Trump decertifies Iran nuclear deal Transcript 10/13/17 The Rachel Maddow Show

Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: October 13, 2017

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. Happy Friday.

The last 24 hours has been a weird whiplash kind of news cycle. Late last night, the administration announced suddenly that it will deliberately throw a wrench into the American healthcare system. A policy change from the administration that didn`t have to go through Congress. It will have the effect of costing the government about $200 billion dollars the next 10 years.

In exchange for spending all that extra taxpayer money, there will be an estimated one million Americans who will lose their health insurance coverage altogether because of this change, and health insurance costs are likely to go up for everyone. So, that`s worth paying for. That`s a heck of a bargain.

This is not repeal or replaced when it comes to Obamacare. This is just paying a lot of taxpayer money to make the health care system work more poorly and cost more and ensure fewer people. So, sure, why not? That news from late last night.

And that was followed today by the president flinging another wrench into the Iran nuclear deal. That nuclear deal was not just between the United States and Iran. It was between all the countries in the U.N. Security Council and the E.U. and Germany and Iran. The president`s remarks today making clear that he doesn`t think the United States should be party to that agreement anymore, even if everybody else is saying in it, said he`s basically against that deal.

That was followed quickly though by the State Department coming out and saying, hey, don`t believe those silly TV headlines you might be seeing, saying that we`re abandoning the Iran nuclear deal. Those silly TV headlines were written by people who were writing down what the president said. But the State Department says don`t pay any attention to that.

So, like I said, it`s been kind of a whiplash 24 hours. We`ll be getting some expert help on both of those stories over the course of this hour.

Plus, I have to tell you, we have a big leap forward tonight on what we think is a spy story. It`s an intriguing kind of murky, definitely dramatic story we`ve been following since this summer. There`s a big leap forward in that story tonight. We`re going to bring that to you this hour as well.

But we`re going to start tonight with a scoop. We`re going to start tonight with the scoop from NBC`s chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel. It`s about Paul Manafort who was the Trump campaign chairman.

Today, we learned that the man who was the Republican Party chairman for the last several years, who was the Republican Party chairman during the presidential campaign ,Reince Priebus who, of course, went on to leave the RNC in order to become the first White House chief of staff in the new Trump administration. Reince Priebus we learned today was just interviewed by Robert Mueller, by the special counsel investigating the Russia attack on last year`s election, and the question of whether or not the Trump campaign may have been in on that attack.

We were told a couple of weeks ago that Mueller`s investigators were going to start interviewing White House officials and former White House officials. Apparently last week, they started those interviews. They started first with Keith Kellogg, who`s the chief of staff of the National Security Council. And now, today, we know they have done their interview with former RNC chair, former White House chief of staff, Reince Priebus.

Mr. Priebus` lawyer telling "The New York Times" tonight that this was a voluntary interview.

Just for a second you should stick a pin in the question of who is paying for that lawyer who gave that statement to "The New York Times" tonight, who`s paying for Reince Priebus` lawyer who informed reporters tonight that Reince Priebus had just had this interview with the Mueller investigators.

I mean, it`s not the most important thing in the world, but it would be truly amazing if the RNC, which Reince Priebus ran for six years, was paying the legal fees on the Russia investigation for Donald Trump and for Donald Trump Jr. But it`s not paying the legal fees for Reince Priebus who ran that organization for six years. But as far as we know, we can`t verify that anybody is getting their Russia legal fees paid for by the RNC other than to billionaire men named Donald Trump Jr. and Sr.

So, I don`t know who`s paying for Reince Priebus` lawyer, but he has a lawyer. We will stick a pin in that factor for a moment. At least Reince Priebus, though, was able to have this conversation with Mueller and his investigators today in the context of a voluntary interview.

Mueller`s investigation has taken a very different approach when it comes to the Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort. This summer in July, Mueller`s team used a no-knock search warrant to raid Paul Manafort`s home in Virginia. Mueller`s team then reportedly told Paul Manafort at that time that they`re going to indict him and he should expect that indictment. If that`s true and they`re going to indict him, we don`t know what they will indict him for or when. Theoretically, it`s possible they already have indicted him. We just don`t know about it.

But whatever his legal troubles are, Richard Engel`s scooped tonight for "NBC Nightly News" shows why Paul Manafort has become such a glow-in-the- dark target for investigators who are looking into this matter. Richard`s scoop tonight has to do with the relationship between Paul Manafort and this guy Oleg Deripaska.

He`s a billionaire Russian oligarch. The way that works in his case is the Soviet Union used to own and state control a massive industry for the production of aluminum in the Soviet Union. Now that the Soviet Union is no more somehow that whole industry now belongs to Oleg personally. That`s kind of how the oligarch thing works there.

Oleg Deripaska is known to be not just loyal to, but very close to Russian President Vladimir Putin. He has said publicly that he sees no separation between his own interests and any interest of the Russian state. He reportedly cannot get a visa to visit the United States because of what U.S. officials believe to be his ties to organized crime.

And Oleg Deripaska contests that, but it`s almost more interesting to know that the Russian government has treated that issue as a matter of state concern they have repeatedly brought up Oleg Deripaska as personal visa situation as a priority issue for the Russian government in its dealings with the United States government.

So, Oleg Deripaska is connected, capital C connected. And in Paul Manafort`s life, Oleg Deripaska has been a recurring and increasingly interesting presence. Oleg Deripaska was a major backer of the pro-Putin political party that Paul Manafort worked for in Ukraine for years. That`s the work for which metaphor belatedly registered as a foreign agent this past summer.

Manafort also worked on Oleg Deripaska funded political projects in the nation of Georgia and also in Montenegro. And the relationship between Paul Manafort, the Trump campaign manager, and Oleg Deripaska, this Putin- connected Russian billionaire, it has a few things about it that really go right to the heart of what Mueller is investigating in the special counsel`s office.

I mean, if you want to know overall if the Trump campaign was aware of Russia messing in our election and was helping with that or complicit in that in some way, then Paul Manafort in his connections with Oleg Deripaska, they just keep coming up as soon as you scratch the surface of the timeline here and the characters involved. In March, for example, "The Associated Press" reported that Paul Manafort and Oleg Deripaska entered into a contract in 2006, a $10 million a year contract for Paul Manafort to advance the interests of Vladimir Putin`s government around the world. "The A.P." report of that in March, Paul Manafort and Oleg Deripaska both denied that, but that`s "The A.P.`s" report. That`s one.

Here`s another. Manafort and Deripaska all are also now famously connected by a series of emails that were first reported by "The Washington Post" this past month and then further reported on by "The Atlantic Magazine". In these emails, Paul Manafort appears to have offered private briefings on the U.S. presidential election to Oleg Deripaska, to this Putin-connected Russian oligarch. He offered Deripaska private briefings on the presidential campaign, during the campaign while he was serving as Trump`s campaign manager.

On July 7th last year, in those emails, just two weeks before Trump accepted the Republican nomination, Manafort was emailing his old business associate this guy he worked with in Ukraine to tell Oleg Deripaska, quote, that if he needs private briefings, we can accommodate.

By the end of that month, by the end of July last summer, Manafort`s colleague wrote back to him telling that actually, he had a five-hour long conversation with Deripaska, and, quote, I have several important messages from him to you. He asked me to go and brief you on our conversation. It has to do about to the future of his country and is quite interesting. His country being Russia.

So, while Paul Manafort is running the Trump campaign, he is offering private briefings on the campaign to this Putin-connected Russian oligarch. He then receives a visitor, his business colleague visits from Ukraine, because he says he is bearing important messages for a metaphor it from this Russian Putin-connected oligarch messages that are about the future of his country, the future of Russia.

That meeting happens in August while Manafort is still running Trump`s campaign. And intriguingly, Manafort in these emails, he seems sort of desperate to try to convert his standing as Trump`s campaign manager into something that Oleg Deripaska might value.

From the emails, quote: I assume you have shown our friends, I assume you have shown our friends my media coverage, right? Has OVD operation, meaning, has Oleg Deripaska`s operation seen? Quote: How do we use to get whole?

And we don`t exactly know what Paul Manafort meant when he said he was hoping to get whole with Oleg Deripaska. Thanks to his job running the Trump campaigns what could you do with your Trump campaign job that was going to help you get hold with a Russian billionaire.

But whatever that means it would seem to point to the third major point of connection between Manafort and Deripaska which makes Manafort and his relationship with this Russian guy doesn`t glow in the dark for this investigation. In that relationship, that part of their relationship, of course, is the money part.

We know from previous reporting that Deripaska sued Paul Manafort in Virginia in 2015 for $19 million. That was money that Manafort supposedly was going to invest for Deripaska but something went wrong with the investments, and Deripaska says he lost all his money and at least for a time, he was not even able to contact Manafort and so he sued Manafort in Virginia to try to get the money back.

We also know from previous reporting that Manafort appears to have, for some reason, needed to put his hands on an awful lot of cash money in very short order last year after he got booted off the Trump campaign. After he left the campaign in August, Manafort appears to have taken about million dollars in cash as loans from various entities using his real estate holdings as collateral to get that cash.

These loans included a strange cash loan from a small Chicago bank run by a Trump supporter. The cash that little bank loaned to Manafort last year was a huge proportion of the bank`s assets. It was like a quarter of their lendable capital.

And nobody knows why a bank like that would have been making that gigantic loan to Manafort. It`s a small bank based in Chicago. It`s run by a veteran their business specifically caters to veterans, to former service members. Paul Manafort is not a veteran. But they gave him a quarter of their lendable assets, all in a hurry?

So, something was going on in Paul Manafort`s life late last year where, all of a sudden, he needed a lot of cash. And he got a lot of cash from a lot of different entities very fast. And if he was a guy who was having cash flow troubles at the time, it`s always seemed a little bit weird that when he took the Trump campaign chairman job, he specifically offered to take it for free.

If he needed to scramble to put his hands on that much cash that fast, why was he looking for an unpaid job? He offered from the very beginning, he didn`t want to be paid for his work on Trump`s campaign.

We also know from an interview published in "The Washington Post" just this week that contrary to earlier reports that Trump`s friends had sought out Paul Manafort and as sort of picked him out of the crowd and offered Manafort as a good choice to run Trump`s campaign, contrary to that earlier reporting actually it was apparently Paul Manafort who sought out the Trump campaign, telling Trump`s a longtime friend Tom Barrack, quote, I really need to get to Trump.

Why?

Well, now, Richard Engel has filled in a piece of the financial picture here that puts Manafort and this Russian billionaire and large amounts money in a -- in a much more intense spotlight. "The New York Times" had previously reported that Paul Manafort and Oleg Deripaska had both used the offshore banking system in Cyprus to make financial transactions. "The Times" reported in July that a company run by Deripaska had made a $7 million loan or payment of some kind to a company run by Manafort, $7 million.

Well, now, tonight, Richard Engel reports at NBC News that that same company connected to Deripaska in Cyprus, it didn`t just shovel $7 million to Paul Manafort, Richard has found another $26 million that was loaned from this company controlled by Deripaska to a company controlled by Manafort. It`s a loan, but apparently, there`s no specific date on which Manafort has to pay that loan back.

So, this is a major update to previous reporting about this financial relationship between the Trump campaign manager and Russia during the campaign. It`s apparently not $7 million paid from Deripaska to Manafort before the campaign. It`s more like $33 million.

And then, you can combine that $33 million with another $26 million that a court filing says Deripaska appears to have shoveled to Manafort in a private equity fund as a part of him some sort of investment plan. You add those together with all this new money that Richards just found and the total amount of money that Paul Manafort appears to have received in one way or another from this Russian billionaire linked to Vladimir Putin is on the order of $60 million, which is starting to seem like real money.

And again, we don`t know if these things that look like loans on paper were actually loans and therefore, Manafort had to pay all that money back. It`s possible they were made to look like loans, but they weren`t really loans. And this was Deripaska just giving Manafort this much money. If that`s the case, what was he giving Manafort it all that money for?

Here`s the detail in this story that to me though was the sort of gulp moment, when Richard and his team first started working on this story, they sent a request for comment to Paul Manafort spokesman, Jason Maloney. Jason Maloney himself has been subpoenaed in the Mueller investigation, which is kind of an unusual thing for a spokesman.

But initially, when Jason Maloney responded to NBC`s request for comment, he sent a statement to NBC that was several sentences long and it included this. It included this.

Quote: Mr. Manafort is not indebted to former clients today, nor was he at the time he began working for the Trump campaign.

OK, not meant -- not indebted nor was he when he was working for the Trump campaign. Later on, Manafort spokesman told NBC News he wanted to revise his statement. He sent a new statement to NBC News that included all the other things he said before but he dropped that line. He dropped that line: Mr. Manafort is not indebted to former clients today, nor was he at the time he began working for the Trump campaign.

For a hot minute today, Manafort claimed he wasn`t indebted to his former clients. Then he stopped claiming that.

We don`t know the overall status of the Mueller investigation. We don`t know how much further they have to go. We don`t know how high they`re aiming in terms of who may be their targets.

We do know that they`re interviewing White House staff, including the former Republican Party chairman and former White House chief of staff Reince Priebus today. We do know they have told the president`s campaign chairman to expect to be indicted. But if this new NBC report from Richard Engel tonight is correct, anybody following the money between the Trump campaign and Russia while Russia was attacking our election may have just found the pot of gold or the pot of IOUs that was sitting at the end of this little rainbow.

Richard Engel joins us next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT: Using official company records from several countries, we were able to trace two loans. One for about $26 million, and another for about $7 million dollars made by a company owned by Deripaska to two companies linked to Manafort in Cyprus. They in turn led to at least $27 million to a Delaware company named after Manafort`s two daughters.

In total, at least $60 million in loans from Deripaska landed in accounts connected to Manafort.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: Sixty million dollars.

That exclusive reporting about the Trump campaign chairman and his previously undisclosed financial ties to a Russian oligarch breaking tonight from NBC news chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel. That was piece of his report on that tonight on "NBC Nightly News".

Richard, thanks very much for being with us tonight. Really happy to have you here.

ENGEL: Oh, absolutely. And I guess it just goes back to following the money. A lot of people are doing that. "The New York Times" has done some great reporting and we have been doing this, particularly chasing this Cyprus angle for some time and then came out with this report tonight. And we`ll be having more reports to come.

MADDOW: Richard, what do you think overall is the significance of this scoop that you got. As you said, this follows previous reporting, some of your own reporting, some good reporting from "The New York Times" about these offs or overseas accounts. It seems like Cyprus was almost incidental here. It`s just an offshore banking location.

But this is a lot more money than we ever knew was being transacted between this Putin linked oligarch and the Trump campaign chair.

ENGEL: It`s a lot more and I think for the first time, we have a pretty clear chain of events. And let`s just start with this company owned by Oleg Deripaska. It`s 100 percent owned by Deripaska, and we know that because Deripaska himself disclosed to the stock exchange in Hong Kong that this particular entity was fully owned by himself.

This company, the Deripaska company, loans -- makes these two loans. One for about $7 million, the other for $26 million. The $7 million one is the one "The New York Times" talked about. Let`s leave that aside for a moment.

The other one, the $26 million one is the one we`re talking about now. That`s the new reporting.

So, that loan is made to a Manafort-linked company in Cyprus, and then at some stage, it`s happened -- the loan has happened before 2012. That same Manafort-linked company in Cyprus, maybe it`s not the same money. It takes almost the exact same amount, about $26 million and re-loans it to another Manafort company, or Manafort-linked company. That one called Jessand (ph). And the reason the name is significant is many people believe it`s Jessand, a combination of Jessica and Andrea which happen to be the names of Manafort`s daughters. And Jessand and Andrea together according to the deed that we found together bought a New York apartment for $2.5 million.

So, when you look at this together, you see a $26 million loan from Deripaska company to a Manafort-linked company in Cyprus and then another $26 million loan from that Manafort-linked company to a company that is named after Manafort daughters which has in the past been used to buy real estate for members of his family, I think you get a much clearer picture of what we`re talking about, instead of some just sort of complicated offshore finances.

MADDOW: And, Richard, is it clear to you if these are actual loans? If this is money that Deripaska is shifting to Manafort and is expecting it back? I mean, they`re listed -- technically, you make clear in your reporting, they`re listed technically as loans.

Is it possible that these aren`t loans? That these are just payments. This is just a money transfer from Deripaska to Manafort and it`s designed to look like a loan for tax purposes or for some other convenient financial reason?

ENGEL: So, we`ve spoken to experts at -- people at the -- former experts at the Department of Justice, and they say that using loans like this in particular -- particularly self loans is a tool that is used by money launderers and it is something that raises flags. Frankly, we don`t know if these were loans from Deripaska or if they were payments. There are no indication that they were paid back they were they were unsecured loans, meaning there was no collateral that was put up according to the documents that we have, which for the accounting documents -- on audit I should say rather of the Cyprus-based company. And it was payable upon demand. So there was no specific timeline when it was supposed to be paid back as well.

So, I think frankly either way, it`s troubling if they were direct payments from a Putin-linked oligarch to Manafort, that`s one thing. If he`s indebted to the tunes of tens of millions of dollars, that`s also troubling. But frankly at this stage, we really don`t -- we really don`t know.

MADDOW: Richard Engel, NBC News chief foreign correspondent, thank you, my friend. Thank you for helping us understand this. I know that financial stuff --

ENGEL: Absolutely.

MADDOW: -- is complicated. But you`ve been able to trace this in a very, very clear way. Congratulations. Thanks, Richard.

ENGEL: Thanks.

MADDOW: All right. Sixty million dollars.

All right, we promised some expert help on these two big policy changes that the president just flung out the window of a passing car today, proverbially speaking.

We`re about to deliver on that expert promised. Stay right there. We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: The Trump administration has passed no significant legislation of any kind. There`s maybe one exception to that. Last night, we talked about the bill to impose sanctions on Russia for interfering in our election. That bill in fact was passed by both houses of Congress, with gigantic bipartisan margins.

And even though President Trump said he was opposed to that bill, he`d begrudgingly signed it anyway, I think because it passed with veto-proof margins.

I should mention, even though that piece of legislation did pass and did get signed into law, once it was law, the president ignored it. He signed that into law but then he just let the deadline past for imposing those sanctions on Russia for messing in our election he that deadline passed October 1st and he never did anything. So, he did sign one significant law but then he ignored it.

And that`s it really. That`s pretty much all that has been done when it comes to legislation in this new administration. And whatever anybody thought about this new president coming into office, especially with one party control of the White House and the Senate and the House, I think nobody expected that he would have passed nothing 10 months into his time in office.

I think it may be as much of a shock to Trump supporters as it is to everyone else, to see this presidency basically only advanced one idea so far to only actually take action to accomplish one category of things so far. The only thing this administration has actively pursued and done anything about is to undo things done by President Obama no matter what they were.

President Obama moved to shield the DREAMers from deportation -- people who immigrated to this country as kids. Trump is stopping that.

President Obama negotiated the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal primarily as a way to try to outmaneuver China economically. Trump is stopping that.

President Obama played a key role in negotiating the 195-country Paris climate accord. Trump is pulling us out of that.

President Obama started normalizing relations with Cuba. Trump is stopping that.

President Obama`s clean power plan, kill it. President Obama`s rule to keep seriously mentally ill people from buying guns, kill that. The Obama insurance rule to make sure birth control is covered by health insurance, kill that.

The Obama flood protection rules so we don`t build critical infrastructure where it`s going to yes, kill that. It`s not like we`re going ever have a flood again.

President Obama played a key role in getting a deal between the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany plus the E.U., a historic deal with Iran to limit Iran`s nuclear program, everybody else in that deal is still on board, Trump today started to pull us out from that.

And although the Republican Congress has now reportedly given up on trying to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, Trump last night announced a new policy to try to wreck the health insurance market, to throw a million Americans off health insurance, to make health costs go up for everyone and to spend $200 billion taxpayer dollars to do that.

And you can take apart any one of those decisions on their own at a policy level. What I want to know though is have we ever had a president who pursued nothing of his own legislatively, nothing, have we ever had a president -- whether or not they had complete control of Congress. Have we ever had a president whose only action as president for the first 10 months was only to try to undo everything done by the previous president? Is that also an unprecedented thing about the Trump era?

Joining us now is Michael Beschloss, NBC News presidential historian.

Michael, it`s great to have you with us. Thank you for being here.

MICHAEL BESCHLOSS, NBC NEWS PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Thanks, Rachel. Of course.

MADDOW: Is that -- has this happened before?

BESCHLOSS: No, in a word. And you know, you look at something like Franklin Roosevelt ran against Herbert Hoover in 1932, Hoover was president, and Roosevelt said, you know, I disagree with the way that Hoover s is dealing with the Great Depression, Roosevelt won and he brought about the New Deal, this huge amount of federal programs to try to improve people`s lives.

Ronald Reagan in 1980 said, I disagree with Jimmy Carter in all sorts of ways. He came into office, that was a revolutionary change, and the way that we dealt with taxes, defense spending, a lot of other things. But it wasn`t this -- you know, it`s almost as if Donald Trump when he was running and even during this first year, you know, the centerpiece that is it this administration is, you know, I loathe Barack Obama and all he stands for and I`m going to be the opposite.

MADDOW: You know, I feel like in trying to understand Trumpism and where President Trump came from, not just as an individual but in terms of this moment in American history, I feel like there has been a sort of quasi intellectual argument that maybe the two parties were not so similar but so locked in place in terms of partisan combat and that American policymaking and partisan combat had become so predictable and so gridlocked that maybe having a meteor strike -- maybe having somebody really from outside that system, even if there was some something destructive in terms of his agenda, in terms of democratic norms, it would at least shake things up and make things start happening in a different way, that we would start looking at politics and possibilities of legislation with it -- with it sort of a different number line.

BESCHLOSS: That`s right.

MADDOW: This feels like the opposite of that is happening.

BESCHLOSS: Right, and that was his argument that, you know, bring me in and I`m going to get all sorts of done the things done because I`m going to do it a different way. You know, remember what Paul Ryan said at the beginning of all this he said, welcome to united Republican government.

MADDOW: Yes.

BESCHLOSS: You know, look at all the things you`ll see happen -- they haven`t happened.

MADDOW: In terms of the -- I don`t know if this is personal. I do know that there is an unusual and singular focus of what President Trump and the Republicans in Congress have accomplished. They have undone Obama administration initiatives, full stop.

BESCHLOSS: Right.

MADDOW: That`s really all they`ve done.

BESCHLOSS: Right.

MADDOW: And I don`t know if that`s personally motivated. But should we expect a personal response from the previous president?

When other presidents have come in and made a real issue about their immediate predecessors` record or tried to undo things that were very close to the legacy issues of the previous president, do you see previous presidents rise back up, resurfaced into public life?

BESCHLOSS: Sure. Eisenhower for instance campaign in the 1962 midterm elections when he felt that Kennedy was criticizing him and trying to turn back some of things we`ve done -- that he had done. And you`ll see that with Barack Obama. He`s going to campaign for Ralph Northam in Virginia very soon. And I guarantee you that you will see him in the midterm election doing the same kind of thing next year but if you look at history, especially the last hundred years, never the kind of personal animosity that you see from, you know, Donald Trump toward his predecessor. You know, there`s nothing like it.

MADDOW: Michael Beschloss, NBC News presidential historian -- thank you, Michael. Really appreciate you being here.

BESCHLOSS: Thank you, Rachel. Be well.

MADDOW: All right. Busy news night tonight. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: Watch this. Keep your eye on the little dot. See the dot? The dot is an intercontinental ballistic missile from the Marshall Islands back in May. Marshall Islands, right in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, between the Philippines and Hawaii. And this was not an act of war. This was a test. This is orchestrated by the U.S. military. That was a real ICBM flying up over the Pacific.

Meanwhile, the other half of this dry run was on the folding 4,700 miles away in California.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Three, two, one, ignition.

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MADDOW: That blastoff took place at Vandenberg Air Force Base, about an hour north of Santa Barbara in California. That is a GMD, a ground-based mid-course defense missile shield, a ground-based interceptor.

The idea is that the thing that was launched from Vandenberg should be able to intercept the incoming ICBM from the Pacific. Should be able to hit it right on the nose mid-flight, and blast it out of the sky.

So, up went the rocket in the Pacific, up went the rocket interceptor from California, take a deep breath, cross your fingers -- hold that thought.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: A few weeks ago, the president was campaigning in Alabama for Luther Strange, the appointed Republican senator who ended up losing his seat in a primary down there, even though the president tried to help him out. While the president was in Alabama campaigning for Luther Strange, the president`s thoughts drifted to nuclear weapons and briefly to math.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It`s amazing the way, all of a sudden, missile defense system sounds so good. And by the way, these systems -- I watch them and I see what`s being developed. I mean, they taken out rockets that are going so fast, it`s -- and the percentage of success is so high, it`s so brilliant what we can do, so that we can do what we have to do to have a safe country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: The percentage of success is so -- so high.

The CEO of the Truman National Security Project is a man named Mike Breen. He was apparently watching the speech when the president drifted into that topic. This was Mr. Breen`s reaction to what the president said, he said, oh bleep -- we blurred it out -- oh bleep, he thinks it actually works.

Maybe the president is enjoying all the taunting of North Korea on the nuclear thing. Maybe he`s doing that because he thinks it would really be actually no problem if they did shoot a nuclear weapon on a missile at someone, including us. Maybe he thinks it would be super easy to shoot it down, it`s not even really a risk.

I raised that because apparently, the president wasn`t just getting carried away with fantasizing about the high percentage of success that night in Alabama. He said it again this week.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: We build the greatest military equipment in the world. We have missiles that can knock out a missile in the air 97 percent of the time. And if you send two of them, it`s going to get knocked out.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: In reality, we`re like 10 of 18 since 1999 in tests of the missile defense system that he appears to be talking about. I mean, that mean, you know, we do hit the target some of the time. That one that we just showed in May, this test over the Pacific, yes, it hit, yes.

And you know, math-wise, 10 out of 18 is sort of not bad for what`s essentially trying to catch a bullet with another bullet. But 10 out of 18 is not 97 percent of the time. It`s nowhere near what the president has been saying and describing when he gets asked about North Korea.

So, I have a nuclear question: is it possible that the president is playing the game he`s playing with North Korea and maybe even playing the game he`s playing with Iran in their nuclear program in part because someone once told him some missile defense happy talk wildly optimistic numbers that made him believe that nuclear missiles aren`t actually dangerous anymore? Is it possible he`s playing the kind of political games he`s playing because he doesn`t think there`s a real risk because he thinks missile defense is magic?

Nuclear question one. Nuclear question two: did he actually blow up the Iran deal today? And if so, is that dangerous?

Joining us now is Joe Cirincione, MSNBC nuclear security expert, president of the Ploughshares Fund. It`s just a global security foundation.

Joe, thank you for being here.

JOSEPH CIRINCIONE, MSNBC NUCLEAR SECURITY ANALYST: My pleasure, Rachel.

MADDOW: Nuclear question one.

CIRINCIONE: Yes.

MADDOW: Does the president have a wildly optimistic view of missile defense?

CIRINCIONE: Yes and what worries Mike Breen, a war vet, two tours of duty, is that if your commanders think that they actually have a system that can protect you, they might commit troops under the illusion that they can defeat the enemies counter-strike or might commit troops to Korea, thinking that you can protect Korea or Japan or the United States. You cannot, there`s not a snowball`s chance in hell that we can shoot down a long-range ballistic missile from a determined foe.

MADDOW: He`s -- when he said that in Alabama, I thought he was maybe just riffing. I thought -- I thought sometimes when he gives speech, especially rowdy speeches, he just veers into tangents and stuff. When he went back to it today or this week, he had numbers. He says 97 percent possibility and so therefore, if you send two, you`re guaranteed that you`ll be able to knock him down like it`s -- like it`s an impenetrable shield.

Do you even know what he`s referring to even if he`s incorrect?

CIRINCIONE: Yes, I do. There`s been some testimony years ago by proponents of the missile defense system that the cited some numbers that said, look, if you do this, and you shoot for the interceptors at each -- at each ballistic missile, you have a 97 percent chance of knocking them down. It turns out that that`s not true, but some people did say it.

MADDOW: And that was four interceptors at that time.

CIRINCIONE: Right, not one, not two, but you had to do four. And Glenn Kessler in "The Washington Post" does a brilliant job of taking this apart in today`s edition, quoting experts James Acton (ph) and Alexandra Bell (ph), showing why that math is wrong, why those assumptions are wrong.

And that we, you know, we had some of these missiles that the missile interceptors that we depend on, we know they have faulty circuits in them, we know the kill vehicle and some of those -- those GMDs up in Alaska, we know that if you fire them, they won`t work. And so, you can`t count on a full third of the force. That`s the kind of real-world realities but it`s not dealing with.

MADDOW: Do you believe -- if he`s got that kind of specific misunderstanding -- do you believe that maybe one of the things that is undergirding those kinds of decisions that he`s made on nuclear decisions, kind of decisions he`s made a nuclear policy both around North Korea but also this Iran deal announcement today?

CIRINCIONE: Yes, he wants to assure the American public that even though he`s being aggressive, even though he`s being tough, he can protect us. He will protect us and that`s what he`s talking to his crowd about, that`s what he`s bragging about just a couple of days ago. Don`t worry. I got this.

It`s dangerous territory.

MADDOW: Joe Cirincione is MSNBC nuclear security expert, president of the Ploughshares Fund -- Joe, thank you. Appreciate it.

CIRINCIONE: Thank you, Rachel. Good to be one.

MADDOW: Always talking to you about super scary stuff, but you`re so nice about it.

We`ll be right back. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: We finally got it. After all this time, we have been following the story for months now with no way to make heads or tails of it, but we finally got something.

It was August 9th, CBS Radio was first to report vaguely cryptically on U.S. diplomats showing symptoms of something in Cuba. Later that day, "The A.P." flushed it out a little bit and said that Americans working for the U.S. government in Cuba had suffered hearing loss.

Then over the next several weeks, the list of injuries got worse and scarier, not just hearing loss but permanent hearing loss, also mild traumatic brain injuries, central nervous system damage, headaches, dizziness, memory loss. By the end of August, the State Department confirmed that 16 U.S. diplomats had been hurt. State Department officials at the time said they had no idea why. They did so -- they did though say they were sure that it was over. They said: The incidents are no longer occurring.

That was August 24th. Eight days later, the incidents were occurring again. The State Department said the number of sick diplomats rose again to 19 people. Three weeks later, it rose again to 21. Then the number rose to 22.

We don`t know if was some sort of magic number, but without really offering an explanation of what had changed and why they were reacting this way, at the end of last month, the State Department really did take dramatic action. In one fell swoop, more than half the U.S. diplomats in Cuba were ordered to leave, all non-essential personnel ordered out along with their families.

They limited even short-term travel to Cuba by U.S. government employees, announced U.S. delegations would no longer travel to Cuba for meetings. They issued a travel warning for American civilians that we shouldn`t visit. They suspended routine issuing of visas. Really dramatic action.

They didn`t say why. They didn`t say what changed about this crisis that the U.S. has been so cagey about, so tight-lipped about.

Why the sudden dramatic action the end of last month? We still don`t know.

White House chief of staff said yesterday that they believe the Cuban government could stop these attacks on U.S. diplomats if they wanted to. We don`t know what he means by that either since the U.S. doesn`t appear to be blaming the Cuban government for carrying out these attacks in the first place.

But there has been one through line since day one of this story. There`s been speculation that some sort of sound, some sort of sonic weapon might be to blame for all of it. And that speculation has been in part because the first reported system was hearing loss. I think the speculation has been there in part because we know there is such thing as a sonic weapon right? U.S. Navy famously used sound weapons against the Somali pirates, right?

But the reason people have suspected all these injuries to Americans, that they may have been caused by some sound weapon is because a lot of the people who have been hurt have described hearing a sound at the time they were injured.

From "The Associated Press", quote, a blaring, grinding noise jolted one American diplomat from his bed in a Havana hotel. He moved just a few feet and there was silence. It was as if he`d walked through some invisible wall cutting straight through his rooms. Others felt vibrations and heard sounds, loud ringing or a high-pitched chirping similar to crickets or cicadas.

It`s been almost a year since those attacks first started happening, since those diplomats got jolted awake by mysterious noises that caused them pain that were just in parts of their rooms.

Well, now we have the noise. "The Associated Press" has reviewed several recordings from Havana taken under different circumstances. They all have variations of the same high-pitched sound. Individuals who have heard the noise in Havana confirm the recordings are generally consistent with what they heard. One of them tells "The A.P.", quote, that`s the sound.

So, "The A.P." captured this sound in Havana. They digitally enhanced it to increase volume to reduce the background noise but they otherwise didn`t alter it and now because "A.P." got this sound. we can play it for you.

Don`t freak out. I can tell you the recording itself as played through your TV is not dangerous to listen to. I swear. I have listened to it like a thousand times, I`m fine.

But are you ready? We`ve got the sound. Here it is.

So, "The A.P." published that short piece of sound five seconds long. They say when they had it analyzed, it turns out it`s or more different frequencies or pitches that are embedded in that sound.

The recording of that sound and others like it have been played for people who are still working at the U.S. embassy to teach them what to listen for. U.S. embassy personnel have also been given recorders themselves so they can turn on those recorders and try to capture the sound if they hear anything like it. The recordings have been sent to the U.S. Navy to try to figure out what they might mean, also to the intelligence services.

We don`t know what type of device made that noise or who set it up or why or how it might hurt people. But now, finally, after months of speculations we do at least have a noise. We have a noise. We don`t know what it means and mystery continues.

I will tell you, NBC News was first to report on this about the vehemence with which the Cuban government denied having anything to do with it. That`s led to all sorts of interesting speculation about whether or not this might be the work of another government that has considerable leeway to operate in Cuba.

You know, North Korea doesn`t have an embassy here, but North Korea has an embassy in Cuba. The Russians have a lot of facilities in Havana, specifically, and in Cuba. Syria and Iran have embassies in Havana. Could it be some other government? Is there somebody over whom the Cuban government could exert control to stop this even if they`re not doing it themselves?

We don`t know. But at least we`ve got a sound and that`s got to be part of starting to figure this thing.

That does it for us tonight. We will see you again on Monday.

Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD" where our Ali Velshi is in for Lawrence tonight.

Hi, Ali.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

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