel will be back next week. And if you`re interested, you can always catch my show, "THE POINT," which airs Sunday evenings on MSNBC from 5:00 to 7:00 Eastern.
I`m very happy now to tell you, now it is time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL."
Good evening, Lawrence.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END