Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: June 30, 2017 Guest: Sherrilyn Ifill, Michael Isikoff
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Thanks for having me on, Chris. Have a great one yourself. I`ll see you next week.
Thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. Happy Friday. Keep your eyes open tonight and into the holiday weekend for what in this business we inartfully call a news dump. I know it sounds kind of gross. It`s supposed to sound kind of gross.
Friday night since time immemorial has always been a great time to release to the public information that you really do not want the public to pay attention to. And that`s, you know, for the obvious reason. On weekends, people are not as plugged. So, weekends in general have always been seen by politicians, public figures, corporations, as a very convenient repository for dumping embarrassing news or politically inconvenient news. That`s true of weekends in general. Holiday weekends, all the more so.
So I do hope you get some time off for the holiday weekend. I hope you enjoy your weekend in general. But just keep in mind, this is one of those times. Just sort of keep eyes open.
All politicians, all public figures to a certain extent have to manage the art of diverting people`s attention at times, changing the subject, creating deliberate distractions. And, you know, some politicians are better at it than others. But all good politicians have to be able to do it to a certain degree.
Our current president is very, very, very good at it. He doesn`t just have that skill like a normal politician. He has a peculiar nuclear version of it.
Let me explain what I mean. A normal political way, a normal politician`s way to change the subject, the way a normal politician does it is to stop talking about whatever that person finds inconvenient or unfavorable or uncomfortable. Stop talking about that thing that they don`t want to talk about. And instead start talking about something else and hope that you bring people along to this new topic that you`re happier to talk about.
A slightly advanced or more aggressive version of that for a normal politician is to try to not just start talking about a new thing, but to putt little spice on the new thing. Try to create a new controversy that`s unrelated to and far apart from this thing you don`t want to talk about. One even further advanced, even more aggressive way to do that is to maybe pick a new fight with some convenient enemy that has nothing to do with that thing you don`t want to talk about.
Normal politicians have an array of choices when it comes to distracting and changing the subject. It depends on the politician. It depends on the subject matter. But bottom line is basically you need to do something or say something that seems more interesting to people. It seems more interesting to the media than whatever it is you didn`t want to talk about in the first place. That is normal politician behavior. That is normal politician skill set.
What our new president does is different. What our new president does is really a special twist on that tradition there is a special ingredient that he is willing to cook with, that nobody else is.
And that is that he deliberately tries not just to distract, but to offend. He doesn`t just merely distract people, he disgusts people. He breaks the bounds of decency. Breaks the bounds of what people generally agree are the moral rules for engagement in public discourse, and he breaks those rules in a way that doesn`t just start a new narrative, it stops all normal politics and all normal media coverage of current events.
His specialty, what marks him out is really a different kind of cat is that he is very willing, happy even, deliberately trying to go past the merely controversial. He goes past provocative. He goes right to language. Right to public discourse and behavior that instead of just being controversial or provocative is considered abusive or even repulsive.
And I`m not saying this just to fling a bunch of negative adjectives at the president over his behavior. If you`ve been watching the show for some time, you know I don`t actually talk about him much at all.
The reason I`m talking about this is I think it`s actually important in terms of understanding his variety of political power. And therefore, our political time as a country right now, because the way he generates distraction, the way he changes the subject away from things he doesn`t want to talk about, it`s more than just a quantitative difference from what other politicians do.
What he does is really qualitatively different than normal politicians. Because the way he does it, what he does draws other people in to participate in his distraction almost whether they want to or not. Simply by also being public figures or also being politicians, or even just being people who have observed his repugnant behavior, there is among all sorts of people a natural inclination, a decent inclination to get involved in what he is doing, to participate in his distraction process. To not just witness it, but feel called to respond by virtue of the fact that you have witnessed it.
I mean, when somebody does something that is merely offensive, you decide if you`re offended or not. When somebody does something that is worse than that, that is repugnant and abusive, there is something that is good and decent and understandable in all of us that makes us not want to just have a feeling about it. It makes us want to express our opposition, to weigh in as being opposed to this vile thing, this vile behavior that we have seen from somebody in that kind of position.
With a normal politician`s normal political distraction, almost all of us will just observe it, right? We`re either distracted by it or we`re not. This guy`s strategy, though, it really is different. It`s to sort of tap on the glass of your moral compass. Is this thing on? To try to make you feel implicated by your silence, what you have witnessed what he did.
This guy`s strategy really is to be so upsetting, so reprehensible, so disruptive and insulting to the norms of what we agree to as Americans in public life that he draws everybody in to the response to what he has done. Everybody feels like you can`t just see it. You have to say something about it, in order to stand up for your own dignity.
And that then provides another round of attention. Because then there is this interesting story of how these strange bedfellows, all these usual competitors, all these people you would never usually with this president, they`re all weighing in on what he has done. They`re all weighing in on the president`s behavior and the president`s speech because they feel reasonably compelled to remark upon, to condemn whatever disgusting thing he has just done.
What he has perfected is a nuclear version of a conventional political tactic. It is conventional politics to distract. It is not conventional politics to disgust.
And the reason he does it, the reason he has mastered this as a tactic and uses this tactic over and over again in a way that we have really honestly never seen before from somebody at this level of American politics, the reason he can do it, the reason it makes sense for him to do it is because the thing he harms by behaving this way, the thing he harms by sneering at the boundaries of decency and then breaking those bounds with glee, what he hurts by doing that is something that doesn`t belong to him. The thing he damages is something he neither owns nor particularly values in the abstract at least. The thing he hurts is the presidency, and by extension the standing of the United States of America.
And if you`re a person who doesn`t really care about those things, someone who doesn`t think those things are all that valuable, someone who certainly doesn`t feel any responsibility for not only recognizing their value, but upholding their value with your own behavior, then why not let those things take the hit? Why not let those things absorb the costs? The presidency, the standing of the United States among nations.
If those costs are external to you, if those things aren`t yours, then those costs when you hurt them are external. And the rewards of your behavior that hurts them is internal. The rewards all accrue to you, right? The ability to create infinite distraction at will, the ability to lead the media and to lead much of the nation basically on a choke chain at will because you are willing to go beyond provocative and controversial to the point of disgust.
All the benefits of that accrue to him. The harm of it is to the country. And if you don`t care, it`s a win-win, right?
This president is a different kind of political animal because he doesn`t mind getting negative press. He doesn`t mind bad press. He also doesn`t mind any harm he does to the presidency by his behavior.
But I think there has been a fundamental sort of misunderstanding that you saw in the frustration of his opponents last year. His opponents in the presidential primary last year and his opponent in the general election last year, they were so frustrated and angry by his ability to command media attention. They really felt like -- in the Republican primary and in the general election, they really felt like they were never really able to even compete with him in terms of attention, in terms of screen time, in terms of face time with the American people.
And they were right about that. Because all of the other politicians who ran for president last year were kind of normal politicians, and they were playing therefore a different game than he was playing. Everybody else was for sure trying to get media attention. But everybody else other than him was trying to get good media attention. They were trying to get positive media attention for themselves and their ideas. He was not that picky. You`ve heard that phrase there is no such thing as bad press.
It`s mostly -- right? That`s mostly an axiom that people don`t go along with. There are some people in the world who do. And so, just think about the incentives here. Just think about how this works as political science.
Whether or not you`re interested in the personalities involved here and the individual people as humans, think about what this means for us as a country and how the political science of this works, how the incentives stack up. When the ability to shock and offend and now that he is president to harm the presidency and harm the country in the process is something that he takes as cost-free to him, we should expect him to do more of it.
Over the past two days, the president has been roundly -- roundly condemned by like 358 degrees of the 360 degrees of the circle of American politics. He has been robustly, thoroughly, blisteringly condemned and denounced and renounced by a country and particularly by a political class that is genuinely mortified by how he is behaving as president.
There is nothing to suggest that bothers him in the least. I think the way this goes down in his White House political playbook as a resoundingly effective stunt. Wow, look at how I turned the narrative around to this.
This is a tactic that worked very well for him. As a distraction, this was a home run. And given the incentives at work here, given the values of this person and the administration that we are dealing with now, I don`t know what the cure is to this. I don`t know what the defense is to this for us as a country. Because you can`t let it go, right? I mean maybe you can let it go and it`s a private person or an individual public figure. But when it`s the president of the United States, it`s a singular position. You can`t let it go.
What the president said yesterday about two of our colleagues here at MSNBC is absolutely worthy, worthy of shock and condemnation, which it has rightfully earned and which I share. And honestly, which everybody shares. And if it goes beyond what it appears to be and it reflects an underlying effort at extortion or coerce, that should be investigate as a potential criminal matter.
And on top of that, we also as a country have to decide exactly how much we`re going to play requests from him. Exactly how much we`re going to talk what he wants us to talk about. How much we`re going to behave the way he wants us to behave. How much we`re going to snap to attention, snap our attention to him when he commands it.
All politicians learn to distract. This metastasized version of distraction that he plays, though, is deliberately and I think we`ll realize in the end seriously harmful to the country and to the presidency specifically. That is the magic ingredient that he is willing to cook with that no other politician will.
And, again, no, I don`t know what the cure is to that. When people are willing to do harm of that kind and there is no way to stop them from doing it, I don`t know what the cure is to that. But I do know what he has been distracting from in the last couple of days.
Today, the revised Republican approach to repealing Obamacare that the president is apparently now proposing and endorsing, even though he rejected it in the past, today that new approach was scored by the CBO as not throwing 22 million Americans or 23 million or 24 million Americans off of health insurance. No. The new version score today would be 32 million Americans.
Thirty-two million Americans, to be clear, who have health insurance now, who would lose all health insurance under the new Republican plan that the president endorsed today, 32 million people. For reference, that is the combined population of all of these states that you can see on this map, 32 million people. So, that`s one.
The president`s latest gross-out behavior has coincided with the Republican health care bill, turning into a political catastrophe. We`re going to be checking in later on this hour with some of the very dramatic protest actions that hit today on that subject and tell you a little bit about what we expect to see over the next couple of days over the holiday weekend.
The first day of the president`s gross-out distraction yesterday also coincided with the White House announcing that the president will meet with Vladimir Putin next week in person. What has the Russian president done recently to deserve a one-on-one in person meeting with the president of the United States? I mean, other than launch an unprecedented attack on our election last year? I don`t know.
But that announcement, that Trump and Putin are going to meet in person, that was well timed yesterday in the midst of the absolute furor over this distraction. It was well-timed yesterday for most people to have not heard anything about it.
Here is another. You may have noticed last night when "The Wall Street Journal" published the first detailed reporting about Americans apparently trying to collude with the Russians who are attacking our election last year. This is a bombshell story that "The Wall Street Journal" posted last night.
This is the first report rather than just speculation that it might have happened, questions about whether it did happen, descriptions of the investigation into whether it happened, this is the first report of potential collusion by Americans in that Russian attack, and it has raised very serious questions as to whether or not Michael Flynn, who was then a senior adviser to the Trump campaign, whether he might have been involved in that effort to work with the Russians, to contact the Russian government, to obtain materials hacked by the Russian government in order to use them here against Hillary Clinton.
Now, in that story from "The Wall Street Journal," which went live last night, you might have noticed that Shane Harris of "The Wall Street Journal," he included a line in his story saying that he had asked the White House for comment on that story. They declined to give a comment.
But asking for comment is a specific thing, right? It has logistical consequences. It means you have to show somebody what you`ve got and ask for comment on it. If you think of the logistics of what that means with that story being posted last night, that means that some time before last night when the White House was asked for comment, they became aware of what "The Wall Street Journal" is about to report. They knew that that story was coming out. They knew that that was in the pipeline.
And so, as they`re preparing for that to drop, the first reporting about American collusion, attempted collusion at least with the Russians who were attacking our election in what appears to be a very close tie to the president`s campaign potentially through Michael Flynn in that collusion, as they find out that`s about to happen, perhaps coincidentally, the president launches this big new distraction that has everybody talking about him and his behavior for two days instead of talking about anything else.
And I should tell you we`re talking with investigative reporter Michael Isikoff later in the show about the key figure at the center of this "Wall Street Journal" bombshell. Michael Isikoff will be joining us tonight with some very interesting information about the Republican operative at the center of that story and his history. That`s important because the key question here is not just how effective that operative was in his effort to, I guess, collude with the Russians. The key question is whether there were links between him and the Trump campaign.
So, Mike Isikoff, investigative reporter par excellence, has some really interesting information on that. He is going to be joining us live in just a few minutes.
And let me just give you one last thing here. If we`re talking about focus, Mike Rogers is the head of the National Security Agency. National Security Agency is a very powerful agency that focuses on foreign surveillance. This is one of the agencies at the center of the Russia collusion investigation.
Earlier this week, CNN had a report that described Mike Rogers head of the NSA expressing, quote, frustration to lawmakers about his inability to convince President Trump to accept U.S. intelligence that Russia meddled in the election. That`s according to a congressional source familiar with the meeting.
Mike Rogers, head of the NSA also reportedly shared concerns with lawmakers about the, quote, lack of White House focus on the continue threat from Russian cyber efforts, particularly relating to U.S. voting systems. That`s according to another congressional source.
So, the NSA is frustrated that the president doesn`t get that Russia attacked us or doesn`t care and cannot focus on trying to fight it at all. I mean, take a look at that coupled with what "the Washington Post" reported this weekend. For contrast, "The Washington Post" had this great rundown this weekend about European countries and all the things they do to actively respond to the way Russia interferes with them.
In Sweden, they`ve launched a nationwide school program to teach kids to identify Russian propaganda. In Lithuania, 100 citizens are called cyber elves who work to digitally identify and combat people who are spreading Russian propaganda and fake news. They call their wars online elves versus trolls. This is one of the elves doing an adorable video.
France and Britain got Facebook to disable tens of thousands of fake accounts that they thought could potentially be designed to sway their voters during election time. Places like Ukraine and Germany have fact checking consortiums that are robust and respected. The Ukraine one is stopfake.org.
There are all these examples actively available for our review all around the world of all these other countries and how they have dealt with trying to stop Russia meddling in their election. Contrast that. All of those examples in all of those different countries, a bunch of which we got testimony about in the U.S. Senate this week. Contrast what they`re doing with what`s going on here. I mean, it couldn`t be starker.
A fascinating report in "Talking Points Memo" today that the Department of Homeland Security will not be conducting any sort of audit to look into whether voting machines were affected by the Russian hacking attempts in this past election. When they say there is no evidence that that happened, they haven`t been looking for any evidence of that, and they have no plan to look for any evidence of that.
If as many as 21 states or other reports say maybe 39 states were targeted by Russian hackers, and those were the election systems of those states, is it worth looking into, what the impact was of those intrusions, whether they left any malware behind? Whether voting machines were affected?
There is no evidence provided that has happened. Nobody has looked for that evidence.
And while nobody was talking about that whatsoever, the House Appropriations Committee very quietly just voted to defund something called the Election Assistance Commission. Buried at the bottom of page 69 of this bill that they passed, it zeros out the entire $4 million budget of the Election Assistance Commission.
The Election Assistance Commission is the agency we`ve got as a country that tries to make sure our states` voting machines aren`t hacked. That`s the agency. That`s the mechanism within our government that is supposed to shore up and defend the security of our voting systems. That agency is the way we would be responding to try to harden the defenses of our election systems if we were interested in doing that as a country.
But apparently, we`re not interested in doing it as a country. There is no work being done on that since the Trump administration took over. And not only are we not using the election administration commission to do that, we are instead chucking it, eliminating that agency altogether. Very quietly.
There is a lot going on. Don`t let anybody yank your chain. Do not play requests.
MADDOW: In the weeks between the election and moving into the White House, the president-elect publicly received aspiring candidates for jobs in his new administration. And he really publicly received them. He paraded aspiring staffers before the cameras.
You might remember Mitt Romney posing with his supper. That was in late November. Then we had Chris Christie on display.
That same day, Chris Christie day, another Kris showed up, Kris Kobach, the Kansas secretary of state, the top elections official in Kansas.
Kris Kobach is famous for being the author of the most draconian anti- immigration laws around the country. He is also known as a nationwide crusader for laws to make it harder for people to vote. Kris Kobach`s appointment with the president during the transition ended up being embarrassing, though, because although they do like to parade these people in public, it ended up being sort of indiscreet the way they did it with Kris Kobach.
Look at that picture again. You see him here greeting the president. And you see in his left hand he is holding some papers. It looks like he came prepared with stuff to talk about.
Through the magic of zoom, you can get right up close there, and you can actually see Kris Kobach`s proposals for extreme vetting and reducing the intake of Syrian refugees to zero. He is bringing these ideas in writing to the president.
And at the bottom of the page, under Kris Kobach`s sleeve, see by the four buttons there? You see something he was proposing there about his other big interest, voter rolls. In other words, who is allowed to vote?
Whatever happened in that meeting during the transition, Kris Kobach did not get a real job, like a paid job in the administration. But finally, last month he did get something. He got put in charge of the president`s new Election Integrity Commission.
Trump, of course, spent the campaign and even after the campaign complaining and fulminating and frankly making some stuff up about millions of people voting illegally when there is no evidence that happened. He then ordered a commission to look into it. The Presidential Commission on Election Integrity with good old Kris Kobach as its vice chair.
In that capacity Kris Kobach has now gone to work. He signed and sent a letter to the top elections officials in all 50 states this week. Here it is.
Kris Kobach would like all the secretaries of state across the country to send him, check this out, quote, the full first and last names of all registrants, meaning registered voters, middle names or initials if available, addresses, dates of birth, political party if recorded in your state, the last four digits of Social Security numbers, if available, voter history, elections voted in from 2006 onward, active or inactive status, canceled status, information regarding felony convictions, information regarding voter registration in any other state, information regarding military status and overseas citizen information.
Also, everything everybody had for lunch yesterday in your state plus their inner most thoughts. Plus, we`re going to need everybody`s bra size.
Put that list up there again. Send the Trump administration -- hello, secretary of state in x state. Send the Trump administration all of this information on every single person registered to vote in your state, all the millions of them. We want first, last, middle names, address, date of birth, party, voting history, four digits of the Social Security number, convictions, military status, everything on everyone. With full names and dates of birth attached so it`s all identifiable information.
Hand it over to the Trump administration. Hand it over to Kris Kobach. Now.
The answer to that letter from Kris Kobach so far is no. It`s been kind of an outcry from elections officials. It`s been sort of a subtle secretary of state little thing to behold today. The no response started with Connecticut where the secretary of state there said she would only hand over data that was already public and nothing more. That started a cascade of other states saying no.
Mississippi got its share of headlines today when their secretary of state said that Kris Kobach and his voting commission, and I quote, can go jump in the Gulf of Mexico.
Mississippi not only said no, they said they can go jump in the Gulf of Mexico. That exact phrase was in the state`s official response.
Even Kris Kobach himself as secretary of state in Kansas, he doesn`t intend to comply with his own request. He initially told reporters in Kansas that of course he would send all this data. And then today he said, OK, actually he is not going the hand over all the Social Security numbers, at least not yet.
What do they want to do with all of this particular and personally identifying data on every single registered voter in the entire country?
And look at this. This is from Kobach`s letter. Quote, any documents that are submitted to the commission will also be made available to the public.
Oh, good. They`re going to publish everything on everyone, 200 million people, no problem. Here is everything.
Now, Kris Kobach later told local Kansas reporters he didn`t really mean that part of the letter. He told them that the personal data would be hosted on a secure server run by the federal government. It wouldn`t actually be disclosed to the government despite what he told the secretaries of state.
OK. This universal file of every single American`s voting records that Kris Kobach is making for the Trump administration, he is now telling reporters even though he says otherwise in writing, he is now telling reporters it`s going to be super secure, don`t worry. He is going to keep everything really secure. At least as secure as he kept that memo that he brought to the president. At least as secure as that. Maybe even more secure.
What are they up to here? What is this about? I will tell you that back in February, somebody saw this coming, or at least something like it. Let me read to you from this.
Quote: We should prepare for the president to issue a sweeping executive order requiring a nationwide investigation of alleged voter fraud. The justification for it will be as unmoored from facts as was the basis for the Muslim majority countries selected for the president`s travel ban. And the results will be just as if not more pernicious. The presidential command to investigate the existence of a phenomenon that has been demonstrated not to exist can accomplish only one thing, a nationwide system of voter intimidation authorized at the highest levels of government.
That was from February.
Person who laid down that warning months ago now says that what she was predicting when she wrote about that back in February, what she was worried about there appears to be upon us. And that prescient expert joins us next.
MADDOW: So, the president has repeatedly falsely claimed that millions of people voted illegally in the last election. Now, his new voter fraud commission has sent a letter to the states demanding that the states hand over to the federal government reams of personal information on every single voter in each of those states.
And now, listen to this. This from February.
Quote: We take the president at his word when he threatens to launch a major investigation into voter fraud. We will challenge any illegality in the presentation or the execution of the program. But we had all best recognize the implications of the president of the United States launching a nationwide voter intimidation program.
The author of that prediction and that alarm bell for the country joins us now, Sherrilyn Ifill, who`s president and director counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.
Ms. Ifill, I really appreciate you being here, especially on a Friday night. Thank you so much.
SHERRILYN IFILL, PRESIDENT & DIRECTOR COUNSEL, NAACP LEGAL DEFENSE FUND: Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: So, you were very clear about the connection between the president demanding information, demanding an investigation into the threat of voter fraud and the possibility the president then launching a voter intimidation effort. What is the connection between looking into it and then intimidating voters?
IFILL: Well, as you talked about already, Rachel, the president had insisted that he had won the popular vote. And as you recall, he talked about 3 million illegal votes having been cast.
And having gone out and made this absurd statement, he then began to repeat it, and some of his surrogates began to repeat it, notably Stephen Miller on a Sunday morning news program, who insisted there was proof of this.
And I was just one of the people who took the president at his word because I believed the president would attempt to combine his need to believe that he had won the popular vote with something that has been really a very important issue on the right, which is to prove that widespread voter fraud occurs as a justification for voter suppression. That`s what we see in all the states where we`re challenging voter ID laws is that you have, you know, governors and secretaries of state and other state officials who insist despite the fact that there is no evidence that this is true, that there is widespread in person voter fraud happening.
And that that`s the reason they enacted some of these very, very restrictive voter ID laws. As you know, however, just in the last year, two federal courts of appeals, neither one of them known for being particularly liberal, have found that at least two states, North Carolina and Texas, deliberately created their voter ID laws for the purpose of discriminating against minority voters, not because there was a voter fraud problem in the state.
And so, I think the president has really married his personal issue around the popular vote in this election to one of the pillars of the right, which is proving that there is widespread voter fraud and using that premise to engage in voter suppression and to intimidate voters. And I think that`s what we`re about to see begin.
MADDOW: What do you think they want to do with this nationwide list? They`re talking about collecting tens of millions, 100 million, 200 million voter data files here basically and consolidating them all in what they say, at least they tell reporters will be a secure database. What do you think they want to do with that master list and all of that data on every voter in the country?
IFILL: Well, I think there are lots of people that are affiliated with people like Kris Kobach who know what they want to do with this information. Organizations like True the Vote and others, they want to be able to use this data to be able to intimidate people on Election Day. They want to be able to use this data to convince state legislatures there is a problem and they need even more restrictive voter ID laws. They want to use this information to intimidate individual voters and to suggest to voters that if they try and vote, they may be prosecuted.
I mean, we should remember the context in which this happens at this particular moment. The attorney general of the United States is Jeff Sessions. And Jeff Sessions is the man who prosecuted our clients in 1985 for voter fraud, unsuccessfully prosecuted them. And so he has been on top of this for a very long time as well.
And even though that effort that Jeff Sessions engaged in 1985 was unsuccessful, our clients were acquitted, many voters in that county, in Perry County, Alabama, elderly voters were afraid to vote after that. But they were afraid to vote after the attempt at prosecution. And so, they stayed away from the polls.
And so, that`s what you do, is you bring these challenges, and the challenges are enough to intimidate people, some people from participating in the political process. And so, I think they want this data. I think they do want the make it public so that some of these affiliated organizations that believe in the myth of voter fraud can use this information themselves.
And I think it`s designed to unleash really unchecked voter intimidation around the country and to encourage voter suppression laws to proliferate even more than they have since the 2013 Shelby decision in the Supreme Court.
MADDOW: You literally sent a chill down my spine with that.
MADDOW: I mean, I have been thinking -- I have been thinking along those lines amorphously since first hearing that they`re asking this, but hearing you laid out like that, obviously, you have a lot of experience with this as a litigator and a leader in your organization. But it`s scary stuff.
Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, thank you for helping us understand this tonight. I really appreciate you being here.
IFILL: Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: I will tell you, right now we know that 20, 25 states with the secretary of state has told Kris Kobach, has told the Trump administration, no, we`re not handing over data. We`re not handing over this data on our voters.
One of your projects over the holiday weekend is to figure out whether in your state your secretary of state is going along with this or saying no. It`s fun homework project. You can involve the kids. Come on!
Stay with us. We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: Friday night before a holiday weekend. What did I tell you? What did I tell you at the top of this hour, huh? Huh?
OK. Last night, "The Wall Street Journal" broke a story that was very important. It was the first detailed reporting we`ve ever had. Actually, the first reporting we`ve ever had that describes what appears to be an effort at American collusion with a Russian attack on our election last year.
It named Peter Smith who is now deceased who is 81 years old. He died earlier this year. It named Peter Smith as the man who over Labor Day weekend last year tried to put together or did put together a group of experts, a group of technology experts, lawyers, and at least one Russian speaking investigator to try to obtain Clinton e-mails that he believed might have been hacked by Russian hackers.
That story was broken by "The Wall Street Journal" last night. Shane Harris was the sole byline on that. The very provocative question in that report from "The Wall Street Journal" was about his connection to the Trump campaign.
Mr. Smith in his communication with people he was trying to bring into this project and his communication with people about this effort he was making to contact Russian hackers repeatedly referenced Mike Flynn, who was then a senior adviser to the Trump campaign, as somebody he was working with and in communication with on this effort. Now, that`s not been confirmed. It was said by Smith apparently. Flynn is not commenting in reaction to these -- in reaction to these new reports.
But just right now, "The Wall Street Journal" has just posted this. And they say that in addition to saying that he was in contact with Mike Flynn in this effort, again, to work with Russian hackers to get information on Hillary Clinton, Mr. Smith also circulated a document that listed not just Flynn, but also Steve Bannon, Kellyanne Conway, and Sam Clovis, who was low profile but important policy adviser to the Trump campaign. He is now senior adviser at the Agriculture Department. In addition to Flynn, Bannon, Conway and Clovis all mentioned by Peter Smith as people he was in communication with, in contact with related to this effort to contact the Russian hackers.
This is a second beat on the first story we have had about what collusion might have looked like if it happened. Investigative reporter Michael Isikoff was -- is joining us tonight to talk about the man at the center of both last night`s allegations, last night`s reporting from "The Wall Street Journal," and this new reporting tonight, Peter Smith.
Mike Isikoff has some very interesting information on his background that might tell us a little bit more about what we might expect about whether he was tied to the Trump campaign. Isikoff joins us next.
MADDOW: You might not know this, but I use a teleprompter on this show and every once in a while, the teleprompter just like goes to cartoons. That`s where it was right now.
All right. Whitewater, travelgate, Chinagate, filegate, all of those stupid gates things, right? Do you remember troopergate?
It was a weird scandal near the beginning of Bill Clinton`s presidency. Now we all have to remember it at least for a second because now troopergate is important again for the scandal we`re involved in in this presidency. So brief refresher.
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REPORTER: Two troopers have stepped forward to renew allegations Mr. Clinton had engaged in extramarital affairs for years while governor and that the affairs continued after he was elected president. In a story in the conservative magazine, "American Spectator", two troopers, formerly members of Governor Clinton`s security detail, claim that the troopers themselves would help arrange, then stand guard over sexual liaisons involving Mr. Clinton, many at the governor`s mansion itself.
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MADDOW: The president was never charged with any wrongdoing in relation to troopergate. Years later, in fact, the guy who wrote the article about it at the "American Spectator" apologized to Clinton, called it part of an anti-Clinton crusade. He repented and switched to the other side of the political aisle.
But that article in the "American Spectator" continued to do lasting damage for a very long time because the same article also introduced the American public to a person named Paula Jones. A few months after the article was published, Paula Jones filed a lawsuit against President Clinton accusing him of sexual harassment while he was governor. That lawsuit in its meandering way indirectly ended up leading to Bill Clinton lying about his affair with Monica Lewinsky, and that indirectly led to his subsequent impeachment.
It was only later we would learn the identity of the man who planted the original troopergate story, who introduced the writer of that American spectator article to those state troopers, who he was paying. It was a wealthy Chicago investment banker. He had facilitated his original connection with troopers. He was also a chief fund-raiser for Newt Gingrich who, of course, later went on to become speaker of the House.
This banker donated over $100,000 to Newt Gingrich`s political action committee between 1989 and 1995. Beginning in 1992, he also started spends tens of thousands of dollars funding various attempts to dig up dirt and publicize negative stories about President Clinton.
Beyond troopergate, he also hired private detectives and financed efforts to unearth evidence that Bill Clinton had fathered an illegitimate African- American child. That is an allegation that was dug up again in the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign this past year.
This guy in Chicago also tried to dig up dirt on Clinton`s trip to the Soviet Union that he had taken as a college student decades earlier. This Chicago banker, close associate of Newt Gingrich, had also at one point been the chair of the college young Republicans. He`s a guy named Peter Smith. It`s the same Peter Smith who has now landed smack dab in the middle of the Russia investigation thanks to a piece last night in "The Wall Street Journal."
Last night, "The Journal" published an explosive report which claimed that around Labor Day last year, Peter Smith, the same guy, mounted an independent campaign to obtain e-mails he believed were stolen from Hillary Clinton`s private server, likely by Russian hackers. He contacted Russian hackers to try to get whatever they`d dug up on Hillary Clinton.
He also said in an interview with "The Wall Street Journal" that he believed those hackers were close to the Russian government.
While he was putting together this effort to contact the Russian hackers, to get some of what they got, Mr. Smith repeatedly implied and told people that he was working with Mike Flynn in that effort and that he was in frequent communication with Mike Flynn. Mike Flynn at that time was a senior adviser to the Trump campaign.
Now, tonight, "The Wall Street Journal" has added to their story. Just moments ago they have published this news, saying that Peter Smith didn`t just tell people he was working with and in communication with Mike Flynn in his effort to contact the Russian hackers and get their e-mails from Hillary Clinton. He also said in a document that he prepared to recruit people to help into his effort, he also, according to "The Wall Street Journal," said that he was working, quote, in coordination to the extent permitted as an independent expenditure with not just Mike Flynn but also Steve Bannon, Kellyanne Conway, and Sam Clovis, who is a policy adviser to now president Trump.
Joining us now is investigative reporter Michael Isikoff. He`s chief investigative correspondent at Yahoo News. He wrote a book in 1999 called "Uncovering Clinton", that looks at some of Peter Smith`s earlier activism.
Mr. Isikoff, appreciate your time tonight.
MICHAEL ISIKOFF, CHIEF INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT, YAHOO NEWS: Good to be with you.
MADDOW: So, Peter Smith turns up in this "Wall Street Journal" story last night, also again tonight. What can you tell us about his background in the anti-Bill Clinton efforts in the early `90s?
ISIKOFF: Well, first of all, it`s just fascinating to find that somebody you wrote about 20 years ago pops back in the news in a totally different context. But, yes, I mean you pretty much covered it in your intro there, Rachel. He was one of these sort of shadowy, behind the scenes figures who was helping to finance some of the political oppo research to Bill Clinton.
He gave a $5,000 stipend, I believe, to David Brock when he was beginning his -- to help finance his research that led to the troopergate stories. There was another $25,000 that he gave to a troopergate whistle-blower fund to help protect and defend the troopers from a lot of attacks that they were getting from the Clinton camp.
And then probably most interestingly and most significantly, he did play a role in sort of recruiting this set of lawyers who I call the elves in the book, who were very sharp, conservative lawyers who were writing the briefs and helping to set the legal strategy in the Paula Jones case. Paula Jones had some public lawyers, and you remember this was a big fight that went all the way up to the Supreme Court about whether the suit could even proceed.
And in the briefs, you know, Clinton had this big, you know, Bob Bennett, really powerful law firm behind it, and they were always amazed when they would see these very polished, very scholarly briefs coming in from the Paula Jones side, saying these guys can`t be writing it, the public lawyers, because they were not constitutional scholars. In fact, it was the elves, this coterie of lawyers, and they had been -- and Peter Smith had helps recruit them.
MADDOW: Mike, thank you for being with us tonight. I`m sorry that our time is short.
May I ask you briefly one last question? Do you know what he`s been up to since the `90s?
ISIKOFF: I had totally lost track of him until Shane Harris resurrected him in this fascinating series of stories in "The Wall Street Journal".
MADDOW: Your 1999 book, "Uncovering Clinton", is now selling out right this second on Amazon because he has resurfaces.
Michael Isikoff, chief investigative correspondent at Yahoo News, really appreciate you being here, Mike. Thanks very much.
ISIKOFF: Sure. OK, bye.
MADDOW: All right. That does it for us tonight. We will see you again next week. We will see you on Monday. That`s right, July 3rd.
Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD." Ari Melber sitting in for Lawrence tonight.
Good evening, Ari.
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