Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: September 7, 2017
Guest: Jack Seiler, Lee Foster
CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST, ALL IN: That is "ALL IN" for this evening.
THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right now.
Good evening, Rachel.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Thanks, my friend. I appreciate it.
HAYES: You bet.
MADDOW: They are shutting down the nuclear plants now in Florida in advance of the hurricane. Turkey Point and St. Lucie are nuclear plants on the Atlantic coast.
Nuclear plants, of course, can be shut down safely but it`s the sort of thing that has to be carefully planned and you need your backup generators to keep working even after you`re shut down. And you need some leave time to be able to do it safely.
Florida Power and Light said today that they`re not announcing exactly when they`re setting these nuclear plants to go cold, but interestingly, the Energy Department sort of let slip what the timeline is going to be. The federal Energy Department let slip tonight that they think Turkey Point will be shut down tomorrow night and St. Lucie will be shut down 12 hours later. So, who knows when it`s going to happen but they`re planning a shutdown.
For context here, the Turkey Point nuclear plant was supposed to with stand 235-mile-per-hour winds according to its design. But one of the exhaust stacks at that nuclear plant actually cracked in half when Hurricane Andrew hit 25 years ago, even though Andrew`s winds were way below the 235-mile- per-hour threshold that that plant was supposed to safely take.
So, that explains why there are some of the worries that people have about that particular part of the coastal infrastructure. Now, as of tonight, Irma is still a cat 5 hurricane. National Hurricane Center says even though the max wind speeds may fluctuate up and down a little bit, you should expect Irma to stay a category 4 or category 5 storm for the next couple of days.
The storm is now blamed for at least nine deaths across the Caribbean. As well as the all but complete leveling of the island of Barbuda, which the government there now says may no longer be habitable. As Irma continues -- I mean, the wind speed pictures of it are still just absolutely stunning. It`s continuing its track toward densely populated south Florida and starting to see over the course of today, local officials in Florida basically searching for non-four letter words that they can use to convey how strenuously they mean it when they say that people really need to get out now.
The mayor of Miami Beach today told people that as far as he`s concerned, he sees this as a nuclear hurricane. Like nothing Florida has seen before. He`s telling people who are resisting mandatory evacuation orders that the storm is big enough that even if the track changes, even if Irma veers offshore, in his words, it will still, quote, envelope us even if the track changes substantially.
So, obviously, officials are telling people who are in the path of the storm to get out, to get to higher ground. People are being told in no uncertain terms that they really have to leave. But leaving right now is not necessarily easy, depending on where you`re starting from. Gas shortages already. Flights sold out. Some roadways jammed.
The logistical feasibility of moving yourself and your family out of harm`s way is starting to become a real issue. There are worries a that that may become a serious factor in some increasingly large parts of Florida. So, we`re going to be covering this obviously, intensively throughout the course of the storm.
Tonight, this hour, we`re going to talk with the mayor of Ft. Lauderdale. Have a light hit with the mayor in a moment. We`re going to be getting live reports throughout the hour on the storm as it continues its churn through the Caribbean. It`s passing over Turks and Caicos right now. So, we`re watching that tonight.
In Washington today, today, the biggest was that the president`s eldest son and his namesake had to testify to Congress today about the Trump-Russia investigation and specifically about his own Russia contacts during the presidential campaign. Don Jr.`s discussions with the Judiciary Committee today lasted over five hours. It was held behind closed doors.
We don`t have any footage to show you of him giving that testimony but we did get a copy of his formal opening statement so we know what he and his lawyers prepared for him to tell the committee before they started questioning him.
We also know a few details of how it went. He was not asked to swear an oath before he testified. But, of course, whether or not you`re formally sworn in under oath, you still have to tell the truth. We know that a transcript was made of Trump`s testimony today, but it will be up to the committee as to whether or not they ever release that transcript. Hypothetically, the transcript could also be released to the special counsel`s office, to Robert Mueller`s office depending on if he wanted to see it and depending on what could be worked out between the committee and Robert Mueller and Donald Trump Jr.`s own lawyers.
We also know that this might have been today the prelude to a second appearance by Donald Trump Jr. At an open hearing, particularly if senators didn`t like what they heard from him today. Today, Donald Trump Jr. was questioned only by committee staff. Senators on the committee were allowed to sit in and watch and listen, but the senators themselves were not allowed to interrupt or ask their own questions.
According to NBC News reporting today, these are the senators who bothered to sit in on Donald Trump Jr.`s testimony today. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Chris Coons of Delaware, Dick Durbin of Illinois, Amy Klobuchar from Minnesota and Sheldon White House from Rhode Island. We`re told that Senator Al Franken of Minnesota stepped in but only for about three minutes. We`re told that Utah Senator Orrin Hatch came by for about five minutes.
If you`re doing the partisan math, that does mean there was only one Republican senator there today for a total of five minutes, while the president`s son testified for over five hours.
As for the senators who did show up, we don`t know exactly what they heard but we do know how one of those Democratic senators responded to Donald Trump Jr.`s testimony today.
Very shortly, about an hour after Trump`s testimony wrapped up, the office of Delaware Senator Chris Coons sent out this memo. See two interested parties from the office of Senator Chris Coons. Re, Donald Trump Jr. testimony today. It says: Summary, below is a statute to keep in mind in regards to Donald Trump Jr.`s testimony today. And then they just posted the entire U.S. federal statute that makes it a crime to lie to Congress.
And then this is a lot of things but subtle is not one of them. We don`t know what Senator Coons was hinting Donald Trump may have lied about today. We called to ask the senator today and we haven`t yet heard back from his office.
But here`s the next big shoe that dropped on this story today. "The A.P." and CNN both reported today that one of the things that Donald Trump Jr. Told the Senate is that he doesn`t recall anything about the White House or the president himself being involved in crafting the first statement that was written about why Donald Jr. went to a meeting with a whole bunch of Russians last June at Trump Tower, along with Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort.
Quote: Donald Trump Jr. told Senate Judiciary Committee staffers today that he did not recall the details of White House involvement in the public response to his 2016 meeting with a Russian lawyer. Quote, he told the committee he did not know much about the Air Force One meeting that allegedly led to the production of his statement.
Now, that mysterious top level meeting between the top of the Trump campaign and Russians connected to Russian intelligence in the Kremlin, that Trump Tower meeting last, John, we first learned about that from press reports while the president and basically everybody who works at the White House was in Europe for the G20 meeting. I remember reporting at the time of the G20 that there was nobody left to answer the phone at the White House because they took freaking everybody on that trip to Europe.
And then "The Washington Post" later reported that on Air Force One, on the way home from that G20 trip, that`s when the president personally wrote the statement that was released in his son`s name about what happened at that Trump Tower meeting with all of the Russians.
This is the statement that said: It was a short introductory meeting. I asked Jared and Paul to stop by. We primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children that was active and popular with American families years ago and was since ended by the Russian government.
That was the statement that was reportedly drafted on Air Force One by the president on the way home from the G20 summit after the news broke about the Trump Tower meeting.
Now, that statement was seriously, seriously misleading, even just on its face. There is no program about the adoption of Russian children. There isn`t that. That doesn`t exist. I mean, quite the opposite.
Putin cut off the ability of American to adopt Russian kids as payback for us putting sanctions on Russia. That`s as close as you can get to the program that was active and popular with American families. So, even just on its face, it`s misleading.
The other reason that statement was misleading is because Donald Jr. soon released the e-mails that led up to that Trump Tower meeting where the subject line over and over again said nothing about adoptions. This was the subject line: Russia, Clinton, private and confidential.
And the purpose of that meeting was laid out in comically blunt terms. Good morning, Emin just called and asked me to contact you with something very interesting. The crown prosecutor of Russia met with his father Aras this morning and in their meeting offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be useful to your father. This is obviously very high level and sensitive information, but it is part of Russia and its government`s support for Mr. Trump. Help along by Aras and Emin.
So that was the Trump Tower meeting. This statement saying that Trump tower meeting was a meeting of, what was it, meeting about the program about the adoption of Russian children, the statement was just bull. And that false statement was put out in the name of Donald Trump Jr. but "The Washington Post" later reported that the statement was actually dictated by the president himself.
And then the White House confirmed the president`s involvement in that statement saying, the president weighed in as any father would.
Well, now, here`s the rub: Before Donald Trump Jr. was even done testifying to the Senate today, CNN broke the news that the special counsel Robert Mueller is now seeking interviews with White House staff. White House staff specifically who were aboard Air Force One when the initial misleading statement about the Trump Tower meeting was crafted.
Mueller reportedly wants to know how the statement on board Air Force One was put together, whether information was intentionally left out and who was involved. Mueller`s questions could go to the issue of intent and possibly efforts to conceal information during an obstruction of justice investigation. Mueller considers some of the aides aboard Air Force One who helped craft the statement to be witnesses.
So, we know because of the e-mails that Donald Trump Jr. released about the Trump Tower meeting. We know that the meeting was intended to try to get dirt on Hillary Clinton from the Russian government to use against her in the presidential campaign. That`s what we know from the e-mails that set up the meeting. That was actually corroborated in the opening statement that Donald Trump Jr. made to the Senate today under pain of imprisonment if he lied. That was the purpose of the meeting, to get dirt on Hillary Clinton from the Russian government.
That is no longer a controversial assertion. That is a given. That`s attested to. Proven by the written documentation they put out and attested to by the statement that Donald Trump Jr. today made under pain of imprisonment. It was to get dirt on Clinton from the Russians.
So, putting out a statement saying that the meeting was about something else entirely, well, that`s obviously mendacious, right, but is it -- is it criminal? Are you in trouble if you put out a statement saying that meeting was about something it totally wasn`t about?
I mean, it seems clear from the conceded facts that the president was personally involved in concocting a statement about that meeting that attempted to disguise the true nature and purpose of the Trump Tower meeting, to make it seem like something other than his campaign seeking Russian government assistance for their efforts against Hillary Clinton in the presidential campaign.
If that statement, that effort to cover up the purpose of that meeting is now the subject for the special counsel`s inquiry, and he`s going to interview White House staff who may have witnessed that act, A, that`s really bad news for the president. And B, that means the special counsel has a veritable pooh-pooh platter of similar cover-up efforts to run to ground. If that`s going to be the stuff he`s running to ground, if that`s what he`s investigating, efforts to mislead the public about contacts with Russians? There`s a lot to choose from if that`s what the special counsel is going to be running to ground, if there`s potential criminality for people who made those misstatements.
I mean, there are a lot of misleading the public, creating a false pretext type statements that have been made about Russia by members of the Trump campaign and the Trump administration, a lot of them. I mean, just take the people in the Trump campaign and the Trump administration who insisted publicly that there had been no contacts between the Trump campaign and Russians during the presidential contest. And we now know there were.
I mean, Paul Manafort said that publicly. Kellyanne Conway said that publicly. Hope Hicks said that publicly. Donald Trump Jr. said that publicly. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said that publicly under oath. Vice President Mike Pence said that publicly.
I mean, actually, you know what, just take Pence alone here. Mike Pence did bluntly assert multiple times that there had been no contacts between the Trump campaign and Russians during the campaign. That was false. Mike Pence blunt asserted that Trump national security adviser Mike Flynn had never talked to the Russians about sanctions. That was false.
Mike Pence bluntly asserted that he had idea Mike Flynn had foreign business ties, even though Pence was running the transition when the transition was notified multiple times including in writing and in person by Flynn`s lawyers that yes, Flynn had foreign business ties, even though Pence was running the transition when the transition was notified multiple times, including in writing and in person by Flynn`s lawyers that yes, Flynn had foreign business ties.
Mike Pence bluntly asserted that the president fired FBI Director James Comey because the president got a recommendation to do so from the Justice Department. We now know that Vice President Pence received a letter from the president outlining exactly why he wanted to fire James Comey a day before the Justice Department even wrote that recommendation.
And that`s literally just the stuff we know about the vice president in terms of the lies that we know he has told specifically about Russia and that`s just the ones I can come up with off of the top of my head. Give me a few days and I can give you quite a list.
I mean, if the CNN report today is right -- I mean, I know there`s a lot going on right now, and the testimony of the president`s son is itself just an incredible spectacle in the history of presidential scandal, right? And this is competing with a lot of other really important national news in the country right now.
But this is potentially a very big deal. If this CNN report today is right and the special counsel who has the ability to prosecute crimes, right? If the special counsel is now investigating administration officials for making misleading statements about ties to Russia, well, yes, that Donald Trump Sr. and Jr. junior statement lying about the meeting with if Trump Tower. That`s a good place to start.
But if the special counsel sees it as in his remit to chase down people in the administration or in the campaign who created false pretext for the administration`s actions around Russia, or who lied about contacts with Russia or who told tall tale to the public to disguise or distract from Trump contacts with Russia, or behavior toward Russians, well, if that`s what he`s investigating, that investigatory road is going to be a very long one.
And a lot of people in the administration, up to and including the White House communication staff and senior advisers to the president and the vice president himself and the president`s family members, they`re all going to need good lawyers if Robert Mueller is going to start nailing people for that.
And just to underscore the seriousness of this, let me close with just one more point, to underscore the seriousness of what they are facing right now. Just keep this in mind: Donald Trump`s eldest son and namesake, Donald Trump Jr., still today was disclosing new contacts between the Trump campaign and the Russians that happened during the campaign. Still today we got new stuff.
Today, Donald Trump Jr., according to the statement that he made to the Judiciary Committee, today, he revealed three new previously undisclosed phone calls that he had with Emin Agalarov. Emin Agalarov is described in the e-mails setting up the meeting as one of two people who are helping along Russia and its government support for Mr. Trump in his presidential campaign against Hillary Clinton.
You had three phone calls with him that you never disclosed before today? Even today, this key figure from the Trump campaign, Trump`s eldest son is disclosing three new calls with that person who he knew and was told explicitly was helping out the Russian government in their efforts to help Trump win the election.
Today, we`re still getting those new disclosures. What else have they still not copped to if they`re still disclosing new contacts with the Russian government today?
As for Trump Jr., he told the Judiciary Committee today he doesn`t recall the content of any of those calls, but they will find them in his phone records. Stay tuned.
MADDOW: This was August 23rd, 1992.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: More than a million people from the Keys to West Palm Beach have been told to evacuate the Florida coast. Many people moved quickly. But accidents and the sheer number of those on the road clogged some highways and bridges early in the day. Gasoline lines are long.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Constant steadily flow. The lines are around the corner.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That was 1992, nightly news, right before Hurricane Andrew hit Florida as a category 5 storm. Again 25 years ago. People got gridlocked as they tried to get out before the storm hit.
Now, another even bigger storm is baring down on Florida. Florida`s governor is warning that the storm off of the coast right you, Hurricane Irma is bigger, faster and stronger than Andrew ever was.
Irma is still a cat 5 storm, on its current track, Miami landfall is looking like early Sunday morning. Florida has now ordered all schools close. They`re expanding evacuation orders.
But the decision to evacuate and the logistics about evacuating can be complicated. Right before Hurricane Harvey this month, local officials in Texas decided not to evacuate Houston and that stranded people in a city known to be susceptible to flooding in a face of what ended up being 40 and 50 inches of rain. Houston`s decision not to order evacuations had serious consequences and it was criticized but it was an informed decision.
It was informed by what had happened 12 years early when Hurricane Rita hit Texas in 2005. And in that case, officials did order evacuations and that was its own chaos. One Texas highway, there was a 24-hour long traffic jam. More than 100 people died evacuating Houston ahead of Hurricane Rita. Almost as many people died trying to get out as in the storm itself.
So, these are hard decisions. And tonight, Florida is trying to find its own way through the various dangers posed by this gigantic storm. Florida officials have been very blunt in terms of ordering people out, ordering people to higher ground. But getting to where you want to go is not necessarily any picnic. In the Florida Keys, there`s only one way out, route 1. The lane taking you off of the island has been gridlocked.
And then there`s the major interstates in Florida, I-95, I-75, at times they have resembled parking maps. Traffic maps here, the glowing red means those are places where cars aren`t going anywhere.
You also can`t leave if you can`t fill your tank. This is a map of the gas stations around Miami up to Boca Raton. Ever black dot is a gas station that has no power. Every red dot is a gas station that has no gas. You can`t fill up the tank if gas station has no gas.
To help try to alleviate that particular part of the problem, Florida has been issuing police escorts for gas truck to whisk them through traffic and get them into gas station, trying to get the gas in so the residents can fuel up and get out. It`s also been tough at the airports where people have been looking to try to fly out, flocking to the airports trying to get a ticket to anywhere, whether they`ve got a ticket in their hand to go anywhere at all or not, whether there`s anyone to sell them once they get there.
Joining us now is Jack Seiler. He`s the mayor of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.
Mayor Seiler, I know it`s a very challenging time for you and your city. Thanks for joining us tonight.
MAYOR JACK SEILER (D), FORT LAUDERDALE, FLORIDA: Well, thank you very having me, Rachel.
MADDOW: Can you tell us how you are -- how are you looking ahead to the next 48 to 72 hours in terms of the challenges faced by keeping people safe and also thinking about the logistical complications of evacuation plans?
SEILER: Well, first of all, the evacuation issue, we have issued evacuation orders, Broward County issued evacuation orders for U.S. 1 East which is a lot of the barrier island, a lot of our low-lying areas. So, evacuation order has been issued for eastern Broward County, U.S. 1 and then toward the ocean. So, we are trying to make sure people comply with that. We`re encouraging people to comply with that.
And even tonight I was out driving around. We`re trying to keep people off of the barrier island. We have the police kind of patrolling, reminding people that they shouldn`t be on the barrier island and they need to make arrangements to be elsewhere. So, that`s our first priority.
Secondly, in terms of preparing the community, we started three, four days ago. I mean, you`ve been covering this storm. You`ve been talking about it. This is one massive storm.
I`ve been in Florida all of my life. My kids are sixth generation Floridians and I don`t recall a storm ever having this size, this magnitude, just, it`s just one of the biggest baddest storms I`ve ever seen and we`re making sure our neighbors, our citizens understand the damage it can do.
MADDOW: In terms of the vulnerability of your city of Ft. Lauderdale, and you think about the potential threats here when you think about obviously the rainfall totals that had been projected, the wind possibilities, the storm surge that`s been projected.
What is the thing that you think is capable of doing the most damage? What is worrying you the most?
SEILER: Well, Rachel, that`s a great question. You talk about the rain. We just went through this with Texas and that`s been a huge rain factor, tremendous tragedy out in Texas and our hearts are with them.
But I`m more concerned about the storm surge here. I`m concerned about the fact that we are a low-lying area, we are coastal community, and the storm surge could be significant. It`s -- you know, you`re looking at an east wind which will push water combined with potentially a high tide, combined with the huge amount of water that`s just moving ahead of the storm.
That is what scares me the most as the mayor of Ft. Lauderdale, the potential to have a storm surge that is going to overwhelm these lower lying area that`s going to create a flood situation. I don`t think we`ll have the long term drainage issues that you`ve seen out in Texas, but that moving water can cause a lot of damage and that causes me to lose a little bit of sleep at night because we`ve dealing with seasonal high tides, rising sea level and climate change. Ft. Lauderdale has been a leading city on that nationally. But there`s not much we can do about it when it`s brought with a -- when it`s pushed ahead of a huge storm like that.
MADDOW: Yes, at this point, what you can do about it is get people to safer ground with all of the challenges that entails. Mayor Seiler, Jack Seiler, mayor of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, the whole country is pulling for you. The next two days are going to be absolutely critical in terms of saving lives. Good luck, sir.
SEILER: Well, thank you for helping us to educate the public and keeping this issue on the forefront. Appreciate you having me on tonight.
MADDOW: Stay in touch with us over the next few days. Thank you.
SEILER: Will do, Rachel. Thank you.
MADDOW: We`re going to be following this gigantic storm obviously through the night. We`ve got lots more ahead. Stay with us.
MADDOW: The chancellor of Germany is afraid of dogs. Angela Merkel was bitten once decades ago and she`s afraid of dogs. So, naturally, when it came time for her as the German leader to meet the leader of Russia, Vladimir Putin did some personal research on her and then he decided he would bring a friend to their meeting. Putin literally unleashed his very large black lab to meet Angela Merkel when she went to Russia in 2007.
The dog being a dog walked right up to Chancellor Merkel, gave her a big sniff. You can see by the look on her face that this display was having the desired effect on her as far as Putin was concerned. So, he just sat there and watched the whole thing happened, twirl his cartoon mustache.
This is -- this is Putin`s thing, right? This is -- this is kind of the level of which he likes to operate with other countries. He likes to rattle them. He likes to let them though he knows what you`re afraid of.
After the whole dog thing with Angela Merkel, she told the press that she thinks Putin does things like that to prove he`s a man, which seems insightful.
But today we learned that former secretary of state and presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton, agrees with Angela Merkel on that. We`ve just got this excerpt from the audio of Hillary Clinton`s new book. This is exclusive to us. This is the first time it`s been out there.
Check this out.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: President Obama once compared Vladimir Putin to a bored kid at the back of the classroom. He`s got that kind of slouch, Obama said.
When I sat with Putin in meetings, he looked more like one of those guys on the subway who imperiously spreads their legs wide encroaching on everyone else`s space, as if to say I take what I want and I have so little respect for you that I`m going to act as if I`m lounging at home in my bathrobe. They call it man spreading. That was Putin.
Putin has emerged in the popular imagination as an arch-villain straight out of a James Bond movie. Yet he`s also perennially misunderstood and underestimated. George W. Bush famously said after looking Putin in the eye he found him very straightforward and trustworthy and was able to get a sense of his soul.
My somewhat tongue and cheek response was he was a KGB agent. By definition, he doesn`t have a soul. I don`t think Vladimir appreciated that one.
Our relationship has been sour for a long time. Putin doesn`t respect women and despises anyone who stands up to him. So I`m a double problem.
After I criticized one of his policies, he told the press, it`s better not to argue with women, but went on to call me weak. Maybe weakness is not the worst quality for a woman, he joked. Hilarious.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: It`s an excerpt from Hillary Clinton`s new book that is due out next week that`s driving everybody crazy. It`s called "What Happened." We got that clip from her audio book exclusively tonight. You can head over to MaddowBlog.com if you want to give it another listen or check out the text of that.
We`re creeping up on one year since the presidential election. We haven`t heard much from Hillary Clinton since the election besides what is trickling out from this new book that as I said is driving everybody nuts.
I`m happy to tell you, though, that next week, we`re going to get a chance to get some of at least my questions answered because Hillary Clinton is going to be here live on the show a week from tonight. Secretary Clinton decided to do one of her first interviews with us live in the studio Thursday next week. I`m already studying.
We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: So it`s pretty well trod ground, even before this week, that Russia used social media to help influence the presidential election last year. But now, we`ve got this big new announcement from Facebook yesterday saying they now realize -- they now admit that yes, they did sell thousands of dollars of political ads to what they now acknowledge were fake accounts of Russian origin during the campaign.
And a couple of questions arise from this new admission by Facebook. One, why did they insist for a month that this wasn`t true? Facebook insisted for months that there was no evidence that any Russian sources had been buying ads on Facebook to try to influence the campaign, Facebook now admits that yes, that was happening. But why did they give those months of false denials?
So that remains interesting, particularly if Facebook is going to be an important place that we need to sort of examine as a potential crime scene for Russian collusion with the Trump campaign in terms of that attack. Why didn`t Facebook come clean about this sooner? It doesn`t seem like it wouldn`t have been the hardest thing in the world for them to figure out, particularly given that they were ready to make such insistent denials when those denials turned out to be false.
So, the Facebook question arises out of that new admission. The other new question that this raises is about how the investigation proceeds. Very bluntly, it is illegal to spend any foreign money to affect an American election. So, now, Facebook is admitting definitely there was foreign money being spent to try to influence our election. It was being spent on Facebook ad.
So, how does that change the investigation in terms of the Russian attack on our election and the collusion by American to help them with it? How does that change the investigation into that as potentially a criminal matter? So, those two questions, the Facebook issue, the criminal investigation issue, those are now sort of newly on our plate because of what Facebook just admitted.
But then there`s the broader thing. In terms of just us Americans understanding what happened to our country during our last presidential election. And what we`ve learned at the broad level about that is just a whole lot more insight that we didn`t have before into what the Russians did and how they did it, what they needed to happen in order to succeed, in order to successfully impact the results of the election.
Well, today, "The New York Times" added to that understanding significantly. A fascinating report from "The New York Times" about how suspected Russian operators used Twitter and Facebook not only to promote anti-Clinton stuff but to disseminate the material that Russians had hacked from the Clinton campaign and the Democratic Party, how the Russians managed to point people to the hacked material on these obscure Websites, Guccifer 2.0 and D.C. Leaks using social media accounts that they invented and then manipulated just for that purpose.
"The New York Times", for example, tracked down one Facebook account from a user that appeared to be named Melvin Redick of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Quote: A friendly-looking American with a backward baseball cap and a young daughter who in June posted on Facebook a link to a brand-new Website called DC Leaks. What Melvin Redick posted was: These guys show hidden truth about Hillary Clinton. Visit DC Leaks Website. It`s really interesting.
This supposed Melvin Redick person was one of the very, very first people to post anything online about this hacked material in D.C. Leaks that until that point nobody knew anything about. What`s amazing about his prescient on the importance of the DC Leaks stuff is he doesn`t appear to be a real person at all.
The Redick profile lists Central High School in Philadelphia, and Indiana University of Pennsylvania, as his alma maters. Neither has any record of his appearance. His posts were never personal. They were just news articles reflecting a pro-Russian world view. No Melvin Redick appears in any Pennsylvania records and his photos seem to be borrowed from an unsuspecting Brazilian.
So, these Melvin Redick accounts and lots of others like, they were eventually found by Facebook to be fake and removed from Facebook, but not before they played this very seeable traceable role in inflicting damage on Hillary Clinton`s presidential chances. And now that we can sort of, I guess, sort of disentangle that, now that you can go back and follow that trail, it makes tons of sense when you see it now all lined up months after the election. The crazy thing is that there were people who saw it happening way, way, way before anybody even voted and that story is magic. That`s next.
MADDOW: So, it was a three-pronged attack. There was the attack on our election infrastructure, voting databases and systems. We still don`t really know what happened there, what those hacking attacks were all about. Second prong was the hacking of the Democratic Party and the Clinton campaign, stealing their e-mails and documents and posting them all over the Internet before the election. The third prong was the Russians targeting us, the American public opinion.
These Russian media organizations like RT and Sputnik spreading falsehoods and negative Hillary Clinton stuff. But it was also social media. We now know that the Russians formed a gigantic Greek chorus online that existed to amplify negative information about Hillary Clinton and in particular to amplify and direct people to that stolen information, the hacked stuff that Russia obtained in the second prong of their attack when they went after the DNC and the Clinton campaign.
They invented gazillions of fake online social media personalities to drive interests in the hacked material so people would see the stolen stuff, because a good new reporting about that effort, including from "The New York Times" today, we have a better understanding of how the Russians needed a big labor intensive, covert operation on social media basically in order to sell the stolen hacked materials from the Democratic Party and the Clinton campaign to get people interested in it, to weaponize that hacked material by spreading it around and turning it back to the American polity as a way to try to affect the election.
Well, "The New York Times" today reports on the work of researchers at a cybersecurity firm called FireEye. And FireEye looked at what was happening on social media, they quote discovered long lists of bot accounts that sent out identical messages within seconds or minutes of one another, firing in alphabetical order of their user names. You can see that, an example of that in the Twitter accounts here on the left hand side, you can see the accounts there in alphabetical order and they`re all one after the other, in chronological order sending out the exact same tweet. This is all on Election Day.
So, you set up this gigantic fake chorus of what appeared to be real people but aren`t and they can get stuff circulating online. It isn`t rocket science to do something like this, but it does take effort. It takes a lot of people working together who have some internet knowhow to make this kind of synchronized sequence of noise, takes practice to do it right.
Well, this week, there`s some renewed on some super prescient reporting from a couple of years ago that should have been a good warning for us about who was building up expertise to his. Reporter Adrian Chen (ph) wrote this in June 2015 for "The New York Times" magazine. It`s called the agency. Chen traveled to St. Petersburg to track down an organization in Russia called the Internet Research Agency. It was a propaganda firm whose sole purpose apparently was just to spread lies on the Internet.
They hired a crack team of Internet lurkers to seed social networks and the comment sections of Russian news organizations with lies and slurs and terrible things about Russian opposition leaders and unfriendly to Russia officials in other countries. Organizations like the Internet Research Agencies, we now call them troll farms because they`re places where lots of people are paid to troll the Internet all day long.
That organization that Adrienne Chen sought out in Russia, well, before it was clear that the election would come down to Hillary Clinton versus Donald Trump, that Internet Research Agency, that`s the same group that Facebook now says was spending all those thousands of dollars on Facebook ads to try to affect the U.S. election.
Adrian Chen (ph) first wrote about that particular troll farm two years ago in 2015, saying how Russian intelligence was developing this capacity to basically screw with true narratives on the Internet, putting people to work doing the stuff to prank and provoke and scare people, yes, in Russia and Ukraine but also in the West, also in the United States. Spreading lies about hoax shootings and chemical leaks and explosions that never took place.
Why were they doing this? Why were they spending all these government resources to develop that capacity? Basically just to be jerks online.
Well, that piece was published in June 2015, way before the U.S. election got into full swing. But a few months later, Adrian Chen noticed something strange about those internet research agency trolls that he`d been reporting on for that article. Check out his description of what he was seeing about what had become of that troll farm after he finished his report. This is what he said about it in December 2015.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
ADRIAN CHEN, REPORTER: I created this list of the Russian trolls when I was researching, and I`d check in it once in a while still, and a lot of them have turned into like conservative accounts, like fake conservatives. I don`t know what`s going on, but like, yes, they`re all tweeting about Donald Trump and stuff.
MAX LINSKY, LONGFORM: Like American conservatives?
LINSKY: Who is paying for that?
CHEN: I don`t know. I`m -- I feel like maybe it`s some kind of really opaque strategy of like electing Donald Trump to undermine the U.S. or something.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MADDOW: Wouldn`t that be hilarious? Josh Marshall at "Talking Points Memo" surfaced that piece from that podcast this week, as eerily prescient. In December 2015, that reporter was noticing and reporting that the same trolls who had been hired to write lies and slurs about Russian activists and Ukrainian officials had suddenly turned into American conservative types who were all supporting Donald Trump. Weird, right?
So, this great new reporting that we`ve got about how Russia did what they did, the way it matches up with that earlier reporting, I mean, we can really see how Russians developed their social media capacity to mess with our election. And with that comes a very urgent new question. How do we find out if they had help? What can we use from that analysis to figure out not just the capacity that Russia developed, but whether or not they needed American help to harness it, to do what they did to us last year? How can we tell? Where do we look to find that out?
Joining us now is Lee Foster. He`s a researcher from the cybersecurity firm FireEye, who had a team examining these Russian bots.
Mr. Foster, thank you so much for joining us tonight.
LEE FOSTER, RESEARCHER, FIREEYE CYBERSECURITY FIRM: Thanks for having me.
MADDOW: Is it fair to say that the Russian capacity in this regard did develop not just for this election but over a period of years in a way that was observable for people who were looking for it?
FOSTER: Yes, absolutely. We`ve been monitoring this for a long time now, and really the U.S. elections were just one episode of this type of behavior that we`ve seen targeting all sorts of different political areas around the world.
Certainly, what we`ve seen is there seems to have been a lot of experimentation and continuous development of these capabilities over time. So, they certainly seemed to be getting better as well.
MADDOW: And when they get better, does that mean they get more invisible because they seem more real, they seem like both less foreign in their idiom but also less mechanized?
FOSTER: Yes, exactly. One of the biggest difficulties in this work is trying to identify whether a particular account is an American citizen, for example, engaging in protected political speech or a foreign imposter that is attempting to manipulate audiences. And they are becoming tougher and tougher to actually identify.
MADDOW: Given what you and your firm have done to study these groups, how you`ve seen them involve, how you see their effectiveness of what they`re trying to do, what do you think about the prospects for the effort of trying to figure out if they had help, if they had American confederates who either sort of opened the gate for them in some way or directed them in some way that would help maximize the effect that this would have on Trump`s election prospects? What do you think about the prospect of ever figuring that out?
FOSTER: I`m not sure entirely. I mean, I`m a cyber threat intelligence analyst, so I`m very much focused on how this stuff is orchestrated. Certainly, we have plenty of evidence that these attempts are being made and have begun unmasking what those actual operations look like.
MADDOW: When you say these attempts are being made, what do you mean?
FOSTER: To try to influence particular audiences in various ways, to try and promote divisions and discord within targeted populations. In the case of the U.S. elections, obviously, that was the U.S. electorate.
MADDOW: Does it help to have domestic confederates when you try to mount an operation like this?
FOSTER: It could do. I`m sure certainly what we`ve been seeing is that lots of Russia`s attempts appear to be trying to seed particular material into receptive audiences that might then organically disseminate it and amplify it.
MADDOW: Key point.
Lee Foster, researcher from the cybersecurity firm FireEye -- thank you for joining us tonight. I really appreciate you taking the time to be here. Thanks.
FOSTER: Thank you.
MADDOW: All right. We`ll be right back. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Lake Okeechobee is really, really big. It covers 730 square miles in the heart of Florida. It`s the second largest natural fresh water lake in the lower 48, only Lake Michigan is bigger.
The only thing standing between Lake Okeechobee and the 40,000 people who live and work around it is something called the Herbert Hoover Dike. It was built in 1928 after a hurricane caused Lake Okeechobee to overflow, killing as many as 3,000 people in the process.
And for decades, the Hoover Dike did its job. By 2006, it was decades-old, springing leaks. A state panel of engineers warned that it posed a grave and imminent danger to the people in the environment of south Florida. They did test scenarios and found in that levee failed, the surrounding areas could be under five feet of water for weeks.
That was 11 years ago, and this year, the Army Corps of Engineers estimates it needs $800 million of work to bring it up to date and that work would take a decade to complete. But the tens of thousands of people who live around Lake Okeechobee don`t have a decade to wait. They probably don`t even have a day, before Hurricane Irma is on its way.
Bit by bit, the Army Corps has been discharging water from Lake Okeechobee to nearby rivers, trying to make space for the rainfall that Irma might bring. But that could drive the lake`s water level by three to four feet if they get even less than a foot of rain. That would push Herbert Hoover Dike to its absolute limit.
The Florida governor has ordered mandatory evacuations for a half dozen towns around the lake`s southern edge. That`s on the advice of the Army Corps. Those mandatory evacuations start tomorrow morning.
There`s a lot to watch tonight. That`s one of the crucial infrastructure elements here that`s going to be under profound stress by what`s about to hit southern Florida and what continues to tear through the Caribbean tonight.
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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