ISIS loses control of capital city Transcript 10/17/17 The Rachel Maddow Show

Guests: Rukmini Callimachi, Eric Swalwell

Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: October 17, 2017 Guest: Rukmini Callimachi, Eric Swalwell

CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST, ALL IN: Jennifer Rubin, Michelle Goldberg, thanks for joining us tonight.

That is ALL IN.

THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right now.

Good evening, Rachel.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Thanks my friend. Appreciate it.

And thanks to at home for joining us this hour. Busy news day.

There may, may, possibly, be a plan to undo the damage the president tried to inflict last week on the nation`s healthcare system. You`ll recall that the president last week announced a policy change that, A, would cost taxpayers about $200 billion, B, it would cause about a million Americans to lose their health insurance coverage, and, C, it would raise health insurance costs for everyone in the country. It was expected to raise premiums by 20 percent in the next year.

Ooh and all that for the bargain price of $200 billion which we wouldn`t otherwise have to spend if the president would just leave the darn thing alone. So, that bargain policy change was announced by the president a few days ago. Today, Democratic Senator Patty Murray and Republican Senator Lamar Alexander announced a bipartisan plan they`ve come up with to basically undo that policy change announced by the president, used to be when something was announced as a bipartisan proposal in Washington that would make that thing more likely to pass, it would make it less controversial. These days, anything bipartisan is seen as an affront even when it`s a relatively specific sort of boring policy fix like this.

So, Patty Murray and Lamar Alexander have made their proposal. Now, we let the partisan food fight begin while American families and businesses wait to see if that intentional damage and that intentional hike in costs is going to be inflicted on us all or not.

Also tonight, we`ve just learned that former White House spokesman Sean Spicer has been interviewed by the special counsel Robert Mueller, who`s investigating the Russian attack on the election last year and the question of whether the Trump campaign was in on it. Politico.com was first to report that Sean Spicer spent, quote, much of the day speaking with Mueller`s team today. And, you know, I have to tell you, that really is as much as we know on that story.

Just to give you -- to totally level with you, to give you the God`s honest truth about any reporting on Robert Mueller and the special counsel`s investigation, his process, his team of prosecutors in the special counsel`s office, they are opaque as all get-out. Anybody who tells you that they know what`s going on inside the Mueller investigation, that person is either part of the Mueller investigation, or that person is lying to you. They really don`t leak.

And so, we don`t really know anything about what Robert Mueller is up to for real. We don`t know what point he has reached in his investigation. But I will tell you there are two prevailing theories inside the news business as to what it means that White House chief of staff Reince Priebus and White House spokesman Sean Spicer have now had their Mueller interviews.

One theory is that maybe this means Robert Mueller is getting close to the end of his plan to interviews because in a strategic sense at least in an abstract strategic sense, if anybody could be expected to tell tales about a serving president and how that president got into office, you might expect to get those tales not from anybody still currently serving in the White House, you might expect to get those tales told by people who were -- I don`t know -- publicly humiliated and then fired from the White House and who therefore might conceivably have an axe to grind against this White House and the president, right?

Anybody treated horribly and publicly humiliated and chewed up and spit out and fired by the current White House and who since then has no new job, such a person might conceivably, hypothetically, be a ripe target for investigators who were trying to get dirt on the White House, who are trying to build a case against the biggest fish still swimming around the White House. So, that`s one prevailing theory. Maybe Priebus and Spicer as former administration officials maybe them being interviewed indicates that the list of people who Robert Mueller is interviewing is getting to the exciting part, that`s one theory.

Alternate theory is less dramatic but therefore maybe easier to believe, it`s -- it`s possible in this alternate theory that Sean Spicer and Reince Priebus might actually be early interviews in the Mueller investigation, simply because it`s less of a legal fight, there`s less resistance, less red tape to go through to secure cooperation in interviews from former administration officials than it is to talk to people who are still serving in the White House, who have the benefit of the whole White House defense operation to try to fend off the investigation. So, again, we don`t know and anybody who tells you they do know is trying to shine you up for something trust me they don`t know.

So, the opaque methods and tactics of the Mueller investigation, the pace of their inquiry, how close they are to a public accounting of what they have found, all of that really is still a black box to us, and what we know thus far in terms of their interviews with current and former White House officials is an interesting mix based on good reporting.

We`ve been told at least that they`ve interviewed the chief of staff of the National Security Council, Lieutenant General Keith Kellogg. We`ve been told that they`ve interviewed Reince Priebus, former chief of staff. We learned that from his lawyer last week. And now, from politico.com tonight, we know that Sean Spicer, former White House spokesman, has had his Mueller interview as well.

So, don`t read more into that than is available to be -- to be reported. There`s a lot of speculation, but not a lot of knowledge as to what Mueller is doing. We will have a little more news on that subject coming up over the course of this hour.

But we`re going to start tonight in 2006. In modern American electoral history, 2006 is a real swing of the pendulum moment. Republican President George W. Bush first elected in 2000. His party did unexpectedly well in the 2002 midterms, usually a president`s party loses a bunch of seats in the midterms that was not true in the 2002. The Republicans did great in 2002. That was largely attributed to the mood of the country following the 9/11 attacks.

And then in 2004, George W. Bush was reelected. But then it was time for another midterm in 2006. And in 2006, after those three previous elections, there was no mystery that the country was due for the pendulum to swing back toward the Democratic Party`s electoral prospects. We knew that the Democrats going to do well in `06. But in `06, the Democrats exceeded even those very high expectations.

In 2006, Democrats did great. They took complete control of Congress. Nancy Pelosi became the first female speaker of the House in U.S. history. And even though the George W. Bush administration had another two years left to run, in political terms, they really ended up limping to the finish line.

The president and the vice president were so profoundly unpopular by then that Vice President Cheney all but disappeared from public view for the last two years of the George W. Bush administration. The president himself never sunk his approval ratings quite as low as Cheney`s, but he barely showed his face during the 2008 presidential campaign to pick his successor.

And part of the reason for that dramatic change in the political fortunes of the George W. Bush administration, between Bush`s 2004 reelection and the 2006 midterms, part of what explains that swing is the American disaster that was the occasion for this photo. This photo was taken in Arizona on August 29th, 2005. President Bush and his would-be successor, Senator John McCain, in happy times, August 2005, eating birthday cake. It was John McCain`s birthday.

The reason this photo has ended up being famous, a famous moment from the George W. Bush administration, this one became famous alongside this picture, which also became famous, this is from the following day. This is from August 30th.

Both of these pictures which are seemingly very happy on the surface have both become negative touchstones, disaster touchstones from the George W. Bush administration because that picture of President Bush happily strumming the guitar in California and him enjoying birthday cake in Arizona, both of those pictures were taken while Hurricane Katrina was on the 29th, making landfall in New Orleans. And on the following day, on strumming the guitar day, that was the day that New Orleans was absolutely, devastatingly inundated with floodwaters, cause not just by that storm but by the breach of the levees that protected that city.

Eighteen hundred Americans died in Hurricane Katrina. It was a terrible and immense natural disaster. It was a catastrophic failure of American infrastructure and it was all terribly compounded by a disastrous tone- deaf, late, inept response by the federal government. And that explains a lot of what happened in politics in 2006 and in 2008.

But it didn`t take long for people to figure out that`s what`s going on -- that was what was going on. It did not take long after Hurricane Katrina hit for the country to start figuring out that what happened there was not just a storm but was a failure of our government.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REPORTER: On the Gulf Coast, the rescues and recovery have been joined by recriminations. The Bush administration stung by criticism that the initial response was too little, too late.

REPORTER: Administration officials today were on the ground, defending the government`s response but also getting a first-hand reaction and a look at the rescue operations.

REPORTER: Nearly a week after the levee broke in New Orleans, rescuers continued to pull victims off rooftops in the pitch black of night and under a searing Louisiana`s sun, with the death toll expected to climb into the thousands. In New Orleans alone, a local politician said on "Meet the Press", the federal government`s slow response is partly to blame.

AARON BROUSSARD, PRESIDENT, JEFFERSON PARISH: Bureaucracy has committed murder here in the greater New Orleans area and bureaucracy has to stand trial.

REPORTER: But while the administration admits mistakes were made, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff says the focus must be on the ongoing emergency.

TIM RUSSERT, MODERATOR, MEET THE PRESS: So, no heads will roll?

MICHAEL CHERTOFF, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: Tim, in due course if people want to go and chop heads off, there`ll be an opportunity to opportunity to do it. The question I would put to people is, what do you want to have a spend our time on now?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: That was September 2005, early September, while the rescues were still under way, and while Americans were still dying every day in New Orleans.

But eventually some heads did roll in the George W. Bush administration for that disastrous, botched response. George W. Bush`s FEMA director who appeared to have been appointed to that job more as a patronage hire rather than because of his qualifications, he was fired a week after that NBC broadcast we just showed you.

But as 2005 rolled into 2006, that`s when the investigations started into what went wrong. The White House did its own internal investigation. The Senate did its own investigation. But in the House, there were some interesting things there.

The House got their investigation. Their report from their investigation, they got it out first, which made it the most influential of all three of the official government reviews of what went wrong in Katrina`s. They were first.

But it also had an interesting origin story. In the House, there was a big partisan fight over the way that investigation would be in pro approached the house wanted to be a special select committee involving members of both parties, but Democrats objected to the way the Republican majority was approaching it. And after considering their options, House Democrats decided that no Democratic members of Congress would participate in that investigation on a formal level.

So, that was the House of Representatives report into what happened in Katrina, but officially, it was an all Republican House report, looking at the response by that Republican administration. And the rules of partisan politics would suggest that that type of report would end up being a whitewash, because it was Republican members of House looking at the Republican administration. But that`s not what happened.

This was Eric Lipton`s report in "The New York Times" the night before the House posted their report of that investigation. You see the headline there, Republicans report on Katrina, a sales administration`s response. Here`s the lead: House Republicans plan to issue a blistering report on Wednesday that says the Bush administration delayed the evacuation of thousands of New Orleans residents by failing to act quickly on early reports that the levees had broken during her during Hurricane Katrina.

Here was the reporting at the time in "The Washington Post". Which actually had the first report that this investigation was going to go this way. "The Washington Post" called the report, quote, an unusual compendium of criticism by the House GOP, which generally has not been aggressive in its oversight of the administration. Quote, the 600-plus page report lays primary fault with the passive reaction and misjudgment of top Bush aides, singling out Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, the Homeland Security Operations Center, and the White House Homeland Security Council.

Those parts of the government were singled out even by Republicans in Congress. They were singled out as critical failures during Hurricane Katrina, not just because of the lack of preparedness, the lack of caution and recognition about the magnitude of what was about to happen to New Orleans, despite the fact that that storm was bearing down on the city for three full days before it hit and the National Weather Service and the National Hurricane Center were dead right about what was going to happen. So, it`s not like the government didn`t have a warning, right?

But those parts of -- those specific parts of the government that were singled out by this remarkable Republican report on the failings of the government around Hurricane Katrina, they weren`t just singled out because they didn`t plan right. They were singled out in large part because once the disaster started, they couldn`t figure it out they handled information so poorly.

No one knew what was going on. It`s not an externality in a disaster. If no one knows what`s going on, that`s a symptom that your disaster response has failed.

And the breach of the levees in New Orleans was a specific but crucial consequential deadly part of that failing by our government. Yes, it was an infrastructure failing, but there was also a failure in terms of recognizing that it had happened and getting people to safety because of it, and it was a really specific thing, a really specific way that the Bush administration failed on that.

On Monday morning, the 29th, that`s the day of landfall, FEMA had a senior staff member up in a Coast Guard helicopter confirming an eyewitness view of the breached levee in New Orleans a FEMA official. But his own agency, FEMA, and the Homeland Security Department and the White House was somehow unable to absorb that information even from their own senior official, and that had fatal consequences for Americans in New Orleans.

Here`s how that House Republican report wrote it up. Quote: Perhaps the single most important piece of information during Katrina was confirmation of the levee breaches in New Orleans. Beyond the importance of the information itself, the implications of the information determined whether or not Katrina would be just another bad storm in New Orleans or the nation`s worst case hurricane disaster. Because Homeland Security failed to anticipate the likely consequence of the storm and procure the buses, boats and aircraft that were ultimately necessary to evacuate the flooded city prior to Katrina`s landfall, because they didn`t prepare, the next critical decision point in the federal response became confirmation of the levee breaches.

If the levees breached and flooded a large portion of the city, then the flooded city would have to be completely evacuated. Any delay in confirming the breaches would result in the delay of the post-landfall evacuation of the city.

And that is exactly what happened. A FEMA official went up in that Coast Guard helicopter that morning of Monday the 29th, saw it with his own eyes. Confirmed it Monday morning, conveyed that information to FEMA, conveyed that information to the Department of Homeland Security, conveyed that information to the White House, and that information just disappeared.

And so, Monday rolled on into Monday, Monday morning, Monday afternoon, Monday evening, Monday midnight, everybody got good night sleep. On Tuesday morning, the president went and played guitar in California. And then after he left California, he went back to his ranch in Texas to go resume his vacation.

And the vice president had been fishing in Wyoming, he stayed fishing in Wyoming. It`s a nice time to fish in Wyoming.

The White House chief of staff was also on vacation. He was up in Maine. No reason to scramble.

And the head of the Homeland Security Department on Tuesday, the day after landfall, the day after the levees were breached, and New Orleans started to drown and FEMA officials themselves were trying to notify their own agency and their own government of that, on Tuesday, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff flew to an avian flu conference in Georgia, why not? Not busy.

And 1,800 Americans died and not very many heads rolled at all. In fact, quite the contrary. We`re 12 years on now.

Nick Miroff at "The Washington Post" reports that on the White House Homeland Security Council, which was singled out for blame in terms of the management of this disaster, the White House Homeland Security Council at the time of Hurricane Katrina, the head of the prevention preparedness and response directorate at the Homeland Security Council, the special assistant to the president for prevention, preparedness and response, the White House`s point person on information for the hurricane, the person in charge on the Homeland Security Council of managing the flow of information about the storm to the parts of the federal government that were supposed to respond to it, that person, that official was a young woman named Kirstjen Nielsen.

Her head did not roll after Hurricane Katrina, although she played a starring role in some of the reports that criticized the government for their response. Kirstjen Nielsen has just now been nominated by President Trump to run the Department of Homeland Security, which is a $40 billion budget, 240,000 employees, and its remit encompasses more than 26 agencies including FEMA.

If confirmed, she will take charge of Homeland Security Department and FEMA and all the rest of it, at a time that already feels like deja vu.

This was Gabe Gutierrez reporting tonight for "NBC Nightly News"

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GABE GUTIERREZ, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This helmet camera shows the urgent mission the military in remote parts of Puerto Rico, children waiting for water. Now, people are getting so desperate, the EPA says they`re breaking into sealed off wells in the town of Dorado. They`re in an area on the U.S. superfund list, sites so polluted the government considers their cleanup a priority.

Even though there`s a clearly marked danger sign people were willing to risk it ripping off this fence.

This man from Chicago helping with relief efforts comes here at night to find water.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We`re drenched in sweat. We need to pull off some. I know there`s no electricity.

GUTIERREZ: Louis Ortiz (ph) is filling up at a well the EPA has deemed safe.

LOUIS ORTIZ, RESIDENT: This is the water that I drink for me and my wife and my kids.

PETE LOPEZ, EPA REGIONAL ADMINISTRATOR: Water is life. Our main goal is to make sure that public health is protected.

GUTIERREZ: Adding to the frustration, an investigation is underway in another town, Patillas, where Puerto Rico secretary of state says supplies were wasted, left out in heavy rain.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And see that in a dump full of rats, I just got angry.

GUTIERREZ: Tonight, only 17 percent of the island has power, making it hard to pump and treat water, as this crisis deepens.

Gabe Gutierrez, NBC News, Dorado, Puerto Rico.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MADDOW: At the end of Gabe`s piece there, you heard him say 17 percent of the island is without power right now. That`s a number that`s actually been going down over the last week or two. The proportion of Puerto Rico with electric power has been dropping in Puerto Rico as conditions there continue to deteriorate.

Who`s in charge of getting the power back on in Puerto Rico? Good question. We`ve now learned that in Puerto Rico, they`ve picked a mom-and- pop company out of Montana and given them a sole source, no bid contract to stand up the power grid for Puerto Rico.

Now, the Army Corps of Engineers and FEMA are disavowing all knowledge of this contract or any involvement in this plan. Today, the Army Corps of Engineers announced a whole different company would have a contract to stand up the power grid. OK, so maybe they`ll do it. Maybe we`ll all work together. Who`s running this operation?

At the beginning of last week, we highlighted New York times reporting that the USNS Comfort, that state-of-the-art hospital ship that`s docked in Puerto Rico, has the capacity to be seeing hundreds of patients simultaneously, with 800 highly trained medical staff on board, eager and willing to help. At the time we`ve reported that at the beginning of last week, that hospital ship was seeing seven patients. Then, it inched up to eight patients.

Now, more than a week later, there`s still less than 40 people, even though they`ve got hundreds of beds. So, a slight improvement but even all this time later, still hundreds of beds, hundreds of state-of-the-art hospital beds, with state-of-the-art, highly trained medical personnel ready to take care of people just not being utilized, while that ship is docked in Puerto Rico and while conditions in hospitals on Puerto Rico are being described by doctors as quote post-op post-apocalyptic.

What has happened in Puerto Rico now 27 days on is not about a lack of resources. It`s not about a lack of desire on the part of the American people or first responders to help. It is a failed effort in terms of who`s running it, in terms of organization, distribution, allocation of resources and the flow of information.

You think those doctors and nurses on the USNS Comfort don`t want to know where the patients are who most need their help. They`ve know where to get that information.

When President Trump announced the nomination of Kirstjen Nielsen this week to run the Homeland Security Department, he announced that she would need no on-the-job training. He was talking about the comparison between what her role was in Katrina and what he`s doing now in Puerto Rico, he was damn right.

The public relations company that is helping manage Kirstjen Nielsen`s nomination to the cabinet told us tonight that her role in Katrina has been, quote, vastly overstated. They also told us that after she left the George W. Bush White House, she took the lessons of Katrina and put them to good use.

If you`d like to see their full statement, we posted it on our Website tonight for what it`s worth.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: Dabiq, D-A-B-I-Q. It`s a town in Syria. It`s not a big town. It has about 3,000 people. It`s also very close to the Turkish border, about six miles from the border.

In Islamic prophecy, Dabiq is the site of the apocalypse. It`s for the final decisive battle between Muslims and non-believers. It`s supposed to take place at the end of the world. Dabiq.

The terrorist group ISIS decided to put the idea of Dabiq and the place of Dabiq at the center of its propaganda for a long time. That`s where this is video with this image of this ISIS fighter carrying their black flag was taken, on a hillside overlooking Dabiq. It`s also why ISIS initially named their ISIS propaganda magazine "Dabiq" starting in 2014.

Until the October 2016, when ISIS actually did have a battle in the Dabiq and they lost, Syrian rebels pushed ISIS out of that village of Dabiq that ISIS had chosen to put at the center of their propaganda. That made it awkward, of course, since their whole magazine was named after this prophecy about a town they`ve now lost. So, they decided to take the easy route and rename their magazine. It`s now called "Rumiyah", which means Rome in Arabic. At least there`s no threat they`ll lose Rome and have to lose that magazine title as well.

The city of Mosul is in Iraq. It`s about miles north of Baghdad, one of the largest and most cosmopolitan of Iraq`s cities. It also has the distinction of sitting smack in the middle of the Tigris River. The city of Mosul fell to ISIS in the summer of 2014. It was the largest city held by ISIS anywhere in the world.

Before ISIS took over, Mosul was home to almost 2 million people. But once ISIS got there and took over, the population fell to more like half million people because anybody who could get out of there got out of there.

A month after ISIS took Mosul, the head of the group, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, delivered -- well, he would call it a sermon at a historic mosque in Mosul. He declared the formation of an Islamic caliphate and he declared himself to be the caliph, and that was the first and only time Baghdadi has ever appeared in public since he`s been the head of ISIS. It was there in Mosul.

This summer, Iraqi forces led a major offensive to take Mosul back. As Iraqi forces were closing in in the center of the city, that historic mosque or Baghdadi had given that speech, ISIS packed that mosque with explosives, and they`ve just strayed it. They reduced it to rubble. But then Iraqi forces did retake Mosul.

And then there`s Raqqa. Raqqa is a city in Syria. It`s on the banks of the Euphrates River. Raqqa was first captured by Syrian rebels in 2013, and then in 2014, ISIS captured it and declared it its capital. Raqqa was used as a command center for ISIS operations in the Middle East and the West.

It was also the place where ISIS held a lot of American hostages, American prisoners, including journalist James Foley and Steven Sotloff.

Today, that coalition effort in and around Raqqa is reporting that more than 90 percent of Raqqa is now free of ISIS. American backed forces in Syria claim that they have seized control of Raqqa, which is a huge blow to ISIS. Dabiq, Mosul, Raqqa, all major losses all of very different types.

But here`s a couple of things to think about though with this big announcement. CentCom is not saying that Raqqa is completely free of ISIS. They`re saying it`s 90 percent free of ISIS, and that could be an important distinction.

Also, according to "The New York Times" correspondent who covers ISIS, Rukmini Callimachi, these types of announcements have sometimes been oversold in the past. We`ll hear more from Rukmini in a moment about what she means by that.

But it`s also worth keeping in mind that ISIS isn`t just in Syria and Iraq. ISIS is popping up in one iteration or another all over the world, in places like Yemen, in the Philippines, in Niger, where the U.S. just had four Green Berets killed in an ambush.

So, while this is a victory that the U.S. coalition is claiming in Raqqa, it`s important to keep in mind that this, A, isn`t the end, and be still worth being cautious about how we talk about this stuff.

Joining us now is Rukmini Callimachi, foreign correspondent for "The New York Times" who covers ISIS and other terrorist groups.

Rukmini, thanks for being here.

RUKMINI CALLIMACHI, FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Thank you.

MADDOW: You said that sometimes announcements like this in the past have been oversold. What do you mean?

CALLIMACHI: Over and over again, we`ve gotten used to officials getting up on a podium and announcing that Osama bin Laden is dead and that therefore al Qaeda has been decimated or destroyed or degraded, that Mosul has fallen, that Tal Afar has fallen, that Raqqa has fallen, and that therefore, the caliphate is almost over.

What these groups have shown us over and over again is that there is a built-in resilience. These are people that are fighting for an idea that truly energizes them and even as they lose territory and even as they lose leaders, we see that they keep on going. So, you`ll never see me declaring the end of ISIS unless we go for a very long time without seeing this group carrying out attacks.

MADDOW: How important has it been to their strength and their ability to project force beyond territory they hold --

CALLIMACHI: Yes.

MADDOW: -- that they actually hold territory.

Obviously, al Qaeda never proclaimed itself a state and tried to hold territory in the way that ISIS did, but they were still able to project force.

What`s that -- how does that dynamic work with ISIS?

CALLIMACHI: To be sure, the holding of this enormous territory at the height, they held an area that was the size of the United Kingdom. To be sure, that was incredibly important and symbolic and exciting to the people who wanted to join this cause. They were seeing it as the home on earth, where they could lead this life according to this very narrow interpretation of Islam. So, yes, that`s the case.

But what ISIS says it`s own propaganda is they point to their origins in Iraq, in the group that became ISIS. In 2011, when U.S. troops withdrew, they left behind around 700 fighters in 2011. Just three years later, 2014, we see the declaration of the caliphate. I got an email from the coalition a couple of days ago, four days ago. I asked them how many fighters remain and they said that now, even after the fall of Mosul, Hawija, Tal Afar, now possibly Raqqa, they still hold around 6,000 to 10,000 fighters just in Iraq and Syria. So, that`s eight to fourteen times what it was when we left in 2011. That gives you a sense of their depth.

MADDOW: If Raqqa is lost to ISIS, if this 90 percent becomes 100 percent and surely ends up being territory that they have well and truly lost --

CALLIMACHI: Yes.

MADDOW: -- is there an important symbolic factor there? Obviously, for Americans, it`s important because so many Americans who were held hostage and held prisoner and killed by ISIS were held in Raqqa.

CALLIMACHI: Sure. It happened -- it absolutely is an enormous symbolic blow to the group. This is their de facto capital. They call that the capital of the caliphate. It`s also the place where all of the foreign fighters are flocked to.

So, the majority of the Americans, the Brits, the French, who joined ISIS, they went to Raqqa. They didn`t go to Mosul.

So, in those regards, yes, it`s very important. But just in Iraq and Syria, the group still holds around 4,000 square miles of territory.

MADDOW: Wow.

CALLIMACHI: That`s almost the size of Connecticut. You know, that`s not - - that`s not a small --

MADDOW: Still after these battlefield losses.

CALLIMACHI: Still after these battlefield losses. The Anbar Desert, the town of Al Qaim in Iraq, parts of Deir Ezzor province. So they still hold land.

And in addition to that, we know that they have a presence in Libya and Afghanistan, in Yemen, in the Philippines, in West Africa. Just a couple of days ago, ISIS Telegram channels put out a video by a jihadist group we`ve never heard of, where a jihadist is allegedly in the Congo in Africa and asking ISIS supporters to come join them there in the jungle, he said.

MADDOW: In the Congo?

CALLIMACHI: In the Congo.

We have no way of determining whether it`s real, but that gives you a sense of how --

MADDOW: The territorial flexibility?

CALLIMACHI: Exactly, exactly.

MADDOW: Remarkable notes of caution and important stuff.

Rukmini Callimachi, foreign correspondent for "The New York Times", thank you. Appreciate it.

CALLIMACHI: My pleasure. My pleasure.

MADDOW: All right. We`ll be right back. Stay with us.

(MUSIC)

MADDOW: For pure mystery, this one ranks right up there this year. It was June 29th, "The Wall Street Journal" reported on a longtime Republican operative and Trump supporter named Peter W. Smith. Shane Harris at "The Journal" reported that Mr. Smith during the presidential campaign had mounted his own independent campaign to obtain emails he believed were stolen from Hillary Clinton`s private server likely by Russian hackers.

Peter Smith tried to contact Russian government hackers to see if they had Hillary Clinton`s emails, and he was not shy about it. Mr. Smith told "The Journal", quote, we knew the people who had these were probably around the Russian government. Peter Smith also claimed to several associates around the time that he was mounting this little operation that he wasn`t just doing this on his own. He was in direct contact with members of the Trump campaign specifically naming Michael Flynn at that time a senior adviser to Donald Trump he claimed to be in touch with General Flynn and with his with his son Mike Flynn Jr. Just a crazy story, right?

The first detailed reporting about -- I mean literally about collusion, about an American trying to contact Russian government hackers explicitly to collude with them, to work with them in their government`s attack on our election with the goal of helping Donald Trump. And this American admitting that he was doing that to a reporter, kind of bragging about it, yes, it did this thing.

The other really strange thing about that story which was down in the ninth paragraph of the story and came as kind of a shock when you got there was the detail about the American who admitted to all that was no longer alive. Peter Smith 10 died days after recounting his story to "The Wall Street Journal". His hometown paper, "The Chicago Tribune", would later report that the 81-year-old Mr. Smith, quote, killed himself in a Minnesota hotel room he was found with a bag over his head with a source of helium attached.

In a suicide note recovered at the scene, Peter Smith wrote that there was, quote, all caps, no foul play whatsoever, all self-inflicted, no party assisted or had knowledge doesn`t accomplished before the fact. All caps.

A worker at the hotel where Mr. Smith killed himself said he noticed Smith pacing in the lobby area the morning that he died. Quote: It seemed like he had a lot on his mind.

The story of Peter Smith is just this strange mystery in the middle of what`s a very mysterious time in American politics anyway. Obviously, it`s a profoundly sad story as well because it involves him dying in the middle of it.

But in the course of his quest to obtain dirt on Hillary Clinton from Russian hackers, he enlisted some other Americans to help with technical aspects of that project. One was a cyber security analyst named Matt Tait. In a provocatively titled piece this summer, Matt Tait went on the record about how he got involved in Mr. Smith`s project without really knowing what it was about. He said: The time I got recruited to collude with the Russians.

As we discussed the night he published that, Mr. Tate was interviewed -- excuse me, as we discussed last night, Mr. Tate was interviewed by the House Intelligence Committee. In that interview, Tate reportedly reiterated to investigators his belief that Peter Smith had ties to members of Trumps inner circle, including Mike Flynn, also he believed Peter Smith may have been working as an unofficial opposition research arm for the Trump campaign.

So, we knew that as of last night`s show that this guy who worked with Peter Smith on this effort to collude with the Russians, the cybersecurity analyst had spoken with the House Intelligence Committee, House Intelligence. Now, today, we learned from the indefatigable Natasha Bertrand at "Business Insider" that even before that House Intelligence interview, that same cybersecurity guy, Matt Tait, also got interviewed by Robert Mueller.

So, you know, the good news about that in terms of whether or not we`re ever going to get to the bottom of this Russia scandal is that this appears to be a concrete instance of a case where there doesn`t seem to be a conflict between the Mueller investigation and the investigations being run by Congress, right?

In this case, Matt Tait`s interview with the special counsel, Robert Mueller, apparently didn`t preclude him from subsequently appearing before the House Intelligence Committee. That`s good news. We`ve been told to worry and in some cases, we have worried about each of these investigations stepping on each other`s toes or messing up each other`s investigatory flow.

That`s a good news. Apparently, both sides are proceeding as they wish.

The bad news is that the Democrats on that committee that talked to Matt Tait, they are screaming bloody murder right now about the investigation getting messed up, and it seems like nobody`s listening to them on that right now, but that story is next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: So, this isn`t exactly tapped out in Morse code, but I do think it amounts to a kind of distress signal. Over the weekend, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff, put this warning in "The Washington Post". He warned there were, quote, growing calls from the White House and outside parties to halt the congressional investigations.

That follows another Democratic member of the same committee, Eric Swalwell, who has now called on House Speaker Paul Ryan to step in and put an end to Republican efforts to slow down and shut down committee investigations into the Russian matter.

Quote: Paul Ryan is the only person who can intervene. If he`s not willing to, then it`s just going to continue and the committee`s final report will have an asterisk on it.

Joining us now is Congressman Eric Swalwell. He sits on the House Intelligence Committee, represents northern California.

Congressman, thank you for being here.

REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D-CA), HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Yes, good evening. Thanks for having me back.

MADDOW: Represent a very nice place to Northern California, where my parents live and where I grew up.

SWALWELL: Let me ask you about why you and Congressman Schiff issued these both sort of similar warnings, essentially, to my mind, you`re signaling that there`s external pressures on the investigations that your committee is doing that you think might be dangerous.

SWALWELL: Yes, Russia infected our democracy of this past election. We haven`t kicked it yet, but we believe that we still don`t fully know, you know, how affected we are. And the best antidote to what they did and what they can continue to do is unity, unity in our investigation, complete investigations where we set the terms with the witnesses, they turn over documents, and we make progress.

Disunity, we fear, if we have a majority report with a flat earth you know set of findings and our report which would probably align I think more with what they`re doing in the bipartisan way in the Senate, that disunity would actually help the Russians come at us again. They would exploit that to prove their narrative that they didn`t really attack us, we wouldn`t be able to put reforms in place. And I think 2018 could be even worse.

MADDOW: One of the things I talked about earlier in the show, just for a totally different story, was the example of what happened after Hurricane Katrina and the government failures in 2005. Investigations in Congress and in the White House in 2006 included this one report that was from the Republicans in the House, Democrats chose not to participate in it because they`re worried it was going to be too partisan, turned out to be a blistering report by Republican members about a Republican administration designed to fix those problems so no Katrina would ever happen again.

It`s a decade ago. At the time, we felt like we were an impossibly partisan country the Democrats wouldn`t even sit on that committee. But I felt like there was a little bit of ray of hope there for the kinds of investigations that you`re involved in now. I mean, do you see any, any silver linings, any Republicans who`ve been real profiles in courage in terms of willing to take a real, you know, party second, country first approach to this?

SWALWELL: Yes, Mike Conaway and Adam Schiff have worked tremendously better than Adam Schiff was when Devin Nunes was out conducting his own investigation.

MADDOW: OK.

SWALWELL: But the chair, Chairman Nunes still, you know, interjects himself and, you know, issues subpoenas without working with the Democrats and that is obstructive.

Despite that, we keep going forward. All of us believe that on the Democratic side and to Republicans that an independent investigation like we did after September 11th -- bipartisan appointed, independent experts and foreign policy, national security -- that is the most comprehensive way we could go at this and put in place the reforms that we need to do.

We did that after September 11th. We`re safer in our country today because bipartisan minds came together outside of Congress, recognizing that it was getting too politicized. I think we have to still do that here.

MADDOW: Congressman Swalwell, can you hold on for one second? I have something else to ask you about that I bet you won`t answer but I`m going to try my best.

SWALWELL: There we go.

MADDOW: Congressman Eric Swalwell is on the House Intelligence Committee. He joins us again in just one moment. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: Joining us once again because he`s here in New York and I wouldn`t let him leave, Congressman Eric Swalwell, who sits on the House Intelligence Committee.

Congressman, thank you for staying with us.

SWALWELL: Of course.

MADDOW: Let me ask you about Samantha Power, Susan Rice -- you`ve got a couple of Obama administration officials who have been brought before your committee to do questioning with members the committee or with staff, and those have received less attention than some of the other people you`ve talked to or associated with the Trump campaign and the Trump administration.

Why have those Obama administration officials been called in? And how have those interviews gone?

SWALWELL: Part of our investigation is to understand the government response, that`s important, so that we can, you know, identify what to do next time a hacking and interference campaign --

MADDOW: How the government responded to the Russians?

SWALWELL: That`s right.

MADDOW: Yes.

SWALWELL: But the energy and the curiosity that I`ve seen from my Republican colleagues has been, you know, to really focus on these wild, unproven unmasking claims and to have Samantha Power -- believe it or not - - she sat in the witness chair almost two times longer than Jared Kushner, a relevant percipient witness who was on the email chain, Clinton/Russia private confidential. He was allowed to walk out when he didn`t want to conduct the interview --

MADDOW: So, he was there for two hours and she was there for four hours?

SWALWELL: She exhausted them, stayed the whole time, and that`s the problem here, is we need unity in our approach here, exhausts, you know all of the witnesses, chase down all the evidence and then have a report that we all can find consensus on and make the reform so that this mess never happens again.

MADDOW: Is that how the majority is approaching this? Should the Democrats bail? Should you guys bail from this report and do your own thing?

SWALWELL: I think we need to show the American people that, you know, we`re going to be dogged in our pursuit, just as dogged as Bob Mueller and his team are. And, you know, if the Republicans don`t want to be a part of it, that`s their decision. If they want to be a part of it, we can still find that unity.

MADDOW: Congressman Eric`s Swalwell, sits on the House Intelligence Committee, represents Northern California -- sir, thank you very much. Nice to have you here. Thanks.

SWALWELL: Yes. My pleasure.

MADDOW: We`ll be right back. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: What are you doing tomorrow at 10:00 a.m. Eastern Time?

If you`re watching me right now, I`m guessing you are busy tomorrow at 10:00 a.m. Eastern Time. If you are busy at 10:00 a.m. Eastern, then what is your DVR doing then? Because you might want to set it tonight for 10:00 a.m. tomorrow.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has a very important date tomorrow, and it`s going to be on TV. He is going back to the Judiciary Committee in the Senate for the first time since his confirmation hearing in January, when he very famously told that committee under oath that he hadn`t talked to any Russians during the campaign, even though he had talked to Russians during the campaign -- at least twice.

When those meetings got uncovered by reporters in March, the attorney general announced that he would recuse himself from matters having to do with the Trump campaign or anything else having to do with the presidential campaign because of that misstatement in his confirmation hearing. That was his solution to the mess that he created.

But you know what? Senators don`t like being lied to. And Jeff Sessions never apologized or really cleaned up that lie he told to his confirmation hearing.

Well, tomorrow, Jeff Sessions goes back before that same Senate Judiciary Committee again, the one he lied to, for what`s supposed to be a routine oversight hearing. I have my doubts it will be a routine oversight hearing. And it starts tomorrow 10:00 a.m. Eastern. I will watch.

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.

END

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.