Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: August 28, 2017
Guest: Carol Leonnig, Jim Blackburn
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC ANCHOR: Good evening, Chris. Thanks very much. Thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. We are in day four of the hurricane-induced crisis in Coastal Texas.
We`re continuing to watch developments tonight in Houston where rain continues to fall in just epic amounts and where local authorities are having to make hard decisions about essentially what neighborhoods and what areas they may have to condemn to further flooding on purpose for the sake of the greater good.
Today and tonight Houston has been letting huge amounts of water flow out of flood control reservoirs into areas that have already been fatally inundated. They`ve been doing that to relieve the threat that those reservoirs and the dams that hold them together might fail because of the massive volume of water.
With the entire Texas National Guard now activated, hundreds of thousands of Americans in harm`s way tonight, it is hard to overstate the magnitude of the crisis in Texas. Houston is the country`s fourth largest city. It`s also the fastest growing major city in America.
And even though Houston has been hit by disastrous flooding in the past, including flooding caused by hurricanes, the rapid growth and sprawl in the Houston area has created worse conditions for a storm like this.
It`s also created some seemingly insurmountable challenges in terms of trying to move people out of harm`s way and trying to rescue people when the effort to get them out of harm`s way is a failed effort.
So, we`re continuing to watch this story tonight. We`re going to be getting a live report from Houston in just a moment. We`re also going to be speaking with an expert tonight who is an expert specifically on the question of what options Houston has right now.
What options Texas has right now in the middle of the thing to cope with what has happened over the last four days and what is likely to continue to get worse over the next 48 hours.
They have some very painful decision to make and getting a sense of what option they have and what the consequences of their decisions might be, at this point. It`s very difficult stuff. We`ll be covering that in detail tonight.
Today has also seen a cascade of breaking news, some fairly stunning breaking news about the Trump organization and the Trump campaign about its ties to Russia at the time that Russia was attacking the U.S. presidential election last year.
Carol Leonnig is one of the investigative reporters at the "Washington Post," who broke this story open both over the weekend and then today. Carol Leonnig is going to join us live here in just a moment.
We`ve also got a little bit of news to break tonight on the Trump-Russia dossier. The dossier that was prepared by former British MI-6 agent, Christopher Steele, last year.
The dossier of alleged Russian dirt on Donald Trump that was published by "Buzzfeed" in January, created such an uproar at the time. The people who commissioned that dossier have described it as a road map for the investigation into whether or not Donald Trump colluded with the Russian attack.
People who commissioned that dossier also stand by it and said that the dossier is correct. That dossier is now back at the center of what we know about the Trump-Russia investigation. We`re going to be breaking a little bit of news on that later in the show this evening.
But you know, the day that we the public all first learned about the dossier was actually before the election. It was on October 31st, Halloween, 2016. David Corn at "Mother Jones" magazine was the first person in the country to break the news.
That a former Western intelligence agent had collected a series of intelligence reports that were potentially very damaging to Donald Trump specifically in terms of his relationship with Russia.
David Corn reported on Halloween just before the election that the FBI had seen these findings and was looking into them. Again, that report, October 31st, 2016. Nobody quite knew what to make of it at the time.
I wish that I had known what to make of it at the time. I wish we all had, right? It really wasn`t until the dossier itself was published months later in January, after the election, that we all learned how serious this thing was, that David Corn had been describing in October.
But on that same day that David Corn published that story, right, the story that in retrospect now appears to be so important, but at the time, we didn`t really get it. On that same day, there was another really big hard to understand story that kind of landed the same way.
It was written by Franklin Ford at slate.com. He wrote a long piece that was published on Halloween that described unusual computer interactions between a computer server in Trump Tower serving the Trump organization and a computer server in Moscow associated with a big Russian bank called Alfa Bank.
And what this slate article described was kind of hard to put your finger on in terms of its significance, but the granular reporting was that there as an unusually high volume of server to server communications of some kind between those two servers in Moscow and Trump Tower.
And there was no reporting on what the content of those communications were. I mean, there were ultimately multiple competing explanations offered as to why those serves may have been communicating with each other, but it was honestly really never explained in terms of what the significance of that information was.
Because of that, because it didn`t have a clear bottom line, I think ultimately that story kind of withered away in the public consciousness. Whatever the reason was why the Trump organization computer servers and the Alfa Bank`s computer servers were talking to each other during the campaign.
It`s interesting but we didn`t know what it meant and there didn`t seemed to be any other notable connection between Donald Trump and Alfa Bank. So interesting story, we don`t really know what it means and the whole thing went to the back of the stack in terms of things to worry about when it comes to Donald Trump and Russia.
Maybe that whole Alfa Bank server thing was just a coincidence or some technical glitch. That story came out October 31st on slate.com. Then a week later Donald Trump won the election.
And then during the transition when he was president-elect, there emerged the next weird inexplicable maybe coincidental thing involving Trump world and a Russian bank.
One of the numerous contacts with Russian officials that Trump` son-in-law, Jared Kushner, did not disclose on his request for a security clearance was a meeting that he took at Trump Tower during the transition where he hosted the head of another Russian bank.
Jared Kushner met with the head of a Russian bank called VEB Bank. VEB Bank is a bank, but it`s really just an entity of the Russian government. The leadership of VEB Bank is handpicked by Vladimir Putin and VEB Bank`s connections with Russian intelligence in particular are not subtle.
Sergei Gorkov is the guy who Jared Kushner met with at Trump Tower during the transition. He is a graduate of the FSB Academy, which basically means he went to KGB grad school.
VEB Bank was also the cover organization for a big Russian spy ring that was busted up by the FBI a few years ago. That was the Russian spying operation where Trump foreign policy adviser, Carter Page, was found by the FBI to have been essentially a willing target for those Russian spies.
At least he was a source of information for those Russian spies who were looking for Americans to give them information to help them with their spying efforts against America from their home base in New York where they were ostensibly working for VEB Bank, but really they were spies.
So, there was the Alfa Bank servers communicating with the Trump organization for some reason. What`s that Russian bank got to do with anything. Then in the transition there`s Jared Kushner meeting with the head of VEB Bank for some reason.
What`s that Russian bank got to do with it. Then not long after Trump got inaugurated along comes another inexplicable seemingly random intersection between Trump world and yet another Russian bank.
The next one we learned about was I think the biggest Russian bank of all, a bank called Sberbank, which announced in March that they have hired new counsel to represent them in a big complicated civil case that was filed in the federal court of New York in which Sberbank was accused basically of rigging the granite mining industry in Russia.
Why is that a federal civil case in New York? It`s a long story, but in March, Sberbank in the middle of this case, they kind of surprised everybody. They made a lot of eyebrows arch in the legal news when they announced that they had chosen their new counsel for that long complicated and presumably very expensive case and they said their new counsel was going to be Donald Trump`s personal lawyer, Marc Kazowitz, right?
Marc Kasowitz supposed to be heading up President Trump`s legal representation on the Russia investigation. If you`re the lead lawyer coordinating legal defense for the president of the United States, who is facing a major counterintelligence and criminal investigation from the FBI while he is serving as president, you are in charge of that.
You think he`d be too busy to take on other clients, right? But, you know, looking at it from another angle, if there were Russian interests who are particularly concerned to know what was going on in the Trump-Russia investigation.
It may be handy to have conversations undercover of attorney-client privilege with the lead lawyer for the president on the Trump-Russia investigations so who knows? Maybe that was just a coincidence too.
What`s that big Russian bank doing with the president`s Russia lawyer? So, maybe the Alfa Bank thing was just a coincidence. Maybe the VEB-Jared Kushner meeting was a coincidence. Maybe the Sberbank thing, hiring Donald Trump`s Russia lawyer, maybe it was all just a coincidence.
Maybe none of this has anything to do with President Donald Trump and whether or not he has some sort of illicit relationship financial or otherwise with Russia that explains why Russia attacked our election and tried to rig it on his behalf, right?
Maybe none of those bank connections, Alfa Bank, VEB Bank, Sberbank, maybe none of those have anything to do with the question of whether Trump and his campaign knew about or were involved with the Russian effort to disrupt our election.
I mean, if you want to talk about Donald Trump personally and specifically, honestly until today the only so big and sort of suspicious banking relationship we`ve known about him at least recently isn`t with any Russian bank, it`s with Deutsche Bank, right?
Which as the name implies is not Russian, Deutsche Bank still to this day is the bank that Donald Trump owes hundreds of millions of dollars to. Deutsche Bank is the bank that dealt with Donald Trump in business terms for years when no other major banks would.
Deutsche Bank is the bank that continued to lend President Trump hundreds of millions of dollars for various deals even after he was unable to pay them back on some of his earlier loans.
Even after he went so far as to file lawsuits against Deutsche Bank because he failed to pay them back, which is a certain kind of hubris. There are aspects of the Donald Trump-Deutsche Bank relationship that have always seemed unexplained by the bounds of normal financial business dealings.
Deutsche Bank at least on the surface appears to have been uncommonly generous to him and forgiving of him. Deutsche Bank also, it turns out, gave Jared Kushner several hundred millions of dollars in loans in October of last year, right before the election.
Loans that Jared Kushner personally guaranteed, which made it all the more unusual that he failed to disclose those loans from Deutsche Bank on his financial disclosure statement, hundreds of millions of dollars.
Deutsche Bank has also been plagued over the last year by its legal liability for a multibillion dollar Russian money laundering scheme that was operated out of Deutsche Bank offices in Moscow, London, and elsewhere.
But you know after today, the Deutsche Bank Russian money laundering case will no longer be seen as the most concerning Deutsche Bank connection for President Trump when it comes to the Trump-Russia investigation.
Because there was Alfa Bank with the server thing, VEB Bank with the Carter Page connection and then the Jared Kushner meeting. There`s Sberbank hiring Trump`s Russia lawyer.
There`s all of these Russian banks getting strange new storing roles in American politics. There`s another one, Alfa Bank, VEB Bank, Sberbank. There`s another one called VTB Bank.
It is a very large Russian bank. It`s not as big as Sberbank, but it`s really big. VTB Bank is sanctioned by the U.S. government because of Russia invading Crimea.
This bank got sanctioned by the U.S. government as punishment for Crimea because this bank is seen as the Russian government. It`s an arm of the Russian government and that`s how the U.S. government views them.
In fact, if you go to VTB`s website tonight, click on about VTB and they will tell you in exact mathematical terms how they are controlled by the Russian government.
The Russian government owns and controls 60.9 percent of the VTB bank, the majority shareholder of the VTB Bank is the Russian government, which owns 60.9 percent of the voting shares.
What that means in plain English is that Putin runs VTB. Putin controls the bank and what it does and what it spends on. And today, we learn that up until last year, up until the middle of the presidential campaign VTB Bank was lined up and committed to provide hundreds of millions of dollars in financing to build Trump Tower Moscow.
The Russian government was going to do that deal. Actually, even without the knowledge that the financing for this deal was going to come from the Russian government, it`s still a heck of a bombshell. This is not some old deal that happened back in the past that people may have forgotten about.
This is not something that Trump worked on in the `90s and it fell apart. This is what he was working on during the campaign after he announced that he was running for president, months into his presidential campaign when he was full on running for president, he was trying do this deal with the Russian government in Moscow.
Quoting from Carol Lenick`s story on this in the "Washington Post," quote, "As the talks to build Trump Tower Moscow progressed, Trump voiced numerous supportive comments about Vladimir Putin on the campaign trail setting himself apart from his Republican rivals for the Republican nomination."
Remember when Trump warned a few weeks ago in that interview with the "New York Times," that if Robert Mueller wanted to go looking into any of his business dealings that would be crossing a red line because clearly none of those personal financial interests or business dealings had anything to do with Russia, that would be crossing a red line?
Well, now we know that his business, the Trump Organization, had everything to do with Russia, even during the campaign and you know, we probably should have seen this coming.
Back in May, we should have seen this coming when Donald Trump`s lawyers started hiring their own lawyers. Michael Cohen, forever in a day, has been Donald Trump`s lawyer, his personal lawyer at times, a Trump Organization executive and lawyer.
When Trump started flirting with and running for president in the last election cycle, Michael Cohen was his top and for most of the time his only political adviser.
Michael Cohen is very, very close to Trump and Trump`s business. He is Trump`s lawyer and he did hire his own lawyer this spring. He then confirmed that the committees investigating the Trump-Russia affair had asked him to give testimony and hand over documents to those committees.
Michael Cohen`s response to those requests was no, I won`t. The committees then subpoenaed him to testify and also to hand over documents. He is due, as far as we know, to testify next week on Tuesday to the House Intelligence Committee.
But apparently today, he handed over documents to the House Intelligence Committee and some of those documents and a long statement about them found their way to certain reporters and publications upon the handover of these documents to Congress.
And just to read between the lines a little bit, it does not appear that what happened here is that Michael Cohen handed stuff over to Congress and Congress leaked it. I`m not speaking from direct knowledge here. I am speaking in terms of reading between the lines.
The way that this is phrased and described in the reporting tonight is that Michael Cohen handed this stuff over to the House Intelligence Committee and in so doing gave some of it to reporters and a statement about it to reporters.
To put the best possible spin on that information himself before investigators themselves can start chewing on it and putting it out in their own terms. And in this case the best possible spin is still pretty bad.
The bottom line of what we`ve learned now from the "Washington Post" and "The Times" is that while Trump was insisting publicly that he had no deals with Russia and while he was questioned repeatedly about why he was being so bent over backwards positive about Vladimir Putin and Russia throughout the campaign.
He never thought to mention and apparently nobody in the Trump organization or the Trump campaign ever thought to mention that during the presidential campaign for five months of the presidential campaign the Trump Organization was aggressively pursuing the building of a gigantic real estate project in Moscow that the Russian government had agreed to finance.
Those negotiations included in October, Trump signing a letter of intent to proceed with the project, October 2015. Michael Cohen says he spoke to Trump at least three times directly about the project.
Michael Cohen we now know also wrote directly to the Kremlin last January. He wrote to Vladimir Putin`s spokesman, Dmitri Peskov, to ask for direct Kremlin help in restarting discussions about the building project which by then he said was stalled.
The other Trump Organization figure involved in these negotiations is someone we`ve talked about before named Felix Sater (ph). He is a Russian- born ex-con who was convicted of a $40 million mafia connected pump and dump stock scheme.
In 2013, Trump in a sworn deposition professed to not be able to recognize Felix Sater if he had been sitting in that room that day. It`s a little hard to believe Felix Sater had been associated with the Trump Organization for years.
He carried a Trump business card that described himself as senior adviser to Donald Trump even after Trump said he wouldn`t recognize him if he were in the room. He said that in 2013.
By 2015, apparently, Felix Sater was recognizable again because he was working with Michael Cohen to try to make the Trump Tower Moscow thing happen and Trump was signing off on the letter of intent to move forward with it.
Michael Cohen I think has to testify to House Intel next week. He handed over documents to House Intel today. His strategy in so doing is to try to spin what he`s handed over in the best possible way.
It still looks very bad. It also appears to try to play down the importance of Felix Sater and his involvement in this project, especially Sater`s comments in the e-mails that have been handed over to Congress now and to some reporters.
In which Felix Sater brags that there`s something about this real estate deal in Moscow that in the end will result in Donald Trump becoming president of the United States.
Quote, "Our boy can become president of the USA and we can engineer it. I will get all of Putin`s team to buy in on this. I will manage this process." Felix Sater wrote this to Michael Cohen.
Quote, "Michael, I arranged for Ivanka to sit in Putin`s private chair at his desk and office in the Kremlin. I know how to play it. We will get this done."
Michael Cohen`s strategy in releasing these documents to the press ahead of him giving them to Congress involves him playing down whether or not Felix Sater really could have been serious about that.
He`s put out statement that said, quote, "Over the course of my business dealings with Mr. Sater, he has sometimes used colorful language and has been prone to salesmanship."
That said, when the "Times" today went to check out Felix Sater`s boast that he was so connected, he could deliver the Putin side of this deal. He was so connected he was able to arrange for Ivanka Trump to sit in Putin`s private chair at his desk in his office at the Kremlin.
When the "New York Times" checked out that boast today, the response from Team Ivanka was not exactly on brand. Ivanka Trump told the "Times" she did in fact take a brief tour of Red Square and the Kremlin when she was in Moscow with Felix Sater, but she insists she was only there, quote, "as a tourist."
I have to say, though, it does not seem that she had a totally typical tourist experience because, quote, "She said it is possible that she sat in Mr. Putin`s chair."
But maybe that`s just a coincidence or don`t all tourist visitors to the Kremlin get to sit in Putin`s chair. Alfa Bank, VEB Bank, Sberbank and now VTB Bank, which is the Russian government agreeing to finance to the tune hundreds of millions of dollars a Trump Tower Moscow project that no one ever admitted to before today.
That was happening during the campaign. Probably just a coincidence. A lot going on today. Lots happening in the news. Carol Leonnig joins us next. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Trump-Russia investigation is sort of built on three ideas, three questions. One is U.S. intelligence agencies saying the Russian government interfered in the presidential election to try to help Trump win.
Two, there are allegations about whether the Trump campaign colluded with or helped the Russians conduct to that meddling during the election.
And three, there are questions about the absolute denials from our now president that he has anything to do with Russia. Beyond that one beauty pageant he held there.
The reason while his dealings with Russia and his statements are of investigative interest is because investigators need to figure out if there`s some way in which he is compromised when it comes to Russia.
What that means is investigators need to figure out if Russia holds something over him. Do they know something? Do they have documentation of something that he`s done that he would not like them to reveal to the public, right?
That`s the essence of being compromised, right, being beholden, in a position where for some secret reason you feel the need to ingratiate yourself to a foreign power or at least not say no when they come calling.
So, it all boils down to this simple stuff, Russia interfered in the election to help Trump win, proven. The Trump campaign is alleged to have helped in that effort being investigated.
And our now president says he`s had nothing to do with Russia, nothing. That`s why this is a heck of a bombshell. Top Trump Organization executive asked Putin aide for help on business deal.
A top executive from Trump`s real estate company e-mailed Vladimir Putin`s personal spokesman during the U.S. presidential campaign last year to ask for help advancing a stalled Trump Tower development project in Moscow.
That is according to documents submitted to Congress today by a Trump Organization executive, who has also been Trump`s personal lawyer and who served as Trump`s to political adviser for the start of his campaign.
While he was having Trump sign a letter of intent to go forward with Trump Tower Moscow to be financed by a Russia-government run bank. Nobody thought to mention this before now.
Joining us now is Carol Leonnig, reporter for "The Washington Post." Carol, thank you very much for being here. It`s nice to have you here.
CAROL LEONNIG, STAFF WRITER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": And it`s great to be here, Rachel.
MADDOW: So, congratulations on the scoop. You guys broke this story yesterday about the Trump Organization trying to build a Trump Tower in Moscow early in the campaign.
What you report in this story and what the president said about his dealings with Russia seem to me to be very much at odds. Do you feel like what you`ve been able to report really contradicts the way the president has characterized his own dealings in Russia?
I don`t think it catches him in a horrid absolute lie. I think what it shows is that he hasn`t been forth right about how eager he was, while a presidential candidate, to let his Trump Organization and his executive vice president pursue a very potentially lucrative deal in Moscow.
There are debates about how valuable it would be to him. But I think that there`s something bigger behind what we`ve learned in the story that we broke on Sunday night and the news story that we broke this afternoon.
I think there`s something much bigger in the fabric here and you kind of only learn it as each piece comes, but that bigger thing is while Donald Trump`s sort of third son, Michael Cohen, a long-time friend, ally, not his actual son by birth.
But while this person is working, negotiating a deal in Moscow to develop and license Moscow Trump Tower, a Russian-born friend of his is saying, hey, if we make this deal the president can get elected. It`s going to make him look like such a great incredible negotiator.
And hey, I`m connected in Russia and I can get Vladimir Putin to start saying nice things about this, you know, kind of distant horse GOP hopeful. Then we learned in our more recent story that at the same time Michael Cohen, this long-time ally of Donald Trump`s, is reaching out to extremely high-ranking friend of Vladimir Putin`s and saying I`d like your help. We are stalled, we`d like to get this deal done --
CAROL LEONNIG, INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALIST AND STAFF WRITER, WASHINGTON POST: -- I`d like your help. It was Cohen, this long-time ally of Donald Trumps is reaching out to -- he extremely high ranking friend of Vladimir Putins. And saying, I`d like your help. We`re stalled. We would like to get this deal done.
Nudge, nudge, wink, wink, we know how it works in Russia. You need to go to Putin. And says, we would like your help. So that`s a pretty dramatically different thing than what the president has said which is I have zero interest in Russia. I have zero deals. I`ve got nothing going on there.
RACHEL MADDOW, THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW HOST: When Felix Sater connects this deal to Trump`s chances at becoming president, is it clear that why he sees those two things connected?
You just mentioned that he said that, wow this will really make him look like a great negotiator. I know I`m not sure I get his argument or the credibility of his argument in terms of why he thought these things were connected.
Obviously, it`s very provocative to see somebody saying, we`re doing this deal and it will result in Trump becoming president. We`re doing this financial deal and then it will result in him winning the election. But I don`t really get why he was connecting the two ideas?
LEONNIG: It could have been incredible braggadocio kind of commentary. It could have been somebody doing something a little bit different. But remember at this time Vladimir Putin is pretty angry with the U.S.. He views himself on a bit of a revenge mission. And he also wants to look like he has some sort detente.
It appears that he thinks he can create kind of a non-adversarial relationship with Donald Trump, a kind of iconoclastic presidential candidate. And Felix Sater, again this Russian-born broker who`s been long connected with Donald Trump and has introduced him since 2013 to fairly significant Russian money men.
This guy is saying, look, this is good for Putin and this is good for you, Donald. And he is telling this to Michael Cohen. You will look like you have negotiated with one of America`s toughest adversaries. It happens that that would also be beneficial to Vladimir Putin. He would look like he had sort of a detente, a happy relationship with the U.S..
MADDOW: It`s such a bizarre misreading of how it would have been greeted to have that deal gone through. That`s the -- in terms of just understanding how the news works and how people were treating Trump. Once we started this learning about Russian efforts to embed and involved in the election.
This is such a puzzle but the fabric here is absolutely stunning. And I have a feeling there`s a lot -- this feels like the start of a lot of reporting in terms of us getting to understand this part of the campaign. Carol Leonnig from the Washington Post, really appreciate your time tonight. Congratulations again on this scoop.
LEONNIG: Thanks, Rachel.
MADDOW: All right, the city of Houston today has been making some very hard choices about how to manage the absolutely epic flooding that has inundated that major American city. We`ve got rigid expert to ask about this stuff. That story is ahead.
Plus, the latest from Houston plus. That little bit of news. We`re going to break on the Russia dossier. That`s all ahead tonight. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Houston, Texas is basically flat. It`s America`s fourth largest city. It has an elevation of 50 feet. Houston is in a flat and watery part of the world with the Gulf of Mexico on one side and bayous running all through the city.
Since 1960, Houston has suffered more deaths and property loss from flooding than any other locality in the country. And the people of Houston have developed ways of trying to keep the water from winning.
Today with this huge, huge storm, they tried one of their more desperate measures. There are two big dams on the west side of Houston that hold back the reservoirs, reservoirs that are designed basically to keep water upstream from Houston proper, to keep that water from rushing in to what are now the already flooded bayous in Downtown, Houston.
This is how the reservoirs looked before the storm. After the storm the water had begun rising high enough and fast enough that officials feared the dams themselves would be overcome. So to save the dams to keep holding back the gigantic quantities of water held in those reservoirs, they opened the spillways enough to let some of the water out of the reservoirs.
In so doing, they flooded the neighborhoods in the path of that water that they had to let out. They didn`t do it gratuitously. They did it as a way that save the dams, to save more people. It`s kind of difficult choice, no mayor, no engineer ever wants to have to make. Might have been the best choice they had today in Houston, though.
How do you manage your catastrophe like this when not only, is it under way? It is nod ending anytime soon. What are Houston`s options right now in responding to the continuing flooding? What should they do over the next couple of day? We`re going to be joined next by somebody whose job it is to grapple with these exact questions. Stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Rosita Dimitrov`s (ph) family was rescued by boat this afternoon.
ROSITA DIMITROV, HOUSTON RESIDENCE: The house is flooding. And it`s rising way too fast.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They live just west of Houston where in an unprecedented move, the army corps of engineers is doing controlled releases from two reservoirs before the storm even moves away. It`s an efforts to reduce the risk of destructive flooding and lessen the chances of the dams busting.
DIMITROV: We were fine until they released the reservoirs. So everything started happening really fast this morning.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You weren`t flooded before then?
DIMITROV: Not yet, no. The waters were rising, but we weren`t flooded before. So I understand they have to do what they have to do to save Houston, but that really triggered and accelerated the process.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: They have to do what they have to do to save Houston. That was reporting on MSNBC nightly news, tonight about a family directly affected by the controlled release of those two reservoirs today.
Local officials actually warning today that even on day four of this disaster in Houston, people who are not flooded yet, may yet find that they are flooded tomorrow or the next day as the effects of the storm continue to crescendo and as officials make hard decisions.
Joining us is Jim Blackburn, he is co-director of the SSPEED Center at Rice University in Houston. The SSPEED Center was established ten years ago to address severe storms and their impact on the Gulf Coast area. Professor Blackburn, thank you very much for joining us tonight. I`m glad you`re able to be with us.
JIM BLACKBURN, CIVIL & ENVIRONMENTAL ENGINEERING EXPERT, CO-DIRECTOR OF THE SSPEED CENTER, RICE UNIVERSITY: Oh thank you Rachel. It`s a real pleasure to be here.
MADDOW: Today, the Army Corps of Engineers decided to open spillways at these two reservoirs, west to Houston, west to the Downtown. As far as I understand, it basically as a way to save the dams to preserve the integrity of the reservoirs, to save a greater amount of people. The short term result is that some neighborhoods face new or worsened flooding. You`ve studied these things. You know the options they have. What do you make in that decision they made today?
BLACKBURN: Well that decision is based on these dams being evaluated as two of the six most dangerous in the United States by the Corps. That`s both in terms of risk of failure and the population affected downstream.
We`ve never seen this much rain before and they made -- I think the prudent decision, although very difficult decision to go ahead and begin to release water while also filling up the reservoir. But I don`t think the reservoirs are intended to be used to full capacity which is really a tragedy because we need every ounce of flood control that we`ve got.
MADDOW: In terms of the flood control options that local officials have, what kind of tools do they have at their disposal? What kind of decisions are they going to be making today, tonight, tomorrow as the storm continues to play out?
BLACKBURN: Well, I think we`ve really got some of the most difficult decisions. And that I would say these are decisions that frankly we`ll be facing I think every coastal city in the future. We`ve never seen a rain like this. On the other hand, there`s a lot of the options that Houston has really never seriously considered before.
We`ve always approached flooding from the standpoint of quote unquote controlling it, primarily with engineering solutions. And there are a lot of nonstructural alternatives that`s there. We`re going to have to pull out a whole new bag of approaches that require creativity and that require, you know, really trying to come up with new and different ways of solving these problems.
We cannot solve these problems by thinking the way that we`ve been thinking. We`ve got to come up with better, new ideas.
MADDOW: Given the -- not only the size of Houston, but its critical location. Things like the Houston Ship Channel, and the oil refineries there, and all the infrastructure there. Some of which is in -- it can be quite dangerous to human beings and other forms of life when it is put in danger.
Given what Houston is and what is -- what`s at risk here, what`s been in the way of Houston coming up with better decisions to deal with flooding? It is very striking that a city with that much chemical and oil infrastructure is also the most flooded locality in the United States.
BLACKBURN: Well, I think first of all, it`s sometimes difficult to get the officials to really envision the magnitude of storms that we actually are foreseeing. But we`ve foreseen, for example, something that didn`t happen in this storm, which would be a hurricane with a large surge. Perhaps, 20 to 25 feet coming in and hitting the Houston Ship Channel. And I`ve had several people tell me, that`s unrealistic.
If we had modelled and presented the scenario that is unfolding, we would have been accused of coming up with unrealistic future scenario. So I think one thing is trying to get people to really be open-minded about what the risks are because I think we`re really at a time of unprecedented risk with the heat. The Gulf of Mexico is extremely warm. Among the warmest if not the warmest of the oceans of the world and it is a virtual heat pump into a hurricane, and that is a huge source of power for these storms.
MADDOW: Professor Blackburn, I read in ProPublica that since 1989 what they call a hundred-year storm, a storm that`s only supposed to happen once in 100 years. Since 1989, that`s happened six times in Houston. Are you saying that this isn`t just a Houston issue, this is a climate change issue in terms of how we anticipate the magnitude of storms and flooding?
BLACKBURN: It`s exactly the type of things that the experts on Climate had been predicting in the sense that our normal distribution of storms is changing and we`ll be skewing to more of severe events. And that is I think exactly what we`re seeing.
We`ve seen two 500-year storms in the last two years in certain parts of town. And I have no idea what this storm is going to evaluate as, but certainly a way beyond a hundred-year storm. I think the term hundred-year rainfall is virtually meaningless today. And the Federal Emergency Management Agency is the one that comes up with these stormy meals (ph).
We have yet to reevaluate. Our severe is going to nothing because that`s affects everybody in the United States. I think Houston has a chance to be a trendsetter for the country in figuring out how to cope and deal with these kind of new unprecedented storm events. But it`s going to take every bit of creativity that we have.
MADDOW: Jim Blackburn, co-director of the SSPEED Center at Rice University in Houston. Thank you for helping us understand all this. This is very sobering coming from you sir, appreciate you being here.
BLACKBURN: Yes (ph), really appreciate that you`re taking the time, Rachel.
MADDOW: Thank you. All right, we got more ahead tonight. Stay with us.
MADDOW: I was off on Friday night. Sorry, I`m not sorry. But at the height of Friday`s Hurricane thing in news dam, we learned that president Trump was granting a pardon to former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio. That was Friday.
By late Saturday morning, new reporting opened up a whole new question about that for the White House. The "Washington Post" cited three sources in reporting on Saturday that last spring, months before sheriff Arpaio`s case even went to trial. The president looked into quashing the Arpaio prosecution altogether. He quote, "Asked Attorney General Jeff Sessions whether it would be possible for the government to drop the criminal case against Arpaio, but the president was advised that would be inappropriate."
A short time later, "The New York Times" published its own version of the story citing four sources, they reported the president brought up the possibility of quashing the Arpaio prosecution not just with attorney general Jeff Sessions, but also with the White House counsel.
OK, here`s my question. If the president asked the A.G. and the White House counsel if they could maybe drop the Arpaio prosecution somehow, is that potentially a legal problem for the president? Where`s the line between, hey, I`m just asking for a friends and obstructing justice?
We got some expert advice on that today. Former U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade, she`s an MSNBC chief contributor now. You`ve seen her here on our show numerous times. Tonight, Barbara McQuade tells us that this could be a separate count of obstruction of justice against the president if the president tried to interfere with the prosecution that`s being investigated in terms of the Comey firing. Conceivably, that could be investigated or pursued in this case.
She also told us this, which is very interesting, "If Sessions or anybody else explained to Trump that it is inappropriate to interfere with a criminal investigation before Trump attempted to do so with former FBI Director James Comey, that could help establish that Trump understood that what he was doing in firing James Comey was illegal."
Ah, so in other words, this might get rid of his ignorance defense. If the president was told explicitly that he`s really not allowed to interfere in a criminal investigation of Joe Arpaio, then he was in a position to know explicitly that he shouldn`t interfere in the FBI investigation of Michael Flynn by pressuring James Comey about that. So that`s what we heard from former federal prosecutor Barbara McQuade.
We also asked Bob Bauer today, a former White House Counsel under President Obama. He cited the unusual nature of the Arpaio pardon coming before Sheriff Arpaio was even sentence. He told us, "Should the president ever face impeachment on obstruction related grounds, this will color the case against him because it`s a pardon that does not meet the standards for granting one in the normal course of events."
So, again, yes asking about the Arpaio pardon could be trouble for the president. We also heard from a former top official in the Justice Department, Walter Dellinger, who led the Office of Legal Counsel under President Clinton. Walter Dellinger told us, "No president should be interfering in a criminal prosecution on behalf of friends or supporters. It fundamentally violates equal justice under law." Blunt from Walter Dellinger.
So obviously a pardon is a presidential prerogative, but can a president try to quash a prosecution? Is that legal? It turns out that`s a good question. So stay tuned on that. We also have some exclusive new reporting tonight on the dossier of alleged Russian dirt on president Trump and the ten hours of testimony by a key player in the production of that dossier.
We`ve got that story next. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Last week, the head of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Chuck Grassley, got asked by a very persistent, very bright constituent at an Iowa Town Hall. The question that he faced was about the controversial dossier that first detailed collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.
The head of the company that commissioned that dossier, the co-founder of Fusion GPS, Glenn Simpson, he spent ten hours giving a transcribed interview to judiciary committee staffers recently, all about the dossier. Ten hours of testimony.
Afterward, Glenn Simpson said, he stands by the dossier. He also said, quote, the committee can release the transcript if it so chooses, the transcript of ten hours of his testimony on the dossier. At that town hall in Iowa, Senator Grassley told his persistent constituent that he was opening to releasing that transcript of those ten hours of testimony if his committee voted to do that.
So here`s what we can report tonight. Judiciary has 11 Republicans and nine Democrats. We think all nine democrats would likely vote to release that transcript. We reached out to all of them as well as all the republicans on the committee. One of the Republicans who isn`t the chairman, senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, tells us now that he would vote to release that transcript.
Quoting from a statement that his office gave us, "The senator, like Chairman Grassley, believes we should make as much public as possible and as soon as we can. Barring additional and unexpected developments, he would vote in favor." So says Orrin Hatch`s office. That`s interesting. It means if one more Republican votes to release that transcript, that would mean those ten hours of testimony about the dossier by the guy who commissioned it, who stands by the dossier absolutely, those ten hours of testimony may soon see the light of day.
Which would really be something. Watch this space. This 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 --
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