Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: September 27, 2017 Guest: Caitlin Dickerson,
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Thanks, my friend.
CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST, ALL IN: You bet.
MADDOW: And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.
There`s a city in Ukraine called Kharkiv, I don`t know exactly how you pronounce it, K-H-A-R-K-I-V, Kharkiv, Kharkiv.
It`s an eastern Ukraine. It`s very close to the Russian border as you can see there and in March of this year, about 20,000 people had to be evacuated out of Kharkiv because an arms depot used by the Ukrainian army caught fire.
That`s what it looks like when your arms depot catches fire. I mean, fires never good. But fire in a place storing thousands of tons of artillery shells, that`s really not good. They moved 20,000 people out of the way for obvious reasons, and that thing kept exploding and kept burning for days as it burned. They`re just kept blowing off artillery shells in every direction. That happened in March.
When the fire stopped and people were able to get back into that town, they found pieces of missiles and artillery shells and tank rounds all over the town everywhere.
Ukrainian government said that fire and that arms depot did not start by accident. That obviously is nearby where Russian troops and Russian supported troops have been pushing at Ukraine`s border and where the fighting has been Ukrainian authorities say they think that artillery depot in Kharkiv in March blew up because somebody flew a drone over that artillery depot and then dropped some sort of incendiary device into it would set off the fire which set all the rounds going. That`s how that day`s long set of explosions started.
So that was March. Then earlier this month, it happened again, this time in the city that is right on the front lines of that Russian land grab in Ukraine, in eastern Ukraine, in the Donetsk region. Again, this was an ammunition depot used by the Ukrainian army.
Ukrainian authorities say that one also was arson. It was some sort of sabotage. Somebody set that artillery depot on fire. And now, today, it`s happened again, and look at the footage that we`ve got from this one. This from "Reuters".
Their camera, you`ll see, is well back from the ammunition depot, right, and you can see these like individuals spiraling, zigzagging flashes of light looks like they -- it`s like screwed up tree or fire or drunk fruit flies or something, drunk fireflies rather. But you see I`m just sort of going off one by one. You can tell something`s going on there.
But then ultimately, you get what is just a massive, massive blast, because this is a depot and here it goes. That reportedly holds about twenty thousand two hundred thousand tons of ammunition. So, rocket artillery, tank shells, missiles.
This thing started going off last night various explosions went off all day long today, including some of these gigantic mushroom clouds that you saw. Ukrainian authorities say that this one too may have been started by sabotage. They say this may again have been a case where a drone was flown over at this ammunition depot that then dropped something into it to set this thing off.
About 30,000 people are evacuated out of the immediate area where this happened today in Ukraine and, you know, it`s unnerving obviously for Ukraine that this has now happened for a third time. It`s I`m sure very upsetting for the Ukrainian army for them to be losing all their artillery and ammunition this way. But this one is particularly unnerving for Ukrainians because this happened really far from the fighting. This happened really far from anywhere near the front lines.
I mean, just basic map of Ukraine here, right, the fighting with Russians and Russian support of troops is in the eastern part of Ukraine. Kiev, of course, is the capital city. Where this happened today is southwest of Kiev. So, this is way out of the way, this is in the heartland of Ukraine.
But the Ukrainian government is just saying -- saying today essentially that the Russians were able to get them, even there.
Russia seized a big part of Ukraine. They seized Crimea in 2014. They`ve been fighting in other parts of eastern Ukraine ever since.
"Daily Beast" has a good report today, good reminder of how Russia fights using information warfare, alongside real world tangible tactics like blowing up ammunition depots and invading and seizing neighboring territory.
As Facebook is increasingly struggling to answer criticism in this country over how its platform was used in the Russian attack on our election last year and why the company hasn`t been more helpful to investigators trying to get to bottom of that attack and trying to figure out if Americans helped in that attack, "Daily Beast" reports today that Facebook has been in this battle space before also involving the Russians.
At the same time Russian troops were invading Ukraine to take Crimea in 2014, Russian information warfare operators we`re using a surprisingly effective technique on Facebook to clear Ukrainian voices off of social media, so the Russians wouldn`t have any competition for the information space while it was invading that neighboring country. What these Russian operatives would do is they`d find Ukrainian activists people arguing in favor of Ukraine in this conflict between Ukraine and Russia and then they`d go to online Facebook posts by those people and then they would click report on those posts.
And whatever that person`s argument was, whatever the picture was, whatever the thing was that person was sharing these Russian operatives would swarm it and report it over and over again to Facebook as porn or they reported as you know inappropriate nude of the year or some other thing that you can flag to Facebook as a reason that a post should be taken down. So, kind of the online equivalent of swatting, right, there were you calling the swat team, like you call the police about your neighbor, you say some terrible crime is being committed even though nothing`s really going on, and then the police respond and your neighbor has to deal with this, you know, annoying and expensive and potentially dangerous police response, right?
It`s one thing if you do that as a nuisance. You do that it`s a one-off effort to harass somebody or to play a prank. But when you do it systematically as a state-sponsored tactic of warfare, you get good at it, and you do it in bulk. And in the case of the Russia-Ukraine stuff back in 2014-2015, it meant they were blowing the whistle to Facebook about these innocuous posts by Ukrainian activists, they were doing it hundreds of times, thousands of times for each post and for each activist and it worked.
It, in fact, became such a point of concern that the president of Ukraine raised the issue with Facebook asked Facebook to please consider maybe creating an office in Ukraine so they could deal with this special problem they were having here with Russian operatives taking all these Ukrainian voices off of social media, Facebook laughed off that request from Ukraine and their president.
But "The Daily Beast" today went back and interviewed some of the activists from Ukraine who were shut up by Facebook when all this was happening because Russian operatives targeted them to be shut up. I mean around the time that Russian troops were literally invading Ukraine and taking over part of that country, Facebook was helping the Russian government shut down opposition voices from the country they were invading.
One of those activists tells "The Daily Beast" today that what he posted online and one instance was, quote, a picture of my city with a picture of a rainbow over it and the picture said, everything will be OK. That`s what he posted. Russian operatives swarmed that and reported it over and over and over and over and over again as porn, and that activist was blocked from Facebook for a month, while Russia invaded his country.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg put out a new statement tonight expressing regret for having made dismissive comments about the power of online misinformation and potentially shaping the outcome of the presidential election last year. But the more we learn about what Russia did in our election last year, the clearer it becomes that Russian intelligence and the Russian military, they don`t see Facebook and information warfare as some sort of sideshow, some sort of some sort of lark, it`s not some experimental thing they`re dabbling in for fun or to harass people, it`s really central to their real war efforts and to their overall geopolitical strategy on this planet.
I mean, as Russia was literally seizing territory from a neighboring country within the last few years, they became one of the only modern industrialized nations in a generation to have invaded a neighboring country and taken over part of its territory, Russia also simultaneously took to the information space to shut down activists from that country. They`ve also been all over the globe promoting secession movements and breakaway independence movements in all sorts of countries. They`ve been looking -- in other words, they`ve been looking to get bigger while they`ve been busy working to make sure that everybody else gets smaller. They`re literally taking over neighboring countries` territory to make Russia a larger country, while promoting in the online space movements that would break apart their rivals and competitors on the global stage.
We saw that this week in Iraq, where Russia was one of the only nations on earth that supported the northern Iraq referendum in which the Kurds voted this week that they should break off northern Iraq from the rest of Iraq and become their own independent nation, the United States government is radically opposed to that and has in fact been fighting more than a decade in Iraq to try to keep Iraq together as a single nation with a single government.
Russia, on the other hand, is all for blowing it apart. So, they supported that referendum, as did incidentally Donald Trump`s campaign manager Paul Manafort whose latest paying consulting jobs since being warned by prosecutors that he`s about to be indicted has been advising supporters of the breakup Iraq referendum which happened this week.
There`s also going to be another independence referendum this weekend in Spain where the Catalon region is voting on whether or not they`d like to break off and form an independent state apart from Spain. Turns out Russia`s supporting that one too. What`s the Russian interest in Catalonia? I don`t know, but it is part of a theme.
And we`ve talked about this on the show in the past a little bit. Russia for years in this country has actively promoted the secession of Texas. They`ve promoted the quirky Texas secessionist movement to the point of inviting Texas secessionists to Russia. It pained their way to come to meetings and conferences in Russia so the Russian government could help them promote the independent republic of Texastan or whatever.
In the immediate wake of President Trump`s victory in last year`s presidential election, you might remember a new flurry of enthusiasm and attention to the various efforts that -- to have California secede from the United States. That was until one of the best funded slickest California secession outfits last year turned out to have its headquarters in Russia. Literally they -- one of the California secessionist movements had a government-funded free office in Moscow, and their leader -- the leader of the movement who was applying to get it you know on the ballot in California and everything was living in Siberia while running that movement.
Russia also famously supported secession within the European Union. They were a major supporter of the U.K. Independence Party which drove the U.K. to its Brexit vote, to break the United Kingdom out of the E.U. Russia was also a massive financial supporter of the National Front in France which among other things promised to break France out of the European Union, along the same lines as the U.K. leaving in Brexit.
So, on the one hand, if you follow each of these things individually, it looks complicated. You see Russia involved in one way or another in all of these different countries` elections and all of the subtle internal politics of all these different places all over the world, sometimes it`s - - they seem left-wing, sometimes they seem right wing, sometimes they just seem strangely interested. But there they are in the U.K. and in France and in Spain and in the Middle East and in the United States, and in all of these other disparate places.
So, it looks complicated on the one hand if you just follow those as individual stories. But on the other hand, just step back and it`s as simple as it could possibly be. Russia is busy making itself as big as possible, including taking over parts of neighboring countries while it`s simultaneously supporting movements all over the globe that make every other place in the world as little and as divided as possible.
All right, we`re getting big and stretching out. Why don`t you guys fight amongst yourselves and split into a million pieces? Here let me help. Right?
I have reason to believe that Russia does not watch this TV show. So, here`s an experiment. Let`s create a fake secessionist movement in the United States on the theory that Russia will support secession of anyone in the West for any reason just because they`d really love for the West to break apart. The smaller the piece is the better, right?
We know they`ve already supported Texas seceding and California seceding, and you know there is at the kernel of those little movements there is some legit organic interest in those places and maybe breaking off, even if it is kind of tongue-in-cheek.
But Russia will take that. They`ll build from that. They`ll fund it. They`ll give you three offices. They`ll do whatever they can to hook you up, they`ll staff it from Moscow.
Let`s make up a new one and see if we can get Russian support. First idea I had for this today is that we`d set up a movement called Nohio. See if they can buy on that.
And then somebody else on the staff came up with no, no, no, we should be Tennesseeya because maybe they`d like a Southern one. We also entertained the idea of Indiana becoming Outdiana. Or Illannoyed, we are out of here. We`re so annoyed.
We tried on a few different ideas. And we now come down to four finalists, and you can vote at MaddowBlog.com, or on Twitter. Vote for which fake secession movement we should create online to see if it attracts Russians support.
The choices are -- ready? -- A, we will create a new independent republic of Manhattanistan, in Manhattan, or B, we will create a new independent region called AriZONE. Option C lends itself I think to the best possible bumper sticker, ConnectiCUT. For the one that might actually be familiar to them, they wouldn`t even have to change too many of their online memes, option D, New Mexit.
Again, the theory here is that if you build it, they will come. Any little inkling of anybody wanting to break off any part of the United States, anybody wanting to break off any part of anything that exists in the West from anything that constitutes the existing international order where Russia isn`t a superpower, any centripetal force to blow things apart will attract Russian trolls like flies to Brexit.
So, we will see. Kind of excited about this. Anyway, MaddowBlog.com.
Alongside Russia`s efforts to promote outright secession though, as we learn more about what Russia did in our own election last year, particularly online and on Facebook, you can see the same concerted Russian effort underway not to literally break our country apart as a geopolitical unit, but to break our population apart, to get the American people at each other`s throats.
CNN reports tonight that among the Facebook ads bought by Russian operatives last year during our presidential campaign were ads that not only referenced the Black Lives Matter movement but specifically targeted Black Lives Matter-related Russian advertising to audiences in Ferguson, Missouri, and in Baltimore, Maryland. So, they were taking places in the United States that were riven by anger and violence and conflict over the police treatment of African-Americans.
And into that, there came the Russians trying to fuel that trying to kindle that, trying to make the most of it that they could. And they knew enough about the subtleties of the issues here to geographically target those ads to the locations where they might do the most harm.
Now, "The Daily Beast" reports in a fairly stunning story that a Facebook group called United Muslims of America which went online during the election last year at Facebook.com/MuslimAmerica, that organization actually took over the dormant name of a legit old organization in California that wasn`t particularly active anymore. But that group that that took the name that was operating on Facebook last year during the election really was run by Russian operatives.
According to "The Daily Beast", the site has been, quote, traced back to the Russian government.
Remember last year, leading up to the election when Donald Trump was insisting even on close questioning that Hillary Clinton invented ISIS, that she created ISIS? Well, at least one of the online originators of that claim was this Russian government-operated Facebook page United Muslims of America which said Hillary Clinton created and funded and armed both al Qaeda and ISIS.
The site also claimed that John McCain created ISIS. Needless to say, neither John McCain nor Hillary Clinton created ISIS.
But the Russian government was impersonating U.S. Muslims on Facebook last year, claiming that that was true. And that was then happily echoed and insisted upon by the presidential candidate for the Republican Party.
Politico.com now reports that Russian-funded Facebook ads also exploited with some appreciable nuance division among voters on the left, at least one of the ads that Russian government operatives ran on Facebook last year said, quote, choose peace and vote for Jill Stein. Trust me, it`s not a wasted vote. #growaspinevotejillstein.
Again, that was bought and paid for by the Russian government.
Now, that`s not to say that Jill Stein wanted that from the Russian government, that she solicited it or knew about it, you know? But Russia wanted votes for her and so alongside Russian paid Facebook ads promoting Donald Trump and criticizing Hillary Clinton, Russia was also running ads on Facebook promoting that you would not waste your vote if you voted for Jill Stein, #hintyesyouwill.
It`ll be very interesting to see if we ever learn where exactly those ads were targeted and if those ads ended up targeting would be Democratic or liberal voters in some of the states where Jill Stein votes absolutely did outrun the vote margin between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.
Other Russian funded political ads on Facebook, according to Politico.com, promoted votes for Bernie Sanders, and this was reportedly right before the presidential election, so long after Bernie Sanders had left the race and endorsed Clinton and said people should vote for her, Russian operatives were saying, no, no, no, still vote for Bernie that wouldn`t be a wasted vote.
So, we`re starting to see clearly now how -- how they operate, what they`re trying to do, right? Russia supports division in the countries and in the geopolitical entities that they see as their rivals. Russia seeks to divide or silence when they can the political movements and political leaders that oppose them. Russia also seems to just like far-right populist movements that bring out the most anti-democratic and ugly tendencies in western countries by turning native populations specifically against immigrants and refugees and minorities and Muslims.
In Germany this weekend, Angela Merkel was reelected to be the German chancellor, but the other big news out of that election was that for the first time since the immediate post-World War era, a far-right anti- immigrant, anti-minority nationalist party ala the UK. Independence Party or the National Front in France will be represented in the German parliament.
This far-right movement called AFD, they got about 13 percent of the vote. They`ll be represented in parliament and their interest in the election we now know were promoted by Russian state-run media and by Russian botnets and interestingly by Trump campaign veterans. A group called Harris Media, which was hired by the Trump campaign during the Paul Manafort era, group run out of Texas, they ran digital operations in Germany for this far- right, anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant group that did surprisingly well in this weekend`s German elections. Thanks at least in small part to a national boost from Russia. So, we`re learning more every day now about what Russia did in our election.
As we get more detail about that, it`s becoming easier to see how investigators may be able to determine whether or not those Russian operatives working to influence our election had any American confederates helping them do their work. Executives from Twitter are set to speak with the Senate Intelligence Committee tomorrow morning in Washington. Facebook has started reportedly to hand over information about what Russian operatives bought what ads targeting which people during our election.
And as Facebook in particular gets dragged kicking and screaming into starting to disclose how well Russia used their platform, not just to silence their own dissidents anymore, not just to shut down say Ukrainian activists as they were invading the Ukraine and how they were used to manipulate and divide and misinform Americans toward a specific and illegal political end, the spookiest part of all of this is that Russia`s action in that information space very clearly bled out into the real world. They did not just change what we saw or in some cases what we thought and what we thought about, they didn`t just presumably start fights and change votes. They also changed real lives in the real world in our country in sometimes violent ways.
And one of the most unsettling incidents of that has just been reported out by "The New York Times`" Caitlin Dickerson and she joins us next.
MADDOW: This coming Sunday, this is going to be in the "New York Times Sunday Magazine": How fake news turned a small town upside down. Here`s the subhead: at the height of the election, exaggerated reports of a juvenile sex crime brought a medium maelstrom to Twin Falls, Idaho, the maelstrom the city has still not recovered from.
Joining us now is the reporter from that piece, Caitlin Dickerson is the national immigration reporter for "The New York Times".
Ms. Dickerson, I really appreciate you being here.
CAITLIN DICKERSON, NATIONAL IMMIGRATION REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Thank you for having me.
MADDOW: Can you tell us basically what you found in Twin Falls? I had -- before reading your story, I had heard about their there being angered ginned up against Chobani yogurt and I`d heard there had been this lawsuit involving Alex Jones and Info Wars.
What did you find when you chased that story down?
DICKERSON: Sure. So, to begin with, there was a very real sexual assault case that took place there between a 5-year-old girl who was a white American and a 7-year-old boy who was a refugee, but it was turned into something much larger and much scarier than that in fake news stories, with lots and lots of details that turned out to be completely untrue and that were used to prove a point that refugees were inherently dangerous, that Muslims were inherently dangerous.
And it was elevated nationally at a certain point Chobani and other local officials. National officials were brought in. It was turned into this conspiracy theory.
MADDOW: So, this is -- there was a real incident again involving a 5-year- old and a 7-year-old, it was represented in false news stories about that as if there had been basically a gang rape of a child by adults, and that it had been -- it had been either racially motivated or at least racially inflected assault.
DICKERSON: That it was it was influenced by religion as what the narrative was, yes. That that the young girl was gang raped, that she was held at knifepoint, that it was done by Syrian refugees, even though there are no Syrian refugees in this town at all. That it was done by adults, even though it was an altercation with a 7-year-old. And that all of it was proof that ISIS was in this town and the town was under attack.
MADDOW: So, how did this manifest in the town? It`s one thing if a series of fake stories are circulating about a place in the United States. What did you find about how this manifest in people`s real lives in Twin Falls?
DICKERSON: People felt this really viscerally and really intensely for an entire summer. So, this started to be reported in the online blogs and then moved to larger outlets like "Breitbart", like Info Wars, and during that time, specific elected officials in town were called out by name, their addresses and phone numbers and email addresses were posted online, and they were barrage for an entire summer really intensely with these incredibly violent and specific threats.
So, obviously, for the people who were receiving those threats, they were very scared. Police had to patrol their homes. They talked about being scared to walk out to their cars after work. Sort one woman, the mayor`s wife says she did Charlie`s Angels in her home every time the doorbell rang, she would instinctively kind of duck under the kitchen counter because she was getting these again very specific and graphic threats.
And then for people who live in town, they were reading online that their town was under assault by dangerous sexual deviants, so they were scared too.
MADDOW: This is something that as you say was promoted heavily by "Breitbart". You described in the piece about how Steve Bannon on his "Breitbart" radio show talked about this daily --
MADDOW: -- for a long time.
They dispatched a full-time reporter to go to Twin Falls to not necessarily report on the story, but at least to hype it.
DICKERSON: Yes, the reporter`s name is Lee Stranahan. Steve Bannon described him as a pit bull on Breitbart Radio and said he was going to let Stranahan loose on the town and the idea, the conceit they said, was to reveal the true story because they were writing and saying on the radio that the local police, the prosecutor, even the local newspaper were involved in a cover-up, that they were trying to conceal the crime, when actually they were just trying to say, look, something did happen, it was very unfortunate and very sad, but it doesn`t have anything to do with Islam or ISIS or refugee resettlement. It`s something sad that happened between two kids.
MADDOW: Mr. Stranahan has now ended up working for Sputnik.
DICKERSON: Yes. He quit his job at "Breitbart" after Steve Bannon left "Breitbart". He said it was being mismanaged and he now hosts a drive time radio show.
MADDOW: For Sputnik?
DICKERSON: For Sputnik, yes.
MADDOW: Ad one of the things that we`ve since learned about this incident is that this is -- this is one of the -- for lack of a better term -- fake news stories in the United States that Russian operatives latched on to and promoted, but they also appear to have tried to organize demonstrations around in Twin Falls, they tried to make real-life events happen in Twin Falls around this story and those organizing efforts were traced back to Russia.
DICKERSON: They were. In fact, it`s the first known attempt that the Russian government made to conjure up a political rally on American soil that took place in Twin Falls in addition to these accounts having spread, again these false details that we talked about.
The protest itself wasn`t massively attended. It turns out that a lot of people who are upset about the case we`re in other states, even other countries. But nevertheless, it happened and when people did show up and they protested and all of it was at the behest of these Russian linked accounts.
MADDOW: Caitlin Dickerson, national immigration reporter for "The New York Times" -- it`s a on one level just disgusting. On the other hand, absolutely fascinating story, and the depth that you were able to put into your reporting on this really I think helps us understand its import. Thanks a lot for helping us understand.
DICKERSON: Thank you.
MADDOW: Appreciate it.
DICKERSON: Appreciate it.
MADDOW: All right. We`ll be right back. Stay with us.
MADDOW: This time last week, 3.4 million Americans were in the grip of this, Hurricane Maria, which made landfall in Puerto Rico one week ago, in the early morning hours. It hit as a category four storm. Last time a storm that big hit Puerto Rico was in the 1930s.
But we`re now seven days into the aftermath of Hurricane Maria and, inarguably, things are getting worse and not better with the passage of time, because of what now quite starkly appears to be an inept, inadequate and most of all disorganized federal response. I mean, you`re used to thinking that the heart-stopping wait time for hurricane is as while you`re waiting for the storm to pass over, for the storm to be gone. But this time, what`s killing these Americans is waiting for the relief effort to hit it stride.
A week in, half the population has no drinking water. A week in, 97 percent of the island has no electricity. A week in, many communities are not just running low on fuel, they are running low on food.
Part of the reason we know this is a disorganization failure is because significant quantities of relief supplies are making it to Puerto Rico, and they`re stuck at the port. Thousands of containers of supplies are sitting at the port, because nobody`s organized drivers to truck those supplies out of the ports and out to needy communities all over the island. That effort is thus far not coordinated with an effort to clear the road so those trucks could get through if they had drivers for them.
There`s definitely no shortage of people willing to help, both in terms of civilians helping each other, which we have seen an incredible measure, but also in terms of responders trying to do their best. There are responders on scene a lot of them, but there doesn`t appear to be anybody running the operation leading things to get this stuff going in any systematic way at least in a systematic effort large enough to meet the needs of this island one week in, even now even a week into this, with food and water running low and some communities still not having received any aid at all The organization of the effort appears to be still in its very earliest stages.
As the mayor of San Juan told us here last night, that disorganization means that even though there`s fuel on the island, dozens of hospitals don`t have fuel that they need to keep their generators running, which means they can`t power the machines that keep people alive in places like intensive care units. That`s happening not just in far-flung areas but in Puerto Rico`s largest city, where patients have already died in the hospital for lack of fuel because there was no power to keep life support machines on.
"The Washington Post" today reported on San Lorenzo, which is a neighborhood in the mountains outside San Juan. It`s separated from nearby communities by a powerful river. That hurricane took out the only bridge connecting San Lorenzo to the rest of the island.
A desperation has been mounting in these isolated communities over the past few days, some local people from San Lorenzo have been trying to cross that very overflowed river by on their own which is very dangerous.
But here`s the part of this that is absolutely mind-bending, a FEMA team arrived in San Lorenzo to try to help the people who are stranded there, but it turns out they had been dispatched to that isolated community with no food or water or medical supplies to deliver.
And between having trouble communicating and having trouble just finding their way around once they got there that that FEMA team took real risks to get there and then they couldn`t help once they got in, because of disorganization, which is a risk both to them and a waste of effort for the people who they were not able to help once they got there.
"The A.P." called the recovery effort in this first week a, quote, do-it- yourself affair. Today, spoke to person after person who said there has been, quote, no help, quote, people have to help one another now.
It`s hard to know for sure exactly what is happening on the ground in a lot of places in Puerto Rico because so much of the island is still cut off. But right now, people are sounding the alarm, warning that if this keeps going like this, if this effort doesn`t get organized fast, we could start to see a spike in the death toll. Elderly patients in nursing homes that have no power and no water and no ability to prepare food, sick patients in hospitals that still do not have power, right?
This is -- this is not a political story except that it`s politicians who have to fix it, right? This is about life and death. We`re now a week in and only beginning to get a sense of how much need there is.
One very good NBC reporter who`s been in Puerto Rico all week since the storm hit made a trip out of San Juan today to look at one community hit by the hurricane, hit by wind rain and water, but also hit massively by mud, and he joins us to tell us what he saw next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GADI SCHWARTZ, NBC NEWS REPORTER: Right now, we`re in a mountain community above Naranjito in Puerto Rico and take a look up here. This is where a home once stood and you can see what`s left of that home was blown off this hillside. In fact, there`s a roof over here in this ravine that`s down there.
When this area was hit by the hurricane, there was a tremendous amount of flooding. In fact, there`s a road right over there. We understand that`s a critical road in getting gas and getting supplies up to this area, for now, that road is impassable, much of it collapsed.
And you see a lot of those collapses happened with mudslides. That`s a mudslide over there. There`s a mudslide over here, all the foliage ripped off the trees.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That`s NBC`s Gadi Schwartz in Naranjito, Puerto Rico, earlier today. His tape just now getting in from this one rural community in Puerto Rico.
Naranjito has -- as Gadi was saying there -- been largely cut off from the outside world. Since the storm hit a week ago, its residents have had zero power and zero running water all week long. Residents have been walking up to seven miles each day for gasoline to power generators. They say they`ve had zero sign a federal or local response or any assistance before today when they saw the very first work start to clear the mudslides that are blocking the access roads to this town.
Joining us now by phone is Gadi Schwartz who has been in Puerto Rico for eight days now reporting on the hurricane and its devastation that it`s left in its wake.
Gadi, thank you very much for joining us tonight. I really appreciate your time.
SCHWARTZ (via telephone): Sure, no problem, Rachel.
MADDOW: So, can you tell us how you`re able to get around and what you make of the sort of progress toward just physically being able to access interior Puerto Rico and these towns that have had such trouble getting aid.
SCHWARTZ: Well, first things first. We start our day and we end our day thinking about gasoline -- how much gasoline, we have we have to ration gasoline and that means waiting in line and sometimes those lines are hours and hours and hours long as you`ve seen. So, really how far we go in the islands it depends on how much gasoline we have and how much gasoline it will take to get us back.
And that`s something that all Puerto Ricans are dealing with. That is something that people think about when they need to go to town or when they need to not go to town, whether they`re going to stay home, whether they`re going to try to go to work or whether they`re going to go to try to check on a loved one. And so, gasoline is first and foremost on our minds and then we go out, we`ve got some very -- some security guards that are really familiar with Puerto Rico and they`ve been instrumental in getting us into some of these areas today.
Naranjito and Corozal is where we wanted to go because we understood that they were cut off and we were able to just go make our way past that roadblock and that`s where you saw that video. One of the striking things that we saw going up there was this crew, and earlier you were describing it as the kind of do-it-yourself help that that is going on up there. We came across this road crew and they had assembled from all different places and the one that was -- seems to be supervising she was a woman and she was, you know, there telling the crews what to do.
And I stopped to talk to her and asked her house was, and she said her home was destroyed, but she was an engineer and this is what she did and she needed to go out and she needed to help her island any way she could, and that`s what she was going to do. She was going to try to work, and those long lines that we would see if gasoline -- a lot of the people in those lines would be walking miles to get gasoline, and they were saying, look, we`ve got to go to work. At some point, we`ve got to go to work, we need money, we need to survive and the next four, six months are looking very, very bleak for a lot of these people.
MADDOW: And looking at the scale of the devastation is gut-wrenching. Those stories about people doing everything they can to help and help each other is obviously a heartening scene but there`s -- I mean with this kind of scale of devastation, we have to worry about how organized and systemic the effort is to get this relief to get the roads cleared, to get aid distributed, to get people safe, to take care of the elderly and infirm.
What can you tell us about how organized the overall response is?
SCHWARTZ: Well, so this is something difficult because I think that it is part of this story and in retrospect, we probably should have shot it because it`s as important to the story as what`s going on on the outside. But there is an air-conditioned convention center where we`ve spent a lot of time trying to get briefings and figure out what`s going on and, you know, for the basically day that we spent there over the weekend, there were hundreds of people walking around and tucked in polo shirts with all kinds of different government insignia.
And they`re milling around for hours and hours and hours, so much so that the reporters that had gathered there and some of the people there themselves from the different organizations are like, well, we`re not exactly sure what`s going on, we`re not exactly sure what we`re doing. You know, we`ve got this meeting, we`ve got that meeting, FEMA`s on the third floor, we`re supposed to be on the second floor.
And so, it just seemed very, very disorganized and it seemed like such a far cry from what was going on outside and especially in the rural areas of Puerto Rico where if you have gas and you have a car and you have the willingness to get out, you can find people in need very quickly. But this convention center was just filled with a lot of people that are obviously there because they would like to help, but just walking around, shaking people`s hands and talking for hours --
SCHWARTZ: -- in this convention center that was air-conditioned, while the rest of Puerto Rico is under this sweltering heat, no one has electricity and people are waiting for an entire day just to get three gallons of gas.
MADDOW: Wow. That tracks exactly if what we heard from the San Juan mayor last night talking about how heartened she is to see all the people there who want to help and how frustrated she is that it`s not actually a relief effort that is working yet.
Gadi Schwartz, NBC`s reporter on the ground in Puerto Rico, you`ve been there all week -- Gadi, thank you for helping us understand. Keep us apprised. Thank you.
SCHWARTZ: No problem. Thanks so much.
MADDOW: That`s absolutely infuriating. We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: Yesterday, CNN was first to report that Robert Mueller, the special counsel, is about to start interviewing White House officials past and present as potential witnesses in his Russia investigation. CNN had that story first last night. Now, ABC News has confirmed it.
From various sources, we`ve got names of six people, current and former White House officials who are believed to be in line for questioning by Mueller`s prosecutors again as soon as maybe tomorrow or the next day. Those people include Sean Spicer and Reince Priebus, who were both fired from the Trump White House. And Don McGahn, the White House counsel and his deputy who no one`s heard of and communications director Hope Hicks and Jared Kushner`s spokesman of all people.
One of the things we`ve been trying to figure out is how regular non-Trump people are going to pay for what undoubtedly are going to be very expensive legal fees in connection with the Russia investigation. Even if people aren`t up to their necks in this story, being questioned just as a witness can be a very legally fraught thing. It is a crime to lie to federal investigators, even if you do it by accident.
Well, today, we can report exclusively on an interesting new poll from Public Policy Polling. It`s going to come out tomorrow morning in full and it reveals public opinion on everything right now from, you know, the health care bill to Jimmy Kimmel to lots of other stuff.
But before that poll comes out in full tomorrow morning, check out this one giblet that we got. Registered voters who say it is inappropriate for the president to use campaign funds to pay his legal bills, 64 percent -- 64 percent of Americans believe President Trump should be paying his own legal bills in the Russia case.
President Trump is not paying his own legal bills in the Russia case. Of course, those are being paid for by the RNC and by the Trump pre-election campaign, as are the legal fees of his son.
This question about how Russian legal fees are going to get paid by the president or anybody in that circle, that reporting has led us to actually a whole new line of questioning and interest about one giant pile of money that is sloshing around inside the White House that could conceivably be used for that purpose it could conceivably be used to pay legal fees for all of these White House personnel and former White House personnel who are caught up in this thing, if they decided to do that with it.
This giant pile of money is called the Trump inaugural fund. We believe it is a fund of tens of millions of dollars and we have very little idea what they`re going to do with it. But on that subject, we`ve got a weird new scoop that we`re going to be doing on tomorrow night`s show. You will want to see this.
All right. We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: We have been covering the story this week about how the president`s former campaign manager Paul Manafort got paid this week for an independence referendum in northern Iraq. Northern Iraq is dominated and run as a semiautonomous region by the Kurds. There are also significant Kurdish populations in Iran and Syrian and Turkey.
So, the idea that the Kurds in Iraq would create their own country, that`s got the whole region freaking out. All those other countries did military exercises on Iraq`s border this week to show how freaked out they were by this referendum.
We got the results of it today. It wasn`t close. Kurdish authority say the yes vote was over 92 percent for independence.
So, is Iraq going to split up? Nothing like that would happen automatically, but Iraq is definitely up in arms about it. Today, the parliament asked the prime minister to send Iraqi troops to Kirkuk to take control of the oil fields up there. I should note that Kurdish troops are already deployed in Kirkuk. So, we`ll see what happens when both sets of troops are there.
Yesterday, the Iraqi prime minister gave the Kurds three days to give up control of the two international airports in their region, otherwise, he said Iraq would shut them down with a flight ban.
Kurdistan has rejected that demand to hand over their airports. The Iraqi prime minister is refusing to negotiate with them about it. He said, quote: We will not compromise on Iraq`s unity or sovereignty. Iraq is strong. Some want to weaken it. But they have miscalculated.
They have miscalculated. Some, however, just calculated, you know, fine. May have just calculated perfectly well that despite the interests of the United States of America on this issue, maybe this referendum might be a way to get paid.
Paul Manafort, sometime around the time the FBI raided his house, he signed up as a paid consultant to promote this referendum. Because he`s reportedly been told he`s going to be indicted in the Russia scandal, we`ve been very interested by the reports that said Manafort was planning to travel to Iraq to be there for this referendum this week.
We reached out to his spokesman a few times to find out where is he? Did he really go to Iraq? The spokesman won`t tell us.
Here`s one to grow on. If Paul Manafort is, in fact, in Iraqi Kurdistan, those airports are about to shut down very soon because of the referendum he just defied the U.S. government to promote. If Iraq follows through on the threats and suspends flights in and out of that region, how does Paul Manafort get home? Can he?
Or is this part of the plan to maybe get stuck several thousand miles away at a very convenient time? Maybe Bob Mueller can send a rescue party. Where`s Paul?
Watch this space.
That does it for us tonight. We`ll see you again tomorrow.
Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL".
Good evening, Lawrence.
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