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The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 8/8/17 US Intel: N. Korea miniaturizes nuclear warhead

Guests: Joe Cirincione, Julian Borger

Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: August 8, 2017 Guest: Joe Cirincione, Julian Borger

CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST, "ALL IN": That is ALL IN for this evening.

THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right now with the one and only Rachel Maddow.

Welcome back.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Thank you very much, my friend. Thank you for being so nice welcoming me back and thank you for being so nice to Joy while she was here. She did an amazing job. I felt very well taken care of. I feel like I should just believe -- I could leave the show, just walk away, you guys would be able to keep things going indefinitely. Nobody would notice I was gone.

HAYES: Well, people notice. Joy crushed it and we`re here for you and I`m glad you`re back.

MADDOW: Thanks, my friend. I appreciate it.

And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. It is great to be back. I was on vacation for the past week and a bit. Joy Reid and the whole staff here did a great job holding down the fort while I was gone. So, I am very, very grateful to have had that time off. I am also happy to be back.

Today is August 8th. On this date three years ago, in 2014, a man named Michael Flynn was starting his new life as one of the highest profile firings of the Obama administration. Mike Flynn, of course, is now famous for having served very, very briefly as Trump`s national security adviser and also for being in the bullseye of the ongoing Trump Russia investigation ever since.

But being Trump`s national security adviser was not the first high-profile Washington job that Mike Flynn had. He had been hired by the Obama administration to run the Defense Intelligence Agency.

Now, it didn`t work out. It didn`t go well. In the end, he was perceived to have been a failure at that job and by this week in the summer of 2014, three years ago, he was gone. This was actually his first day after being fired three years ago today -- forced out well in advance of how long he`d been expected to stay.

In that brief period, though, when Michael Flynn was running the Defense Intelligence Agency during the Obama administration, that agency did make really big news. It was -- it was news that seems very alarming at the time. It set off days and arguably weeks of something approaching panic in the press and in national security circles.

The reassuring news looking back on it now is that that super scary news from Mike Flynn`s Defense Intelligence Agency back in April when he was still running that agency, that scary news from him and his agency turned out to be wrong. It seemed very scary at the time but it was wrong.


BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC ANCHOR: Today, in the midst of all this, we learned with many caveats what North Korea may be capable of. A member of Congress for the first time in an open hearing read and now on classified study by our own Defense Intelligence Agency. They can now say with moderate confidence, quote, the North currently has nuclear weapons capable of delivering by ballistic missiles.


MADDOW: That was not news tape from today. That was from the spring of 2013, when the Defense Intelligence Agency under Mike Flynn said everybody`s hair on fire.

A Republican member of Congress, Doug Lamborn, read aloud a previously classified conclusion from the Defense Intelligence Agency, which was then headed by Mike Flynn and that conclusion was that North Korea had achieved basically the Holy Grail in terms of its ability to threaten the continental United States. That DIA report back in 2013 said that the North Koreans had completed the process of miniaturizing a nuclear weapon, so it could fit onto a ballistic missile. They could shoot it off anywhere in the world.

And that set off a flurry of not quite panic, but something approaching that until people realized, wait a second, maybe that`s not true.

At the time, the director of national intelligence had to come out and say yes this may be what Mike Flynn and his Defense Intelligence Agency have concluded, but according to the DNI, quote, it is not the consensus of the nation`s intelligence community. The director of national intelligence at the time had to put out a written statement explaining that Mike Flynn and DIA, they were alone on this. And furthermore, they were wrong on this.

They put out a written statement from the national director of national intelligence office saying, quote, North Korea has not yet demonstrated the full range of capabilities necessary for a nuclear-armed missile.

So, everybody freaked out and they were like maybe not, and then things calmed down even further when the South Koreans came out, and they also threw cold water on what Mike Flynn and his agency had reported back in the spring of 2013. I mean, South Koreans are probably in a position to know, right, given their acute interest in the matter, given their proximity to the problem at hand.

South Korean defense ministry came out at the time and said, yes, no. Quote, we have no doubt -- excuse me -- we have note that North Korea has reached the stage of miniaturization.

So that story in 2013 started off as a worry about North Korea story. It ended up being a worry about our Defense Intelligence Agency story.

And the Defense Intelligence Agency, it was not just a Mike Flynn thing. They already had a difficult reputation on matters like this. You might remember that that was the agency that argued vociferously more than any other intelligence agency that Iraq had nuclear weapons before the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Of course, at the time, not only did Iraq not have nuclear weapons, they didn`t even have a nuclear program. But DIA insisted they had. DIA had been wrong about that 10 years earlier, ahead of the Iraq war. They were wrong about North Korea miniaturizing the nukes thing 10 years later, in 2013.

And not long thereafter, the head of the DIA, Mike Flynn, found himself out on his ear, one of the highest profile firings of the entire Obama administration.

Well, now, it`s August 2017, and "The Washington Post" has just published what looks like basically a carbon copy of that screwed up story from Mike Flynn`s agency four years ago, citing a, quote, new analysis completed last month by the Defense Intelligence Agency. "The Post" reports that DIA`s confidential assessment is that North Korea has successfully produced a miniaturized warhead that can fit inside its missiles.

This seems like the exact same thing we went through in 2013, minus the Mike Flynn, right? It`s the same intelligence agency. It`s DIA, and again like, we had in again, we`ve got some indications from sources elsewhere in the intelligence world that maybe this is just DIA, maybe this is not everybody.

One U.S. official telling CNN tonight that, quote, this is not a consensus view from the entire intelligence community.

So, if you`re feeling like you`ve heard this story before today and if you have experienced this freak-out before and it turned out not to be true, you`re remembering that right. There are lots of reasons to be skeptical here. We have heard this story before when it turned out not to be the case.

But last time in 2013, the South Korean defense ministry came out and said no, no, we don`t think this is true. This time, we`re not hearing any words of caution from credible foreign intelligence agencies like that.

This time, to the contrary, the defense ministry in Japan just today published a white paper saying actually this could be true. Japan`s defense -- Japan`s defense ministry said today, quote: It is possible that North Korea has achieved the miniaturization of nuclear weapons.

So, I mean, we have heard this story before and it wasn`t true the first time we heard it. But this time, there isn`t anybody shooting it down aggressively like there was in 2013, and this year, there is some soft or at least potential corroboration from Japan which like South Korea would sort of be in a position to know.

I mean, this also comes at a time when we`re getting used to undisputed reports proof from North Korea that they are making significant progress on other aspects of their offensive capability. They set off a series of missile tests in the last few months that have shown genuine advancement in terms of how far out into the world they can project force.

In mid-May, they shot a missile basically straight up into the air that went about 1,200 miles. U.S. analysts concluded at the time that had the North Koreans aimed that missile at more of an angle, it might conceivably have thrown as far as 3,000 miles. And that kind of just sounds like an SAT level math problem, right? Look at the propulsion and the distance and the angle and if you change the angle, how far is it, right? Kind of just sounds like a math problem.

But when report -- when "Reuters" reported this evening that North Korean state media tonight is broadcasting musings from that government that they might launch a strike at Guam, well, that 3,000 mile math problem becomes a very relevant thing because Guam is under 3,000 miles from North Korea. It`s just over two thousand miles from North Korea and if North Korea really can provably shoot missiles that far, that means that the answer to that math problem if it`s true means that Guam is within their reach, not with some weapon they might develop in the future or that we might have intelligence fights about how soon they`re going to develop it in the future, but with a weapon that they have now that they have demonstrated now.

Now, have they reached a point where they can shrink one of their nuclear warheads and fix it to one of those missiles? I don`t know, none of us do. We also do not know if they have the capacity with any of their missiles to survive re-entry from the upper atmosphere, which is that the height that an ICBM reaches during its life.

If they can build that kind of missile and they can shrink the nuclear warhead to fit it onto a missile like that, we still don`t know if they can do all those things at once. Right? You can get granular about this, right?

The threat that the United States is most afraid of in terms of North Korea`s ability to hit the mainland United States would require them to do a whole bunch of things that we don`t know if they could do. It would require them to shrink our nuclear warhead to mount it to a working ICBM, to be able to successfully launch and then control that ICBM so it can actually hit it started. That missile also has to be able to survive re- entry into the atmosphere with its warhead intact and they need to be able to do all of those things all at once with the same piece of technology, and avoid a shooting it down.

And obviously there is great interest in our country in knowing whether or not they can do that now, or how soon they might be able to do all of that if that`s what they`re trying for. But we have had relatively recent experience of spending days and weeks and even months in this country freaking out over U.S. intelligence reports on that capacity that turned out first to be contested and then not to be true.

And the reason our intelligence about them is often such a mess is because even more than most despotic countries, they are incredibly opaque. They`re called the hermit kingdom for a reason, right? They are a mystery to us not just because of their deliberate secrecy, but also because they seem so nux (ph) to us on a diplomatic level and presumably that is on purpose they don`t want to be seen as a normal predictable rational country and they deliberately don`t behave as one.

I mean, there`s a reason that they don`t just engage in the kinds of threats that normal countries issued to each other. They threatened to turn, you know, and island off the coast of South Korea into a nuclear sea of fire.

Remember when that comedy came out, that movie "The Interview" that made a joke out of a secret American plot to kill Kim Jong-un, North Korea called that the most blatant act of terrorism and war. They said it was a reckless U.S. provocative insanity. They said that movie triggered a gust of hatred and rage among the North Korean people, they threatened merciless countermeasures against the movie.

They`ve also said that the United States looks like a boiled pumpkin. They say John Kerry has a hideous lantern jaw. These all sorts of racist terms to talk about President Obama, and they generally have become famous for making threats like crazy people make threats, right?

This was -- this was just this week: they should be mind -- this is about us -- they should be mindful that the DPRK strategic steps accompanied by physical action will be taken mercilessly with the mobilization of all its national strength. Packs of wolves are coming in to strangle a nation. That was this week, what does that even mean, when there`s so many scary things about wolves but like wolves strangling people?

You can guys can say (ph) like, wolves are gonna come in to bite your face or like steal your baby or something. But wolves coming in and strangling you? Wolves don`t even hands. Like the one thing you have to worry about them is their hensile grip, it`s like saying you`re going to stab somebody 

in their sense of humor. I mean, it doesn`t -- it doesn`t make -- wolf paws can scratch you but they can`t grab like a piano what -- it doesn`t even -- they`re not even literal.

But that kind of nutty, over-the-top, laugh out loud mixed metaphor threatening, that is something they have been doing for years. We`re sort of acclimated to it. You can make funny comedic movies about it, right? And the world is kind of acclimated to that, too.

What the world has not acclimated to is an American president doing his version of the same thing.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: North Korea best not make anymore threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen. He has been very threatening beyond a normal statement. And as I said, they will be met with fire, fury and frankly power, the likes of which this world has never seen before. Thank you.


MADDOW: No thank you.

I mean, as a world, we`re not happy about it, but we`re used to North Korea threatening to turn things into a sea of fire. We are not used to that from an American president, from any American president.

So, this as the new variable in what is already an insane relationship -- this is general -- genuinely new. As is the just wild incoherence of the administration beyond the president, in terms of how they`re handling this ongoing big problem, this international threat.

I mean, two and a half weeks ago, Trump CIA Director Mike Pompeo said in a security forum that basically, yes, the United States wants regime change in North Korea. Then last week, Trump Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the United States definitely does not want regime change in North Korea. That said, later in the week, Rex Tillerson said the U.S. would agree to talk with the North Koreans provided that the North Koreans agreed the end results of the talks would be them giving up their nuclear program.

That was in last week. Now, Rex Tillerson, same guy, have a whole different set of standards they would have to reach in order to get talks with the United States. Now, he`s changed his mind on that as well. Now, he says he would talk with the North Koreans just as long as they stopped doing their missile test. That`s all they need to do.

Meanwhile, Vice President Mike Pence is busy saying there never will be any talks with North Korea. We won`t talk with them on any terms.

And then the president, depending on the day, says that Kim Jong-un is a smart cookie and he`d be honored to meet with him, and also the United States was prepared to rain down fury and fire and power like the world has never seen. It also will strangle you with our wolf paws. I know that was the other guy.

Remember when Trump said he was sending an armada to North Korea when there were no ships sailing to North Korea at all? North Korea popping off official statements that threaten nuclear annihilation is something we have acclimated to as a country and as a world.

The American president making the same kind of threats is a new thing that we don`t really understand the risk of yet. We don`t know if he means it. We don`t know if North Korea will believe that he means it. We don`t know if this was a planned statement by the administration where the national security consequences of this threat from the president have been gamed out and anticipated, and it`s part of a strategy or maybe this is just something he felt like saying.

Remember when Mike Flynn was national security adviser, he came out in the briefing room and said, Iran, you`re on notice. Nobody had any idea what that meant. It was completely dislocated from everything else the administration was doing with regard to Iran. Turned out, it meant nothing.

And two weeks later, Mike Flynn was gone, poof. Is that what`s going on here with these new totally unprecedented threats to North Korea, or is this part of a plan? Where would we look for planning evidence if it is a plan?

How about the "National Enquirer"? That`s often a surprisingly blunt translation of how the president would like the world to see him. You`ve been looking at their covers since he was inaugurated? It is a bizarre thing, but if you`re looking for somewhere to strike your tuning fork, there really is this supermarket tabloid that shows you, more often than not, exactly the way that Trump would like to be seen.

I mean this is what they look -- this is what the "National Enquirer" looks like now. Trump takes charge, success in just 36 days. President Trump tell-all, how I`m cleaning up Obama`s mess.

Since the election, mixed in with all this "Fox and Friends" style stuff, they repeatedly keep going back to Trump declaring war on dictators, right? There`s Kim Jong-un on the cover the "National Enquirer".

What did Trump talk about it his secret summit with Vladimir Putin that only the "National Enquirer" is reporting on? Apparently, he talked about his plan to overthrow the dictator in North Korea.

This was a recent one. No, wrong. Do we have the other headline there?

We have a -- one from last -- we don`t have last, we have a posted later -- from last month, there was the cover said that it`s an under siege, made it look like Trump is under siege, but in the small print, there we go, the ones under siege are the North Koreans with ICBMs aimed at America`s West Coast, our president refuses to blink. He`s outfoxing the North Korean dictator, how he will solve the missile crisis, just like JFK.

I mean, where -- where do you look to figure out what the president just did as part of a plan, it`s part, just an aberration something he had a feeling to say in the moment or something that is actually part of the way he sees his presidency as going? We have no idea what`s actually going on inside the president`s head, we don`t know whether it`s just inside his head alone or if it`s a plan of his administration.

But we`ve really never had an American president playing, I`m rubber, you`re glue with the North Koreans in terms of their threats for nuclear holocaust before. And so, there is a brand-new, totally, unprecedented craziness and surrealism problem in the U.S.-North Korean relationship, that for the first time includes our own government.

And I -- it`s -- you can take that separate and apart from the truly unanswered contested questions as to whether or not North Korea has got nuclear tipped ICBMs that could hit the mainland United States. I mean, it`s worth asking for second third fourth sources on intelligence like that 

because that has been such contested intelligence in the past.

But you know what? Even if that new intelligence being reported today, even if it turns out not to be true in terms of whether or not they`ve already miniaturized nuclear weapons, we know for sure that they`ve got artillery and short-range and medium-range missiles that are well- developed, that could easily devastate South Korea and in Japan.

We know they`ve got major stocks of chemical and biological weapons. You remember the assassination of Kim Jong-un`s half-brother at that airport a couple of months ago. They carried out that assassination using VX. They could have just shot the guy or knifed him. But no, they wanted to show they could do it with a nerve agent.

They are a chemical and biological weapons known power. They could put nerve agent onto some of the weapons we know for sure they`ve got. They were able to successfully hit a city like Tokyo, right, that means they`d be hitting a population center of over 30 million people. Tokyo`s metro area has a population that`s like akin to California.

North Korea first tested a nuclear weapon in 2006. We know they`ve got some nuclear capacity. There`s definitely intrigue and mystery as to the full extent of their nuclear capability. The number of their weapons, how advanced those weapons are, how they could be delivered.

But separate and apart from that, the radical confusion and lying an internal contradiction and threats from our new government -- from our new administration, that is really the new element here, that is the new variable here that we have no idea how it`s going to affect us.

Regardless of the extent of their nuclear capability, newly called into question today, what our new administration is doing with this new maybe strategic, maybe off the handle attack on North Korea, this rhetorical attack from the president of North Korea, the only thing we know about it for sure is that they are playing with absolutely un-theoretical fire by advancing the conflict in this way.


MADDOW: Guam is 14 hours ahead of American East Coast Time. So, it`s mid- morning there tomorrow, mid-morning Wednesday.

Right now, Guamanians are digesting the news that was first reported tonight by "Reuters", that North Korea says it is considering a plan to hit Guam. According to "Reuters" reporting, there have been discussions in North Korean state media that North Korea may launch a strike against Guam. Guam, of course, would be physically the closest way for North Korea to hit U.S. territory if they tried to do it.

"Associated Press" is reporting tonight that the speaker of the legislature in Guam is calling the news very disconcerting. He told "The A.P.", quote, we`re just praying that the United States and the defense system we have here is sufficient enough to protect us.

How significant are their concerns, how significant should they be?

Joining us now is Joe Cirincione. He`s president of a global security foundation called the Ploughshares Fund, and he`s the guy who I call on anything nuclear happens in the world.

Joe, thank you for being here tonight.


MADDOW: So, when "Washington Post" reported today, that according to a Defense Intelligence Agency report, North Korea has achieved miniaturization of its nuclear warheads, that they can put them on missiles. What was your reaction to that news? How do you perceive those reports?

CIRINCIONE: There`s a little bit of deja vu. We saw this before. This is not uncommon coming from the DIA. They tend to be more hawkish, more -- a little more speculative of the intelligence agencies.

I was a little surprised because the vice chairman of the joint chiefs just a few days ago was emphasizing the hurdles that North Korea has to achieve before it can have a reliable intercontinental nuclear missile. I still think there are several years away.

But they`re on the road. They`re on the track. So, it`s not all that surprising, whether they have it or will have it in a year or will have it in two years, this is a real threat. This is a very serious program.

MADDOW: Whether or not the North Koreans have significant new capability that we didn`t know about before, whether or not the CIA report turns out to be true, seems to me that the thing that is very new in terms of understanding is a dynamic between our two countries is the behavior of this administration, particularly the bellicose rhetoric today, the threat from President Trump.

How do you think that plays out? What effect do you think that has as a variable in this?

CIRINCIONE: This is probably the worst way a president could handle a threat like this. You want to be strong. You want to be calm. You want to be resolute. You want to be in sync with your allies. You do not want to play a nuclear chicken with North Korea.

This is a -- the seriousness of this situation cannot be overestimated not because North Korea can hit us in a bolt out of the blue attack that could take out Los Angeles or Seattle, no. What you`re worried about is that you have too insecure, inexperienced, impulsive leaders in control of a vast amount of destructive force squaring off in the most heavily militarized area on earth.

A conventional war could kill hundreds of thousands of South Koreans in the few first few hours. A full-out conflict could kill millions, could devastate South Korea, removing the 11th largest economy on earth.

And the danger is not that either leader wouldn`t necessarily intentionally start such a war, but that they could stumble into it, a miscalculation, a miscommunication, a misunderstanding, a shooting incident could quickly escalate.

Look at what North Korea just did. They just threatened Guam, hours after the president United States said that if you threaten us again, you`ll be met with fire and fury. They are blowing through this president`s red lines like tissue paper. What is Trump going to do now?

MADDOW: When the North Koreans make threats to the United States, it`s become something that`s treated almost comedically in this country often because they`re so over the top, and because -- whether or not things are badly translated, their rhetoric is so hyperbolic that we end up sort of getting used to it and treating it like it`s a joke.

President Trump echoed that today by saying that we are going to be unleashing fury and fire and power like the world has ever seen. Is there something to be said for him speaking their language? Is there anything that we know about how they might hear that type of language that has never ever been uttered by an American president in the modern era toward North Koreans over anything?

CIRINCIONE: Right. They see it as justification of their worst fears, that the whole point of the United States is to eliminate Kim Jong-un. They`re very narcissistic in their own way. They think the whole world revolves around them.

So, when the president threatens them like that, they go, see? We told you so.

And what do they do? They accelerate their military programs. Look, years of sanctions, of isolation, of threats, of ignoring them hasn`t worked at all. That has not stopped their program. It sped it up.

The only thing that has worked is negotiations. We froze their plutonium program for eight years with an agreement. We froze their missile program for eight years with an agreement.

But when we don`t talk to them, they speed it up. And when you threaten them they just stiffened. They feel that they have to be tougher than you are back. So, that`s a chicken game that you can`t win, and that`s what the problem is.

What if Donald Trump decides that he doesn`t like the maneuvers that North Korea is undertaking? We`re about to have joint you U.S. and South Korean exercises at the end of August. What if the North Koreans decide that that is actually a pretext for a pre-emptive attack on them? And so, they mobilize. The U.S. then responds, somebody fires something and bang, it`s off to the races in the most catastrophic war we`ve seen.

We`ve been at war for over 16 years in the Middle East and North Africa. We think we know war. We don`t know this war. We don`t know what a Korean War would look like.

The president`s right about that. A Korean war would be unlike anyone seen since the end of World War II.

MADDOW: Joe Cirincione, president of the Ploughshares Fund -- thank you for being here, my friend. Appreciate your help tonight with this. Thanks.

CIRINCIONE: Thank you, Rachel.

MADDOW: All right. Much more ahead tonight. It`s very busy news night, including just as we are going to air some breaking news in the investigation into Russia`s attack on our election that involves the Trump campaign specifically. We`ve got that ahead. Stay with us.


MADDOW: We`ve just got some briefing news this evening courtesy of "Bloomberg News".

Do we have -- can we make a full screen out of this? Can we put the headline up there? Thank you very much.

Trump campaign turns over thousands of documents in Russia probe. As "Bloomberg" reporting tonight that former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort and Donald Trump Jr. have both started turning over documents to the Senate Judiciary Committee after that committee requested that they hand over all records related to the campaign`s attempts to get information about Hillary Clinton from the Russian government or affiliated sources. That, of course, includes documents related to that June meeting last year at Trump Tower involving Manafort, Jared Kushner, Donald Trump Jr., and a whole bunch of Russians.

Reportedly, several hundred pages of documents from Paul Manafort and Donald Trump Jr. were handed over to Senate intelligence in response to that request. But according to this new reporting from "Bloomberg", the big Kahuna is neither of them. It`s the Trump campaign.

Quoting directly from the piece, quote: The Trump campaign turned over about 20,000 pages of documents on August 2nd, according to a committee spokesman.

We knew that the leaders of Senate Intelligence, Republican Senator Chuck Grassley and Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, we knew they`d requested that these documents be handed over by that date, by August 2nd last week. We knew that Paul Manafort had already previously turned over different documents to that committee.

But this reporting tonight from "Bloomberg", this is new. This was first - - the first evidence that both the president`s eldest son, Don Jr., and Paul Manafort, turned over documents related to that meeting with all those Russian sources that we heard about last summer. And this is the first word that`s the size of the document response from the Trump campaign to the Senate Intelligence Committee numbers in the tens of thousands of pages. That news just breaking in the last hour tonight from "Bloomberg".

There`s also news that broke today in "The Guardian" newspaper in Britain that relates to this investigation. That "Guardian" story is one I truly do not understand. I am perplexed by it and we are going to get an explanation as to what it means next. Stay with us.


MADDOW: This happened. This was first reported while was away on vacation. And I will admit to being slightly out of it, deliberately, while on vacation. That`s what vacations all about. Look at me not reading the news.

But even still, when I read this thing that came out on Friday, it did not make any sense to me then. And since Friday, it has been further reported out and now it really doesn`t make any sense to me and I would like it to make sense. So, we`re going to try to figure it out.

OK. On Friday, I was on a fishing boat. reported that two unnamed staffers from the intelligence committee in the House and had turned up in England. They turned up in London. "Politico" reported that specifically, they turned up with the offices of the lawyer of Christopher Steele.

Christopher Steele is the former MI-6 British agent who put together that dossier of alleged Russian dirt on Donald Trump that has been boomeranging around our politics and around the first months of the Trump presidency ever since. The committee`s investigating the Russian attack on the election last year and whether the Trump campaign was involved in that in attack, those committees had made it pretty clear that they would be interested in talking to Christopher Steele at some point in their enquiries, in some way over the course of those inquiries.

What was strange about this story when it first came out on "Politico" on Friday was the news that these two congressional staffers who turned up at Christopher Steele`s lawyer`s office, nobody knew why they were there, and nobody knew who sent them.

They were two Republican congressional staffers. The Democrats on that committee said they had no idea what this was about. They had no idea that these staffers had made that trip or what they were doing on that trip, nor did any members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is investigating these same matters, nor did Robert Mueller`s office, the special counsel`s office. Robert Mueller, who is supposedly carefully deconflicting with the investigatory committee, so they`re talking the witnesses and requesting documents and stuff doesn`t mess with his criminal investigation -- he didn`t know that these people were going to turn up at Steele`s office either.

So, "Politico" reported Friday that these two Republican staffers showed up unannounced in London at Steele`s office. Democrats on that committee didn`t know anything about it. They also reported that the Senate investigators not only didn`t know about it. They were livid when they found out about it, saying they were worried that, quote, the aggressive move could spook Christopher Steele and derail his potential cooperation with their own probe. So, that was this very provocative reporting from "Politico" on Friday.

Then this weekend, on Sunday, the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee in the House, Adam Schiff, confirmed that not only did he not know about these Republican staffers from his committee taking a trip to Christopher Steele`s office, he didn`t know about it and he says none of the Democrats on his committee knew about it either. He further reported that the top Republicans was supposedly in charge of the Russia investigation, Congressman Mike Conaway, he didn`t know about either.

Staffers for that committee going over there as part of this investigation, the guy running the investigation doesn`t know about it? So, Mueller`s office didn`t know about it. The Senate committee didn`t know about it. None of the Democrats of the House committee knew about it, and the Republican running the investigation in the House committee that those staffers work for, they didn`t know about it either.

What the heck were those Republican staffers doing at Christopher Steele`s office in London then?

Well, thanks to "The Guardian" newspaper today, we know more now.

"The Guardian" reports that these two staffers from the House Intelligence Committee who went to London to turn up unannounced the Christopher Steele`s office, they were sent there by a long-standing aide to Devin Nunes, Congressman Devin Nunes, member of the Trump transition.

Devin Nunes who supposedly stepped aside from leading the Russia investigation on that committee in March after his weird stunt where he tried to claim that the real Russia scandal was the Obama administration. A House Ethics Committee is investigating whether he actually revealed classified information in the course of that stunt. He is therefore supposedly not involved in the Russia investigation.

So, how is it that his longtime staffer is dispatching people at taxpayer expense to go doorstop Christopher Steele`s offices in London in a way that conceivably might screw up all of the under other investigations into the dossier part of the Trump/Russia story?

And he`s able to send those folks off without the knowledge of anybody else involved in those investigations, including Robert Mueller, including the Senate investigators, including not just the Democrats but even the Republican congressman who`s supposed to be running that investigation in that committee. How did that happen? What were Devin Nunes` guys doing in London, showing up unannounced at Christopher Steele`s office?

Joining us now is Julian Borger. He`s the world affairs editor for "The Guardian". He`s the author of that new "Guardian" report confirming that Congressman Nunes was behind this secret attempts to contact the dossier author.

Mr. Borger, it`s really nice to have you here. Thank you for your time tonight.


MADDOW: So, describing it as a secret attempt, I`m flummoxed by the fact that nobody involved in any these investigations knew about it. Why does Congressman Nunes have the ability to dispatch people in this way?

BORGER: Well, he`s still a chairman of the House Intelligence Committee overall, even though he`s stepped aside from the Russia investigation. So, he still has control over resources. Obviously, the staff director has worked for him since 2003. So, obviously, a Nunes man in place, and he has the ability to use the resources and dispatch staffers.

But it is incredibly unusual for this to happen for a foreign trip without other members of the committee being informed this is a way out of the norm.

MADDOW: Do we have any idea what those staffers did once they went to Steele`s offices. We understand from your reporting that they and from "Politico`s" reporting that they turned up on announce, that they spoke not directly with Mr. Steele, although he was there at the time. They tried to speak with his lawyer.

Do we know anything about what they were asking for? What they were trying to do?

BORGER: Well, the official line given to me by the committee is that they were just seeking to open a line of communication to the lawyers and that seems odd in that it`s possible just to pick up the phone or do a Google search to find out the contacts and open line of communication.

What I was also told was that they were there on other business, but it wasn`t made clear to me what that other business was. So, there`s a lot of mystery about this trip.

MADDOW: I have to say one of the things that has further surprised me after your reporting is that even the Democrats on this committee who`ve been quite outspoken and haven`t been shy at all in terms of talking about the way they want this investigation run, they haven`t -- they haven`t raised a huge stink about this. They haven`t expressed a lot of anger they`re sort of been more bewilderment to express rather than anger.

Do you have any insight into that reaction, or the way this is being received by everybody else involved in these investigations?

BORGER: My sense is that the ranking Democrat on the committee, Adam Schiff, just wants to get past this. He believes he has a good working relationship with Mike Conaway. He wants that to continue and he doesn`t want to be derailed in a big fight with Nunes over control of the committee. He believes that the -- yes, between him and Conaway they can keep this investigation on the rails and not be derailed by Nunes, and by an internal fight.

we saw, of course, Kim Jong-un respond to by threatening Guam. He`s had the capability of hitting Guam for some time now, and the U.S. has responded with by building up a military presence there, even more than existed, by putting forward some B-1 bombers that fly this continuous bomber presence into and over the Korean peninsula regularly. So, this seems to be just more rhetoric on both sides at this point.

MADDOW: Courtney Kube, NBC News national security producer -- really appreciate your time tonight, Courtney. Good to see you.

KUBE: Thank you.

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


MADDOW: It is great to be back from vacation. I missed every single one of you every single day, kind of. But I swear I`ll be back tomorrow.


Good evening, Lawrence.