Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: August 24, 2017 Guest: Laurel Miller
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.
Big show tonight. There`s a lot going on.
We`re keeping an eye out tonight on whether the president might make an extraordinary and early use of the pardon power to pardon convicted former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio tonight. We`ve been getting mixed messages on that. The White House is saying today that we don`t expect an announcement about that soon. But we`re also told that the paperwork has been prepared already and that the talking points have been distributed to White House surrogates in terms of how they should talk about when it happens.
So, the White House doesn`t always speak officially for the president in terms of when he`s going to do something and what, so we`ve got eyes on that tonight. That would obviously be a major national controversy if the president decides to do that.
We`ve also got news tonight about a corruption scandal having to do with the new administration that may be getting pursued now by an unlikely investigator. This is a very interesting story. We`ve got that coming up exclusively tonight. We`ve got that in a couple of minutes.
We`ve also got a pair of national security stories tonight. One of which may raise your spirits in a way and one that which probably flip your stomach over several times.
So, there`s a lot going on. But I want to start with something different. Before we get to that news tonight, I want to start with something a little off the path, something that as far as I can tell is basically an open question. And that is how I am raising it here on the air tonight.
I want to basically explain this thing that we as a country have all been able to figure out recently, within the last couple of days because of good new investigative reporting that`s been done by "The New York Times." And the reason I want the talk about this part of it here is to basically to plant a flag on this point, to clarify this thing that we`ve just learned. Basically to raise a flag as to whether the open question I think that is now raised can be answered.
So, I admit this is a little bit weird but bear with me. I think it is worth it.
All right. Here`s the story. A few years ago, a very wealthy Russian lawmaker, a billionaire who was a Russian lawmaker, he fled his county. He left Russia and he came to the United States because he said he feared for his life. He said a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin had confiscated billions of dollars from him.
And when he sued that oligarch to get back his billions of dollars, the backlash was swift and scary. He says he was stripped of his immunity as a member of parliament, he was then charged with fraud, what he says was trumped up fraud charges, he was quickly put on Russia`s most wanted list. He said he was fearing for his life when he fled to the United States. And he started looking into the possibility of trying to get asylum here in the United States.
He also continued to press his legal case against the Putin linked oligarch who he claimed had stolen the billions of dollars from him.
You know, if you`ve got enough juice and connections to steal billions of dollars from someone in Russia, naturally, you don`t take kindly to someone pursuing you in court about that. So, the Putin connected oligarch, who`s accused of stealing billions of dollars from this Russian lawmaker, the oligarch got to work, doing everything he could to mess with this guy who he had supposedly stolen all of this money from. The mess with this fugitive Russian lawmaker who was pressing this legal case against him, including, he mounted a campaign, a multifaceted campaign to try to block that fugitive lawmaker guy from getting asylum in the United States.
And in order to establish that objective, he hired a very special kind of D.C. operative. He hired a nationalized U.S. citizen, originally from Russia, a guy with, we now know, extensive ties to Russian intelligence and he was well-known for being an effective pro-Putin, pro-Kremlin fixer and lobbyist in Washington, D.C.
That Russian born D.C. fixer was hired to run basically a smear campaign against the Russian lawmaker who fled to the United States. This fixer guy got hired to do the work. He did the work. When it get -- when it came time to get paid for the work, the fixer guy later admitted in court that the way he got paid for this job was that he was handed bags of hundred dollar bills, $70,000 or $80,000 at a time in a bag. Nice work if you can get it.
Now, around the same time, the fugitive Russian lawmaker is both trying to get asylum in the United States, is trying to defend himself from this cash money smear campaign as being paid for by the guy who he says stole all of his money back in Russia and he`s pursuing his legal case against that guy to try to get all of his money back. And around the time that the smear campaign was starting up against him led by this Russian born D.C. fixer guy, his lawyers who were working on his original case against the oligarch guy, their computers got hacked.
The lawyers were based in London. They were sent suspicious e-mails that contained spyware, malware. It was meant to infiltrate their computers. Luckily, the infection e-mails looked suspicious enough to the lawyers that they called in help and they took steps to protect themselves. They tried first to find out who had come after them in that way. They wanted to find out who had tried to infect their e-mail and accessed their servers to steal documents.
So, they hired forensic experts who came in, the did something I didn`t really realize you could do, but apparently you can, forensic experts they hired basically activated the malware that had been sent to these lawyers, but then they fed traceable documents into the spyware. It would be like if you were able to put a GPS tracker on your stolen car, so you could follow your stolen car to the chop shop where they were going to cut it up for parts, right, then you could not just bust the thieves who stole your car, you could bust the whole car thieving operation. So, they put these traceable documents on the lawyers` computers and then they traced them as the malware in the lawyer`s computer stole the documents.
And when those traceable documents were opened up, the forensic experts could see where they were. And wouldn`t you know it, where those documents got opened was on computers at the company of the Putin-connected oligarch who these lawyers were pursuing in court and who was funding that smear campaign against their client back in the United States. So, that was 2011. Interesting case.
Then it happened again couple years later, that Russian-born Kremlin- friendly D.C. fixer with ties to Russian intelligence, the guy who ran the smear campaign for the Russian oligarch that apparently included the sophisticated hacking and stealing operation on the guy`s lawyers` computers. That same fixer guy in D.C. turned up working for another Russian oligarch close to Vladimir Putin. This was in 2013.
This new oligarch connected to Putin, he owned a mining company that was headquartered in Europe and he hired the Russian born D.C. fixer guy to go after a rival company in his industry. He hired the fixer guy to go after a mining company called IMR, which is headquartered in Switzerland. And sure enough they got hacked too. Badly.
This time, it worked. The company`s internal documents got hacked. They got stolen off of the company`s servers and then they turned up leaked far and wide to try to cause maximum damage to IMR.
Now, IMR did fight back. They sued the company of this Putin connected Russian oligarch who they were up against in this business dispute. They sued his company and they also sued the Russian born D.C. fixer guy who the oligarch hired to manage his dispute with IMR. They sued them. They sued them for computer espionage.
An investigator working for the Swiss mining company, for IMR, testified in court that he followed the D.C. fixer guy to a coffee shop in London while he was investigating this computer espionage. He says he saw the D.C. fixer guy sit down with a person who appeared to be his client in this matter involving IMR. The investigator testified that he actually heard the fixer guy in that coffee shop explain to his client that his team had successfully hacked into the computers at IMR, the investigator testified that he then saw the D.C. fixer guy hand over a thumb drive at the coffee shop that he said -- a thumb drive that he said contained the documents that had been stolen from IMR, the documents that ended up getting leaked all over the place to hurt IMR`s business standing in this dispute with the Russian oligarch who had hired the fixer.
OK. So, both of those hacking cases had been previously reported. They were interesting like business crime stories, right? But this week, "The New York Times" figured out that there`s a crucial link between both of those hacking stories. That fixer guy, this D.C. fixer, this Soviet born D.C. fixer with extensive Russian intelligence ties, in both of these instances, he was the guy hired by Putin connected oligarchs for both of these campaigns and in both of these campaigns, opponents of the oligarchs who were paying them found themselves suggested to sophisticated hacking attacks designed to break into their computers, steal documents off of their computer servers and then use those documents against them in these disputes.
The fixer guy in D.C. is in the middle of both of those cases. And the M.O. looks very much the same in both of those cases. And his name is Rinat Akhmetshin. And if that name is familiar is because we now know that he was one of the people who went to that now infamous meeting at Trump Tower last year with Donald Trump Jr. and Jared Kushner, and the Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort, and a Kremlin-connected lawyer who had been sold to the Trump campaign as someone who could deliver damaging information from the Russian government about Hillary Clinton.
Now, what Rinat Akhmetshin doing in that meeting? Rinat Akhmetshin`s explanation for what he was doing at that meeting, all these weeks later, is still funny. He maintains that he just happened to be having lunch that day with the Kremlin connected lawyer and she spontaneously, like almost as a lark, invited him to come along, and so he went having no idea where he was going or why.
He doesn`t even live in New York. But miraculously there he was having a BLT or whatever, minding his own business when whoops, he ends up invited into a meeting starting right then inside the executive suite at Trump Tower with the president`s son, the president`s son-in-law and the guy who is running the Trump for president campaign.
Hey, Rinat, why don`t you come along? More the merrier, it will be fun. Have you met these guys?
So, now, we don`t have any idea what he us doing there but we do know more about his particular expertise. What he appears to be good at. What kind of services he has been able to offer the people he has worked for over the years.
I mean, there`s no reason to think that Rinat Akhmetshin is the actual hacker. He`s not the Cheeto-eating drone at a computer terminal in St. Petersburg who is figuring out the code, right, for the malware.
Now, I mean, what we know he does or what he appears to have done in the past for his clients is that he`s the guy who makes arrangements for this stuff, he`s a guy who makes arrangements for targeted hacking to happen, and for the material obtained by targeted hacking to be used to maximum benefit for his clients. He`s apparently the one who arranges the hack and then weaponizes whatever is stolen in the hack.
Who knows who his team is who he has doing these acts? But what "The Times" added to our understanding of this part of the case is all of the different ways in which Rinat Akhmetshin appears to be connected to Russian intelligence. When the deputy head of Russian intelligence had to come to Washington to do a dog and pony show a few years about some joint U.S.- Russian policy effort, the guy who shepherded him around Washington and went to all these events with him was our friend, the D.C. fixer, Rinat Akhmetshin, the deputy head of Russian intelligence.
Americans who came across him during his work in D.C. over the years say he openly alluded to his own past involvement with Russian intelligence. Quote, he did not make it a secret. Over the years, he told journalists that he had worked with Russian military counterintelligence. A member of the National Security Council under George W. Bush says he came across Rinat Akhmetshin frequently in Washington, D.C. He tells "The Times", quote, He would boast about his ties and experience in Soviet intelligence and counterintelligence.
And, of course, there`s the fact that he ran operation after operation for oligarchs close to Vladimir Putin who hired him to manage their business and financial disputes with people who soon found themselves subject to hacking attacks designed to infiltrate their computers and steal their stuff. So their stuff could be used against them in those disputes. Does this sound familiar?
So that guy turns up at that Trump Tower meeting, just passing by.
But that meeting on June 9th of last year, there`s a couple of things that are very interesting about it. Number one, I don`t know how to explain this at all. But that meeting ended up being very closely held. There were a lot of people in that meeting. There were a lot of Russians in that meeting and there were -- there was a Trump, a Kushner and a Manafort in that meeting too.
It was a big meeting involving a lot of people. But it was quite closely held. Not many people knew about it for a long time. We have reason to believe that special counsel Robert Mueller and his team of investigators they don`t appear to have figured out about that meeting on their own. All indications are that Robert Mueller`s team only started look into that Trump Tower meeting and what happened there after it was reported in "The New York Times." How come they didn`t know about it?
Also, former MI-6 agent Christopher Steele, with everything he figured out for the Trump Russia dossier that`s now back at the center of the scandal. In his reporting, his dossier that he created for Fusion GPS, he never mentioned the Trump Tower meeting. It`s not in the dossier. He seems to have figured out a lot of other stuff.
We also now know -- so, that`s interesting, that it seems to have stayed under the radar for so long, which unusual given the number of people in that meeting and who they were. But we also now know that by the time that meeting happened on June 9th, the DNC, the Democratic Party and the Clinton campaign had already been hacked by Russian hackers. And so, now, if you put the time line back together with what we know now, you can now see that once the Democrats had had their servers hacked and all of their documents stolen, that`s when the senior leadership of the Trump campaign took this meeting with the guy who has extensive known experience in exactly that kind of hacking. This guy who has years of experiencing arranging the stealing of and weaponizing of hacked information for Russian political purposes.
The day of the Trump Tower meeting, the weekend of June 10th and 11th, that`s when the DNC and their IT consultants finally kicked out the Russian hackers that had been rooting around in their system for months. We still don`t know exactly why they did it at that specific moment, except that we know that at the time, they were preparing to go public with what had happened to them. And indeed, the following week, it went public. That`s when we learned for the first time that the Russians hacked the DNC servers. We learned that the following week, when "The Washington Post" reported on it.
The day after that story broke, the Russians started leaking some of what they had hacked out of the DNC, through Guccifer 2.0 and then DC Leaks. And then the full weaponization of that hacked information started the following month in July with the WikiLeaks dump timed perfectly and expertly to coincide with the start of the Democratic National Convention.
Now we know that about who was in that meeting and now we know what we know about that timing. So, here`s my question. Now that we know more about who was in the room with the Trump campaign in that interim period between when the Democratic Party was hacked and when the Russians started turning the product of that hack back at the U.S. election and the U.S. media to help Trump and hurt Clinton, now that we know that a Russian-born D.C. fixer who apparently specialized in that kind of work was meeting with the upper echelons of the Trump campaign right then, how can we tell if there`s a connection? Is there a connection between this operative being at that Trump Tower meeting, that specific expertise under his belt, is there a connection between that and the Russian attack on the DNC and the Clinton campaign and how the documents hacked out of the Clinton campaign and the DNC got repurposed into the campaign to hurt Hillary Clinton?
Does Rinat Akhmetshin`s proximity to these previous hacking cases map technically with what happened at the DNC last year in terms of timing, in terms of tactics, in terms of just the way that operation ran? Is it the same fingerprints on all three?
Because we`re pretty sure that he`s associated with the first two and we know about the third one and it really looks the same. Are the fingerprints the same on all three?
Rinat Akhmetshin would not answer our questions when we reached out to him for this story. But you know what? All of this should be answerable, certainly by trained investigators. But I`m guessing even in open source research and journalistic work here.
So, there`s a whole bunch of news to get to night and we`re going to get to it now. But just stick a pin in this story, in that meeting, in that time frame and specifically into that guy. Who`s going to be the first to figure this part out?
MADDOW: When Jared Kushner left his family`s real estate company to go work for his father-in-law at the White House, the Kushner company, of course, kept on going without him. They have made some changes since he`s been away. Most recently, there`s new reporting that the Kushner companies have just hired a new team to handle their public and media relations. Specifically, they`ve just hired a big firm that specializes in crisis and issues management.
You know the gigantic multibillion dollar scandal over Volkswagen systematically cheating on emissions testing for their diesel cars? Remember that? The Kushner family real estate company just hired them. The crisis management people who handle that disaster, they`ll now be working for the Kushners.
We don`t know what precipitated that decision, but there are some things going on, right? There`s the detailed recent reporting about Jared`s family dangling his connection to the administration in his role in the White House to lure Chinese investors to Kushner properties in exchange for the U.S. government giving those investors visas to live here.
The Kushners have already gotten dinged for that. They`ve been served up a federal subpoena for promising those visas for potential Chinese investors. There`s also the skyscraper, the Kushner`s own on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, that is in serious and urgent need of new cash investors if the Kushners are going to pay off the loan they took out to buy the building.
That search for urgent new money to cover that building, that has definitely involved discussions with a shadowy Chinese company believed to be linked to the Chinese government. It`s also been the source of questions of why Jared Kushner took that meeting with a Putin connected Russian banker during the transition and then kept that meeting a secret before finally disclosing it months later. The bank said at the time they were there to discuss business with Jared. The White House says no, no, no, that definitely wasn`t it.
There`s also a very large loan from Deutsche Bank, which Jared Kushner received right before the election, even though it wasn`t initially disclosed on his financial disclosure form. The loan was large. It was apparently for hundreds of millions of dollars. Mr. Kushner reportedly personally guaranteed the loan himself, which makes it extra weird that he didn`t report it on his financial disclosure.
But what Jared Kushner used that Deutsche Bank money for was to buy another property from a Soviet born businessman they called the king of diamonds. The king of diamonds described widely as being very close to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
There`s also detailed recent reporting on the Kushner companies doing hundreds of millions of dollars in real estate investing in Downtown Manhattan with money provided by the Steinmetz family. They`ve been in the news recently because their finances are now tied up in legal proceedings in at least four countries including the United States because of allegations of bribery and money laundering. That family quite recently put a lot of money in the Kushner company accounts, all in a very short period of time.
So, it`s widely believed that one of the ways that special counsel Robert Mueller is driving this investigation into the Trump-Russia affair is building from the ground up, building detailed profiles and financial profiles specifically of the various people who may be close to the scandal. Presumably then the idea is to figure out if there is any criminal liability for those figures in the scandal that could be used to either just indict them or persuade them to be more forth coming with the investigators about what they might know about the Trump campaign and Russia.
If you were building one of those files on Jared related to his family and their company, well, given what`s recently been in the news about that family company, you might reasonably expect that the Kushner company would be hiring some new big guns in crisis management as they did today.
If you`re Robert Mueller though, if this is what`s inside your toolkit right now for a figure like Jared Kushner in this scandal, are you likely to get what you need? What else do you need to be able to proceed along this strategy, how do you get it and how long does that sort of thing take?
Joining us now is Barbara McQuade. She`s a former U.S. attorney for the eastern district of Michigan and an MSNBC contributor.
Barbara, thank you very much for being here tonight. I really appreciate it.
BARBARA MCQUADE, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Oh, thanks, Rachel. My pleasure to be here.
MADDOW: I said it is widely believed that the Robert Mueller investigation is proceeding in this ground up kind of way, building profiles, including financial profiles of people involved or associated with the matter being investigated. And the idea, from those of us outside it looking at it is that presumably they`ll try to use any criminal liability they find to pressure people into becoming cooperating witnesses.
Is -- that`s what we understand from just watching spy movies and reading detective novels. In the real word, is that how prosecutors approach these things?
MCQUADE: Yes, following the money is a very common tactic. Now, first is the threshold matter, as the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein has said, the Department of Justice does not go on fishing expeditions just to go get people. You have to have some sort of predication.
But based on all of the things that we know about Kushner`s involvement in that June 2016 meeting, about his meeting with the Russia bank, about his request for a secret back channel for communication, there`s certainly sufficient predication to look at him. And so, one of the common tactics is to follow the money, to gather as many documents, records as you can to try to put together a financial profile to see what money is coming in and what money is going out.
MADDOW: When we see what was reported today with the Kushner family, their real estate company hiring some big guns on crisis management, which is basically a specific kind of public relations, does that sort of thing -- again, in the real world, the way that people manage their public image, the way that people pursue press coverage that`s more favorable to them, within since like this, does that affect the course of the investigation? Is that good defense for somebody who might be subject to this kind of scrutiny right now?
MCQUADE: Well, I don`t know that it has much impact on the legal investigation. But I think when you`re someone like Jared Kushner who is in the public eye, you really have to be operating in two arenas. You have to make sure that you`re doing all you need to do to defend yourself in the legal arena. But, of course, you are also out there in the court of public opinion as well. So I think bring in a crisis management team like that is to work on that bigger strategy.
MADDOW: And with so many desperate issues here that may or may not be involved in the central question that Robert Mueller is looking at, when you describe there having to be some kind of predation for what you look at, by that do you mean there has to be a direct connection between any crimes that you come across in the course of your investigation and the initial cause of the investigation? When they start looking at financial matters associated with Paul Manafort or Michael Flynn or Jared Kushner or any of these other figures, does it have to relate to Russia, Russian coercion of American figures, Russian involvement in attacking the election or can it be a second and third level connection?
MCQUADE: Yes, I think especially in light of Robert Mueller`s broad mandate here, it can be more secondary. Remember, he`s looking at, you know, first, whether there are connections between Russia and the campaign but he may look at any matters that arise or may arise from that investigation. So, putting together a financial investigation and then following those things to their logical conclusion is part of his mandate.
MADDOW: Barbara McQuade, former U.S. attorney in Michigan, really appreciate your time tonight, Barbara. Thanks very much for being here.
MCQUADE: Thanks very much.
MADDOW: All right. We got much more ahead tonight. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Until last week when he unceremoniously quit in a big surprise, until last week, billionaire investor Carl Icahn was special adviser to the president on regulatory reform. He was named to that post last year.
And a funny thing happened around that time he got that gig. Carl Icahn, as a businessman, started betting on the part of the market while he was offering the president regulatory advice on that same part of market. Carl Icahn appeared to be doing things as special adviser to the president that may have helped to bring about the very thing he had bet would happen. He appears to have done a lot of money doing it.
But then last Friday, Carl Icahn suddenly resigned. And then moments thereafter, literally moments later, this report was posted by "The New Yorker" magazine. It laid out precisely how Mr. Icahn may have used his position in the Trump administration to basically drive down costs for his company and drive the stock price of his company up. The White House defense from the White House lawyer in charge of managing conflicts of interest, the White House defense was to deny that Carl Icahn had ever had this job in the first place. Carl Icahn, he was just a private citizen, nothing to do with us.
If you`re thinking this whole thing smacks of banana republic corruption, it`s because it does. We spoke this week with Walter Shaub, the former director of the Office of Government Ethics. He`s been sending up basically what he called an emergency flare asking questions about this Icahn case. Most pointedly, who is going to police this?
I mean, arguably, this kind of situation is why we have a Public Integrity Section at the Department of Justice. But if this particular Department of Justice doesn`t feel like pursuing it, there is another interesting possibility because this may not just be a federal matter, it`s certainly a financial matter. It involves the markets. It involves a refinery that Carl Icahn owns. It involves the business interest for this particular government adviser who`s based in New York.
I mean when it comes to financial crime, prosecutors from New York state have been known to bring cases about all sorts of things that involve the financial markets that don`t seem particularly like New York cases otherwise. Previous New York AGs like Eliot Spitzer or Andrew Cuomo were known as pit bulls when it came to pursuing white collar and financial crime. Will the current New York AG, Eric Schneiderman, take up this question of Carl Icahn, special adviser to the president?
We`ve asked Eric Schneiderman`s office about that and this is what they told us. They`ve told us, quote: It is on our radar. That`s all they would tell us but that`s what they told us. On our radar. Duly noted.
Watch this space.
MADDOW: Here`s a word I did not know before today. Lanthanum. I thought it was lanthanum. Apparently, it`s lanthanum, I think.
It`s an element, number 57 on the periodic table. It has the enviable abbreviation La.
Lanthanum comes out of the ground looking like a silvery grey lump. It`s soft. You can cut it with a knife. If you have a lighter on you, you may have some of this in your pocket already. They use lanthanum to make the flint that sharks the flame in cigarette lighters.
You can find lanthanum here in the United States. You can find it in Russia. You can find it in China.
You can also find it in one of the poorest countries on earth, Afghanistan. They have a ton of it still in the ground in Afghanistan. Afghanistan is believed to have billions of tons of unmined elements and minerals. Unmined, unexploited, unmonetized.
And our new president has now said that basically, he`d like to make a little money off of those minerals. We`ve been hearing rumblings about this for a few weeks, that the president wants to use the fact that the president continues to be at war in Afghanistan as a justification for the United States making a grab for the untapped mineral resources of that country for ourselves.
That was the rumor that had been reported as a subject of discussion in White House meetings as of a few weeks ago. But then we got this Monday in the president`s speech.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As the prime minister of Afghanistan has promised, we are going to participate in economic development to help defray the cost of this war to us.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: To us.
Just in case you might -- you`re confused there for a second. You thought this economic development pursuits might be for Afghanistan since it`s their stuff. No. It`s for us.
When we heard the president say that on Monday night, nobody was totally sure what he meant but everybody cynically guessed that what he meant was that the U.S. was going to start looting Afghanistan for its minerals to defray the cost of the war to us. In this case, cynicism proved prescient. Politico.com now reporting that not only does the president want Afghanistan`s minerals for the United States, he has now put somebody in charge of it. He`s put Wilbur Ross, in charges of making the mineral looting magic happen after being, quote, intrigued with a conversation he had with the Afghan president about Afghanistan`s huge mineral reserves.
A senior White House official says the president has, quote, tasked Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross with examining any potential investment opportunities for the U.S. and Afghanistan. Investment opportunities in this case meaning we want to dig up your stuff and sell it for us to keep the money.
This seems to me -- I know that it was mentioned elliptically in the president`s remarks on Monday, but with this follow up reporting, it`s clear what he meant, which means the story deserves more attention than it`s getting. And that digging up a country`s resources in wartime and taking them for yourself, that is an old idea, it`s not that the way that Americans believe we conduct our wars, regardless of political party.
I mean, that was true all the times. The president said on the campaign trail that we ought to take Iraq`s oil, right, to reimburse ourselves for the war we started over there. But he stopped saying that about Iraq. He`s now saying that about Afghanistan and sending Wilbur Ross to go figure it out.
From what we know now, it is hard to tell for sure, but it looks like the White House is serious about this and acting on it, and it`s almost nowhere in the news. I`m not sure why that is. But hold that thought.
MADDOW: Top American diplomatic position for Afghanistan an Pakistan is called the special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. It was the top position for that part of the world in American diplomacy until June. There was no announcement about this at all, but in June, the diplomat who was holding that position, Laurel Miller, she learned without warning that the state department was shutting down that office, without making a public announcement and without telling anybody, including the staff who was work in that office at the time.
Joining us now is Laurel Miller to until this June was the acting special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan. She`s now a senior policy expert at the RAND Corporation.
Ms. Miller, I really appreciate your time tonight. Thank you for being with us.
LAUREL MILLER, SENIOR POLICY EXPERT, RAND CORPORATION: It`s my pleasure.
MADDOW: First one I need to ask, if I go that -- that part right. There was no announcement from the administration that they were shutting down your office but they did close up shop in June?
MILLER: Well, my appointment was expiring. And with the expiration of my appointment, they did close down the office. The duties have been handed over to someone else. But there is no separate office dedicated to focusing just on Afghanistan and Pakistan any longer.
MADDOW: And that is happening at a time when obviously there`s renewed attention and a new announcement from the president in terms of America`s approach to Afghanistan and Pakistan. This hasn`t been the focus of a lot of other news coverage, but I want to get your reaction to what appears to be a new plan by the president to go after Afghanistan`s mineral wealth for the benefit of the United States. I just wanted to get your take on that.
MILLER: Yes. I think it`s potentially harmful to our national security interests just for American officials to be talking about this. I don`t expect that very much will actually come of this initiative because of the practical obstacles to pursuing this.
But Afghanistan and its wider region is a place that is rife with conspiracy theories. And there are many conspiracy theories about what the real intentions of the United States are in Afghanistan. And unfortunately, I think that the proposition that the United States should be, for its own benefit, participating in extracting minerals from Afghanistan feeds right into those conspiracy theories.
MADDOW: Depending on how you count those -- between 8,500 and 12,000 American service members serving in Afghanistan. The president appears to be planning to increase that number by several thousand. He also talked about changing essentially the rules of engagement for lack of a better term, in terms of what combatant commanders can order without permission from higher level authorities. All of that would imply that American service members there are going to be in different kinds of contact, and increased contact with Afghan combatants and civilians.
If this happens or with the administration talking about doing this, does it conceivably put American soldiers more at risk in terms of the environment in which they`re serving?
MILLER: That specific scenario is hard to judge, but I would say that this idea creates an excellent propaganda talking point for the Taliban, because it will enable the Taliban to reinforce their narrative that the Afghan government is a puppet regime of the United States, and it will also enable the Taliban to suggest that the United States isn`t really in Afghanistan because of the national security interests that we`ve long asserted and that are the actual reason for being there, but because we`re looking to gain some benefit for America financial, economic benefit from Afghanistan, which is still one of the poorest countries in the world.
It`s also the potential for this idea to be damaging to the Afghan government, if it`s seen as selling out Afghan resources that should be for the benefit of the Afghan people to America. And that could have further destabilizing effect on what`s already a chronically weak government.
MADDOW: Laurel Miller, former acting special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, now senior policy expert at the RAND Corporation -- A, thank you for being here tonight, and B, will you please come back and talk to me about these issues again in the future? I feel like we could really benefit from hearing more from you.
MILLER: I`d be happy to. Thank you.
MADDOW: Thank you very much.
All right. We got one more story for you tonight. A decades old mystery that has been solved in a very moving way. We got that next.
MADDOW: 2004, Marine Corporal named Jason Dunham was on patrol with his unit in Iraq. They came under attack. Corporal Dunham threw himself on an enemy grenade to save his fellow Marines. He was killed. The rest of his platoon was saved because of his actions.
In 2007, Jason Dunham became the second U.S. service member and first U.S. Marine to be awarded the Medal of Honor, in his case posthumously, for the Iraq war.
Two months later, in March 2007, the U.S. Navy announced a new guided missile destroyer would be named USS Jason Dunham. This is that ship. It was christened by Jason Dunham`s mother in 2009. It is in service now and it likely will be for a very long time to come.
USS Jason Dunham has that very meaningful name for a very meaningful reason, but it`s known in the navy as DDG-109. See the 109 there on the hull? All Navy ships have unique identifying numbers like that.
This, for example, is the aircraft carrier, the George H.W. Bush. I always liked this photo of former President Bush seeing them lower the top part of that aircraft carrier down onto the deck. You see the gigantic 77 in lights come down from above him. The USS George H.W. Bush is the CVN-77 in the Navy, the 77 is several stories tall on the aircraft carrier, as you can see it from the deck.
Also, if you look in the lower right hand corner of this picture, you can see that there`s also a giant 77 painted right on the flight deck. The Navy does this for all their ships. Here`s the USS Albany being commissioned as an attack submarine. And again, see the unique identifying numbers on it there. The SSN-753 in this case.
Navy started assigning unique numbers to its ships in the 1800s. Every one of them still gets a name, oftentimes a moving and meaningful name, but the idea was to simplify and shorten the unique identifiers for ships at sea to minimize confusion. The letters before the numbers signify what kind of ship the ship is and then the number follows.
For the class of ship that`s called a cruiser, for example, modern type of cruiser is called a guided missile cruiser. All the ships in that class have unique identifying numbers that start with CG.
Before we had guided missile cruisers, though, we had armored cruisers or heavy cruisers. And their unique number started with CA. Armored cruisers, they`re a crucial part of the Navy`s fleet in World War II.
And in 1945, one obvious these armored cruisers, CA-35, you can see it here, steaming at sea. It got orders to make its way to an island in the Marianas, between the Philippine Sea and the Pacific Ocean. They were due to make a very important delivery, but one that was so secret the captain and his crew did not know what they were delivering.
Unbeknownst to the captain and his crew, what they had on board were parts and enriched uranium for the atomic bomb that would later be dropped on Hiroshima. And then the captain and the crew of the CA-35 didn`t know what they were delivering. It was a top secret mission. Their cargo was secret. The route was secret. The existence of the whole mission was secret.
So, not many people actually knew where the CA-35 was going on where it was on any particular day because of the secrecy of its mission. It arrived in the Marianas July 26th, 1945. They unloaded their secret cargo and then they turned around and started to make their way to the Philippines.
Cruiser had 1,200 men onboard. And a Japanese sub found them and hit the ship with two torpedoes, instantly crippled the ship, instantly knocked out the ship`s communications. The order to abandon ship couldn`t be announced in an amplified way. It was spread by word of mouth. They had almost no time.
That cruiser with 1,200 American sailors and marines onboard sank in 12 minutes and of the 1,200 men onboard, 400 of them died in the initial attack. That left 800 men who ended up in the water, with only a dozen small rafts between them. Very dire circumstances. Drinking water, exhaustion, exposure, shark attacks.
The men who survived floated out there for five days with nothing. And no one came to rescue them because when the CA-35 went down, nobody had any idea that it had sunk. There were no communications from the ship. They`d been on a secret mission where nobody knew where they were or where they were supposed to be when.
It was only almost five days later when a bomber pilot happened to spot an oil slick in the water, he buzzed lower to investigate. He called in the rescue. By the time the rescue came, only 316 men were left alive. Out of the 1,200 who`d been onboard that ship and out of the 800 who went into the water.
It was the Navy`s worst disaster at sea. And now, with 72 years gone by since then, of the 316 survivors that day, only 19 of them are still with us.
The wreckage of the CA-35 was never found. Until this week. Finally.
The proof they finally found it after all these years was when they saw the number on the hull. Yep. They saw that 35. That`s it. This is the USS Indianapolis, the CA-35. more than three miles down in the Philippine Sea.
And it`s recognizably, see a gun barrel, it was apparently a spare float in this next image from one of the planes that was onboard. There`s a dual .40 millimeter aircraft gun with shells still loaded into the gun.
The way they found this was with a research vessel owned by zillionaire Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft. And, you know, it`s an astonishing adventure at sea to find something like this three miles down, far from where anybody thought it was more than 70 years later. But what a solemn thing given the number of men who died onboard, and given what their last mission was before they were hit.
And this news this week comes at an emotional l time, anyway, for the U.S. Navy. Today the Navy suspended the search at sea for the sailors missing from the USS John McCain. They`re no longer treating that mission as a rescue mission. Instead, it`s a recovery mission to try to find the sailors` remains.
The Navy released the name of one sailor whose body was recovered and the nine others who are still missing. They also removed the commander of the 7th Fleet, incidentally, relieved him from duty.
Meanwhile, though, in the Philippine Sea, the CA-35, the USS Indianapolis is found all those years later. And it`s interesting, the ship`s exact location remains classified. They`re continuing to survey the site. But there are no plans to excavate it or disturb what`s there. It`s being treated as a war grave, as a final resting place. But now, it is one that has finally been found.
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
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