Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: July 12, 2017 Guest: Shane Harris, Greg Gordon
STEVE SCHMIDT, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: -- is it conceivable that any Republican member of Congress reacts to this by saying no big deal. It`s a titanic deal. You`ve never seen anything like this.
This puts the Russian government into the heart of the Trump campaign. And their insistence that the meeting was a big nothingburger frankly is not credible.
CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST, ALL IN: All right. Steve Schmidt, thank you.
And that "ALL IN" for this evening.
THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right now.
Good evening, Rachel.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Thanks, my friend.
HAYES: You bet.
MADDOW: And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.
We`ve got a really interesting hour ahead tonight.
We`ve got two really good investigative journalists who are going to be here with us tonight, one from "McClatchy" and one from "The Wall Street Journal." Both of them have scoops out today, and they`re both joining us in person tonight to walk through what they`ve learned and what they`ve just reported because frankly, a lot got reported today.
But I want to start with something that came out in May, in mid-May. "Time" magazine published a big story about one prong of the Russian attack on the U.S. election last year. As we`ve been talking about that, that effort really had three prongs, three different components.
First, there was the straight up hacking effort by Russia to try to penetrate local and state election systems all over the country. Mostly targeting voter registration rolls. We still don`t have a clear sense of why they did that, what they did with the access that they gained through that attack. What they were trying to do, whether that might have been laying the groundwork for something in the future.
I`ll say just personally, I find it mildly distressing that under the Trump administration, the Department of Homeland Security doesn`t seem overly interested in investigating what the consequences were of that hacking attack and whether U.S. election systems might be compromised in a way because of that attack that we may not learn about until that effect is sort of actuated sometime in the future.
But that pure hacking effort going after state and local elections software, and elections infrastructure, that was the first part of the Russian attack. Second prong of the attack was their attack on political institutions, specifically the Democratic National Committee, the Clinton campaign. This is where Russian hackers stole information off of American servers, and then unlike a normal spying operation, where the Russians would, you know, keep those documents, keep those secrets for themselves, so the Russian government could use that information to inform its own actions.
Instead, they took that information, they repackaged it, and then they fed it back to us. They fed it back to the American public in a way designed to do maximum damage to one presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton, and provide maximum benefit to another, Donald Trump. So, that was the second prong.
First was the attack on the election, the election infrastructure. The second was that stealing stuff and repackaging it and sending that stuff they stole back at the American public. The third prong of their three- pronged attack is what they did on social media, and in media media. The manipulation of news and online discussion of news and the interrupting and steering of social media traffic to, again, hurt one candidate in the presidential election, Hillary Clinton, and to help their preferred candidate, Donald Trump.
In mid-May, "Time" magazine did a big deep dive into that last prong of the Russian attack. The social media part of it. It`s fascinating report. It`s a really good article.
The report was written by Massimo Calabresi, who is a very good reporter, very well written. You might remember that was the issue of "Time" magazine where they put this image on the cover where the White House was slowly morphing into the Kremlin.
Well, deep into that story, they had this great new detail that didn`t get a ton of attention when that story came back. But looking back now, it`s clear he should have. He reported in mid May in "Time" magazine that there had been an intelligence intercept, a U.S. intelligence intercept that happened last spring, in May of 2016, where U.S. intelligence overheard a conversation that took place in Russia between two Russian officials. And they were talking about a Russian plan to, quote, cause chaos in last year`s presidential election.
What they were talking about was a Russian plan to try to hurt Hillary Clinton in the presidential election last year, by using Russian assets, Russian resources directed by the Kremlin to manipulate the American public`s view of Hillary Clinton, by spreading damaging information about Hillary Clinton through the resources of the Russian military intelligence service, through the GRU. So, that was -- that intelligence intercept about that conversation overheard between Russian official in May 2016, that was initially reported in May 2017, May 27th, this year, by "Time" magazine.
That report about that U.S. intelligence intercept overhearing the two Russian officials talking to each other, that was re-upped today by Peter Stone and Greg Gordon reporting at "McClatchy". Quote: As Donald Trump was locking up the presidential nomination in May 2016, a U.S. intelligence intercept picked up Russians discussing ways to spread news damaging to Hillary Clinton. "McClatchy" citing two people familiar with the matter.
So, that May 2016 intelligence intercept, now reported by "Time" magazine and by "McClatchy", where the Russians are talking about how to manipulate American news about Hillary Clinton, the importance of that is now way more recognizable than we first learned about it. And it`s way more recognizably important because of its timing, right? If that discussion between those Russian officials happened in May 2016, we now know what happened next, right?
In June 2016, in early June 2016, was that previously undisclosed meeting between Donald Trump Jr., Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort and Trump son in law Jared Kushner, at Trump Tower. Their meeting with an emissary from the Russian government, a lawyer who was Russian speaking, who brought a translator with her, who got that meeting in Trump Tower with the top echelon of the Trump campaign, because she apparently was seen by them as the delivery agent to the Trump campaign of official Russian documents and information that would somehow incriminate Hillary Clinton and that the Trump folks could use in the campaign against her.
Now, since the e-mail setting up that e-mail were disclosed by Donald Trump Jr. yesterday morning, a lot of people have noted that Mr. Trump didn`t seem surprised. He didn`t seem taken aback at all when he was told bluntly in this e-mail asking for this meeting that this, quote, obviously very high level and sensitive information is part of Russia, and its government support for Mr. Trump.
We have the whole e-mail chain, at least what Donald Trump Jr. says is the whole e-mail chain. And he doesn`t respond to that by saying, wait, Russia and its government are supporting Mr. Trump? He doesn`t seem shocked, right?
He doesn`t say, this is part of how Russia and its government are supporting Mr. Trump? What are the other parts? What are the other ways in which they`re helping, right?
He doesn`t react with surprise. He doesn`t seem at all taken aback. To hear about this promised delivery of Hillary Clinton dirt from this emissary from the Russian government, he doesn`t seem surprised to hear that this is part of the Russian government supporting his father in the election.
So, it didn`t surprise Donald Trump Jr., nor does this apparent involvement of the Russian government in our election apparently surprise or bother Paul Manafort or Jared Kushner, it doesn`t bother them enough to keep them from taking the meeting, even though they were informed about what it was.
Well, looking back on that, for context now, we know that Russian attack was well under way by that time, right? This wasn`t the start of it. Russian intelligence officials, the previous month, in May 2016, had been caught on tape, caught on a U.S. intelligence intercept talking about the Russian plan to spread damaging news about Hillary Clinton in order to help Trump`s prospects in the campaign. So, that discussion was in May. That meeting was in June.
Since, we learned about the scale and the impact of the Russian attack to try to manipulate social media and the news media in this country, there has been a lot of -- I think there have been a lot of serious questions raised as to whether or not the Russians could have pulled off that attack as well as they did, without any domestic help. Without somebody in America helping them do it most effectively. There have been serious questions raised as to whether somebody in the U.S. might have had to help them in their efforts terms of which groups of American voters to target, what messages were expected to work, how they might be able to dovetail their media manipulation with what the Trump campaign was doing at that time to try to hurt Hillary Clinton on their own terms.
There have been a lot of questions about that when we realized the scope of what Russia did with its social media targeting, right? "McClatchy" reports today that investigators in both the House Intelligence Committee and the Senate Intelligence Committee, as well as investigators at the Department of Justice, they`re now looking at that. They`re now looking specifically at whether or not the digital operation of the Trump campaign itself might have been the entity that helped the Russians in that part of their attack, whether the digital aspect of the Trump campaign is part of what helped the Russians target their news media manipulation and the stuff they did via social media.
Greg Gordon is one of the two "McClatchy" reporters on that story today. We`re going to be speaking with Greg Gordon live about that story in just a few minutes tonight.
I should also tell you that for that story, "McClatchy" spoke with a former Pentagon official, an official who just left the Defense Department in January after serving there as the deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, and Ukraine and Eurasia. That senior Pentagon official responsible for Russia now says about that part of the Russia attack last year, quote, there appears to have been significant cooperation between Russia`s online propaganda machine and individuals in the United States who were knowledgeable about where to target the disinformation.
Again, that coming from the person who was in charge of Russia at the Pentagon, at the time the Russian attack was happening. We`re going to be speaking with that former official, that former Pentagon official tomorrow night on this program for the interview. So, you should cancel your Thursday night plans for right now.
So, all that is stacked up. That headline from "McClatchy" today is presumably harrowing to the Trump White House: Trump-Russia investigators probe Jared Kushner-run digital operation, because he was in charge of digital at the Trump campaign. But even after that, late this evening, that particular story became even worse news for the Trump White House because later this evening, Charlie Savage from "The New York Times" reported on a new lawsuit that has just been filed, down to the wire, just inside the statute of limitations. It`s a lawsuit filed by donors to the Democratic Party and one DNC staffer.
What they`re doing is they`re suing the Trump campaign. This is a lawsuit that is has been filed by an organization that was formed very recently by former Obama administration lawyers. It`s an organization called Protect Democracy. Sort of watching them to see what they would do. Now, they have filed this lawsuit against the Trump campaign alleging that while it might have been Russian government hackers who broke into the DNC and stole DNC information in the first place, this lawsuit alleges that it was actually the Trump campaign that conspired to release the information back to the American public.
This is actually an invasion of privacy lawsuit because the personal information of those donors and DNC staffers was released to the public, along with all that other stuff, and that targeted data dump of DNC stuff, which, again, this lawsuit says was not just a Russian operation, it was a Russian operation in which the Trump campaign conspired.
So, we have posted a link to the complaint that has been filed in this lawsuit in federal district court in D.C., if only because if you`ve been trying to keep track of the known universe of facts and data and documents that have been produced in the Trump-Russia investigation thus far, this lawsuit may be a whole new source of e-mails, texts, phone records, other primary source documents. Through this discovery process, and this lawsuit, they want to depose witnesses, they want campaign documents.
Again, this is specifically looking at whether there was Trump campaign involvement, and what has otherwise been seen as a Russian operation. So - - and I should mention that the lawyers involved in this, the people who are suing the Trump campaign here are freaking highfalutin high-powered people who know what they are doing. So there`s that.
I mean, if you think about this from the perspective of the Trump White House, when you think about the perspective from their lawyers, their legal team, the people who are trying to defend the president, and defend Trump campaign people on the Trump-Russia affair just on that issue. They`re now dealing with the special counsel Robert Mueller investigation. They`re dealing with the Senate Judiciary Committee, looking at possible obstruction of Justice. They`re looking at the Senate Intelligence Committee and House Intelligence Committee, broadly looking at the Russian attack and potential Trump campaign collusion in that attack.
Now, in addition to that, they`re looking at what may be a very high powered offensive through the court system, through the federal courts. All tied to that second prong of the Russian attack, that hack of the DNC, where they stole that information and turned it back on the American people.
Imagine trying to manage the defense on all of those fronts. The guy who is supposedly the captain of that team, managing the defense, is Marc Kasowitz who is the New York lawyer who had previously represented Donald Trump and his business interests and his divorces and stuff. That`s who Trump brought on, brought to Washington to run his Russia defense.
Marc Kasowitz is not the only lawyer involved in that defense but he`s supposed to be in charge of that team. Well, today, "The New York Times" reports Marc Kasowitz is considering resigning.
"ProPublica" has also today published an enormous hair-curling story about Marc Kasowitz today, which is part personal profile, but also part cliffhanger in terms of whether Marc Kasowitz is going to be able to continue in his role leading the Trump defense. And even if he does stay on and he doesn`t resign, they`re raising the question as to whether he can continue to effectively run this defense.
We have posted this "ProPublica" story on our Website as well tonight. It`s long. It`s fascinating if you`re interested in this side of the story. I should tell you, though, it`s got a lot of disparaging personal information about Mr. Kasowitz, including stuff like about his lifestyle, and even medical issues for him, it`s got a lot of details about, I kid you not, his behavior at office Christmas parties.
It`s an unusual thing. There are some unnamed sources in the piece, but there are a lot of named sources as well, including named sources who are people close to the president.
So, I don`t have that much appetite for like learning about the palace intrigue in terms of who likes who and who`s on the outs. And, you know, what`s happening among the people who work for the president on personal terms. But between this "New York Times" reporting that the president`s top Russia lawyer might resign, and this incredibly well reported litany of negative personal information that was just published in this big story of him at "ProPublica" with this very damning sourcing, that`s just whether or not you care about the personalities involved here. That is starting to become a factor that we ought to pay attention to in terms of whether or not the president really is getting an adequate defense as this scandal gets more intense.
He picked a weird defense team anyway when it comes to defending a Washington scandal. But the guy in charge of it, if he`s about to quit and now facing this barrage, that`s a factor.
And it`s not just the president`s legal team that`s starting to look a little wobbly. There are also signs of stress among very high ranking White House officials including Vice President Mike Pence whose spokesman today had a very hard time refusing to answer questions about Mike Pence`s own contacts with Russian officials during the campaign. We will be talking about that a little later on today.
As for Jared Kushner, the only currently serving White House official who was at that June meeting last year with the Russian lawyer at Trump Tower, Jared Kushner, he is facing pointed questions today from, among others, Democratic Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut, asking why for months now, Jared Kushner has allowed the White House, including White House spokespeople, and Vice President Mike Pence, and senior advisers like Kellyanne Conway, why he`s allowed all of these people around him to insist publicly for months that there were definitely no meetings with Russian officials during the campaign, when Jared Kushner knew there had been, because in at least one case, he was at that meeting.
I mean, allowing other White House officials, including Vice President Mike Pence, to make false statements about whether or not they were contacts with Russians, right? I mean, isn`t that what Mike Flynn was ostensibly fired for?
So, Jared Kushner is facing serious questions tonight about why he stood by and allowed the White House and senior White House officials to repeatedly lie about something he had firsthand information about. He`s also facing serious questions about whether or not he should lose his security clearance , which allows him to operate in his job as White House senior adviser. We`ll talking more about that tonight as well.
Among the president`s defenders in Congress, things there are also starting to get a little shaky, although in this case I think the shaking might be just an egg that`s about to hatch. It might just be a predicate to what we are about to see that I expect to be a large-scale political counteroffensive by Republicans and the conservative media, to try to turn this scandal into something else that is not about President Trump.
Today was the Senate confirmation hearing for Christopher Wray, who`s the Trump administration`s nominee to be the new head of the FBI. The chairman of the committee that conducted that confirmation hearing is Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa. Somewhat strangely, although I said to watch for this last night, somewhat strangely today, Senator Grassley spent a good portion of his opening statement in the confirmation hearing today going after the current acting director of the FBI. Going after Andrew McCabe, and saying he wants Andrew McCabe off of any investigation involving Mike Flynn.
The chairman proceed today`s very important hearing for the FBI director by also going on "Fox & Friends" and entertaining their questions about whether the Russian lawyer meeting with Don Jr. at Trump Tower was all a Democratic Party setup. And he bragged to them about how that dossier of alleged Russian dirt on Donald Trump needs to be investigated. Not investigated to figure out whether or not it`s true, and based in reality, but its existence needs to be investigated, because maybe the existence of that dossier is the real scandal here, and the Russia lawyer was maybe a setup, and "Fusion GPS" who paid for that dossier, maybe they`re the super villain here and they did it and Russia didn`t.
So, in Trump world, things are a little wobbly right now. The Trump legal team has some significant personnel wobbles to it. Trump administration senior officials up to and including the vice president are having their own troubles with this story. Because nepotism is apparently normal now, the troubles at the upper echelons of the Trump administration also cause problems for the Trump family, particularly for the Trump`s -- for Trump`s son-in-law and Trump`s eldest son, who may both be facing serious legal questions about their behavior that`s been reported over the last couple of days.
Also among Trumps supporting Republicans in Congress, I continue to stick a flag there. The flag I stuck there last night is still waving in terms of an expected counterattack trying to turn this into a Democratic scandal.
That effort to try to turn this into a Democratic scandal, it is happening already, almost full scale in the conservative media. The president started tweeting some of those articles from the conservative media today. Republican members of Congress, including senior Republican senators like Chuck Grassley are starting to use those talking points and point in that direction. It is coming.
And to all of that, to all of those different places where we can see the panic button getting hit, and to all of that comes a big new scoop today from "The Wall Street Journal", from national security reporter Shane Harris. And that story is next.
MADDOW: Shane Harris is the national security reporter at "The Wall Street Journal" who broke the first story that documented American collusion with the Russian attack on our election. It was Shane Harris of "The Wall Street Journal" who reported almost two weeks ago now about a Republican political operative who has since died who late last summer put together a team to contact Russian government hackers to try to get anti-Hillary Clinton oppo from them to use in the U.S. election to help Donald Trump. That lingering, still unanswered question about that reporting is whether or not that project was embarked upon in conjunction with then Trump campaign senior adviser Mike Flynn. That remains an outstanding question there.
But now, Shane Harris at "The Wall Street Journal" has a new scoop with two very important new details. Can we put that headline up on the screen, please?
We`re going to have Shane Harris here in just a moment to talk about the importance of what he has just reported here, what he`s found. But it seems to me, looking at this new story he has posted, that there are two very important new things here. The first is what`s in the headline, Russian officials overheard discussing Trump associates before campaign began.
Quoting from Shane Harris` article, quote: In the spring of 2015, so before Trump ever announced he was running for president, U.S. intelligence agencies detected conversations in which Russian government officials discussed associates of Donald Trump. In some cases, the Russians in the overheard conversations talked about meetings held outside the U.S. involving Russian government officials and Trump business associates.
Now, as I said, we`re going to hear from Shane Harris himself in just a minute about what he can tell us about the circumstances of those meetings, and the surveillance that led to those intelligence reports. He does say in this "Wall Street Journal" piece, though, quote: the reports in and of themselves -- meaning the reports of these meetings -- in and of themselves were not alarming, but the volume of the mentions of Trump associates by the Russians did have officials asking each other, what`s going on?
So, that`s one. Again, that`s about 2015, before Trump ever announced he was running. The other thing Shane Harris is reporting tonight at "The Wall Street Journal" is this, quote: In the spring of 2016, European intelligence officials warned U.S. intelligence officials that Russian money might be flowing into the U.S. presidential election. It remains unknown if or whether those funds were funneled to a particular campaign, or to others to spend it on behalf of candidates.
So, as early as 2015, Russians are talking about all their meetings with Trump associates, a lot of them. Sometime in the spring of 2016, European intelligence agencies warned the U.S. that Russian money is being funneled into our presidential election. Nobody knows why or how, at least not yet. And then in May of 2016, now, would that be considered spring, late spring, early summer? Nigh upon the solstice.
In May of 2016, that`s when Russian officials, as first reported in "Time" magazine a few weeks ago, Russian officials are talking about a Russian government effort to spread disparaging news about Hillary Clinton. So, spring of 2015, all these meetings with Trump associates and Russian government officials, what`s that all about? Spring of 2016 they`re talking about how to spreading disparaging news about Hillary Clinton.
May of 2016 -- I mean, and then immediately thereafter, time for a trip to Trump Tower, right? Jared, Paul, Jr., how are you guys doing? Have you met this Russian lawyer? She`s here from the Russian government.
All of those things are now stacking up in the chronology. There is a lot going on. There`s a lot of new reporting coming out now.
Really, though, I will tell you it is starting to feel very orderly. It`s starting to feel like I finally get how this thing stacked up. I`m less confused than I have been in a long time.
But this is a time when the news is moving fast. And Shane Harris from "The Wall Street Journal" is going to join us next. We`ve also got Greg Gordon from "McClatchy" joining us tonight as well.
Also, if you have not heard about Mike Pence`s on-air problems, explaining himself with regard to the Russian investigation today, you will definitely want to stay around for that. We`ve got lots ahead. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Shane Harris is a senior national security writer for "The Wall Street Journal." He broke tonight`s news that Russian officials were overheard by U.S. intelligence agencies discussing their meetings with associates of the president as far back as 2015, before he had officially entered the presidential race.
Shane Harris, thanks for being with us tonight. I really appreciate your time.
SHANE HARRIS, SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY WRITER, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: Thanks for having me, Rachel.
MADDOW: So, what can you tell us about these 2015 conversations that you reported on today? Obviously, the thing that jumps out is the date that this preceded Mr. Trump declaring that he was going to run for president. But it seems like you`re indicating in your reporting that the volume of these meetings u the number of these meetings, the number of these intercepts was itself alarming to the U.S. agencies that became aware of them.
HARRIS: That`s right. I mean, if you sort of transport yourself back in time to the spring of 2015 before Donald Trump was running when he was still someone who might be running, he was a television personality, intelligence officials are picking up these reports of the Russians that they`re routinely monitoring, and talk about Donald Trump, and meetings with Trump associates is popping up. And it`s very puzzling.
It`s not completely unheard of that U.S. business people or famous people might be mentioned by Russians in conversations. But the volume of it is coming across seeming odd to officials at the time. As it was described to me, it kind of becomes this water cooler conversation of what`s going on here? Why are they talking about these associates? What are these allusions to meeting?
It`s not until time progresses and really, frankly, even in recent weeks that we`ve seen more revelations coming out, that you go back to that kind of initial dot in the narrative and it starts to make a lot of sense, or look like maybe this was part of the narrative that was building. And I think what we`re seeing here is like a photograph developing. It`s kind of becoming clearer as more and more information gets layered on to it.
And this piece is particularly important now, because investigators can go back, relook at those reports from 2015, and say, is there something in there that we didn`t recognize as significant at the time? But now, we see maybe why that matters or why it marries up to information that`s come out since then?
MADDOW: Is there anything controversial about this surveillance? Obviously, if this is surveillance of Russian government sources, Russian persons, that`s something that is not particularly controversial in terms of U.S. law, but people who are associated with Donald Trump, Mr. Trump`s name itself turning up in these intelligence reports, is that controversial? Is that likely to be something that the Trump campaign or Republicans or other people who are concerned about privacy issues here might be concerned about?
HARRIS: Well, it could be controversial insofar as there has been this issue of unmasking and names of U.S. persons showing up in reports. It`s important to remember as well that those names are only ever unmasked if investigators believe there might be a reason to do that to understand the context of the intelligence. And so, I would just say, it`s not entirely clear which associates maybe mentioned here or even if some cases Russians were just alluding to meetings with people around Trump.
But as we`re now going back and looking at this again, it might be subpoenaing that`s appropriate for officials to do to dig into those names even more, now that we`re past this April 2015 time frame, when officials are routinely monitoring people in Russia, and sort of wondering why this business about Trump coming up. Back then, it would not have seemed as significant as it might now.
MADDOW: OK. Along with that portion of your reporting today, what jumped out to me was your reporting that intelligence officials were warned in -- U.S. intelligence officials were warned in the spring of 2016 by their European counterparts that Russian money might be flowing into the U.S. presidential election in 2016. What can you tell us about that?
HARRIS: Well, I think this is really important point in the narrative, because, of course, you know, it sort of falls after the -- before Donald Trump has clinched the nomination, but it really is one the first signals as it`s been described to us where intelligence services are beginning to think, wait a minute, there`s some kind of Russian interference potentially going on. It`s still not clear to people I`ve talked to who are close to the investigation exactly what the nature of this was. Was it Russian government money somehow funneled into a campaign, was it being laundered? These are questions that investigators are struggling with right now.
But it was enough the European intelligence services flagged this to the U.S. intelligence community, and said, we think there`s reason to believe that Russian funds are finding their way into your elections process. And it seems like this is one of those moments where the signals really start to increase and intelligence officials become more alarmed at that point at what they`re seeing, that ultimately starts to build later into that summer, into what we know now is the hack of the DNC that was revealed in June. By the time you hit that time frame in June of 2016, it is really kind of an open secret at this point that the Russians are meddling in the elections. And some months later the intelligence community, of course, would confirm that publicly on the record.
MADDOW: Shane Harris, senior writer on national security for "The Wall Street Journal." Shane, thank you very much. I really appreciate you being here.
HARRIS: Thanks, Rachel. Thanks for having me.
MADDOW: We`ll say that that last point, I don`t want that -- it`s not in the headline but it may end up being the most important thing about this story, reports in the spring of 2016 European intelligence agencies were warning U.S. intelligence agencies about Russian money making its way into the U.S. presidential election. I mean, spring of 2016, the sort of wrapping up of the primary process, right? So, we know who the general election candidates are going to be.
I don`t know what we`ll eventually find out about that. But that detail reported for the first time tonight in "The Wall Street Journal" by Shane Harris, that, if nothing else, probably explains why there have been so many people signed up as lawyers on the Bob Mueller probe, whose background is in international money laundering.
All right. Much more to come here tonight, including another excellent investigative reporter joining us live. Stay with us.
MADDOW: In March, "McClatchy" had a scoop. This was the scoop: Operatives for Russia appear to have strategically timed the computer commands known as bots to blitz social media with links to pro-Trump stories at times when Trump was on the defensive in his race against Hillary Clinton. The bots` end products were largely millions of Twitter and Facebook posts carrying links to stories on conservative Internet sites like "Breitbart News" and "Info Wars", as well as on Kremlin-backed "RT News" and "Sputnik News".
That was the scoop that "McClatchy" had in March. And importantly, in March, McClatchy noted that those bot attacks, those were now the subject of federal investigation, being led by the FBI counterintelligence division. And as part of that investigation, McClatchy reportred that the FBI was looking into whether conservative Websites in the United States, sites like "Breitbart News" and "Info Wars", whether they might have knowingly helped Russian operatives who were carrying out this attack. So, that was in March.
Investigative reporter Peter Stone and Greg Gordon, they`ve done a lot of stellar reporting on the cyber attacks by Russia last year against us.
And now, those same reporters are out with a brand-new piece today. They report that Justice Department investigators and congressional investigators are looking into whether Russian attackers had help not just from conservative media sites in this country, but maybe from within the Trump campaign itself. Whether the Trump campaign`s digital arm helped Russians target their bot attacks and their fake news attacks to specific states, specific districts, in order to boost Trump support in those states and districts.
Congressional investigators, of course, are not focusing entirely on this. It doesn`t appear to be the central focus of their investigations. But we have confirmed separately tonight that they are in fact examining this angle.
"McClatchy" also reports tonight that U.S. intelligence intercepts last May, last year, captured Russian officials talking to each other about the Russian effort to spread disparaging news about Hillary Clinton. So, the question being bored in on here is whether those documented and consequential Russian efforts had American help. And if so, whodunit.
Joining us now is Greg Gordon, investigative reporter for "McClatchy".
Mr. Gordon, thank you very much for being here. It`s really nice to have you back.
GREG GORDON, INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER, MCCLATCHY: Hi, Rachel. Thanks for having me back.
MADDOW: So, in your reporting, I want to ask you about a specific quote that really stuck out to me in part because of who it was from. You quote a former senior Pentagon official, somebody who left in January, who was a senior Pentagon official dealing with Russia who says, who tells you: There appears to have been significant cooperation between Russia`s online propaganda machine, and individuals in the United States who are knowledgeable about where to target the disinformation.
That seems incredibly important to me. I wanted to ask you, if that former Pentagon official would be in a position to know, from his previous role in the Department of Defense, and do you know who he`s talking about in terms of Americans who coordinated?
GORDON: We do not. And it`s important to say what we don`t know. We don`t know, first of all, that what they`re investigating actually is going to prove out to be, you know, the possible Russian attack fine-tuned to local jurisdictions that had swung away from Hillary Clinton, or even local precincts.
But what we do know is that the trail is getting a lot warmer, and this particular angle, because of the way in which bots and fake news and the bombardment of social media messages may have affected the outcome of this race, it`s important to see that the investigators are going to try to get to the bottom of this. It will be very difficult. But they`ll -- they may run into some brick walls unless they can get some help from humans.
MADDOW: Yes, let me -- let me ask you about, from your reporting on this, and, obviously, you`ve been looking at this angle on this story for a while from a few different angles. What`s your understanding of what kind of evidence they need to look at? What kind of evidence might exist in the world? What kind of trails and leads they might follow in order to prove this out, if there`s anything there?
GORDON: This is the most intriguing part of it for me as far as the cyber end of it. And that is that really, from what my understanding tells me, the National Security Agency is really where it starts and stops. The NSA collects little data packets of communications that enter and leave the country.
And if the Russians were attempting to do this sort of thing, from overseas, the NSA might be able to reconstruct this. Although, trying to reconstruct millions of bots and where they went and so forth would be to say the least a huge piece of research. But at least you would have that possibility.
Now, Russians did this and used a computer that was based in the United States from what I`m told, it would be pretty tough to reconstruct it. So then it comes do you know to who knew what, and who`s going to talk about it?
MADDOW: I see. So, human intelligence, human sourcing, human evidence about what may have happened in the cyber environment. Fascinating stuff.
Greg Gordon, investigative reporter for "McClatchy News", thank you for helping us understand this tonight, sir. It`s good to have you here.
GORDON: My pleasure. Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: All right. Still ahead tonight here, the vice president having trouble explaining how the Russian investigation relates to him, or doesn`t? That`s next, including some pretty incredible tape.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: Fair warning, I`m about to play you some tape from FOX News. I`m playing it not to make fun of FOX News, not to play cable news wars, but because I think there`s a legit news making stuff that happened on FOX that you should see. Ready?
OK. In January this year, Vice President Mike Pence was asked if there had been any contact between the Trump campaign and Russia during the campaign. A person who believed that there hadn`t been any contact like that might have just said no. But that was not Mike Pence`s first instinct. He did eventually get around to no, but he had to run around the block a few times and dodge it first.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS HOST: I`m asking you a direct question. Was there any contact in any way between Trump or his associates and the Kremlin or cutouts they had?
MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I joined this campaign in the summer, and I can tell you that all the contact by the Trump campaign and associates was with the American people.
WALLACE: But was there any contact, sir? I`m just trying to get an answer.
PENCE: Yes. I -- of course not. Why would there be any contacts?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: So, he`s got a different story to tell. He doesn`t really want to answer it but Chris Wallace presses him and eventually he gets there.
By later that same morning, Mike Pence got better at getting right to that answer.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN DICKERSON, CBS NEWS HOST: Did any adviser or anybody in the Trump campaign have any contact with the Russians who were trying to meddle in the election?
PENCE: Well, of course not.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Go right to of course not.
Now, the problem, of course, is that there were contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian officials during the campaign. There were multiple contacts up to and including the meeting we learned about this week where the president`s son and son-in-law and campaign chair all sought out damaging information on Clinton from a Kremlin-connected lawyer at Trump tower after they were told explicitly that she represented the Russian government.
No, there were no contacts. Yes, there were contacts.
Mike Pence has also insisted, honestly, straight to the camera, that Mike Flynn did not talk to any Russian officials about sanctions, even though we now know that he did talk to Russian officials about sanctions. Mike Pence`s explanation for that is that he was lied to.
Mike Pence has also insisted honestly, looking right into the camera, that he had no idea until after Mike Flynn was fired as national security adviser that Flynn had been on the payroll of a foreign country. That denial was very hard to believe because Mike Pence was head of the transition, and the transition was notified multiple times including in writing, multiple times in multiple ways. They were told by multiple people about Mike Flynn taking foreign government paychecks.
But now, today, more from the Mike Pence side of this scandal. FOX News`s Bill Hemmer asked the vice president`s spokesman today, spokesman for Mike Pence, if Pence himself ever met with Russian officials. Now, this again is a yes or no question. Somebody whose boss definitely didn`t meet with Russian officials could just say no, and they would move on. But that`s not how it went.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILL HEMMER, FOX NEWS HOST: Did the vice president ever meet with representatives from Russia?
MARC LOTTER, PENCE SPOKESMAN: The vice president is not focused on the areas where, you know, on this campaign, especially things that happened before he was even on the ticket.
HEMMER: Just come back to this question. If it wasn`t a private citizen from Russia, did he ever meet with representatives from the Russian government during the campaign?
LOTTER: That`s stuff that the special prosecutor and the counsels are all looking at.
HEMMER: Just to nail this down so we`re clear, is that a yes or a no? Did he or did he not, and was it relevant in fact?
LOTTER: I`m not aware of anything that I have seen.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: His spokesman will not say no. Did Vice President Mike Pence meet with representatives of the Russian government?
We don`t know if the answer is yes or no, but we know his spokesman will not say no.
Mike Pence is often regards as less caught up in the unfolding Russia saga. I think it`s because of the way he looks so meaningfully at the camera when he talks about it. But he really has made a number of blatantly false statements about the Trump/Russia connection thus far, and especially given what happened today on FOX News of all places. Credit to them. He should not be discounted in this scandal.
Watch this space.
MADDOW: Senate Republicans say they will release version 2.0 of their spectacularly unpopular bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act. NBC News reports tonight that while the new version of the bill does have some changes from the old version they couldn`t pass quite recently, the deep, drastic cuts to Medicaid in particular are still in there, and the new version of the bill is still likely to take millions and millions of Americans who have health insurance right now and make them not have health insurance of any kind because of the Republicans` new bill.
Now, I should say, in terms of the electoral and the political math here, there is no indication that Republicans can actually pass even this new version of the bill. Kentucky Senator Rand Paul already came out against it this afternoon. Moderate Senator Susan Collins and Dean Heller are also expected to say no to this new version. And if that`s it, even if just the three of them vote no, it`s toast.
Mitch McConnell can only afford to lose two Republican senators and get this thing passed. It already looks like he doesn`t have those numbers. That is expected to be the reason why he is delaying the Senate`s beloved all of August recess, making the Senate stick around in D.C. two extra weeks at least, so their arms are close by for some extra twisting. Despite that uncertainty, we are told they may try to put this thing on the floor for a vote as early as next week. Tick tock.
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