Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: September 11, 2017
Guest: Bryan Norcross, Paul Fishman
[21:00:00] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One feet, you know, what do you -- what are you engineering for? And so it becomes a very expensive process if you have to keep rebuilding and rebuilding.
CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: And nature as Penny said. Michael Grunwald and Jeff Goodell, thank you both for joining us tonight.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you.
HAYES: All right. That is ALL IN for this evening. Live from Naples. "THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW" starts right now.
Good evening, Rachel.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Appreciate it, my friend. Thank you.
And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. Today is the 16th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, which cast a long shadow every year over anything else that happens on this date in the news.
Tonight, as I speak, the site of the Twin Towers in New York City. You see on the right side of your screen there. It`s lit with what they call the "Tribute in Light." Those Twin Towers of light shoot four miles up into the sky. That`s a live image right now.
U.N. Security Council tonight just passed new sanctions on North Korea in response to their recent missile tests and their recent nuclear tests. The North Korea sanctions are way less than what the U.S. government had initially proposed but they did pass. Neither China nor Russia vetoed them. That`s important because China is historically reluctant to do anything too disruptive to North Korea. And Russia, well, for Russia, sanctions of any kind are a touchy subject. They take that all personally.
Investigative reporter Michael Isikoff had the scope at Yahoo! News today that the Russian state media outlet Sputnik is being investigated by the FBI. According to Isikoff`s reporting, the FBI is talking with former employees of Sputnik that reportedly interested in whether or not Sputnik is, well, maybe less of a news outlet and more of a Russian government propaganda operation at work in this country and if they are that, they need to register as foreign agents or they`re going to get kicked out of this country.
Mike Isikoff`s scoop today at Yahoo, it`s interesting. For a long time Mike Isikoff was partnered up with Mark Hosenball at "Newsweek" magazine. They shared a lot of bylines. They were this incredible investigative reporting team for "Newsweek" magazine back in the day. Particularly on national security issues. Now they have both gone their separate ways. Mike Isikoff has gone to Yahoo! News. Mark Hosenball has gone to Reuters.
But it`s interesting. They`re both still great investigative reporters, obviously. And they both had separate, simultaneous Russia scoops today. Isikoff had that story about Sputnik being invested by the FBI while Mark Hosenball had this intriguing scoop today about the effort by some Republicans in Congress to try to turn the Russia investigation into some kind of Obama administration scandal.
Mark Hosenball reports today at Reuters that Trump transition official and California Congressman Devein Nunes may have bit off a little more than he could chew when he started claiming that the real scandal in the whole Russia thing was that Obama administration officials read intelligence intercepts and unmasked the names of Trump associates and Trump campaign figures interacting with Russians.
So those conversations between Trump campaign figures and Russians were intercepted by the U.S. Intelligence Community. Those intercepts were then read by Obama administration officials. Devin Nunes said that`s the scandal, the fact that they got the names of the Americans who were involved in those conversations.
Well, according to Mark Hosenball`s report today, those intelligence intercepts which Devin Nunes had tried to make such a big deal of, according to Hosenball`s reporting, those intercepts don`t actually show any wrongdoing by Obama administration officials but they might show Trump folks violating the Logan Act by trying to undermine American foreign policy as private citizens.
And they may show something worse than that, quote, "The reports are also relevant to the investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller."
So congratulations, Congressman Devin Nunes. The closest Trump ally in the House of Representatives. You, sir, have succeeded in bringing investigator`s attention to intelligence intercepts made during the campaign that apparently will now help the Mueller investigation into whether or not the Trump campaign colluded with Russia.
So that story broke today. Mark Hosenball at Reuters breaking that story.
Last night, the head of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the Russian parliament went on a Russian TV show and bragged about how U.S. intelligence agencies missed out on Russia electing the American president last year.
It was this weird thing. He said, "In trying to achieve this goal, the U.S. over shot. Their intelligence services all slept through Russia electing the U.S. president. What kind of intelligence service is that?"
The host had this funny reaction after that guy in parliament said it. The host stamped his foot and clapped his hands together, looked away. Dude, you`re not supposed to say that on TV. But last night on Russian TV the Russian headed the Foreign Affairs Committee again admitting that Russia elected the U.S. president.
[21:05:09] Now last night on American TV, former Trump campaign chairman and senior White House strategists until recently Steve Bannon, he told CBS News that Donald Trump firing FBI Director James Comey was the biggest mistake in modern political history because it led to the appointment of Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Steve Bannon expressed concern over the breadth of the Mueller investigation.
The breadth of the Mueller investigation has now led to a whole new round of senior White House personnel and former senior White House personnel getting their own lawyers to help them deal with Robert Mueller`s inquiry now that the special counsel has signaled that there are a half dozen or more current and former White House officials who were on his list of people to interview.
We`re going to have more on what that means coming up tonight including this weird development we`ve now learned of.
NBC News has now confirmed where there are two White House officials who may very well have conflicting interest in this investigation, but the two of them have nevertheless hired the same lawyer. So not just the same law firm which would be trouble enough but these two different White House officials have actually hired the same lawyer to represent them in this investigation which may end up being very awkward.
So again, we`ve got more on that coming up. We`ll try to get to the bottom of that a little later on this hour with somebody who is in a very good position to know what`s going on.
There is a lot going on in the news right now. But of course, we`ve got eyes on the southeast United States tonight where flooding and high winds have torn their way across Florida. And where parts of South Carolina and Georgia got hit with flooding today. This is Charleston today.
And this is the Florida Keys where Irma first made landfall in Florida leaving wide spread damage. Tonight the U.S. Navy has announced that they are sending the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier and two other ships to the Keys to help with evacuation efforts. Obviously, there was a mass evacuation, a mass exodus from the Keys ahead of the storm.
There was plenty of warning that the storm was coming and that it was going to hit the Keys hard. But still, there may be as many as 10,000 people who need evacuation from the Keys now. Now that the storm has left.
Florida`s impact is major. We`re going to be talking tonight about where got it the worst and what the challenges are going to be for Florida coming back and what the prospects are for the Keys if in fact 10,000 people need to be got out of there not under their own power.
In addition to that, though, look at the Caribbean, too. In Cuba there`s this famous four-mile long seawall. Right? That sits between central Havana and the ocean. It is very well used, very well loved. It`s been there for a century. It`s iconic in Havana in a million different ways. But that is one of the places where you can see how Hurricane Irma has left its mark.
Waves topping -- that same scene, you can`t even see the seawall there. Waves topping 20 feet spilled over and just disappeared that seawall in Havana this weekend, sent seawater gushing into downtown Havana. More than 2 million people live in Havana but now Hurricane Irma has basically turned that city into a saltwater pond. Authorities are saying it could take days before the water starts to make its way out of the streets of Havana.
This was the strongest hurricane to hit Cuba since the 1930s. At least 10 people have died there already. Havana has been in the dark since Saturday. With cars wedged inside buildings and trees ripped out of the ground and people just making do with what they can get ahold of, with whatever flutes in the streets.
This is one of Cuba`s airports in Cayo Coco. Just totally unrecognizable. The whole building looks like it`s been put through a shredder.
We are watching that continuing impact of Irma in the southeast United States tonight, especially Georgia and South Carolina which are both having quite a lot of flooding right now. And of course Florida. But in the Caribbean where the strong really was just a wrecking ball, there are some places from which we`re just starting to get the first reports, the first clear picture of what happened.
In St. Martin, the majority of that island appears to have just been bloodied. Most of the homes, most of the buildings have been completely destroyed in St. Martin. At least 10 people have been killed. We don`t know if we expect that number to rise, but obviously, people are praying that it doesn`t.
This was the air traffic control tower at St. Martin`s airport. You see the sign there. Celebrating 70 years of spectacular landings. Now that same tower looks like this. The storm just lopped off the entire top of the tower. All that`s recognizable now is a little staircase on the side.
This was a library on St. Martin before the storm hit. This is that same library now.
[21:10:05] You can see the stacks of books there. Walls caving in. St. Martin`s newspaper, "The Daily Herald," reports that some of the library actually survived the storm. The media lab there was locked and it was intact after the storm but then the media lab had all its computers ripped off after the storm by looters.
Again, this is in St. Martin. As people have scrambled to find food and water and shelter in St. Martin during the day there have been reports of people fighting for food and resources at night. St. Martin despite this incredible devastation they are already starting to pick themselves up. Big yellow bulldozers are starting to pop up to clear debris.
We found shots of this small grocery store that opened its doors for the first time late yesterday. First time since the rain stopped there they`re open. Half of St. Martin belongs to the Netherlands, the other half belongs to France. There is literally a line drawn through the middle of the island. That means the huge problem of how to fix St. Martin`s problem alone. It`s up to the Netherlands and France to send money and aid and supplies and get St. Martin back on its feet.
The United States has the same responsibility for the U.S. Virgin Islands. The United States bought the Virgin Islands about 40 miles off of Puerto Rico. The United States bought the U.S. Virgin Islands from Denmark in 1917. We paid $25 million for the Virgin Islands. Talk about a bargain.
The U.S. Virgin Islands are part of a big chunk of the islands they called the Virgin Islands Group. Some of them belong to the U.K., British Virgins Island but the ones that belong to us are these three big guys, St. Croix, St. John, and St. Thomas, cost another 50 little small ones, most of which are too tiny to show up on a map.
All together, if you amassed all the land mass of all the U.S. Virgin Islands you`d get a land area about twice the size of Washington, D.C. U.S. Virgin Islands are known primarily for being absolutely gorgeous. They`re known for their white pristine beaches, their old world castles and architecture. Their incredible culture and incredible arts and museums, incredible food, and really rich storied culture.
And right now, the U.S. Virgin Islands are really, really hurting. Two of those three big islands, St. John and St. Thomas just got completely walloped by this hurricane. St. Thomas has one hospital and that hospital has been destroyed. One resident in St. Thomas told NPR today that the hospital suffered a catastrophic failure during the storm.
Patients from that hospital in St. Thomas had to be evacuated to hospitals in Puerto Rico and also to St. Croix. Large parts of the U.S. Virgin Islands have no running water, no power, no cell service. I mean, the lack of water alone can be a serious humanitarian crisis when it goes on for more than a couple of days. But, I mean, you can just get a sense from seeing these telephone poles knocked down all over the side of the road because the communications were knocked out. I mean, no phone, no cell service, no power, no water.
Because of all of that, it`s been very hard to get information out. It`s been hard to know which parts of the islands have been hit the worst. We`re actually hearing that St. Croix has been largely spared. Part of the blessing of that is that St. Croix has been able to be turned into sort of staging area for people to evacuate to, for people to seek shelter.
As we report started to trickle out of St. John, though, in particular it started to become clear that things were just as bad as they were in St. Thomas, if not worse. This is one hotel in St. John before Hurricane Irma. This is that same hotel now. Gives you kind of a sense of the damage that they are dealing with. People have been posting these survivor lists, adding their names, hoping their family and their loved ones will see it and people have a way to know that their loved ones are still alive.
At least four people have already died in this crisis in the Virgin Islands. That number could likely rise before this is all over. Officials are telling residents it could be months before power is restored and that St. John and St. Thomas really are not safe at this point.
Now that this hurricane has devastated big parts of the U.S. Virgin Islands, it is America`s problem now. It`s up to us as a country to fix it. Right? The U.S. in front of the U.S. Virgin Islands is not there by mistake. The U.S. Virgin Islands doesn`t have its own president. The people who this live there are U.S. citizens. They`re subject to U.S. law. They`re part of the United States. Just like any other state or territory that makes up this country which means even though we have been slow to get reports out of the U.S. Virgin Islands, now that we are getting them, we are recognizing what we need to do.
This is our American humanitarian crisis on St. John and St. Thomas. Right? Our American citizens who are without food and water and power and shelter tonight.
Governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands is Kenneth Map. He told his citizens this weekend to brace for a long road to recovery ahead, to manage their expectations, he told them, quote, "This is a horrific disaster. There will be no restorations or solutions in days or in weeks."
[21:15:09] Joining us now is Kenneth Mapp, he`s the governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Governor Mapp, really thank you for joining us tonight. I know it`s been a very challenging time for you and for everybody in the island.
GOV. KENNETH MAPP, U.S. VIRGIN ISLANDS: And thank you, Rachel, for giving that wonderful description of the beautiful Virgin Islands and the wonderful people of the Virgin Islands. I really was heartened to hear that and I`m happy to report to you that mobilization of federal supplies and support has been great. We`ve given out close to 100,000 liters of water and concomitantly 100,000 MREs to citizens in St. Thomas and St. John.
I personally visited St. John yesterday with regional administrator of FEMA and visited the shelters and walked into the cities and the town of Cruise Bay and was really happy to see some restaurants had opened and were just cooking and serving the meals free and allowing people to just sit inside or eat outside.
The school where the shelter was, the school lunch workers showed up and started cooking for folks in the shelter and giving them hot meals, and so more deployment of resources, the Marines landed today in St. Thomas that`s going to be provisioned in St. John as a priority to deal with debris removal.
We have St. John got the worst of it as you said. It was more into the eye wall than St. Thomas, as nodule knot. And so devastation -- when I did the flyover, the devastation is horrific. Homes exploded. Fell off the hillside. Just bad. But another -- a lot of properties that were recently built seemed to have survived and what is good, this is day five from this cat-5 event. In the last three days, we have still retained only four deaths thus far.
The U.S. Marines`s Urban and Search and Rescue team has also been deployed and they`ve been going through the neighborhoods and then the debris and making sure that there are not folks that are trapped.
One interesting element for us is we`ve not seen our showing up in the emergency rooms or the hospitals are people with traumas, broken limbs, cuts, head trauma or anything like that. We really haven`t seen much of that so that means that folks really were able to batten down even while their homes were being destroyed.
We have D Mat Teams from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 35 came in to assist the folks outside of the Snider Hospital in St. Thomas. They`re going to roll out the mobile hospital tomorrow, got that set up and then we`ll work on a temporary structure in the rear of that facility.
We landed a D Mat Team on St. John of 16 people to work with the Myra Keaton facility. As you said we evacuated all of the patients in the hospital. We`ve been able to take the community of folks who required dialysis treatment and make sure that they have got to Puerto Rico and St. Croix to get their dialysis services.
And so we are really concentrating on security. We`re concentrating on shelter, food and nutrition, debris removal and restoration of the power system. St. Thomas is beginning to see in the city areas some restoration of power. We`re getting some streetlights on. Some of the neighbors we`ve been able to power up the shelters. And St. Thomas with power.
The pumps because of the power restoration in these areas have now gotten their water pumps working and so we`ve been able to restore water to the large tanks in some of the areas that can gravity feed down to some of the homes so people have access to that. But it going to be a very, very, very slow process.
MADDOW: Governor, can I -- on that infrastructure stuff that you`re talking about.
MADDOW: Are you worried that there is any critical infrastructure that sustained long-term damage? Obviously, when we hear about people not having access to running water, I`m happy to hear about the distribution of liters of water and MREs and short-term supplies like that. But obviously the water system in particular and the electrical system something that the islands can`t be without for too long.
MAPP: Right. Right.
MADDOW: How substantial is the damage to that critical infrastructure?
MAPP: Well, what we do as a practice when storms are coming, we require that the water authority fill all of the major water tanks across the territory. We learned this from Cuba, by filling them, they become solid and so the winds aren`t able to breach the tanks and break them apart.
And obviously when the power goes, that water becomes -- it`s rapidly used. It`s rapidly fed off the hills and then dissipates then the water plant is up and running so now they`re beginning to replenish those plants and folks, you know, they don`t need electricity to get water off the pipes.
[21:20:15] So as we funnel pressure into the distribution lines on the ground, then folks are getting access to warm water. We even got water into the tanks in St. John because they are fed on the sea to St. Thomas, I mean, to St. John and being able to fill up the tanks there.
Those persons connected to water will get them and remember in the Virgin Islands, we use what you would use in the United States as basements. We will use that as something we call cisterns so when it rains you capture water on to your home in a cistern and then you feed from that and we advice folks to disconnect the spouting to their systems when the storms come so that the sea blast and the leaves and everything that`s blowing around don`t contaminate that water. And then they have that supply of water in their homes --
MADDOW: I see.
MAPP: -- that they can access by opening the hatch and getting the water out of there.
MADDOW: Kenneth Mapp, governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands, you have an incredible challenge ahead of you with both St. John and St. Thomas. Thank you for helping us understand --
MADDOW: -- what you`re going through.
MAPP: You, too, and I want to thank if I can very quickly. I want to thank the president because I`ve spoken to him twice. He`s expected to be in the Virgin Islands in the next six, seven days, and the federal response to the disaster has been really awesome and really mobilizing more equipment and more provisions for the citizens.
So thank you so much, Rachel, and again thank you for that wonderful introduction and description of the U.S. Virgin Islands.
MADDOW: I`m happy to hear it, Governor. Thank you very much for being with us tonight, sir. Good luck to you.
Again, that`s Kenneth Mapp who is the governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands. Got three major islands, St. John, St. Thomas and St. Croix. St. Croix seems to have been mostly alright. St. Thomas got hit pretty hard including that hospital St. John in really tough shape. But you hear the optimism there from the governor in terms of feeling like they`re getting the resources mobilized that they need to, to get back on their feet.
Those aerial images, though, absolutely stunning in terms of what they are dealing with. U.S. Virgin Islands, U.S. that`s us.
All right. Lots of news tonight. Stay with us.
[21:25:42] MADDOW: The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA, one of my favorite agencies, they released this satellite image which really gives you a sense of just how physically large this storm is.
As of Monday afternoon, as of this afternoon, Irma stretched from Florida like up to the Great Lakes. Millions of Floridians evacuated in the days before Irma hit one of the biggest, if not the biggest evacuation in U.S. history. Tonight tons of people understandably are eager to get back home.
Whether or not you can get home depends on where you are, though. Jacksonville, Florida, is virtually paralyzed by one of what`s being called the worst floods there in 100 years. Dozens of people had to be rescued today and yesterday in Jacksonville. Jacksonville mayor is telling people to hang a white flag outside their home if they need help.
After some of the Florida Keys took a direct hit from the storm at its strongest, officials say 10,000 people who rode out the storm in the Keys might now need to be evacuated now that the storm is over.
There is real concern about the stretch of islands west of Key Largo. Rescuers are apparently having trouble reaching some places in that area. The main airport in Key West is still closed. Getting there by boat is still too dangerous and parts of that road connecting the Keys to the mainland, parts of U.S. Highway 1, are still very much under water.
So how are they going to get those folks out of there? More than 6 million people in Florida have no power. Officials are warning it could take weeks, weeks before power is fully restored, and there continue to be gas shortages across Florida.
The governor has reinstated police escorts for fuel tankers to try to alleviate the problem. But these are a lot of problems that not only exist right now concomitantly they are going to complicate each other. Massive flooding, blocked roads, no power, and in some cases no gas.
For a lot of people in Florida tonight, there is still relief that the storm wasn`t as bad as it might have been but real threat and anxiety and risk about what it`s left in its wake.
Joining us now is Bryan Norcross, senior hurricane specialist with "The Weather Channel." He was the voice of millions of Floridians listened to during Hurricane Andrew in 1992 when he`s as a meteorologist in Miami.
Mr. Norcross, thank you very much for being here. I know you had no sleep.
BRYAN NORCROSS, SENIOR HURRICANE SPECIALIST, THE WEATHER CHANNEL: Thank you, Rachel. Glad to be here.
MADDOW: Can you just help us understand just looking at this from a national perspective, what`s the most important thing for us to understand about Florida, about the impact there and which parts of the state are going to have the longest and most difficult recovery?
NORCROSS: Well, you made the point, Rachel, that the big point to know nationally is the vastness of this. You know, we remember Hurricane Andrew and the total destruction. Well, that was in maybe a couple of hundred square miles. And the total destruction was maybe 100 square miles.
This is damage spread over maybe 4,000 square miles and millions of people without power and as you said, without spotty cell phone service and millions evacuated and the issue is that having been through this before, it`s not the first day. People can kind of camp out the first day and maybe the second day but you get to the third day and you still don`t have any power and you`re running out of your supplies and what do you do and people get testy and it gets really, really difficult.
So it`s the -- I don`t know how they administer this disaster. It is such a monumental thing in size. You know, we thought Houston was big. This is many, many, many times the scale of the Houston disaster because it`s almost the entire state of Florida.
MADDOW: And what about the Keys? Obviously, we all had eyes on the Keys because we are worried that those islands which are fragile in the best of times were going to take a direct hit from the storm at its strongest. What is the impact in the Keys and when they talk about needing to evacuate people now after the storm, how should we understand that both in terms of why that is necessary and how big a challenge that is?
NORCROSS: Well, parts of the Keys are devastated. So north -- that`s north of Key West for the host part. Key West is mostly OK. But north of there where the ocean came over the Keys and took out the power and the water and the sewage. So the problem here is when you have people if there really are 10,000 people down there, which is just unbelievable, hopefully most of them are in Key West but still spread out on the island chain that`s more than 100 miles. They don`t have any means to live there is the problem. And so you can`t move around because this -- the roads are blocked. So that`s the problem. So I understand that they are trying to send boats in there and trying to figure out how to get them out once again because every day that goes by it just gets that much worse.
RACHEL MADDOW, THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW HOST: And Bryan, in terms of how long people are in sustainable situations when you look at the wide infrastructure damage that we`ve got in terms of water systems, in terms of electricity to sense in terms of sewage systems which not a lot of people have been talking about but which is also obviously critical. When you got this much damage over this wide an area, what kind of timeframe should we expect in terms of getting those crucial systems back up?
NORCROSS: I think what you`re going to find is that some people are going to get their power back on this week. And probably those millions are going to get chopped away pretty quickly because they repair one substation and then a whole neighborhood comes on. That`s going to happen but then you`re going to have other areas where a transmission line failed and they got to erect a new tower. After Hurricane Andrew in Southern Miami Dade County, it was three months before they got the power back on.
So I think this is going to be somewhere in between there. They had a tremendous resources but just think when you think about the size of the State of Florida and all the big cities in Florida, and all the neighborhoods and the spread throughout the state of these power outages. It`s not -- if it was just Miami, it would be this incredible problem because Miami is a big place, right? There`s millions of millions of people.
But it`s not just Miami, it`s all over the place, up and down to Georgia and Jacksonville and all throughout the state. So, it`s going to be a combination getting the last few people. If it happens in two weeks, that would be a miracle, I would think in the weeks certainly to get all the power back on.
MADDOW: Brian Norcross, senior hurricane specialist with the weather channel. You`re really, really good at explaining this stuff. Thank you so much for making time to talk to us tonight. I really appreciate it, Bryan. Thank you.
NORCROSS: Thanks, Rachel. I appreciate it.
MADDOW: All right. Much more to come tonight including some news from inside the White House. senior White House officials making a decision that I plum can make absolutely no sense of and somebody who may be able to explain it. Coming up. Stay with us.
MADDOW: It`s so sad when lawyers start having lawyers. Or maybe that`s just means it`s serious. Earlier this time, Donald Trump`s personal attorney, Michael Cohen got his own attorney for the Russia investigation. Then Donald Trump`s Attorney General Jeff Sessions hired his own attorney for the Russia investigation. Now the White House Counsel which is the White House`s top lawyer, he has also retained his own personal lawyer for the Russia investigation. A lot of lawyers having lawyers.
We learned Friday that White House Counsel Don McGahn is among six current and former White House staffers that Robert Mueller wants to question as part of his investigation into Russia`s attack in the election last year. And now, sure as a bruise follows a bad fall, now we have this subsequent list that White House Counsel Don McGahn has had to get his own lawyer. He`s hired a high-powered Washington lawyer to represent him on the Russia issue.
And so have two other people on Robert Mueller`s reported interview list. Former White House Chief of Staff, Reince Priebus and current White House Communications Director Hope Hicks. Don McGahn, Reince Priebus, Hope Hicks have all hired their own expensive Washington lawyers now on Russia. And you know, when the special counsel wants to interview you, you probably want to get a lawyer, no matter what, right? Even if you`re just expecting a friendly chat about John Podesta`s risotto recipe or whatever.
You probably still want some legal advice if you`re going to be talking to the special counsel no matter what. What is the special counsel going to be talking with all these White House officials about? We`re not sure but based on reporting mostly from The Washington Post, the special counsel appears to be interested in the crafting of the false statement about the Trump Tower meeting that involved Donald Trump, Jr., Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort and all of those Russians.
That meeting was of course falsely explained by the White House as being just about adoptions. The special counsel also appears to be interested in the firing of FBI Director James Comey which was also apparently falsely explained by the White House as being the product of a Justice Department internal process, well, even the president admits that isn`t why he fired James Comey. Special counsel also appears to be interested in the handling of former National Security Advisor Mike Flynn who resigned from the White House after he was exposed as having lied about his contacts with Russian officials and whose contacts with Russian officials were falsely explained by the White House at the time.
So there`s a lot of false statements by people involved in White House operations and the president himself around various instances that happened since the president has been in office. All six of the staffers that Robert Mueller plans to interview were involved in one way or another with concocting false narratives to cover up Trump administration contacts with Russians. I have a question as to whether or not that`s a criminal matter. Right? It`s not a crime to lie.
But is it a crime to concoct a false narrative to cover up something that you know to be different? Is the special counsel interviewing these people just as witnesses? Are these people potentially on the hook for something? Are they all getting really good lawyers just because they wanted advice about how to be good witnesses or are they getting good lawyers because they have to worry about their own liability too? That`s one question but I think it`s an answerable question. Here`s another question, Don McGahn, the White House Counsel and Reince Priebus, former head of RNC, former White House Chief of Staff, they have both hired the same lawyer for the Russia investigation. Now, I mean, maybe they are just going in together to cut the cost?
I don`t think it works that way. But that is kind of strange. Isn`t it possible Don McGahn as a current White House official and Reince Prebias as a former White House official, isn`t it possible that they could end up having conflicting interest in this investigation? One is of them is gone from the White House, one of them is still there. They may have been in the room for a lot of the same decisions but presumably they could have interest here that diverge or they could be called upon as corroborating witnesses for each other`s stories.
So, for them to not just have the same law firm representing them but the exact same lawyer, that seems strange. Can they do that? Also, one other question. Law360 was the first news outlet to report Don McGahn`s new attorney, they report that his new attorney is representing Don McGahn "As an individual and not in his official capacity." That`s according to a person familiar with the hiring. Representing him his personal capacity not in his official capacity. What does that mean?
He`s got this new lawyer to like represent him for his unpaid parking tickets or something? I mean, Don McGahn isn`t implicated in this in his personal capacity. He`s implicated in the Russia being because he`s the White House Counsel. So you`re going to represent him but not as White House Counsel? I`m sure that means something to people who know this stuff. Unfortunately some of who knows this stuff joins us next.
MADDOW: Joining us now is Paul Fishman. He served as the U.S. Attorney for the great State of New Jersey for seven and a half years. Overseeing multiple criminal investigation and prosecutions involving political corruption and national security until he was fired by President Trump earlier this year. Mr. Fishman, thank you very much for being here tonight.
PAUL FISHMAN, FORMER UNITED STATES ATTORNEY, NEW JERSEY: Nice to be here, nice to be back.
MADDOW: Let me jump in with this news. I just want to get right into this. This is a situations where I can tell I don`t know and I ought to know and you probably do. Multiple White House officials and former White House officials have now obtained the assistance of counsel for the Russia investigation. And the common thread that I can see for all the different people we know that Muller wants to talk to is that they all seem to have been involved at one level or another in discussions to make what ended up being misleading public statements about various acts by the Trump administration. Lying isn`t a crime.
FISHMAN: As a general rule, it is not.
MADDOW: But if you as a public official are involved in deliberately crafting a false public narrative to cover up a matter that is under investigation, potentially are you treading into obstruction or any form of liability?
FISHMAN: The answer of that is yes, but the keyword in your question was potentially.
FISHMAN: You know, it`s a crime to mislead the FBI or the Department of Justice, it`s a crime to mislead Congress when their -- when those agencies are involved in a normal investigative work. So if people are crafting laws with an intent to deceive those investigators, if they`re trying to mislead them, if they`re trying to scent -- take them off the scent then that can in fact be evidence of obstruction of justice.
MADDOW: Even if it`s just a statement that you`re making in public to the press if it`s intended to divert an investigation?
FISHMAN: That`s right, it could under certain circumstances. That`s right. So, you have to look at the whole package of facts to make the determination about what their intent actually was and whether there was a reasonable effect that could be had on the investigation but you`re right, just lying to the public itself is not -- is not a crime.
MADDOW: OK. And so that -- with those -- that very narrow circumstance in which people who were involved in crafting false public narratives, people involved in for example White House communications. Very narrow ally by which they could find themselves being personally criminally liable for their actions, presumably that means they are being interviewed as witnesses.
FISHMAN: I think that`s right. Both for the reason that you just articulated but also because it`s still as early in the investigation. And the truth is in investigations prosecutors work from the outside in or the bottom up depends on what visual or metaphor you got into like. So the people general who are interviewed early in the investigation are not the people who are likely to have culpability. They are being investigated -- interviewed so that people can get the facts of the FBI agents, the prosecutors can find out what actually happened and who actually might have played a major role in trying to deceive.
So if you are right that the people -- the person who is trying to deceive was the president, then you`re going to talk to people who know what the president said or what the president did in an effort to try get information before they start talking to people higher up in the food chain (INAUDIBLE)
MADDOW: And even if you are being interviewed in that capacity just as a witness in order to try to put together a factual basis for understanding what the real targets of the investigation did, it`s still a crime to lie to investigators.
FISHMAN: It`s still -- it`s still a crime and that`s why people get into trouble, that`s one of the reason that people hire lawyers, not so much because their lawyers will tell them to lie although because they will. But because before witnesses go in to talk to a special counsel or non- special counsel, just any prosecutor or investigator in a circumstance like this, you want the advice of counsel to make sure you thought about hard questions, to make sure you thought about the facts that you might have to explain to make sure that you got it right because you don`t want to create an impression when you go in that first time that you`re actually deceiving or --
MADDOW: Right. They help you speak carefully and within the bounds of what you can defend.
FISHMAN: That`s correct.
MADDOW: So given that, how on earth can Don McGahn and Reince Priebus have the same lawyer?
FISHMAN: So what that says to me is that they are not actually subject of the investigation because if, you know, if there was a potential they`re going to testify each against the other, the same lawyer wouldn`t be able to advise them because he couldn`t say to one, you should say X that might implicate his other client. And so what that says to me more than anything else, is that they`re actually in the -- more in the witness category than anything else. MADDOW: But though having -- I mean, let`s say hypothetically, I`m just making this up, let`s say the special counsel is interested in whether or not the James Comey firing was an obstruction of justice and therefore the motive and the articulated reasoning of the president around that firing is important. Don McGahn and Reince Priebus both of interest to the investigators as witnesses to those imaginations.
Sharing the same lawyer means they`re collaborating with one another in terms of telling their -- telling a story that is pre-corroborated through their attorney with investigators.
FISHMAN: My guess is first of all, they wouldn`t be meeting with each other and talk about their testimony. The lawyer would be smart enough not to do that. But it`s not uncommon in investigations for people without culpability and if the investigators or Bob Mueller thinks that there`s a problem, he actually can ask, he can bring it to the attention of the lawyer and say you got a conflict, you can`t do that.
FISHMAN: And ultimately he can go to the -- to the grand jury judge, judges supervising the grand jury selection process and say I`m going to make a motion to have this lawyer conflicted out of the case entirely. And so, I can see why it might create some concern but as a -- as a general rule it hap pens fairly frequently.
MADDOW: And there`s a way to correct it if it`s a problem.
MADDOW: This is why I wanted you to come here and explain these things in plain terms.
FISHMAN: I`m happy to do it. It -- I mean, it`s ironic because ultimately, right? The reason that letter -- the president apparently didn`t like the original letter because he was -- he wanted to say that Comey was -- would not say that he was not under investigation. Now, it`s really hard to draw any other conclusion.
MADDOW: Paul Fishman, former U.S. Attorney for the great State of New Jersey. Thank you very much.
FISHMAN: (INAUDIBLE) appreciate it.
MADDOW: All right. We`ll be right back. Stay with us.
MADDOW: While the whole country was riveted to the spectacle of Hurricane Irma swarming its way toward the Florida Coast on Friday night, the White House did something absolutely god smacking and it has gone almost unnoticed because of when they did it. Some things are hidable for a little while in a Friday night news dump but ultimately if they`re bad and nothing weird enough, they do come out. And for this story, ultimately, is next.
MADDOW: OK. This is nuts. This is not the biggest thing in the world but I feel like I sort of need to stick a pin in this because I just -- I can`t believe they did it. I can`t believe they did it again. All right. You remember the last time the Russian ambassador stepped foot in the Oval Office? It was the day after trump fired FBI Director James Comey. The only reason we came to know about the president hosting the Russian ambassador on the right, the Russian foreign minister, the other guy in the Oval Office the day after he fired Comey.
The only reason we came to know about it was because the Russians posted pictures of it, right? No U.S. cameras were allowed into the Oval Office meeting but the Russian foreign ministry brought in a Russian state media photographer to the Oval Office and that`s how we got these pictures of the president laughing and joking with these senior Russian officials including Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, the guy on the right, that same guy who had all those meetings and contacts with, Jeff Sessions, Jared Kushner, and Mike Flynn that the Trump folks tried to keep secret but they`re all now central to the Russia investigation.
It later emerged that the president during that Oval Office meeting gave those Russian officials highly classified code word intelligence from one of our allies. Also he told them in the Oval Office but he had fired that nutjob James Comey and now that he fired that nutjob, "I faced great pressure because of Russia but now that`s taken off." So that was the -- that was the last time the president hosted the Russian ambassador at the White House and they had to learn about it from the Russian state-run media.
Then on Friday afternoon with the whole country focused on Hurricane Irma, they did it again. "President Trump received me in a warm and friendly way, the atmosphere was very genial, constructive and welcoming. Russian Ambassador Anatoly Antonov told the Russian state-owned news agency. This is the new Russian Ambassador, not Kislyak. He`s a former deputy defense minister. He`s subject to sanctions. New ambassadors do have to present their credentials to the president.
We know that President Trump has done at least two of these credentialing ceremonies for new ambassadors before last week, he did one in April, did one in July. Both times those meetings with new ambassadors were listed on Trump`s public schedule, sent out the previous night. But on Friday with the new Russian guy? The White House didn`t mention it. It was only after Russian-state media started reporting that it had already happened after the meeting happened then the White House sent out this belated press release announcing that, oh, yes, the president met the new Russian ambassador.
Now, if we want the know what Trump told the new ambassador about the FBI`s Russia investigation or about one of our allies code word classified intelligence things, presumably we have to wait for it to turn up on Russia today or sputnik and then we can find out what happened. Sure enough, late Friday night, it was the Russian embassy that produced the picture of the meeting on their Twitter feed. Next time a senior Russian official is going to be in the Oval Office, I wonder if we could try insisting as Americans that maybe we get told when Moscow gets told.
Maybe we just try insisting on that or maybe with this new administration that will always be something that Moscow knows about before we`re allowed to.
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. Americans --
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