Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: September 28, 2017 Guest: Pablo Venes, Craig Holman
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. Happy Thursday.
There`s a lot going on tonight. Tom Price, the nation`s health secretary, looks like he may soon become second high profile departure from the Trump administration, specifically because of the corruption issue. The first corruption related departure from the Trump administration, of course, was Carl Icahn, the billionaire investor on whom President Trump bestowed the title president`s special advisor on regulatory reform.
That was a new job invented for Carl Icahn. Nobody knew exactly what it was going to mean when it was first announced. But wouldn`t you know it, it turned out that the regulatory reforms sought by Mr. Icahn once he got that government post, they appeared to collide in a happy coincidence with the interests of one of his businesses, a refinery, to the tune of potentially hundreds of millions of dollars.
Within minutes of "The New Yorker`s" Patrick Radden Keith publishing a dead to rights expose of Carl Icahn ka-chinging his way through that job in the Trump administration, Mr. Icahn resigned from that job. Literally, the resignation came in within minutes of "The New Yorker" posting that piece online.
Remarkably, once Mr. Icahn resigned, he quickly floated the idea that maybe he`d never actually had that job in the first place. I mean, really, if you think about it a certain way, it`s like he didn`t know didn`t have anything to resign from it all, because maybe he didn`t have that job?
We may eventually get to see if that rather esoteric argument holds water with very serious prosecutors. Among the law enforcement entities that have jurisdiction over financial crimes and public integrity issues related to the financial markets is the New York state`s attorney general office, because so many of the nation`s financial markets are headquartered in New York City.
The attorney general`s office of the state of New York told us several weeks ago when Mr. Icahn resigned that his brief but apparently market shifting tenure as a Trump administration official was, quote, on their radar at the New York attorney general`s office. So, Carl Icahn was the first corruption allegation casualty in the Trump administration now Tom Price may be the second.
When the new administration was first getting stood up, I would say it was basically a tie between Betsy DeVos, the billionaire education secretary, and Jeff Sessions, the very controversial attorney general in terms of whose Trump cabinet nomination attracted the loudest objections. But even though there was a lot more attention to Betsy DeVos and Jeff Sessions, Tom Price really was a very special case, because it was a matter of unsubtle, clear, fairly shocking public record by the time he was nominated that he really had a serious corruption scandal following him around from his time in Congress.
As a member of Congress, while he chaired a key health subcommittee, Tom Price, bought and sold hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of stock in companies, in health companies, while he was simultaneously taking action on his committee that affected the Price of those stocks. And again this was not a subtle thing and it was not a small amount of money and it wasn`t just once that he did it.
Tom Price`s defense against these allegations was rather -- well, it was -- well, basically, his defense was that it was his broker who did this stuff, not him personally. Like he doesn`t work the trading machines, so we can`t blame him.
I remember talking with Obama administration veterans during the transition and at the very start of the Trump administration and even though Tom Price really wasn`t the highest profile Trump cabinet nominee or the most controversial one, I remember hearing more than once from Obama administration figures that they were just incredulous that Tom Price`s corruption problems weren`t enough to keep him from getting nominated to the cabinet, let alone confirmed -- if only because of the prospect that he might someday get indicted for those trades and that prospect would hang over him as a cabinet official leading a major federal agency for the entire time that he held that office.
Obama administration folks were absolutely incredulous that the Trump administration would be reckless enough to put somebody in his situation in terms of corruption prospects in a job like that. But sure enough, on a party-line vote, Republicans in the Senate happily confirmed him to that position and in fact, "ProPublica" soon thereafter reported that, yes, the U.S. attorney`s office in the southern district of New York had in fact been investigating Tom Price on that corruption issue about him trading stocks in companies whose stock Price he was changing as a member of Congress.
That "ProPublica" report about the southern district of New York was never confirmed by NBC News, but Tom Price was confirmed to the cabinet. And now, just over the last couple of weeks, a whole new flock of chickens appears to have come home to roost when it comes to Tom Price.
It started with this report on September 19th at politico.com. This was the start of a series of what appeared to be -- I don`t have any inside knowledge of this -- but it would appear to be leaks from Tom Price`s own staff at HHS. This was the first story in a series of these, they all appear to have come from leaks from his own staff. And this information that has leaked from HHS staffers really as of tonight has brought Tom Price to what is probably the point of no return in terms of him being able to keep his job.
And I can`t effuse enough, I can`t say enough about how thorough and careful and damning the reporting on Tom Price has been in this series of articles from Rachana Pradhan and Dan Diamond a politico.com. I think Washington has been increasingly fascinated as this scandal has really started to grow and blow up around Tom Price. But we shouldn`t lose sight of the fact that this comes from a very specific place, the first and the latest and the most damning of all these current reports about Tom Price have all been from Pradhan and Diamond at "Politico", this reporting team.
They were the first to report in that first article in the 19th of September that Secretary Price was, quote, breaking precedent in terms of his use of private jets. That first report from them was that Tom Price had five times in one week charged taxpayers to fly on private jets instead of flying commercial like other public officials in his role have previously done.
Their next report was that Tom Price didn`t just do it that one week, turns out he was charging taxpayers to fly on private jets quite a lot. That first report had been about five flights in a week. The second report was about twenty-four private jet flights that he took, all on the taxpayers` dime.
Their third report was about Tom Price charging taxpayers to fly on private jets to do things like have lunch with his son and have nice weekends away at places where he and his family had nice places to stay. So, these reports about Tom Price cashing in on his government job, they kept getting more detailed and more flagrant.
And the new reporting as it came out just kept making it worse and not better. There was the fact that he kept flying on even more private jet flights even after his staff at HHS started leaking about this habit of his basically to try to blow the whistle on it. Even after those first reports came out, he kept taking more private flights, again, and charging them to the taxpayers instead of flying commercial.
New reporting even today that while Tom Price was advocating a huge cut to the budget of his agency while he was promoting cuts to federally supported health care, which would throw tens of millions of Americans off of their health insurance, he was simultaneously arguing up the chain in the Trump administration that he would really like to reopen the executive private dining room at HHS. So, in addition to all his private jets, he could also have a private executive chef. Seriously.
I mean even for this administration, the story was starting to become unsustainable and today, they unsuccessfully tried to stop the bleeding by having Tom Price issue an apology. Now, you might have heard today that the Health Secretary Tom Price issued this apology today, did you actually see it? Did you actually see the text of it?
If you had laid eyes on what his actual apology said, you might have had an early inkling right away that maybe this wasn`t going to actually be the end of this story. I mean real apologies when you really mean it, you know, you`re actually humbled by your mistake. Those types of apologies tend to seem humble maybe even abject.
Tom Prices apology instead sounded like this, quote: All of my political career, I have fought for the taxpayers. It`s clear to me in this case I was not sensitive enough to my concern for the taxpayer.
I was not sensitive enough to my concern. In other words, Tom Price is sorry that he offended his own sensitivity today. And he`s sorry if you feel bad. But also, everything he did was fine and it was approved. Still, he will stop doing it because people care for some reason. Marcia, Marcia, Marcia.
By 4:00 Eastern Time, Tom Price had issued that apology. By 6:00, he was on FOX News with the estimable Bret Baier, trying to explain what he meant when he said in his apology that he would reimburse the taxpayers for the cost of all these private jet flights he`d been taking.
Tom Price said in his apology, quote: Today, I will write a personal check to the U.S. Treasury for the expenses of my travel on private charter planes. The taxpayers won`t pay a dime for my seat on those planes.
Now, that sounds awesome, like he`s totally making the American taxpayers whole here, right? But what Bret Baier quickly ferreted out of him was that he really specifically meant it when he said he was going to pay for his seat on all those private flights he took.
Tom Price has decided that what he will pay back to the taxpayers is about $50,000, which he says covers his seat on all of those dozens of private plane trips that he took.
Here`s the thing, though, he`s talking about like he chartered a 30-seat jet and he`s going to pay 1/30th of it because he only sat one seat. When he says the taxpayers aren`t going to pay a dime, the taxpayers didn`t just pay for his seat on those planes, right? That`s the thing about a private jet. You get the whole thing. When you charter a plane, you have to pay for the whole plane, that`s how you keep the riprap off.
So, taxpayers` expense for Tom Price flying around on all these private jets, it`s not like $50,000. It`s more like $400,000.
So, he apologized at 4:00. At 6:00, things were continuing to fall apart for him, even on Fox News with good old Bret Baier. And then at 7:00, boom, Rachana Pradhan and Dan Diamond at Politico.com just dropped the anvil on him, because it turns out that there`s more.
Starting at the beginning they`re serious, turns out it wasn`t just a week`s worth of private jet flights. It wasn`t just dozens of private jet flights charged to the taxpayer. It wasn`t just private jet flights that he charged to the taxpayer that he took to go see his family. Turns out he was also chartering military flights for his own use. Do you know how expensive military flights are to the U.S. taxpayers?
For context here, Kathleen Sebelius was President Obama`s health secretary. So, she had the same job as Tom Price. And she was Obama`s health secretary for all of the first term and half of the second term. She never once flew on a military jet in her role as health secretary over those six years.
Tom Price has been health secretary for eight months now and so far, he`s taken chartered military aircraft at taxpayer expense to Germany, Switzerland, China, Vietnam, Japan and Liberia. And he brought his wife on those trips.
And again, like the domestic private jet stuff that he got in trouble for, those are flights that are like little short hop flights that end up being $25,000 for the plane. When you`re flying on a military aircraft, it`s $25,000 an hour.
And again, for context here, it`s not weird that an American health official would need to go visit another country on official business. That`s a good thing. But they fly commercial.
Again, Tom Price tried to get out of this growing mess that he`s in at about 4:00 this afternoon by saying he was sorry he offended his own sensitivities, and the American taxpayers wouldn`t pay a dime for his seat on all of these flights. According to his calculation, that meant he needed to pay the American taxpayers back like $50,000 and he said he would.
But just the flights we know about, and we`re guessing there might be more. But just the private jets in the United States and the military charters he took as well, just the ones we know about, the actual taxpayer cost from what Tom Price has been doing calculated by these reporters who`ve been so diligently tracking it at Politico.com, the actual cost of what we`ve all paid for him is already well over a million dollars.
Is he going to pay that back when he said the taxpayers aren`t going to pay a dime? Is he going to pay that much back to the taxpayers?
I mean, the one thing I can say, Tom Price does have going for him right now is, hey, he did make bank on those stock trades back in Congress. So, we`re on resignation watch for the Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price tonight, and I say that not just because of the severity of the mess that he`s in. I say that specifically because already, the administration has been happily floating names about who they`re thinking about to replace him.
So, that is unfolding tonight and it`s unfolding tonight against kind of a stereovision backdrop that is something beyond bad optics for this administration. I say stereo vision, it`s got kind of two components. One component of that is them unveiling their tax plan today. The one top line PR assurance they made about their tax plan today as they unveiled it is that it will not be a tax break for rich people.
They`ve released very few details about their tax plan today, but the ones they did release conclusively confirm that this will definitely be a big tax break for rich people. But the one thing they`re trying to sell about it, they conclusively proved was not true, it`s definitely a gigantic tax break for rich people.
"The New York Times" tonight used those two pages of Donald Trump`s tax returns which David Cay Johnston first unveiled on this show back in March and everybody was so mad at me about it because it turned out it wasn`t damning information. Well, it was real information and using just those two pages from that one return from Donald Trump "The Times" was able to calculate tonight that what they unveiled is the administration`s new tax plan would save the president personally tens of millions of dollars in a single year and, quote, it could cut his tax bills by more than $1.1 billion overall.
But remember, the thing you`re supposed to say about this tax plan is it doesn`t cut taxes for the rich.
Reforming the tax code was supposed to be the hard thing Republicans were going to try to tackle after they did the easy stuff like repealing Obamacare. So, whether you like this new plan or hate this new plan that again could cut $1.1 billion out of the president`s tax bill, his personal tax bill, there is healthy and widespread skepticism tonight as to whether or not Republicans in Congress will ever get anywhere near passing this thing. In part because the likelihood of them passing this thing is so slim, to me, it remains politically, optically, astonishing that they would choose today to unveil their massive tax cut for the rich on a day when they may be losing their health secretary to a private jet scandal and 3.5 million Americans are entering their second week with no electricity, no running water and a botched federal hurricane response that is thus far failed to provide even the barest first humanitarian relief to hundreds of thousands of American citizens who are stranded in towns and communities across Puerto Rico who have been left to fend for themselves.
Today, the U.S. Army was finally put in charge of recovery operations in Puerto Rico at the start of the second week since this storm. The size of even this new military mobilization still though doesn`t appear to be matched to the scale of the problem.
Retired General Russel Honore who led the military effort in Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina, he told NPR today that for his effort after Katrina, he commanded 40,000 National Guardsmen and 20,000 federal troops. Right now, the total number of U.S. military personnel and guardsmen who are involved in the relief effort in Puerto Rico is about 5,000.
Even aside from the isolated towns and villages that have yet to receive any aid at all, even if you just look at San Juan, the capital city, like a metropolitan large American city, the biggest dots on the map in San Juan in terms of this centralized relief effort, those places themselves are symbols of the disorganization and the red tape and the basic logistical failure that appears to be the reason why the relief effort has been so impotent thus far.
At the airport in San Juan, thousands of people have been camped out for days at the airport, trying to get a flight to anywhere, while the limited passenger flights that do takeoff have empty seats on them because nobody can organize an effort to match would be passengers to available airline seats, even when the passengers and the planes are both there at the same facility and both sides are willing.
At the main shipping port in San Juan, it`s become a main symbol of the failure of this response that there are thousands and thousands of shipping containers, intact shipping containers loaded with food and water and medical supplies that are stockpiled at the port sitting there, waiting to be distributed across the island to people who desperately need that stuff but nobody can get it together to organize trucks to get that stuff out into the places where people are, where the people are who desperately need access to that stuff.
And as we heard from NBC correspondent Gadi Schwartz last night, the epicenter of red tape and disorganization, ironically enough, appears to be at the place that is supposed to be the command post running everything, the convention center in San Juan where Gadi says, all week long, there`s been this bizarre disconnect on display between an air-conditioned convention center full of clean people in tucked-in polo shirts shaking each other`s hands and exchanging business cards and talking all day long, while just outside, an increasingly large scale urgent and life-threatening humanitarian crisis continues to unfold and get worse day after day. And we`re in many places the main relief thus far even now has been just neighbors doing what they can for each other.
As to the far-flung Puerto Rican towns well outside San Juan, "The Daily Beast" has a devastating report today about somebody`s genius plan to connect far-flung towns from across the island to relief efforts by having the mayors of those towns personally travel themselves from wherever it is their community is to that convention center and San Juan they`re making the mayors across the island from wherever they are to personally get themselves to San Juan, to that convention center, where they can apply in person for supplies and resources back in their home communities, in the place they had to leave in order to participate in this system. They are making the mayors, all of them, travel and apply in person.
The mayor of the town of the hurricane first made landfall, the town of Yabucoa, explained exactly what this means to Pablo Venes at "The Daily Beast" today. The mayor said, quote: Getting here it`s about a three hour drive that I can`t afford because while hospitals are running out of fuel, I`m driving my car around like I have gas to waste. Do I really need to show up here? They should know better.
This is Mayor Rafael Surillo from the town of Yabucoa, which is where Maria first made landfall more than a week ago now. Twenty-six hundred people are homeless in his town, because their homes were destroyed by the storm. He tells "The Daily Beast" that, quote, FEMA came twice to Yabucoa thus far, but nothing has yet to be done for our people. They came and collected all the information that they wanted, but still, we`re waiting for their help to finally arrive in any form at all.
The reporter talking to him said the mayor struggled to keep his composure while explaining this. Quote: Mayor Surillo blasted with so much anger that the veins in his neck started to bulge.
Live report from Puerto Rico coming up next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GABE GUTIERREZ, NBC NEWS REPORTER: Tonight, thousands of shipping containers, many filled with supplies, sit at San Juan`s main port, a distribution bottleneck stifling the relief effort.
JOSE AYALA, CROWLEY: It is extremely heartbreaking.
GUTIERREZ: Jose Ayala with shipping company Crowley Maritime, says it doesn`t make a difference that today, the Trump administration temporarily waived the Jones Act, a nearly century old federal law that requires only American ships carry goods between U.S. ports.
AYALA: The supply chain from the domestic carrier hasn`t been the problem. We deliver. The problem is the distribution on the island.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: The problem is the distribution on the island. That was NBC`s Gabe Gutierrez reporting today from San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Because large scale, manmade logistical failure in this relief effort, because of bottlenecks like that one that you just saw, cities and towns in the interior of the island are really not getting supplies which is now getting to be a desperate situation for these Americans as they start week two of no power and no water, and in many cases, no relief.
Pablo Venes is an independent journalist who`s based in San Juan. He`s been reporting this week for "The Daily Beast", including today from Catano and from Guaynabo which are outside San Juan.
Mr. Venes, thanks very much for your time tonight. I really appreciate you taking time to be with us.
PABLO VENES, INDEPENDENT JOURNALIST (via telephone): Hi, Rachel. Thanks for having me.
MADDOW: One of the reasons I wanted to talk to you, Pablo, not only is because I`ve been I find your work really compelling, is also because I know that you`ve been looking into some of the medical concerns on the island -- residents who are in need of regular medical care like dialysis. Can you tell us anything about how people who need dialysis, those kinds of patients, those kinds of clinics are coping?
VENES: Well, clinics are having it the worst. I was speaking with one of the clinic`s director today, and they had to close down two clinics because they wanted to keep the fuel running, keep the power plant running and they didn`t have enough fuel. They`re running low on diesel. So, they decided to close two of them, to keep one working.
And the problem that we`re having today was trying to communicate throughout their patients that these centers were being closed just because another one was being opened, and since the communication on the island have been tough, only 33 percent of the people can communicate, only 30 percent over the towers work, patients are wandering around where can they get their treatment.
MADDOW: Pablo, we`ve been starting to hear reports about some hospitals and some other medical facilities, as you say, shutting down essentially places trying to consolidate their overhead expenses for things like -- not just their overhead resources -- for things like fuel and the other things they need to keep going.
As that starts to happen -- I mean, ultimately, the solution has to be that all the medical clinics and hospitals are fueled and reopened and powered and able to see patients. There`s going to be incredible medical need, particularly, as more people are able to move away from their damaged homes. Do you see any relief effort progress in terms of getting generators into hospitals getting fuel to clinics, systematically trying to re-establish the medical resources that Puerto Rico has?
VENES: It`s been reestablished really slow. Just today, the Centro Medico, one of Puerto Rico`s main hospital was back running and with power. During the last weeks, it relied on power generators, and although the island is suffering from a loss of communication, patients are also having a difficult time telling their doctors what are the historic merits --
VENES: -- because the system has not worked. There`s no Internet. There`s no way of letting know the doctors, their needs at the moment, and patients are just coming in and in last week, I was with one of the hospitals. The emergency room had more than a hundred patients, and hospitals are running out of fuel. They`re sending their patients to the main hospital, that`s the only one who has fuel.
MADDOW: Pablo, you were also able to report today on this strange -- what`s at least from here -- what seems like the strange decision to tell mayors from all across the island that they needed to personally come physically from their communities, from their towns they needed to leave home and find a way to get themselves physically to the convention center in San Juan in order to apply in person for aid. You interviewed one mayor who was livid at the waste of resources that that took in terms of getting him from his community to San Juan.
Do you have any insight as to why they did it that way?
VENES: Well, they`re not working diligently and the command center, as the mayors told me and what`s sad about the part -- particularly about the mayor of Yabucoa is that they spoke to him and they were giving him the help he wanted, but as he left, he told me I`m not going to be able to distribute this because I need a guard with me. People are so desperate for water and for food, but if I arrived with this and let them have this, chaos we`re running my town.
MADDOW: Pablo Venes, independent journalists reporting for "The Daily Beast" -- I really appreciate your time tonight and thank you for your good reporting. We appreciate it, Pablo.
VENES: Thank you, guys.
MADDOW: Thank you.
All right. A lot more to get to tonight. Stay with us.
MADDOW: You know, if Las Vegas ever wanted to be a city state, if they wanted to become their country like Singapore is, you know, it`s like a city in a country at the same time, the campaign slogan for a free and independent Las Vegas could be "Leaving: Las Vegas", right? S you can use punctuation, why not? If Maine wanted to secede, the slogan could be "Ciao, Maine". I know, take a second, right?
The same idea works for both Ore-gone and Gone-tana. Pushing a related idea can get you not No-vada, and Colora-don`t. But if you`re willing to be a little racy, you could also try Hellnoklahoma.
And then this one I think stands on its own, Minusippi. It don`t think it made sense, but it`s so good.
If you ever wanted to run a fake secession campaign in this country, there are a lot of good campaign slogans out there just waiting to be snapped up. Like Minusippi doesn`t even make sense, but it`s so good.
Last night, we settled on four possibilities as we tried to make our own choice as a TV show for which fake Americans secession campaign we`re going to run online to try to see if it attracts Russian government support. The reason we`re doing this is, of course, because just this week, Russia is supporting Kurdish secession in Iraq and they`re supporting Catalon secession in Spain, and we know they actively built and supported Texas secession and California secession movements, targeting our country.
On the theory that they will support any secession anywhere in the West, anything that helps break apart the West, we`re going to see if we can get them to show themselves in support of Manhattanistan, or the formation of the Ari-zone, or the Connecti-cut effort or New Mexit.
These are our poll results so far. We`re going to keep this up for a while. You can see New Mexit is kind of running away with it so far. You can still vote if you want to at MaddowBlog.com.
Once we`ve got a winner, our plan is to start at least some version of a fake online secession movement with one of these slogans just to see if we can lure some Russia trolls out to help support that particular American breakup.
Today, executives from Twitter came to Congress to talk about the Russian influence effort on our election last year and what Twitter knows about how the Russian efforts played out on their platform. Senate Intelligence top Democrat Mark Warner said after Twitter left the Senate intelligence briefing, he said that their briefing was deeply disappointing in terms of the amount of insight they handed over to Congress about the attack.
But, you know, there was another way lower profile effort underway in Washington today, where real Russian interests directly did great and that story is very low-profile and I`m not sure anybody else is covering it tonight, but I think it`s a huge deal and that`s next.
MADDOW: Heads up -- I think this is potentially a big deal even though it`s not getting very much beltway press yet. But it relates to yet another big Russian bank, a Russian bank closely linked to Vladimir Putin personally. It`s a bank called Alfa Bank. That`s not to be confused with all the other Russian banks, we`ve had to learn about as Americans in this weird new era in our politics where Russian banks keep turning up and we`re senior members of the administration here keep forgetting their contacts with them.
That was the case with VEB Bank, a sanctioned, large Russian bank controlled by the Russian government. Its chairman is handpicked by Putin. Jared Kushner forgot to mention his meeting with the chairman of VEB Bank during the transition.
VEB Bank though is not to be confused with VTB Bank, another Putin-linked bank also sanctioned, also state-controlled. VTB Bank is who Felix Sater from the Trump Organization says he had lined up to finance the Trump Tower Moscow project, the one the president neglected to ever publicly mention, even though he was actively pursuing that deal while he was running for president.
But this story today out of Washington is about a different -- Russington. It`s about a different Russian bank altogether, Alfa Bank.
Alfa is not U.S.-sanctioned like the other Russian banks that keep turning up in this scandal but Alfa is linked to Vladimir Putin, and they`ve been subject to a bunch of good investigative reporting. And reportedly, they are also subject to the FBI investigation under the special council`s probe into Russia interfering in our election.
The interest in Alfa Bank is because of still unexplained heavy and at times exclusive computer server interactions during the heat of the campaign between servers for Alfa Bank in Russia and servers for the Trump Organization in Trump Tower. This was first reported by slate.com in October just before the election, then after the election, during the transition in January, there were further allegations about Alfa Bank being involved in the Russian influence campaign to try to swing the election for Trump, those allegations turned up in the dossier, the so-called dossier, which was published by "BuzzFeed" in January.
Alfa Bank sued "BuzzFeed" for publishing the dossier, and then they also made a very eyebrow-raising hire here in the U.S. when they decided they put together a high-powered legal team to try to defend themselves against these news reports and purported investigations into that thing with their server and the Trump Organization.
Alfa Bank decided that the guy they`d hire to defend them -- defend themselves against these allegations concerning them and the Trump campaign, the guy they`d hire would be a guy from the Trump campaign -- a guy from the Trump campaign in the Trump transition who had actually been the guy in the Trump transition who was in charge of setting up the Justice Department for Trump and Jeff Sessions. He`s the guy who oversaw the handover of the Justice Department from Obama to Trump after his time on the Trump campaign.
Alfa Bank hired the Trump transitions point guy at the Justice Department to be their lawyer, to build them a defense against this reporting about whatever was going on between their server and the Trump Organization server during the campaign.
And, you know, from an American perspective, that seems like a slightly shady way to approach this, right? It`s almost like Alfa Bank doesn`t know that hiring somebody from the campaign to clear you and the campaign of any wrongdoing. That might be how you do things in Moscow, but it`s not really the way you`re supposed to do things here.
Or maybe it is now, because today, on a party-line vote, Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to confirm that exact guy from the Trump campaign and the Trump transition, the guy who went to work for Alfa Bank to help clear Alfa Bank of these allegations that they were somehow involved with the Trump Organization during the campaign, today on a party- line vote, Republicans in the Judiciary Committee voted to confirm him to run the criminal division of the Justice Department, which is a really big job at the Justice Department, the Alfa Bank guy.
And it`s not like all the unresolved questions about this got settled before they held the vote on him.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. DICK DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS: I want to make sure that you understand what has not been answered as of this moment when we`re being asked to vote, I asked, is Alfa Bank under federal criminal investigation by the Justice Department? Mr. Rosenstein said I won`t answer that. Second question, what is the view of the intelligence community on the suspicious computer server communications between Alfa Bank and the Trump Organization during the 2016 campaign? Again, Mr. Rosenstein said, we won`t reply to that. We won`t answer that.
Fellow members of the committee we`re being asked to choose one of the highest-ranking individuals in the Department of Justice who will make hundreds if not more decisions on prosecutions that could involve as we know this whole question of the Russian involvement in our last campaign. He comes to it having made what I think are really poor judgments as to his personal involvement with this.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: All the Democrats on the Judiciary Committee voted against this lawyer who would left the Trump campaign in the Trump transition to go defend the Russian bank, Alfa Bank. All the Democrats on judiciary voted against his nomination to go run the criminal division at the Justice Department. Senator Dick Durbin focused on the Alfa Bank issue. Senator Feinstein, who`s the top Democrat on that committee, she focused on the fact that it`s strange in its own right to be appointing somebody to this important job who has no prosecutorial experience and no courtroom experience, which is true of this nominee.
But Republicans were apparently unperturbed by any of that. And so Mr. Benczkowski`s nomination while now go to the Senate floor. It is absolutely mind-boggling to think that the lawyer for Alfa Bank could be running the criminal division at the Justice Department while all these Russia investigations are going on about what happened between the Trump campaign and Russia, including the thing with Alfa Bank that is still not answered.
That`s the road we started heading down today, party line vote. Watch this space.
MADDOW: The first Obama inauguration in 2009 was the biggest inaugural celebration ever. Biggest event in the history of D.C. The Obama folks knew that inauguration was going to be giant, and they prepared accordingly. They set a record for inauguration fundraising that year, $53 million raised.
But then this year, the Trump inauguration more than doubled that record, with $107 million raised. Still not clear why they needed that much money. I`m not being snarky about this, it`s just the truth, that the Trump inauguration had smaller crowds, much lower wattage entertainment, a smaller number of events, fewer inaugural balls, a shorter parade. It was just less big, less pricey, less everything, so that that gigantic fundraising they did for their comparably small event, that was strange about the Trump inauguration from the outset.
And we knew it was strange early on, we knew as soon as early January that they had already out-raised the record Obama inauguration. They were on pace to more than double the record. It was a mystery then why they were stockpiling all that cash. But we figured it would become clear soon enough, right? Within a couple a months, you get the accounting, right? They`d have to report, you get how much it costs, what the money went to, what was happening that any leftover funds.
I mean inaugurations aren`t things that go on forever. It`s a single day, maybe a weekend, and then you do the accounting. I mean, here`s how the head of Obama`s second inauguration put it to the "Associated Press". Quote: The thing about inaugural expenses, they`re not complicated. You take money and you pay it out and then you know what you`re left with when it`s done.
But for the Trump folks, this is now gone on for more than eight months, and still we have no idea what happened there, financially. We don`t know what happened to all that money that they stockpiled. The inaugural committee has stopped returning our calls altogether, but they tried to tell "The A.P." that there was definitely an independent audit of all their spending on the inauguration. They may say that, but nobody has seen hide nor hair of this audit, no independent accounting firm admits to having done one, and two sources "The A.P." described as familiar with efforts to sort out the financing told "The A.P." flat out that actually no there wasn`t an audit done at all.
They`ve also come up with one laugh-out-loud explanation for what they want you to believe they spent the money on. Inaugurations usually have concerts now. At that giant Obama inauguration in 2009, it was the We Are One concert. "Washington Post" reported at the time that the crowd was over 400,000 people for that concert. The performer list was like an encyclopedia of the biggest acts in the world at the time, Bruce Springsteen, Mary J. Blige, Jon Bon Jovi, John Mellencamp, Josh Groban, Garth Brooks, U2, Beyonce.
There were there were so many A-list musical acts, they doubled and tripled them up. So, Shakira and Usher and Stevie Wonder all performed together. Hey, Herbie Hancock, you`re going to be with Will.i.am and Sheryl Crow, OK? James Taylor, meet John Legend, you`re going to be together, OK?
That thing was broadcast all over the world. HBO made a double DVD set of it. You can still buy the We Are One concert recording if you want to. It`s a huge deal, mega concert. That cost the Obama inaugural committee over $4 million to put that on.
The Trump folks save their inaugural concert cost $25 million. So, the Beyonce, Springsteen, Stevie Wonder 400,000 people concert costs less than $5 million, but the Trump concert was $25 million?
The Trump concert featured and I mean no offense, it featured the American Top Dance Company and DJ Ravi Drums fresh from his Las Vegas act. Also, the Piano Guys, that`s what they`re called, the Piano Guys. The Frontmen of Country.
The Trump inaugural is trying to say that their event cost $25 million, and they`ve got four sources going on the record with "The A.P." to that effect, right? They`re getting their stories straight. That`s how we`re going to explain away $25 million of this supposed spending, OK, you guys? Everybody on board?
It makes no sense whatsoever. We thought for sure this would be settled by now. It`s not only not settled, they are clearly cooking something up that is not at all plausible to explain away whatever really did happen to that money. So, why did the Trump inaugural committee raise all that money first off? Even if we`re going to be naive or generous enough to believe that they might have spent the same amount for the smallest inauguration in decades, as was spent for the largest inauguration ever, even then there would still likely be considerably more than $50 million as yet unaccounted for in terms of where all that money went.
So, we`ve been trying to figure this out for a few weeks now. Last week, the administration admitted that they`ve taken some of the inauguration money and used it to redecorate Mike Pence`s house, which is not what that money was for, but OK.
Yesterday, the Trump inaugural announced that they would send $3 million to three charities, OK. But that should be a drop in the bucket when it comes to what ought to be tens of millions of dollars here. What are they using that money for? What did they build this giant slush fund up for in the first place?
I mean, here`s what the chair of the inauguration says will happen now. He says, quote: The committee will continue to curate what while causes and make further contributions that serve America`s agenda and will conclude in accordance with its charter in the next few months.
We do not know what it means for the committee to act in accordance with its charter, we don`t know because they won`t provide their founding documents, including their charter. So, we don`t even know what they`re supposed point is that`s going to guide their charitable donations.
Joining us now is Craig Holman, leading expert on campaign finance. He serves as government affairs lobbyist for the watchdog group Public Citizen.
Mr. Holman, thank you for coming back here to talk to me about this thing that continues to confuse me.
CRAIG HOLMAN, GOVERNMENT AFFAIRS LOBBYIST, PUBLIC CITIZEN ORGANIZATION: Glad to be back here, Rachel.
MADDOW: What would it mean for the inaugural committee to act in accordance with its charter? Do they have their own charters? Or did these kinds of committees all have the same charter like from the IRS?
HOLMAN: It would be similar to what we`ve seen for other inaugural committees. They set up -- they set up the organization with the IRS, and so we do know that its main purpose is going to be to facilitate the inauguration of the 45th president. That`s its purpose.
The rest of the charter, even though I have not seen it and I have been trying to get a hold of it myself, but would very likely read something like it -- and the funds won`t be used in violation of the tax code. So, they won`t be used to set up a for-profit corporation, for example.
So, what they`re talking about when they`re saying in compliance with the charter is exceedingly ambiguous and there`s room to do almost anything at all with those funds.
MADDOW: And so -- go ahead.
HOLMAN: And you`re seeing that. I mean, you`ve already documented that some of the funds were have been spent on renovation of Mike Pence`s house. We now know some of the funds, $3 million have been given to charity to facilitate some of the hurricane events. I mean, there`s no rhyme or reason going on there. So, when they`re saying in compliance with the charter, all they`re saying is it won`t be used to set up a for-profit corporation.
MADDOW: And one of the things that`s been very helpful is your expertise here, Craig, just in terms of me getting this, is that the vagueness of the laws that that regulate this stuff obviously create a huge range of possibilities in terms of what they can do with this money. But in terms of what they are explaining about themselves, what they`re explaining about with their expenses, what they`re explaining about just the basic transparency factors related to this, are they being are they behaving markedly differently than other inaugural committees have in terms of how much we know about this stuff?
HOLMAN: Oh it`s absolutely baffling. Let me emphasize this. I mean, every other inaugural committee would, you know, spend the funds -- almost all the funds on the inauguration, and then they account for what`s left over and there`d be a little bit left over that they might give it to a presidential library fund or something. And that`s been it and it`s usually done within three months or a few months right after the inauguration.
We have never ever before seen an inaugural committee that I believe has anywhere from $50 million to more money in surplus just not do anything with it, just sit on it and not tell us what`s happening. You know, almost anything could be going on with those funds and the fact that that they`re just chipped out $3 million now for a charity, which is -- which is good, I`m glad they`re doing that. But that`s just a little fraction of what should be those surplus funds.
It really makes me wonder what happened to that money. Is that money still there or has it been squandered away somewhere? It`s a mystery.
MADDOW: Has it been squandered? Or did they build it up that in a way that was so outsized to their needs because they wanted to have a pile of money that they knew there wouldn`t be much accountability for? I mean, that`s part of what we`re trying to figure out is whether or not they knowingly over-raised and when they stopped raising money for this thing.
But it`s very hard to figure this stuff out in the meantime.
Craig Holman of Public Citizen, thank you for helping us understand this stuff. Interstitially appreciate you being here.
HOLMAN: Thank you.
MADDOW: That does it for us tonight. I`ll tell you, this inaugural committee thing is -- it doesn`t keep me up at night. But when I wake up at night for other more worthy reasons, it`s definitely the second or third thing I think about every single night.
We`re going to figure it out.
We`ll see you again tomorrow.
Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL".
Good evening, Lawrence.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END
Copy: Content and programming copyright 2017 MSNBC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Copyright 2017 ASC Services II Media, LLC. All materials herein are protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written permission of ASC Services II Media, LLC. You may not alter or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the content.