Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: October 16, 2017 Guest: Fredreka Schouten, Jane Mayer
CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: That is ALL IN for this evening.
THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts now.
Good evening, Rachel.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Thank you, my friend. Appreciate it.
HAYES: You bet.
MADDOW: And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.
David Hackworth served four tours in Vietnam. Before that, he did hard combat in the Korean War as well. He was a commander of an Army Raiders unit in the Korean War. He got a battlefield commission in the Korean War. That means they made him an officer in the field in the middle of the fight.
He became the youngest U.S. captain in the entire Korean War after he got that battlefield commission. He was 20 years old when he became a captain.
Before those four tours in Vietnam, before that remarkable tour in Korea, David Hackworth also served at the very tail end of World War II. And the reason his career was able to span that distance, to span all those different conflicts over those decades is in part because he started really, really young. He used a fake ID to sign up in the first place when he was 15 years old.
According to his "New York Times" obituary he, quote, paid a wino to pose as his father to certify that he was old enough to join the U.S. Army. Again, he signed up at 15.
In his career in the Army, David Hackworth was awarded 10 Silver Stars and eight Bronze Stars and eight Purple Hearts. David Hackworth was his name, one of the most decorated soldiers of his generation or of any generation. David Hackworth was just 40 years old and a full bird colonel in 1971 when having just served those four hard tours in Vietnam, he decided back in the United States that he would go on TV as a serving U.S. Army colonel because he felt like he had something to say to the American public about the Vietnam War that this country was still in and that he had been fighting in for all those years.
And on June 27th, 1971, David Hackworth appeared on an ABC News show called "Issues and Answers." And in that TV appearance, he called Vietnam a bad war. He said the United States should get out. He basically made the case that it was unwinnable.
And, you know, it is a powerful thing in our country when a veteran, especially a decorated veteran like him, decides to speak out about a war that America is currently engaged in.
But when David Hackworth went on TV in June 1971 and called Vietnam a bad war, he wasn`t a veteran at that point. He was still in the Army. He was still serving as a very, very highly decorated U.S. Army colonel.
And so, that decision from that position to make that dramatic pronouncement about war on the TV news, that was how the U.S. Army lost who Vietnam Commander Creighton Abrams called the best battalion commander I ever saw in the U.S. Army.
After he made those public remarks criticizing the war, David Hackworth got out of the Army in 1971, he had to after criticizing the war as a serving officer in that way -- at least he believed he had to. He gave up his medals in protest although they were eventually reinstated years later.
David Hackworth moved halfway around the world. He lived in Australia for a while. He became a successful businessman there.
But then he started writing books, acclaimed books about the U.S. military and about our modern wars. And ultimately, he ended up coming back to the U.S. to become a military journalist.
For a long time, he served as defense editor at "Newsweek" magazine and he started to write a syndicated column for King Features. And in November 2004, so, a year and a half into the Iraq War, David Hackworth in one of his syndicated columns, he broke the news that the George W. Bush administration`s defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, was using an auto pen, using a machine or stamp or something, using some sort of machine to automatically sign the more than 1,000 condolence letters that the Bush administration had had to send to families of soldiers who had been killed in Iraq. They were machine-signed form letters.
The Pentagon initially denied it and then they repeatedly denied it. But David Hackworth turns out had him dead to rights. He had great sources. He had interviews with a dozen family members who were next of kin to U.S. soldiers who had been killed in action in Iraq. He found two Pentagon- based colonels who backed up the assertion, who were said to be indignant about Rumsfeld`s decision to do it this way, even as those colonels insisted on anonymity to protect their careers.
Once David Hackworth broke the story, though, other news organizations were able to follow his reporting, to track down those letters. And in fact he was proven to be right.
It was November 2004 when Hackworth wrote that column. The following month, December 2004, it was Leo Shane writing at "Stars and Stripes", writing, quote: Ivan Medina, a New York resident, whose twin brother Irving was killed in a roadside bombing in 2004, told "Stripes", to me, it is an insult, not only as someone who lost a loved one but also as someone who served in Iraq.
Illinois resident Bette Sullivan whose son John was killed in November 2003 while working as an Army mechanic in Iraq, she was incensed when she and her son`s wife and her grandchildren all received the exact same condolence letter with the apparently stamped signature.
Sullivan told "Stripes," quote: How many signatures does this amount to? For those of his wife and children and mother, no, no, no.
So, David Hackworth started off that reporting. And the Pentagon denied it, but Hackworth was proven out and Donald Rumsfeld and the Pentagon ultimately relented.
December 16th, Donald Rumsfeld put out a surreal statement which I should note never technically admitted what he had done. But it was surreal. This is what it said. Quote: I have directed that in the future, I sign each letter.
OK. And the surrealness of that statement and the behavior of Donald Rumsfeld, it was a little snapshot of the George W. Bush administration on this issue. But beyond that personal strangeness from Rumsfeld, this is not the kind of issue on which you find a lot of dissent, right? You might find denial, but once it was known what they were doing, there really wasn`t anybody in the country who didn`t have the same feeling about what the Bush administration had just bumbled into there and what Hackworth discovered they were doing.
Who thought that was a good idea? I mean, you might not -- you might have disbelieved it when you first heard the reporting. But once you found out it was true. I mean, callousness and impersonal treatment of soldiers killed in battle and their families back home. It is a hot third rail, not just in American politics but in American values, American ethics.
I mean, the George W. Bush administration had also banned any public footage of soldiers` remains being transferred home on flights from Iraq and Afghanistan at Dover Airbase. They said at the time it was somehow out of respect that they wouldn`t allow anybody to see those dignified transfer ceremonies. But there was a really fierce fight at the time about how that decision by the Bush administration also shielded the public from the cost of the war by effectively hiding the loss of those service members.
And when Barack Obama was sworn in in 2009, he immediately lifted the blanket ban on media coverage of those solemn transfers at Dover. And so, we are once again able to see ceremonies like this.
He lifted that ban in 2009, February 2009, right after the inauguration. But a couple years later in 2011, President Obama changed the policy on those condolence letters further. Those condolence letters sent to soldiers` family members after a soldier dies in theater.
President Obama changed the rules around those in 2011. So, in addition to writing those condolence letters to the families of soldiers who are killed in combat, President Obama in 2011 also started sending the same kind of letter to families of soldiers who committed suicide in the war zone. Since, after all, those are war deaths too.
So this is just incredibly solemn, incredibly serious stuff for all the obvious reasons, right? If there`s one thing a country should keep faith about, it`s the thanks and respect to the family of people who gave their lives for this country, right? If there`s something that should be handled solemnly in this country.
And, you know, if there is anything that everybody can agree should be taken with solemnity and respect, it must be this.
Today, President Trump in the Rose Garden claimed offhandedly that President Obama never called the families of fallen soldiers. When President Trump said that today, nobody had actually asked him about President Obama. Nobody had asked him about the policy and practice of calling families of fallen soldiers at all, but President Trump just threw it out there. Casually asserted that his predecessor never called the families of fallen soldiers whereas he, Donald Trump, he sometimes does.
And when President Trump was challenged on that blatant falsehood by NBC`s Peter Alexander, the president then immediately backtracked and said it was something that he`d been told. He said I was told that.
He didn`t know if President Obama had called the families of fallen soldiers. He had heard -- he heard maybe he didn`t. How could he know? Just something he had been told. Who knows if it`s true? Don`t know. Whatever.
So, the president flippantly today throwing that out there and then half retracting it and not seeming to know or care about the truth even on that subject. That is -- that will go down in the annals of the Trump administration. But in terms of environment that we`re in right now in which this White House is operating right now, there also remains the original question that actually led to that falsehood and that flippancy on this solemn subject from the president today.
It has been nearly two weeks since four American soldiers, four green berets, were killed in an ambush in the West African country of Niger. And there are still a lot of things that we do not know about that ambush. How dozens of ISIS-affiliated fighters took a Green Beret team by surprise in an area of the country that was reportedly considered low risk? We don`t know why it took nearly an hour for help to arrive. We don`t know why one of these soldiers` bodies was not recovered until nearly 48 hours after the attack.
But we also do not know why President Trump has said exactly nothing about that ambush or about the deaths of these four American highly decorated, highly trained soldiers. America doesn`t lose four green berets every day. But this happened almost two weeks ago. The president has not even acknowledged that it happened.
And, you know, to be fair, sometimes there is an important reason why public officials don`t acknowledge combat deaths abroad or incidents in which American personnel are killed abroad. Sometimes there is something covert about the mission. Sometimes there is some other reason why a civilian official, even a military official cannot acknowledge that American deaths have happened in some country around the world.
There are -- whether or not you think it`s reasonable, there are explanations for why sometimes those comments cannot be made. I mean, in this case that may yet be the reason why the president has said nothing, but we`ve had no explanation from the White House at all.
I have to tell you, I was at a national security forum this evening with the former Defense Secretary Ash Carter. I asked him if he knows of any operational reasons why the president couldn`t acknowledge the deaths of these four Green Berets in Niger. Secretary Carter pointed me to the fact that the current defense secretary, James Mattis, has acknowledged and tried to explain what happened with these Green Berets in Niger and that means, de facto, there`s no reason, no prohibition on U.S. officials, civilian officials, not being allowed to talk about it.
So, the question remains, the question is sharpened, why the president has been pretending for two weeks now that this didn`t happen.
For the last two weeks, he has not admitted this happened. He has said nothing about the loss of these four American soldiers. Today, in the Rose Garden when a reporter asked the president why he hasn`t said anything about this attack, he still had nothing to say about it. That was his chance, right?
But what he came back with was this lie about Barack Obama never calling the families of fallen soldiers.
There are hundreds of U.S. Special Operations Forces currently operating in Niger. We also have hundreds of American troops operating right now in Somalia. Somalia just suffered one of the worst terror attacks anywhere in the world in recent memory. The death toll from this massive truck bombing this weekend in Mogadishu, right in the middle of the capital, the death toll is well over 300 already. Witnesses have described an area the size of two or three football fields where buildings were reduced to rubble -- again, in a civilian area.
Nobody`s claimed responsibility yet for this attack. But the al Qaeda- affiliated group al Shabaab said earlier this year they would increase their attacks on civilians after the Trump administration announced a stepping up of U.S. military operations in that country.
There`s also news today that the U.S. military will be running an evacuation drill for Americans in South Korea next week. Now, this is a drill called Courageous Channel. It`s -- you know, tensions are so high in the Korean peninsula right now that the U.S. military in South Korea felt the need to issue what the "New York Times" called a rare news release, stressing that the non-combatant evacuation exercise is just a routinely scheduled drill.
The drill is scheduled from next Monday through Friday. It`s aimed at preparing American service members and their families to respond to a wide range of crisis management events such as non-combatant evacuation and natural or manmade disasters. Oh, manmade Disasters. What could that possibly be on the Korean peninsula?
So, that will all be next week in South Korea. That drill evacuation of American noncombatants will take place alongside military exercises that will involve at least one nuclear submarine and an aircraft carrier. So, nothing to worry about there. Nothing to see.
"New York Times" is also reporting today that North Korea has quietly become very, very good at offensive cyber operations now. By which I don`t mean just good for North Korea, but good.
The North Korean military a top tier cyber operator now. Now, I have to cough for a second. Actually, I have to cough for more than a second.
Allergies. I`ll be right back.
MADDOW: I`m very embarrassed to have had to take a coughing break. And now, of course, it looks like I`ve been crying for an hour and a half.
But you know what? I didn`t have allergies until I was in my 40s. And I got them in my 40s. I have no ability to cope with them whatsoever. It`s not that I envy people who have had allergies for their entire life, but I feel like when you got them when you were 8, you figured out how to deal with them and how to anticipate them.
Now, every year of my 40s, whatever happens that brings on my allergies comes along in the fall. It`s like I`m a goldfish swimming around the bowl seeing that castle for the first time. Oh, my God, castle. Oh, my God, a castle. Oh, my God, a castle. Shocks me every time.
I have no ability to deal with it. So forgive me. I know I sounded terrible on the show on Friday night. I realized I had to take a break for coughing, but keep hope alive.
All right. As I was saying, "New York times" had a remarkable report today on North Korean national security issues unrelated to their nuclear program and their threat of being able to rain artillery down on cyber -- rain artillery down on South Korea. One of the things that North Korea is very, very good at now is cyber operations.
We`ve known that North Korea has maintained a hacking operation, a state- supported hacking operation for a long time now. Just ask Sony pictures. But as a military operation North Korea is now considered to be a top-tier cyber operator.
Quote: North Korea`s army of more than 6,000 hackers is undeniably persistent and undeniably improving. Amid all the attention on North Korea`s progress on developing a nuclear weapon capable of striking the continental U.S., the North Koreans have also quietly developed a cyber program that is stealing hundreds of millions of dollars and is proving capable of unleashing global havoc. One former British intelligence chief estimates the take from its cyber heists may bring the North as much as $1 billion a year, which is a third of the value of the nation`s exports.
So all the things that North Korea`s able to export to the world, they`re able to get a third of the value of that entire economic behavior through stealing stuff online. And hacking and information warfare has always been an effective tool of actors that are weaker on other fronts. But if North Korea has not just gotten good at it for North Korea but they`ve gotten good at it on the international level, the lack of transparency that we have, the opacity in terms of their goals as a country and their military operations makes the possibility that they have a very strong weapon in cyber a whole new level of threat from North Korea that we sort of haven`t had our hands around yet, and one for which they`ve never paid any price thus far with everything they`ve done up until now.
So, scary new reporting in terms of North Korea`s national security capabilities. We`re also simultaneously getting granular new detail about the other great asymmetric power using information warfare and cyber to rebalance its relationship with the great powers in the world. Russia`s cyber operations, including the one last year against our elections.
Yahoo News is reporting today on a Russian TV interview that happened this weekend, with a former member of the Internet Research Agency. That`s the St. Petersburg so-called troll factory, employing thousands of people to troll online and engage in other information operations around the world. It was a key part of Russia`s information war against America`s voters last year. It`s where many of the Russian purchased, election-focused Facebook ads came from.
And one funny detail that has been pulled out of is this story in that interview this weekend is that the trolls who worked at this Russian spam factory were required to watch the TV show "House of Cards" to learn about the American political system. Eke. Also to learn about how to undermine it. Also learn to never sleep with your biographer.
But what we learned from this interview with this former Russian spammer is interesting in terms of understanding how this all worked. Everybody who worked on the American election at the St. Petersburg troll farm apparently had quotas for how many comments they needed to post on mainstream news stories, like at the Website of "The Washington Post" or "The New York Times".
According to this guy who worked at the troll farm, they were told they were paid specifically to complain about Hillary Clinton in three ways -- to complain about Hillary Clinton in terms of Bill Clinton era`s scandals, to complain about Hillary Clinton being wealthy, and to complain about her using a private e-mail server when she was secretary of state. These Russians were paid to complain about these things in the comment section of U.S. newspapers. And they masked their I.P. addresses so you couldn`t tell they were coming from Russia.
And all of these things they were told to harp on, all of these comments that flooded news sites, social media, any time you had a political discussion during the campaign that online discussion was immediately flooded with the same repetitive anti-Hillary Clinton complaints. Even when they seemed to have no relation to what was being discussed.
That constant online odd cacophony that so many of us experienced just trying to live our online lives during the campaign, we now know that some of that was a Russian government-funded effort to help Donald Trump win the election from abroad.
ROMANS: And the investigation continues into whether that Russian effort got any cooperation from American confederates, any help from the Trump campaign. CNN reports this evening on the pro-Trump folks who tried during the campaign to contact the Russian hackers they hope might have hacked Hillary Clinton`s e-mails from when she was secretary of state.
That effort was led by a long-time Republican operative named Peter Smith who recruited researchers to help him look for those e-mails and contact the Russians. Those helpers have now reportedly been interviewed by the House Intelligence Committee.
A source telling CNN tonight that one analyst recruited by Peter smith told the committee that he believed Peter Smith`s claims that he was close to Mike Flynn, the man who`d go on to be Trump`s national security adviser. He told the intelligence committee that he, quote, believes Peter Smith may have been working as an unofficial operation research arm for the campaign while he was contacting Russian government hackers to try to get more stolen stuff about Hillary Clinton so the Russians could help Trump win the election.
So, the investigation continues. And honestly, it continues amid a national security environment that would be nauseating for any White House. If you believed that White House was paying enough attention to serious stuff to be stressed about it, or to even bother to get the basics right. I`m talking about the most serious solemn stuff that a government does, like notifying the families of the fallen.
On the Russia investigation, we did just get some new granular news about who is bearing the cost of this investigation in the Trump administration. Literally the dollars and cents cost. That turned out to be fascinating and potentially very counter-strategic for the president. That story`s next.
MADDOW: We`ve been wondering if this is true for a while now. But now that we know, it doesn`t make it any less strange. Today, we got new reporting, new filings that show that, in fact, the Trump re-election campaign and the National Republican Party are paying the legal fees on the Russia investigation for the billionaire president, and also for the president`s eldest son.
But they`re not apparently paying the legal fees for anybody else. In July, we first learned that the Trump campaign, not the Trump family, the Trump campaign, so campaign donations sent in by regular Americans, that`s when we first learned in June, that the Trump campaign was paying for Don Jr.`s Russia legal fees. We learned they had repurposed campaign donations to the Trump campaign to pay for Don Jr.`s lawyer.
Then last month, we learned the RNC was also chipping in to pay for the lawyers for Donald Trump Jr., and also for his father, the president. Well, now today a new filing from the campaign. And indeed, more money to pay the Russia-related legal fees for people named Donald Trump from the Trump campaign coffers to go along with the money from the National Republican Party headquarters as well.
And maybe if you are writing checks to the Republican Party or buying red "Make America Great Again" hats from the Trump campaign, you are happy to be footing those Russia legal fees for the billionaire and his son. At least we can hope you are happy about that, because they are using your money for that.
It`s a remarkable thing. I mean, so far as we can tell, despite the large number of current and former Trump administration officials and Trump campaign figures who`ve had to hire expensive lawyers to help them in the Russia investigation, everybody not named Donald Trump, Junior or Senior, has to pay their legal fees themselves.
The president and his son are using other people`s money to pay their lawyers. But everybody else, hey, if your kid`s got a college fund -- Vice President Mike Pence is famously not wealthy. Jane Mayer`s new profile of Pence includes the fact that President Trump was initially reluctant to bring Pence onto the ticket when he learned Pence had no money at all.
Mike Pence does, however, have an expensive D.C. criminal defense lawyer on the Russia investigation. We`ve asked Mike Pence`s very nice lawyer and his spokesperson how the vice president is paying that lawyer, how he`s paying his Russia legal fees, which are now into the months, right? But we got no answer.
On Friday, former White House chief of staff Reince Priebus sat for an all- day interview with the special counsel, with Robert Mueller prosecutors. Reince Priebus used to be head of the Republican National Committee but the committee has not answer for us, whether party funds are helping him or anybody else who worked on the campaign pay for their lawyers as well.
Maybe he too is on his own. So far as we know, the Republican Party and the Trump campaign paying for President Trump and Trump Jr., that`s it. The campaign and the RNC are paying for Donald Trump Jr. and sr. But nobody else. Again, so far as we know. So far as they will not tell us.
But think about it for a second from the president`s strategic perspective, right? Kind of seems like an awful lot to ask of people who surrounded you in the White House or who worked with you on the campaign, particularly people who maybe you humiliated and then fired. You`re now potentially asking them to bankrupt their own families in this investigation into the president and his campaign, an investigation in which the president and his very wealthy family aren`t paying anything themselves while all the staff members and the little people are told to suck it up.
Strategically it`s hard to justify the decision. Financially, I`m sure it makes perfect sense to the president and his family.
Joining us now is Fredreka Schouten. She`s a reporter for "USA Today." She covers campaign finance issues.
Miss Schouten, thank you very much for joining us. A pleasure to have you here tonight.
FREDREKA SCHOUTEN, CAMAPIGN FINANCE REPORTER, USA TODAY: Happy to be here.
MADDOW: Do we know if anybody else besides President Trump or his son are getting their legal fees paid for by the Trump campaign or the RNC or any combination thereof?
SCHOUTEN: Yes, we have no evidence of that at this point. I mean, the RNC`s next report comes out in a few days, so we`ll have a little more detail. But they`ve previously acknowledged that the funds that they have paid in September were to help Donald Trump Jr. prepare for his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
And we do know that some of the other people who got caught up in this, such as Michael Flynn, his family members have started a legal defense fund to collect money to pay some of his staggering bills.
MADDOW: On the RNC specifically, I think the thing that is hard for me to get my head around on this is that Donald Trump Jr. had no official role on the campaign and it`s hard to see if he was caught up, you know, incidentally in this investigation, if he got, you know, swept up into this inquiry in a way that so many other staffers and supporters did, it`s hard for me to see why the RNC would feel that there was an imperative to pay the legal fees for the president`s son while not paying the legal fees for Reince Priebus or Sean Spicer or Don McGahn or any of these other figures who have also faced questioning and potentially facing testimony in this campaign, who would seem to have more of a connection to the RNC.
SCHOUTEN: Well, try to think of their thinking here. I mean, although Donald Trump Jr. did not have an official role in the campaign, those kids were intimately involved in a lot of the decision-making. And in fact, you know, the younger Trump has said that he met with that Russian lawyer because he thought that she had information that was useful about his president`s rival. So, he was -- I mean, I think that their thinking is he got caught up in this because he was part of the campaign whether he had an official title or not. And he wouldn`t have taken that meeting and wouldn`t have testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee had his father not been running for president.
MADDOW: Do we know if the president was involved at all or the president`s family has been involved at all in terms of discussions at the RNC to try to pressure the RNC to make these decisions? Do we know if there`s been any effort -- do we know anything about the negotiation that`s led to this weird outcome?
SCHOUTEN: There`s been a lot of reporting back and forth about the internal conversations. I don`t know to what extent the president and his family were part of the conversation. I will say this: The Republican Party is controlled by whoever the president is at the time. I mean, when there`s a Republican in the White House, the Republican Party is controlled by the president. So you have to think that the president is aware of this decision and that the party is acting based on his wishes.
MADDOW: Fredreka Schouten, campaign finance reporter for "USA Today" -- I really appreciate your time tonight. This is one of those stories that I keep feeling like it`s going to -- we`re going to -- it`s going to be proved to be a big dream and we`re all going proven wrong on this, but we`re all just muddling along following these filings. Thank you for helping us understand it.
SCHOUTEN: You`re welcome.
MADDOW: All right. We got much more ahead here tonight. "The New Yorker`s" Jane Mayer will be here with us shortly. Also, I might have another coughing fit, which would be fun, right, for you guys, at least at home, not hearing it in the break.
We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: This year, there are only two states electing a new governor. Both of those elections are happening in a little over three weeks now, one`s in New Jersey. Governor Christie`s lieutenant governor on the left there, she is running for the top spot. She`s lagging behind her Democratic rival by 18 points in the latest poll.
The other gubernatorial race this year is Virginia. That one`s turning out to be more competitive. This is interesting, though. Over the weekend, the Republican in that race, Ed Gillespie, he appeared, set to get a big boost, a visit from the vice president of the United States, Mike Pence.
"Washington Post" writing that Mike Pence threw his weight behind candidate Ed Gillespie by campaigning with him on Saturday. The trouble though is that apparently Mike Pence`s weight may not register all that well in southwest Virginia. "The Washington Post" describes that rally between Pence and Gillespie as only half filled. Organizers expected around 1,200 people to show up but only about 600 people did.
Trump administration right now is being sued over stopping Obamacare subsidies. They`re being sued over DACA. They`re facing international pressure for disavowing the Iran nuclear deal and for their handling of nuclear threats from North Korea.
In addition to all that stuff, the Trump campaign is under investigation from three congressional committees and the FBI special counsel for possible collusion with the Russian attack on our election. That`s an investigation that has reportedly expanded to include Trump`s business dealings over the years.
The president is reportedly under investigation for obstruction of justice over the firing of the FBI director in relation to the Russia probe. There`s more to report every day on these investigations and the scandals that led to them, which has churned up a lot of open speculation as to whether this president might for some reason or another get himself turfed out of office before his term is up.
Now, Vice President Mike Pence`s potential legal jeopardy on these matters is less widely discussed but real. The vice president has hired an outside lawyer now to help with both the congressional and federal investigations into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. We don`t know how he`s paying for that lawyer, but we`re trying to figure it out.
His involvement in the Trump campaign, his role leading the Trump transition, his role in responding to the Comey firing are all matters that are potentially under scrutiny. The vice president has repeatedly made demonstrably false statements about matters under consideration by Robert Mueller, including Mike Flynn`s contacts with the Russian government, Flynn`s foreign financial ties, and the firing of James Comey. So, the vice president may be in trouble himself in these scandals and investigations.
But still. However long Donald Trump ends up serving as president, if you had to place a bet on it, the single most likely person to succeed him in office for any reason is still Mike Pence.
And that makes Jane Mayer`s latest epic piece for "The New Yorker" an important read -- aside from the fact she reveals that the vice president`s childhood nickname was Bubbles. His family called him bubbles. I had no idea. I read everything ever written about Mike Pence. I never knew he was called Bubbles.
Jane Mayer`s piece is called "The Danger of President Pence." It`s a deep dive into his long held conservative beliefs and the cohort of conservative donors who have supported him over the years. None of that appears to have concerned the president, who`s had no qualms about putting down or mocking his vice president, particularly for his social conservative views.
Quote: According to a long-time associate, Trump likes to let Pence know who`s boss. A staff member from Trump`s campaign recalls him mocking Mike Pence`s religiosity. He said when people met with Trump after stopping by Pence`s office Trump would ask them, hey, did Mike make you pray?
Quote: During a meeting with a legal scholar Trump, belittled Mike Pence`s determination to overturn Roe versus Wade. The legal scholar had said that if the Supreme Court did so, many states would likely legalize abortion on their own. You see, Trump asked Pence, you`ve wasted all this time and energy on it. And it`s not going to end abortion anyway.
When the conversation turned to gay rights, Trump motioned toward Pence and joked, don`t ask that guy. He wants to hang them all.
I should mention that the vice president`s office has responded somewhat to Jane Mayer`s reporting. The vice president`s press secretary putting out this statement tonight, quote, "The New Yorker" piece is filled with unsubstantiated, unsourced claims that are untrue and offensive.
No word on if they are asking for any specific corrections. Also, no specific denial on the Bubbles thing.
Joining us now is Jane Mayer, staff writer for "The New Yorker" magazine.
Ms. Mayer, it`s great to have you with us tonight. Thank you very much for being here.
JANE MAYER, WROTE "NEW YORKER" PROFILE OF VP MIKE PENCE: Thanks so much for having me.
MADDOW: Let me give you a chance tonight first to respond to the statement from the vice president`s office. He says your piece is filled with unsubstantiated, unsourced claims that are untrue and offensive. Are they complaining to you or to "The New Yorker" about something that they something specific that they think is wrong?
MAYER: No, they are not. You know, I guess that -- all I can say is we stand by our story. We feel very proud of the reporting. I have to say, I feel that one of the strengths to the story is how many people are on the record and how many of those people are Republicans who have known Pence for a long time including many from Indiana. Anyway, you know, I think it`s just kind of a knee jerk thing they do sometimes.
MADDOW: It seems to me that there are sort of three -- three sort of strands to your reporting here. And within the framework of if you`re fantasizing about Trump being turfed out of office, don`t fantasize that Pence is going to be awesome is kind of the general introductory framework you that put on it.
But within that, you basically describe Mr. Pence as being very, very connected to the billionaire Koch brothers and him being key to the Koch brothers getting a lot that they want out of this administration, particularly in terms of personnel in high office.
MAYER: Yes --
MADDOW: You also describe him -- sorry, go ahead.
MAYER: No, go ahead. You go ahead.
MADDOW: I was going to say, you also describe him and some quotes from his family that essentially describe him as not that bright or capable. I`ll let that stuff stand on its own because that`s hard to talk about without it seeming like I`m picking on him.
But the third point is you describe his conservatism in a way that seems like it was almost surprising to you. Everybody thinks of him as very conservative. But it seems like in your reporting you`re finding that his conservatism was more radical, more sort of outside even the conservative mainstream than you would expect.
MAYER: That`s true. I mean, of course anybody who knows anything about politics and follows Mike Pence at all knows that he is -- sort of defines social conservatism state of the art in the country. But I didn`t realize until I went to Indiana and talked to people how far out of the mainstream his views are, and that so many of his opponents actually are Republicans in the state. The Republican business community in Indiana was absolutely up in arms over a couple of positions he took.
I mean, he took -- his position on abortion was so far out there that he supported legislation that would require women to have fetal burials for aborted fetuses and for miscarriages and also gave them -- made it illegal for them to decide to have an abortion if their fetus was -- had physical anomalies. I mean, it was sort of the far edge of things.
And then on gay rights really this is where the business community became so upset, because the businesses there have a hard time recruiting, you know, good staffers, good people, employees, and they felt it was giving the whole state a black eye when he passed something called the Religious Freedoms Restoration Act. And what it really meant was it was giving businesses the right to say that for religious reasons, they could turn away gay customers.
And, you know, there was just such an outcry in the country that the Indiana business community said, you know, we`re never going to be able to get tourists here, we can`t get employees here. And Pence had to back away from it.
He didn`t see it coming, though. He`s not as swift a politician as you would think maybe given that he`s the vice president. He was kind of blindsided by the whole thing, and then he retreated from it.
MADDOW: That`s another remarkable part of your reporting in terms of sort of what dire straits he was in when President Trump picked him to be his running mate, facing maybe a 50-50 chance of being re-elected in Indiana, people having "Fire Pence" signs on their front lawns, having alienated all his allies, not just seen as super conservative but seen as essentially in some important ways very incompetent as an Indiana governor, a state that has economic trouble before and beyond the additional economic harm that that sort of built in.
MAYER: He was incredibly unpopular. I mean -- and it was almost a fluke that he was chosen. And -- but yet, it tees him up to make him potentially a president of the United States. You have Newt Gingrich saying he`s a shoo-in to be the Republican nominee whenever Trump doesn`t run. So -- next.
And so -- I mean, one of the other things that surprised me in the story was how close Trump came to picking Chris Christie instead of Pence. You know, and really in many ways wanted to. But he kind of got pushed out of it, or as someone said led to Pence. He was sort of surrounded by family and advisers who said, you know, you`ve got pick Pence.
MADDOW: Jane, there`s one other piece of your reporting that I want to ask you about. Can you sit for one more second and we`ll take a break and come back?
MADDOW: OK. Jane Mayer has just done an epic profile in "The New Yorker" on Mike Pence. One of the things she breaks in this story is the news of how Pence may have brought the Russia investigation upon the Trump administration with one specific bad decision. And that`s next. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Jane Mayer has a gonzo new profile of Mike Pence in "The New Yorker" which includes this remarkable reporting.
Before Pence took over the transition team, Chris Christie had warned Trump not to give a high-level job to retired General Michael Flynn whose financial ties to foreign interests triggered the Russia investigation. When Pence replaced Christie, though, the door of the White House was opened to Flynn. There`s no indication that Pence raised any objections about Flynn to Trump, even after Congressman Elijah Cummings from the Oversight Committee sent Pence a letter warning about Flynn`s failing to disclose that during the campaign, he had done paid lobbying work for a foreign government. Had Pence stopped Flynn`s appointment, Trump might not have become the object of a sprawling special investigation.
This article is called "The Danger of President Pence." Jane Mayer is the reporter in this piece.
Jane, I have to ask you if the Mike Pence/Mike Flynn connection and the story about what evolved between them and the way that Pence`s talked about Flynn since the investigation has broken over whether that is well understood or whether there`s more to learn there.
MAYER: I don`t think it is well understood. I mean, I certainly didn`t realize until I did this reporting that basically there was a red flag that was being thrown when -- around Flynn by Christie when he ran the transition and that when Pence took over, what happened was actually it was -- Ivanka Trump turned to Mike Flynn in a meeting and Christie was chairing it and didn`t understand that Flynn was even going to be there and suddenly, Ivanka Trump turned to him when he walked into the room and said, general, what job would you like? And Flynn just basically said, well, you know, I`d like to be secretary of defense or secretary of state but if I can`t have that I`ll take national security adviser which is, of course, what he got.
So the -- all of the warning signs were ignored and Ivanka Trump, I think, was acting out of loyalty because Flynn had been loyal to her father and Pence, whose job it was to vet somebody of that -- that incredible importance to America`s security, it was just a fundamental role of running the transition, is to make sure that these people are, you know, reliable, even. And not crooks. And people I talked to felt he failed that very basic job and that was kind of a beginning of some of this whole, you know, investigation.
MADDOW: And the beginning of the -- even the obstruction investigation pursuant to the -- after the initial --
MAYER: Yes. Because, right.
MADDOW: -- inquiry.
MAYER: One thing leads to the next and each time there`s a key turning point, Pence kind of goes out and misleads the public and it`s unclear really, was he doing it because he`s a chump or was he doing to -- as a kind of cover-up, but at any rate, he keeps going out and making misleading statements including after -- when they`re talking about why it was that Comey was going to be fired.
And he`s right in the room where they`re planning to do it. Pence is talking -- I mean, Trump is talking about why he wants to do it. And then Pence comes out and says Trump just did it because the Justice Department told him to. And so, there are people, people like Larry Tribe, the law professor, who are sort of suggesting this puts Pence in legal jeopardy because you could sort of say he may be part of a cover-up here and an obstruction of justice.
MADDOW: Underappreciated truth about the vice president. Absolutely.
Jane Mayer, staff writer for "The New Yorker," thanks for this brilliant reporting and thanks for being here tonight. Really appreciate it.
MAYER: Great to be with you. Thanks.
MADDOW: All right. We`ll be right back. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Little bit of a heads up for tomorrow. At 6:00 p.m. Eastern tomorrow, Ari Melber has got a really big get. He got a very hard to get, very provocatively interesting interview. That specifically relates to the Russia investigation. I`m a little jealous because I didn`t get the interview. Ari did.
But I`m going -- but I`m impressed. And I`m going to be joining Ari, actually, on his show at 6:00 p.m. to talk with him about that big interview. You should check it out. If you`re not usually watching at 6:00, you should watch tomorrow at 6:00 Eastern.
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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