Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: July 11, 2017 Guest: Mark Mazzetti, Mike McFaul
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Thanks, my friend.
CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST, ALL IN: You bet.
MADDOW: And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.
So this is either -- this is either the end of things, or things are about to get very, very weird. It`s possible that things get weird and then they end. But one of those two things is definitely going to happen now.
You know, in a movie, in a well-written book about a political scandal, what just happened today, what was just published today would be the end of the plot, right? There`s been a confession. The worst-case scenario that anyone imagined at the start of the scandal has just been not just documented by investigative reporting, it is not contested to. It is not contested. It has been admitted to by the people who are involved and who are implicated.
This is where plots end, right? Somewhere in a parallel universe, somebody`s beach read novel about the biggest American political scandal since Watergate and maybe the biggest political scandal ever, somebody in a parallel universe reading this book has just finished their book. It`s come to a tidy end. Now, they`re thinking maybe they`ll switch to sci-fi for something more realistic the next time.
But this is not a novel. This is not a movie. This is our real life. And now, we have to figure out what is going to happen next. What ought to happen next, what is likely to happen next.
Now, that the Trump campaign has admitted that they worked with the Russians during the campaign.
The Russian government did meddle in our election last year, to try to hurt Hillary Clinton`s chances, to try to help Donald Trump`s chances. The Trump campaign, after all those months of denials, all of those vehement denials, up to and including the president himself, the Trump campaign now admits that it knew that Russia was meddling in our election to hurt Hillary Clinton and help Donald Trump. They now admit that they were informed of that fact early on, even before the first news reports to that effect. And learning that that was happening, the Trump campaign`s response at the highest level, was that that tried to help the Russians in achieving their goals.
Now that that has been conceded, what happens next? I mean, as of this time last night, "The New York Times" is reporting that its reporters had seen documentation that indicated that the Trump campaign knowingly took a meeting with a representative of the Russian government during the campaign in an effort to try to get damaging information on Hillary Clinton from the Russians.
Since then, "The Times" itself and a senior Trump campaign adviser, namely the president`s eldest son, they have published that documentation. The meeting in question happened last June. It previously had been a secret meeting. That secret meeting has now been made public, along with the circumstances of how it was arranged, via an e-mail chain that explicitly spells it out, more emphatically than anyone would have ever imagined at the start of this scandal.
It spells it out more simply and more explicitly than any fiction writer would have ever tried to get away. I mean, the quotes from the e-mails are astounding. Right, the crowned prosecutor of Russia is offering to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information to incriminate Hillary Clinton. Very high-level and sensitive information. It`s part of Russia and its government support for Mr. Trump. They get that in writing.
The immediate response from the Trump campaign, 17 minutes later is, oh, can we do a call? And it turns out they can do better than a call. And within a week, a Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer, who was described to the campaign as a Russian government lawyer, and also, apparently, her translator, they are ushered into a top-level meeting with the Trump campaign at Trump Tower, attended by Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, the president`s son-in-law, and Paul Manafort, the campaign chair.
Credit to "The New York Times" for forcing this information out into the open, right? This is obviously the end product of a long, tough slog in terms of investigative reporting.
At the same time, though, you didn`t really expect it to arrive on is a silver platter like this, did you? They`re not even six months into this administration and they`re confessing to colluding with the Russians during the campaign.
Now, that that has happened, it seems like there are two possible paths that this goes from here. I mean, again, I don`t want to lose track of the big picture. In any normal political circumstances, we would be at the end already. This would be the end of the road, with the clear admission of guilt. The worst-case scenario, yes, we did it.
But it turns out in real life, life goes on. So this is like, we`re standing at the edge of the pavement, the road, has, in fact ended. But now we`ve got to find like little deer tracks through the woods to figure out where we`re going to go from here now that we`ve got to do off-road.
And I think there are two possible paths in the immediate future in terms of where we go off-road. Now that we`ve had a confession, what`s next? I think there are two kind of hard-to-see, but, I think, the White House probably sees it as a clear choice, and I think we should watch for both of these starting to become evident.
The first one to watch for is that the Trump campaign and the Trump White House, maybe even the president himself, may try to turn this into a big counterattack, that not just distracts from what they have just confessed to, but tries to make it into a competing scandal that hurts their enemies instead of hurting themselves.
You`re seeing the seeds of some of this already, in the conservative media, reporting on today`s events. This meeting between the Russian lawyer and the Trump campaign was purportedly set up to discuss negative information about Hillary Clinton that`s somehow related to Russia. You can already see the conservative media and some Republican members of Congress trying to turn the narrative to, instead, be about Hillary Clinton and her campaign, or to otherwise turn the story inside out.
Tomorrow, there`s going to be a confirmation hearing in the Senate for the Trump administration`s new nominee to head the FBI. The man they want to replace James Comey, who the president fired, he says, because of the Russia investigation.
Imagine the internal dynamic that has to exist inside somebody nominated for that job, right? On the one hand, I have been asked to become head of the FBI. On the other hand, I`ve been asked to become head of the FBI, because the president just fired the last head of the FBI, because of the Russia investigation. What`s it like to make -- go through that decision- making progress to decide, yes, you`re going to accept the honor of that nomination?
So, we will learn a lot more about Christopher Wray, the new FBI nominee, tomorrow. But at that confirmation hearing tomorrow, and also at the upcoming Senate hearings on the Russia investigation that we are expecting in the next couple of weeks, watch for Republican senators to try to mount a counterattack on the main narrative of this scandal.
The Russian woman who came to Trump Tower and took this meeting with Don Jr. and Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner, at the time of her visit to the United States for that meeting, she was working on a legal case. A legal case that was being handled in the southern district of New York, it`s related to Russian money laundering on a massive scale. That case links back to a scandal in Russia, to a U.S.-born businessman, who had a major investment firm in Russia before the Putin government decided to turn on him and basically eat his business. Ultimately, U.S. sanctions on Russia resulted from that whole mishegoss.
Republicans and the Trump White House and parts of the conservative media are starting to signal that they`re going to try to make that case, that Russian scandal, that money-laundering case, the case that this Russian lawyer was involved in when she came to New York for that meeting, they appear to be gearing up to make that case itself seem like that`s the real Russia scandal here. It does not make sense yet. I will not try to make it make sense hear on TV.
But if you`re watching for it, you can see it. They have started to lob nebulous allegations about whether there`s some connection between that Russian case and the dossier of unverified and salacious raw intelligence reports about Donald Trump that caused such a stir when it was first published by "BuzzFeed" this past January.
Republicans and the conservative media have started to raise questions about whether there was something untoward or scandalous about how that Russian woman who came to Trump Tower and took that meeting got permission to enter the United States last summer, to take part in that legal case about the money laundering. On that same visit where she also took that meeting in Trump Tower.
And I know that it just sounds like that was a list of dots without connections between them. That`s how I mean to put it out there. There is no meaningful counter-narrative against what has just confessed by the Trump campaign.
But, if you look at those data points, if you look at those other issues in the news, it appears that something is going on among Republican members of Congress and in the Trump White House, and in the conservative media, that they are about to try to land as a counterpunch. As they try to morph the Russia scandal involving the Trump campaign into something that, instead, is about Hillary Clinton and the DNC and presumably the Obama administration. And we think the FBI, as well.
When they try to make that dossier into the basis of the whole case against Donald Trump and try to link the whole FBI investigation to that dossier, where they are going with that is to try to undermine, to try to cast aspersions on the FBI investigation of the Trump/Russia affair, which continues to this day, by casting aspersions on its origins.
Chuck Grassley, who is the senator who`s the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has been sort of the leader in Republican -- among Republican members of Congress on that subject. And he`s the one who`s signaling most strongly that he would like this to be the counter-narrative in this story. So, watch for that. Watch for that in particular tomorrow, at the Christopher Wray confirmation hearing, which will be chaired by Chuck Grassley.
The Christopher Wray confirmation hearing is not supposed to be about the Russia scandal, but it will now have to be substantially about the Russia scandal. Because the magnitude of that scandal now and because of the circumstances under which the FBI job became vacant, so Christopher Wray had something to be nominated to.
So, that is one possible path that we are about to go down. Watch for the Republicans, the conservative media, and the Trump White House to create a new scandal, to create something that sounds like this scandal, that has some of the same things involved, that certainly has Russia involved in it. But that`s about Democrats, and that`s about the FBI instead of being about them.
We have seen them laying the groundwork for it. I think we are likely about to see that break wide open. Path one.
The other deer path through the woods, the other off-road possibility that we`re about to go down, is self-defense of a different kind, I think, from the Trump White House. As you know, there have been two big stories, two bombshell stories in the past couple of weeks about the appearance of American collusion in the Russian attack on our election last year. "Wall Street Journal" was first, with their report on the admitted effort by a Republican political operative, who`s now deceased, to make contact with Russian government hackers, to try to obtain Hillary Clinton`s e-mails from them, so they could be used against her and for Trump`s benefit in the campaign.
Now, in that case, that project to try to work with the Russians against Clinton, that was a Trump supporter who mounted that effort. The link to the Trump campaign was that he claimed a relationship with Mike Flynn, the Trump national security adviser, and at that point, a senior adviser to the Trump campaign.
Mike Flynn never commented for that "Wall Street Journal" story. He`s never commented on those allegations, but the White House commented. They fairly readily threw him under the bus on that one. The White House comment to "The Wall Street Journal" about that story was that if Mike Flynn cooperated with that in any way, it would have been under his capacity as a private individual.
Mike Flynn was a senior adviser to the Trump campaign at the time that project was underway, and that project was only about the campaign. So, that defense from the White House beggars belief, but it at least kind of shows what they think their options are. It at least shows in that case they were willing to let Flynn take the blame for that rather than trying to defend the content.
Now, in this second collusion story, theoretically, they have the same choice, right? You can defend the conduct itself, or if you can`t defend the conduct, you kind of have to hive off the people who appear to be guilty of it. Hive off from the president, hive off from the White House the people to have appear to have done it.
It`s very hard to do that with the people who are involved in this news story. In that meeting in Trump tower last June, and apparently in receipt of the e-mail that described this as a meeting with a Russian government emissary who was coming to the Trump campaign with information from the Russian government to try to help the Trump campaign in its efforts against Hillary Clinton, in that meeting were Paul Manafort, who is then campaign chair, Jared Kushner, the son-in-law, and Don Trump, the eldest son. There`s no way to use the exact same strategy they did with Mike Flynn on the previous collusion story, right? There`s no way to say that in case that Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner and Donald Trump Jr. were acting in their personal capacity about this meeting.
We now know from what they admit about this meeting, what they have published about the origins of this meeting, and we know from the fact that all of them were in the meeting together, we know that this was clearly a campaign meeting, and so, none of them personally can be on the hook without the campaign being on the hook. That said, in terms of their self- defense here, at least Paul Manafort and Donald Trump Jr., at least they don`t have offices in the White House now. At least they are not current members of the administration.
Jared Kushner is, though. And that means the potential legal jeopardy that may arise from this meeting, it not only enters the president`s family, a lot of people have been talking about that today, in terms of what we might anticipate about the president`s psychology, about defending his eldest son, if he`s got real legal jeopardy here. The legal jeopardy not only enters the president`s immediate family, it also enters the White House because Jared Kushner still a senior White House adviser, even if the White House would not answer questions today about whether or not he still has his security clearance.
But the Jared Kushner factor here lends some urgency, not only to what we expect to be a defense by the White House to these absolutely catastrophic revelations today, it also, for us as a country, lends some urgency to the legal side of this, to the question of whether and how this is prosecuted. I will explain what I mean by that in a just a second, but Congressman Adam Schiff of California, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, he also spoke to this today in a way that I think was very clear and very chilling. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), RANKING MEMBER, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: The most serious risk to the country, I think, is that the Russians possess compromising information, what they call kompromat, that can influence this president`s conduct of American policy.
The Russians know about this meeting. They were behind organizing the meeting. If there were other meetings that the Russians know about, if there were other interactions with the Trump campaign that the Russians are aware of, that is something they can hold over the head of the president of the United States. And the American people need to know that our president is acting on their behalf and not acting because he has a fear that the Russians could disclose things that could harm him or his family.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: The issue is coercion. The issue is potential coercion, exercised by a foreign power, over people who are in very powerful jobs in the U.S. government right now.
Everybody`s expecting the Robert Mueller probe, special counsel probe, to move very slowly, to unfold over a period of months and maybe even years. And, you know, politically, just in terms of our civic health as a nation, there`s reason not only to expect that it will move slowly, but to hope that it would move slowly, right? To hope just for our ability to be resilient as a country in the face of a scandal like this.
There`s reason to hope that that probe goes slow. That it is deliberate. That it is clear to everybody, whether or not you start off as a Trump supporter or a Trump opponent, it -- there`s reason to hope that that probe goes slowly, so that everybody agrees that no stone has been left unturned.
That there is no question that there was a diligent, thorough degree of due process. That all the evidence was examined and explained, every possible innocent explanation was explored. Every little bit of exculpatory evidence was fully honored, right?
If we`re going to get to somewhere through that investigation that feels like a resolution, everybody has to be on board that that investigation was not rushed, that those investigators were not pushed along by political wins. Right, that they did it and covered all of their bases. You want everybody in the country to believe that by the time that investigation is done.
But, there is also, now, direct evidence, uncontested evidence of people in the Trump campaign at the highest levels, conspiring with a foreign anniversary to influence our election. Now, whether or not the list of people in the Trump campaign who did that extends to and includes the president himself, it would appear to include, at least one person, who was working now at the highest levels of the White House, as a senior adviser, with responsibility for a lot of the most sensitive aspects of, say, American foreign policy.
We learned about this meeting with a Russian emissary between Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort, and Jared Kushner, who now still works at the White House. We learned about it from "The New York Times." But the Russians, before "The New York Times" ever knew about it, the Russians knew about that meeting, too.
Have they used that to blackmail anybody, before it became public today? Is there anything else that they know about in terms of the behavior of the Trump campaign, the behavior of Jared Kushner, that they are using, or that they are use to blackmail, to exert coercion, in order to get the United States to do stuff that is not in America`s interest, but is in Russia`s interest, because America knows what they did and they don`t want it known?
That issue of potential coercion, of Russia holding this stuff, lends urgency not just to the investigative reporting aspect to this, but also to the question of whether or not the prosecution here moves fast or slow. We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: Over the past three days, the publicly available information on the dealings between the Trump campaign and the Russian government, it`s expanded exponentially thanks to a series of head-spinning scoops from "The New York Times." Today, they exposed documented proof that the campaign sought out from the Russian government information that they could use against Hillary Clinton in the campaign.
Joining us now is Mark Mazzetti. He`s the Washington investigations editor for "The New York Times." That means he`s the man who has been editing this incredible reporting over these last few days.
Mr. Mazzetti, really appreciate your time tonight. I know it`s a very busy time and I imagine you have not had much sleep lately. Thanks for being here.
MARK MAZZETTI, WASHINGTON INVESTIGATIONS EDITOR, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Thanks for having me on.
MADDOW: So, let me jump right into the deep water here. Had Donald Trump Jr. published these e-mails that he publish today alone, in the absence of your reporting that apparently pushed him to do it, I think a lot of people might have felt like it was sort of too good to be true from an investigations perspective, in terms of people looking into links between the campaign and Russia during the campaign. But your reporting on what happened here not only pushed him to do this.
Can you tell us if your reporting here comports with what he published, that you uncovered similar information, parallel information to what he published?
MAZZETTI: Yes. What happened was this morning, we had a story prepared that basically documented a lot of the e-mails in question that we`d been writing about in previous stories. And we notified the White House and we notified Donald Trump Jr.`s lawyer that we were preparing to go with a story very soon by late morning, and we were asking for comment. They asked for a little bit more time and we gave a little bit more time.
But then, at around 11:00, when we were preparing to publish our story, that`s when Donald Trump Jr. tweeted out the e-mails themselves. So, we had -- what we had in our story, which was ready to go, was basically, entirely comported with what we put out in the e-mails, minutes earlier.
MADDOW: OK. And it`s been unusual to be able to follow along the updates in your reporting over these last few days based on his evolving statements about what happened in this meeting. Obviously, you need to go to him as a source in reporting this out, because you`re reporting information about him. It seems, in reading your -- the way you have documented his responses, reading his states, that he has evolved considerably, that he`s contradicted his earlier statements in terms of admitting what happened here.
Is it that straight forward that he just keeps changing his story?
MAZZETTI: Yes, and we`ve tried to be as transparent each day about what it was that the, that Donald Trump Jr. camp was saying. So, Saturday evening when we did our first story and we approached them about this meeting, the answer is that it was a meeting where -- that was primarily centered around the issue of Russian adoptions, which is a big issue for the Kremlin, having to do the ban on adoption and response to the Magnitsky Act.
So, it is something that this lawyer was pushing allegedly, which is in line with what the Kremlin wanted.
Now, the next day, we approached them about -- that the meeting actually had a different agenda, which was to give dirt about the Hillary Clinton campaign and Hillary Clinton herself. And their response evolved to say, yes, that`s true, and by Monday morning, Donald Trump Jr., you know, tweeted out, well, this is what anyone would do. Anyone involved in the campaign always wants derogatory information about their opponents.
Then, on Monday, we approached them again and said, actually, we now know that the information, the derogatory information was part of -- was presented as part of a Russian campaign to discredit Clinton, and that they eagerly accepted the meeting, knowing that. And then, of course, today, when we presented the e-mails, that`s when Donald Trump Jr. came forward with the e-mails themselves, just minutes before we published.
MADDOW: And, Mark, I don`t know if you can tell us this, but is this a story that is an ongoing story? That there is continuing reporting, that there are things to know about what happened here, that we should expect to learn about in the future? Do you guys consider this to be sort of a closed case in terms of expanding -- in terms of explaining what happened here? Or is this part of ongoing reporting?
MAZZETTI: No, I mean, I think it`s not closed by any measure. I mean, we would want -- there`s a lot of things we would want to know. Who else knew about the meeting? What became of it?
I mean, we had the statements that, well, it didn`t go anywhere. She didn`t have information that they wanted. But, certainly, there would -- we would want to know, what were the subsequent messages that came out of the meeting. What did people really think about what happened? Was there any follow-up?
You know, this is a -- it feels like a significant moment in part, because it is hard evidence of an actual meeting with the players where we know who the players are and we know, basically, you know, from the documentation today, what the agenda was. That it was stated that the Russian government had an interest in helping the Donald Trump, the Trump campaign was certainly interested in hearing what the Russian government had on Hillary Clinton.
So, we spent a lot of months trying to piece some of this together and by no means are the pieces fitting yet. But this does, you know, seem like a significant piece.
MADDOW: I would agree. And everybody would agree. This is not just seeming like this is a huge advance in this story and landmark reporting in this political era.
Mark Mazzetti, Washington investigations editor for "The New York Times", editor of this recent reporting that has just blown this thing wide open. Congratulations, again, and thanks for being with us.
MAZZETTI: Thank you.
All right. Still ahead tonight, the question of whether we have to think about this in legal terms in the short-term, in addition to thinking about whether or not in the long-term this has legal consequences for members of the administration and potentially members of the president`s family.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: When we think of a campaign donation, we think about money being donated to a campaign. But here`s the section of U.S. Code that explains that foreign actors cannot make campaign donations. Quote: A foreign national shall not directly or indirectly make a contribution or a donation of money or other thing of value in connection with any federal, state, or local election.
The Code also says that no U.S. person shall knowingly solicit, accept or receive from a foreign national any contribution or donation of that kind.
So, it`s money or other thing of value. That`s the operative phrase here. Other thing of value. Does that key term, thing of value, potentially include damaging information about an electoral adversary?
You go through campaign finance filings on any campaign, you will often find that one of the things they have paid for is research, which is shorthand for opposition research on the candidate who that campaign is running against. It is something that has a monetary value. You can see that in campaign`s filings.
If you are getting that as an in-kind donation from a foreign source, is that a violation of U.S. law? Or if you knowingly solicit that particular thing of that particular kind of value, might that take the form of an e- mail from the president`s son responding to an offer of negative information on Hillary Clinton from the Russian government by writing, quote, if it`s what you say, I love it.
I mean, a non-lawyer like me looking at something like this, seeing a donation of money or other thing of value, seems to me like opposition research is a thing of value. But as I say, I`m not a lawyer. I don`t attempt to play one on TV.
To people who do prosecute these sorts of things, to people who do look at the law this way, is it that clear-cut that this potentially, what we saw at this meeting between this Russian lawyer and senior members of the Trump campaign, does it look clear cut that this could be a violation of that part of U.S. law? What`s the punishment for it, if it is? And is this the only criminal -- the only part of U.S. criminal law that may have been implicated in what we`ve just learned from "The New York Times"?
Joining us now is Barbara McQuade. She served as U.S. attorney for the eastern district of Michigan for more than seven years. She`s got extensive experience prosecuting high-profile cases. And as of tonight, I`m happy to say she is now an MSNBC contributor.
Ms. McQuade, congratulations on that. Thanks for being here tonight. It`s really nice to have you here.
BARBARA MCQUADE, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Oh, thanks so much for having me.
MADDOW: So, my look just as a layman at the campaign finance laws makes me feel like this looks to me like the Trump campaign may have been soliciting a thing of value or something that they thought was a thing of value from a foreign actor. Is it that clear cut, when you look at it from a prosecutor`s eyes?
MCQUADE: I don`t know that it`s clear cut, but I think it is certainly arguable that this statute has been violated. As you said, a solicitation. I think the statement in the e-mail about "love it" is certainly favorable language that could be perceived as a solicitation. A thing of value, certainly, opposition research to a campaign is of great value. By a foreign national in connection with an election.
So, those are the elements of the offense that they`re looking at. I think that thing of value is the part that might have some question, but it`s certainly arguable that the statute is met here.
MADDOW: And in terms of U.S. persons soliciting a thing of value from a foreign actor, does it matter if the thing they are soliciting is actually a thing of value, or does it just matter that they thought it was?
MCQUADE: Well, that`s a very good question. I think that on a case like this, you`d have to show that there was more than just an imaginary thing of value, that there was a thing of value that was being discussed. So, but even -- if you`re going after whether it was or was not, in fact, opposition research out there, I don`t know that they had to make good on it.
But the fact that it, for example, Donald Trump Jr. thought he was soliciting for opposition research on Hillary Clinton, I think that would be enough to satisfy the statute.
MADDOW: Are there things other than these campaign finance violations that you think that can conceivably be in the arena when the prosecutors and special counselor might be looking at this?
MCQUADE: Yes, I think a special violation they might be looking at is what`s known as a Klein conspiracy. That is a conspiracy to impede the functioning of any department of government. And I would submit that that would include the administration of fair elections. So, that might be another one.
And I also think that this new revelation really turns up the heat on obstruction of justice. I mean, we knew all of those facts that we had before that caused us to think that perhaps President Trump was seeking to obstruct justice when he asked James Comey to let it go with Flynn because he`s a good guy. If it`s not just his friend, Mike Flynn, he`s protecting, but his son, his son-in-law, and perhaps his campaign itself, I think it takes on a much more sinister meaning.
MADDOW: Oh, let me make sure I understand what you`re saying there. If the president in trying to shut down the investigation into the Russia matter was shown to have done so because he was motivated by potential legal jeopardy of all of these other people beyond Mike Flynn, that would essentially sharpen the focus on the president`s behavior in terms of whether or not it was improperly motivated, that firing of Comey?
MCQUADE: Yes, exactly, because, of course, the key aspect of an obstruction charge is whether he acted corruptly. That is, had a bad purpose. And if it`s just, this is a bad use of resources to go after this good guy, Mike Flynn, maybe that`s less sinister. But if it`s instead, I don`t want you to get to the real truth behind the collusion behind Russia, my son, my son-in-law, my campaign manager, and the campaign itself, then, I think, you have much stronger and powerful evidence of that corrupt purpose.
MADDOW: Barbara McQuade, former U.S. attorney, I really appreciate your time tonight. Thanks for being here.
MCQUADE: Thanks very much.
MADDOW: I will say, on these -- on these legal issues, I think it is important and sort of becoming, at least for me, a matter of more pointed concern that we don`t know the security clearance status of some of the people who are implicated here. Obviously, Paul Manafort and Donald Trump Jr. do not have White House roles. Jared Kushner, though, was in that meeting, as well, and the White House is not commenting tonight on whether he has retained his security clearance.
There have been multiple meetings, multiple contacts now between Jared Kushner and Russian emissaries and Russian officials that he did not disclose, we know, at least on his initial application for a security clearance. If it`s possible that there is still yet, that is undisclosed between him and the Russians that the Russians know about but he has not yet made public, that would obviously put the Russians in a position to exert coercive force over him, to blackmail him, for him to try to save his skin, so they didn`t tell what they knew.
That`s a red-hot source of concern, for anybody who has a high-ranking security clearance. Somebody working as a senior White House adviser, it`s just incredibly concerning, whether or not he`s ever prosecuted.
Much more ahead tonight. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Step right up, man of the hour, Mr. Job Well Done, Sergey Kislyak.
Sergey Kislyak has been the official Russian ambassador to the United States since 2008. He has worked at that job incredibly hard, all the years since. You know, he`s had a lot to do, keeping up with the crazy alleged requests from the incoming administration for secret back-channel communications to Moscow, run on Russian government equipment, trudging up to Capitol Hill for undisclosed meetings with U.S. senators who happen to be top advisers to be the Republican presidential candidate.
Whatever the chore wheel held for him today, Sergey Kislyak has been there. He has showed up. He has done stuff other ambassador has ever been called to do.
I mean, if that man taking an unprecedented private meeting with the American president in the Oval Office, if that man -- listening to the American president blurt out highly sensitive code word information during that visit, or also his personal explanation for why he fired the FBI director, Sergey has been there. He has done it.
The Russian foreign ministry will take a great photo while it`s happening. You know, that was another Sergey Kislyak job well done, finagling a Russian state media expert into the oval office, that`s a hard job, but consider it done!
Sergey Kislyak has worked hard and now he`s going home. And he got a send off tonight. Tonight, he`s got his going-away party from the U.S.-Russian Business Council in Washington, D.C. His going-away party was closed to the press, naturally, but it did come with this nice note from the business council.
Quote, Ambassador Kislyak has been a reliable and thoughtful interlocutor for the American business community during his time in Washington.
And honestly, he has just been a boss in terms of bringing home items on the Russian wish list. I mean, just step back a second and consider one of the very most basic questions in the Trump/Russia investigation, right? Even if you just wipe away all the specifics that we know. Just think about this and the basic truth of this.
If Russia decided to interfere with an American presidential election, because they wanted to change the world, so the world would be more like what Russia wants, what might they want? Like, what of those things could they conceivably get from the United States, right?
If Russia wanted to get something, what could they get? What could they even imagine getting? And have they gotten any of it since their attack on our election last year?
For instance, Russia, strategically, would clearly like the United States to not be the leader of the free world. They`d like the U.S. to be isolated in the world. Well, more than any time in our lifetimes, more than any time since World War II, the U.S. stands apart from its friends and allies. We saw that at the G20 Summit last week.
Russia strategically would also like there to not be a very cohesive free world for the U.S. to lead. They would like the U.S. to be as fractured as possible. File under Brexit. Also, White House skepticism on NATO. Also, U.S. individual fractures with our best allies in the West, so that nobody quite knows who the U.S. turns to in the world when we need a best friend.
Russia wants to be released from sanctions. The Trump administration has reportedly been lobbying Congress to at least relax if not alleviate sanctions on Russia.
Russia specifically would like the Magnitsky Act and its very specific targeted sanctions to not exist, which we now know the Trump campaign was discussing in Trump Tower with an emissary from the Kremlin, even before the nominating convention.
Russia would like deciding power in terms of what happened in Syria. Basically in terms of their sphere of influence politics, they want a big footprint in the Middle East. The biggest part of their footprint is Syria. They`ve got that. They`ve got control over what happens in Syria, and the U.S./Russian agreement last week.
The U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson reportedly telling Russia that what happens to Assad now is basically their call.
Honestly, if you think about Russia`s strategic interests broadly towards the United States and the way the United States has put the most pressure on Russia since the Cold War, they would prefer a U.S. State Department that`s basically inert.
OK, then. So many diplomatic jobs are empty right now in the U.S. State Department. The department could be run out of a two-person pup tent.
The Russians also, in a very specific sense, they want their seized U.S. compounds back. They want their dachas back. And whether or not that really was discussed by the president and Putin in their face-to-face meeting on Friday, the Russian foreign minister says they did discuss that.
You know, ultimately, the Russians would like continued intelligence operability and even military operability in the United States. So, it would be really good if, even after they displayed flagrantly their ability to infiltrate and operate within our election system, it would be awesome for them if we did nothing to retaliate and nothing to stop them from doing more of that, if we just allowed them to continue to do that. If the U.S. president, for example, announced that it was time to move on, move forward, maybe even work together on cybersecurity measures, as he did just this week.
So, we can expect that Ambassador Kislyak is returning to a rousing attaboy at the Kremlin, right? This is a guy -- I don`t know what his salary is, but when he gets home, watch, we`re going to find like, wow, Sergey Kislyak has a fleet of supercars and a lot of really nice vacation houses.
I mean, I`m sure Moscow thought he was a great ambassador before the last year, but, wow! Whatever you think about whether or not Americans helped the Russians, that were American confederates, that were members of the Trump campaign or supporters of the Trump campaign who helped the Russians and their project to change the world so it suits them more when they meddled in the U.S. election for the benefits of Russia`s preferred candidates, the administration in power now is either talking with Russia about or outright giving them every single thing we could even imagine that they want.
And while the investigations play out in the special counsel`s office and on Capitol Hill, what is not hidden or hard to see is that with this White House, Russia wants means Russia gets. I mean, you just step back for a moment, step back from it for a moment, think about how psyche they are right now.
Hold that thought.
MADDOW: I`m going to put up this Russia wish list again. Can we put that back up? Thank you.
This is our ongoing tally we`ve been keeping as staff here. This is the sort of thing we`ve had on the white board for long enough that you now kind of can`t erase it any more. This has been our ongoing tally of things we imagine Russia might like to get from the United States if they could get anything.
I mean, short of handing back Alaska, if Russia wanted to get something back in return for influencing U.S. election, is there anything else they might want to get that they`re not getting right now or at least having discussed right now with this new administration?
Joining us now is Michael McFaul. He`s former U.S. ambassador to Russia.
Professor McFaul, it`s really good to have you here tonight. Thank you for being here.
MICHAEL MCFAUL, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO RUSSIA: Yes, thanks for having me, Rachel.
MADDOW: First, let me ask you your reaction to what was published today by the president`s eldest son in "The New York Times". The Trump campaign meeting at the highest levels with an emissary from the Russian government who was shopping damaging information from the Russian government about Hillary Clinton. Does that whole scenario seem plausible to you? What was your reaction to that?
MCFAUL: Well, of course, it seems plausible to me in terms of what the Russian government was trying to do. We know very clearly that they were trying to influence the election in favor of candidate Trump against candidate Clinton. And this was a yet perhaps another tactic, which is to provide some that disinformation, some kompromat on Clinton.
What is just crazy to me, just to underscore everything I think you`ve been talking about and others, is why would the son of the presidential candidate take that meeting? So, I understand what Russians are trying to do. It`s really hard for me sometimes to understand why the Trump team would respond to their tactics.
MADDOW: You know, what you just said there I think is important, too, because if you see -- if you see that action as plausible in the way they operate, we might expect somebody like Paul Manafort, who is a sophisticated operator, who had worked in that world, who had been involved in high level Russian Ukrainian politics for a decade and who knows how things work in that part that of the world, you might expect that even if the president`s son didn`t get it, that Paul Manafort would recognize exactly what was happening there. And yet, he took that meeting as well, and Jared Kushner took that meeting as well, again, also sort of a more sophisticated international actor.
MCFAUL: Exactly. You know, with why wasn`t that screened? Why didn`t they see this for what it may be?
And I think it`s pretty obvious. It says that he wanted that information, and he didn`t care about where it came from. Well, it turns out a lot of people care about where it came from. And, you know, I don`t -- I`m not a lawyer. I`ve listened to your lawyer -- lawyers just now.
But as an American, you know, I`m outraged by it. This is not American behavior. This is unethical behavior. And I`m embarrassed by it.
To your other point, I mean, this makes us look very silly and it makes our president look very silly and isolated, and that`s not good for America.
MADDOW: Michael McFaul, former ambassador to Russia, thank you, sir. Appreciate your time tonight. Thank you.
MCFAUL: Thanks for having me.
MADDOW: All right. We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: At 9:00 a.m. Eastern tomorrow morning, when you turn on your TV, on MSNBC, you find Brian Williams anchoring, because we`ll be covering the confirmation hearing for the Trump nomination nominee to run the FBI, after the president fired James Comey.
Confirmation hearings for an FBI director are always rare and interesting. If he`s confirmed, Christopher Wray will only be the eighth person ever confirmed to this job. But this time, this hearing tomorrow in the middle of all this, given the reason this job is open in the first place, this thing should be a doozy. Again, starts 9:00 a.m. Eastern here on MSNBC.
But that does it for us tonight. We will see you again tomorrow.
Now, it`s 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