Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: December 8, 2017
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Thanks for joining us this hour. Nice to have you here.
We have a special report for you tonight on a story we`ve been working on for a very long time now. For going on a year and a half, we`ve been digging into the Russian attempt not just to interfere in this election but interfere for the benefit of Russia`s chosen candidate.
That candidate of course, is now the president. And his administration has been dogged since before day one by questions of whether his campaign was involved in the Russian intelligence operation that tried to influence our election.
Two members of the president`s campaign including the former national security advisor have now plead guilty to lying to the contacts about the Russians. But tonight, we`re going to take a step back to intriguing and in many ways president document at the heart of Trump Russia story.
We`re going to step back and look at the 35-page Trump Russia dossier. And depending on which way the news is blowing, the allegations contained in this document can sound outlandish or they can sound freakishly spot on.
Where did this dossier come from? Have we learned from it? Does it yet have to say?
This is some of what we learned.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Are there any Russians here tonight? Any Russians?
MALCOLM NANCE, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: They`ve conducted Watergate 2.0.
VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (translated): All this stuff is obviously fake.
TURMP: This fake dossier was made up.
DAVID CORN, MOTHER JONES: I don`t use the term dossier. These were field reports.
MICHAEL ISIKOFF, YAHOO NEWS: Is there something here that I could verify?
TRUMP: I call it the Russian hoax. It`s all fake news. I am not involved in Russia. The president of the United States.
SUBTITLE: The Dossier: TRMS Special Report.
MADDOW (voice-over): It started in the spring of 2016 with a former British spy whose name was almost too James Bond to be true. Steele. Christopher Steele.
TRUMP: And we will make America great again.
Thank you, everybody.
MADDOW: If you were looking to investigate Donald Trump`s alleged Russia connections, Christopher Steele would seem like the perfect fit.
NIGEL WEST, WRITER/HISTORIAN: He can tell you off the top of his head, the leading members of Russian mafia, people who have influence in the Kremlin and so on.
MADDOW: Nigel West knows Christopher Steele. He`s a writer and historian whose specialty is British intelligence. West says that Steele was MI6`s man in Moscow in the early 1990s.
WEST: Thereafter, he ended his career as the head of the train of new entry and intelligence officers and that`s considered to be an important role.
MADDOW: After retiring, Steele started a new company called Orbis Business Intelligence located in this building in London. Orbis specialized in getting corporate executives deep targeted intel on foreign countries they were dealing with. Steele`s specialty was Russia.
WEST: I have listened to his presentations, what he calls the kleptocracy. This is the Putin regime and the way that it has effectively looted the former Soviet Union and he`s the go-to guy. If there is anybody that wants to conduct due diligence investigations, he knows every personality.
MADDOW: Jonathan Winer is a former deputy assistant secretary of state for law enforcement in the Clinton administration. He says he first met Christopher Steele in Washington in 2009.
JONATHAN WINER, FORMER DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE: He knew more about Russian organized crime, Russian financial crime, Russian money laundering, Russian corruption than I did and I knew quite a bit.
MADDOW: According to Winer, Steele occasionally provided reports on developments inside Putin`s Russia to his colleagues at the State Department.
WINER: The people working Russia all the time valued the reports. They thought they were well-sourced. They thought they were remarkably timely.
MADDOW: The State Department wasn`t the only U.S. agency to rely on Christopher Steele.
WINER: I understood he had a relationship with the FBI relating to the FIFA soccer scandal and had been a significant source for them in making cases in that area.
MADDOW: In 2016, though, the Americans calling Christopher Steele weren`t FBI agents. The call he got in 2016 was from a small Washington research firm called Fusion GPS. Fusion GPS was founded by former "Wall Street Journal" reporters. This is how one of Fusion`s founders Glenn Simpson described his company`s mission when he spoke at a 2009 symposium on investigative reporting at the University of California at Berkeley.
GLENN SIMPSON, FUSION GPS FOUNDER: We`re hoping that people who have an interest in bringing things out do something about corruption and fraud, will come to us. They don`t necessarily have to have completely pure motives. You know, frequently there is people who are in business and sick of competitors who cheat and want to see things exposed. That`s, you know, that`s a sort of model for our new project.
MADDOW: Fusion had first been hired by a conservative Website called "The Washington Free Beacon". That Website and its funders were opposed to Donald Trump during the Republican primaries.
TRUMP: I hear they are all going after me. Whatever, whatever. I hear it.
MADDOW: Once Trump appeared to clinch the nomination, those initial conservative funders at the Free Beacon lost interest in the Trump project. Soon, though, new clients agreed to pay for Fusion`s research -- the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton campaign.
HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Friends don`t let friends vote for Trump.
MADDOW: At first, Fusion concentrated on Trump`s business career. His casinos. His multiple business bankruptcies.
TRUMP: I`ve used the laws of the country to make good deals for myself.
MADDOW: But they soon noticed that Trump`s organization seems to do a lot of business with Russians, particularly at times when Trump`s businesses might have been strapped for cash.
JAMES HENRY, ECONOMIST/LAWYER: Trump is experiencing extreme financial difficulties. June 2008.
MADDOW: James Henry is an economist, lawyer and investigative journalist who has written extensively about post-Soviet Russia and Donald Trump`s Russian connections.
HENRY: The only way that he survives is by calling on new sources capital, basically or money pouring out of places like Russia and former Soviet Union states like Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan.
MADDOW: There was nothing to suggest anything illegal about that, but the investigators working for Fusion GPS thought there might be more to know. So, they went looking for someone who knew Russia, someone who had sources in Russia -- someone like Christopher Steele.
WINER: At some point in the summer of 2016, I heard from Mr. Steele he had this project relating to Russia, which implicated contacts between Russians and people associated with President Trump`s campaign, or candidate Trump`s
MADDOW: Steele had barely begun his investigation of Trump`s Russia ties when a very big Russia story broke in the United States. It was June 14th, 2016 and "The Washington Post" reported that the Democratic national committee had been hacked. Security analysts suspected Russia was behind it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This was a clear espionage attempt by the Russian government to steal information about the U.S. political process.
MADDOW: Malcolm Nance is a former naval intelligence officer and an MSNBC contributor. He wrote a book called "The Plot to Hack America" about Russia`s meddling.
NANCE: Putin views Russia as missing its place as the number one superpower in the world even though it`s economically on par with Italy. But to do it, you can use soft power. You can use hybrid warfare, which is a melange of political warfare, propaganda, uniformed special operations, everything short of war to disable your enemy. And in the case of the United States, the easiest thing to disable is democracy because Russia does not believe in democracy.
MADDOW: Six days after "The Washington Post`s" first story on Russia hacking, Christopher Steele sent his first report to Fusion GPS. It was the first page that set the tone for all of the memos and for all of the controversy that followed. Steele wrote on that first page, quote, Russia regime has been cultivating, supporting and assisting Trump for at least five years. Aim endorsed by Putin has been to encourage splits and divisions in western alliance.
According to Steele`s unnamed sources, Trump`s inner circle had accepted a regular flow of intelligence from the Kremlin.
But there was also something else, Steele went on to say that Russia had enough embarrassing material on the now Republican presidential candidate to be able to blackmail him if they so wished.
Steele`s memo asserted that some of Russia`s alleged embarrassing material on Trump had been gathered back in 2013 when Trump brought his Miss Universe pageant to Moscow.
That salacious claim about Trump`s time in Moscow was a small part of the first Christopher Steele memo. When the full Steele dossier later became public, that claim would be the headline. But it was Steele`s broader assertions about Russia`s aims, Russia`s methods and Russia`s relationship with Trump that would end up slow burning through the whole first year of the Trump presidency.
MADDOW: For 20 years, Christopher Steele has kept his head down and held his secret close to the vest. But the things he was hearing from his deep cover sources inside Russia during the summer of 2016 changed all that. According to Jonathan Winer, Steele felt at the Russians intended to meddle in the upcoming American election, the FBI should know about it.
WINER: That is the kind of thing the FBI needs to know and to assess professionally impartially in order to protect our country. That`s how I felt about it. I believe that`s how Mr. Steele felt about it.
MADDOW: In late June, with the permission of his clients at Fusion, Christopher Steele met with an old FBI contact in the U.K. His intel was raw and unverified but his concern was real.
WINER: You don`t gather information like this and not pass it onto the FBI. That would be wrong. Passing onto the FBI would be the right thing to do.
MADDOW: The FBI had interacted with Steele before on the FIFA soccer bribery scandal and other matters. Christopher Steele was a known quantity to the bureau, and they were interested in what he had to say about Trump and Russia. After that first meeting, the bureau told Steele they wanted more. Steele promised to keep them in the loop.
Weeks later on July 19th, 2016, Steele sent off the second Trump memo. This was the headline, Russia: Secret Kremlin meetings attended by Trump advisor Carter Page in Moscow. According to Steele sources, the meetings involved a move to lift Ukraine related Western sanctions against Russia.
CROWD: USA! USA!
MADDOW: On the day, that report was filed, the Republican National Convention was getting underway in Cleveland, Ohio. At the time, a few American journalists were starting to see the vague outlines of a Trump- Russia story. Trump`s appointment of Paul Manafort as the campaign chair raised eyebrows because Manafort had spent years working for politicians.
ISIKOFF: What started to give the Russia story some traction was Paul Manafort`s role.
MADDOW: Michael is an investigative reporter that writes for Yahoo News. Trump put Manafort in charge of managing the convention.
ISIKOFF: It seemed odd that the Trump campaign had this senior official who was so closely associated with a government that had become a foreign adversary.
MADDOW: For Isikoff, that was the first red flag.
ISIKOFF: Then the Republican convention`s platform is changed to remove language that had been proposed that would offer lethal assistance to the Ukrainians who were fighting Russian intervention in their country.
MADDOW: From Isikoff`s perspective, that was red flag number two.
ISIKOFF: And then you had Michael Flynn who was emerging as perhaps the chief foreign policy national security advisor to the Trump campaign.
MICHAEL FLYNN, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: Lock her up. That`s right. That`s right. Lock her up.
ISIKOFF: I interviewed Flynn that day, the afternoon of his speech.
You flew over to Moscow --
ISIKOFF: And one thing I pressed him on was the trip he made to Moscow in December 2015 and I asked an obvious question, which was, why did you take the trip and who paid for it?
FLYNN: I didn`t take any money from Russia, if that`s what you`re asking me.
ISIKOFF: Well, then, who paid you?
FLYNN: My speaker`s bureau. Ask them.
It`s like what`s going on here? Everybody knows the way these things work. The speaker`s bureau was a conduit, it takes a cut, sets up the speech, but the money comes from the client, the client here was RT, the Russian propaganda station.
TRUMP: I humbly and gratefully accept your nomination for the presidency of the United States.
MADDOW: The final red flag came on the day after Donald Trump accepted the Republican nomination. On July 22nd, 2016, days before the Democrats were to open their convention, WikiLeaks published thousands of stolen Democratic Party e-mails.
ISIKOFF: That was something new. That was something we had isn`t seen before and it clearly shook up the Democrats.
MADDOW: Malcolm Nance says it was the moment he knew America was under attack.
NANCE: When WikiLeaks released the information, the first thing I thought was, this is an old style KGB political warfare operation but it`s been modernized with computer technology and that they conducted Watergate 2.0. Successful Watergate.
MADDOW: Soon after the WikiLeaks dump, Christopher Steele filed another Trump memo, quote, Russian regime behind the leak of embarrassing email messages emanating from the Democratic National Committee to the WikiLeaks platform. One of Steele`s sources described as an ethic Russian close to Donald Trump told Steele this.
Quote, there was a well-developed conspiracy of cooperation between them and the Russian leadership. This was managed on the Trump side by the Republican candidate`s campaign manager Paul Manafort using policy advisor Carter Page and others as intermediaries.
At this point, American journalists knew nothing of Christopher Steele or his reports, but there was a rumor making the rounds that had its origins in Steele`s first memo to Fusion GPS. The rumor was that Russia had something compromising on Trump. There were whispers in D.C. reporting circles about a sex tape with prostitutes at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Moscow.
KEN DILANIAN, NBC NEWS INTELLIGENCE AND NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: So, people associated with the Democrats were pedaling that story.
MADDOW: NBC`s intelligence and national security reporter Ken Dilanian.
DILANIAN: I mean, we did hear things like look, if you did anything at the Ritz Charlton Moscow, that whole place is wired by Russian intelligence for video and sound. So, it`s perfectly plausible that anybody who engaged in embarrassing activities there would be on tape and Russian spies would have that tape, but there was really no way you can prove it.
MADDOW: Alongside those swirling rumors were other new questions about Trump and Russia, questions sparked by Trump`s own public remarks and his own behavior on the campaign trail.
TRUMP: Russia, if you`re listening, I hope you`re able to find the 30,000 e-mails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.
MADDOW: On October 7th, 2016, the presidential campaign entered the final stretch when three stories broke within minutes of each other. The first came at 3:30 Eastern Time, that Friday afternoon. The directors of homeland security and national intelligence declaring for the first time that the Russian government was behind the DNC hack and the weaponization of the stolen e-mails.
But the WikiLeaks dump of those DNC documents was part of a Russian government operation ordered at the highest level.
PETE WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: And this statement is very dramatic. It says that the U.S. intelligence community is confident that the Russian government directed the recent compromises of e-mails from Americans and U.S. institutions, including U.S. political organizations.
MADDOW: Just 30 minutes later, "The Washington Post" sees the news cycle when it posted the now notorious "Access Hollywood" tape.
UNIDENTIFEID MALE: And some breaking news, this coming in just in the last few seconds. NBC news has just became aware of a video capturing Donald Trump making vulgar comments about women back in 2005.
TRUMP: When you`re a star they let you do it. You can do anything.
BILLY BUSH: Whatever you want.
MADDOW: Then 30 minutes after that, WikiLeaks appeared to counter-punch with the release of e-mails hacked from the personal account of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta.
MITCHELL: This is another hack, a hacking organization that has alleged ties to the Russians.
MADDOW: In the middle of that wild news cycle in October, investigative reporter David Corn of the left leaning "Mother Jones" magazine got wind of something big, something unprecedented, if it was true. His sources told him that Russia had something on Trump, and the details were written down in a series of secret documents.
CORN: I was told about the memos in great detail.
MADDOW: David Corn discovered who wrote the memos. A former British intelligence officer named Christopher Steele.
CORN: I was able to do some research on him and find out at the very least he was who he said he was and that he had the intelligence pedigree that he -- that I`d been told that he had.
MADDOW: By mid October, Christopher Steele had filed 15 of the 16 memos that would later be called the dossier. David Corn saw several of the memos.
CORN: I don`t use the term dossier because it`s not really a dossier. That gives the impression of sort of a finished product that was compiled into one single, you know, entity, one document. These were field reports. It was very much the way a reporter in the field would send notes to an editor.
MADDOW: To try to verify the credibility of Steele`s memos, David Corn started calling his own sources. Malcolm Nance was one of them.
NANCE: David Corn, the first one to receive the Christopher Steele dossier contacted me and he wanted to ask me some questions about how do you evaluate this information?
MADDOW: After doing his own due diligence, Corn arranged to do an interview via Skype with Christopher Steele himself.
CORN: Our agreement at the time was that I could, you know, quote him but I would not identify him by name.
MADDOW: The former spy didn`t want publicity. He wanted action.
In the interview, Steele told Corn this is something of huge significance, way above party politics. He said: I think Trump`s own party should be aware of this stuff, as well.
Corn had his scoop, but he knew he had to be careful.
CORN: I wasn`t going to take specific allegations, particularly the salacious ones, because even Donald Trump is owed a degree of fairness but also just for journalistic integrity, you don`t want to report allegations about anyone that you can`t verify that aren`t true.
MADDOW: Still, Corn believed Steele`s reputation and the FBI`s interest in the broader outlines of Steele`s story gave it credibility.
CORN: The FBI, you know, having said get lost, they will give us more information here.
MADDOW: A few minutes before midnight on Halloween 2016, "Mother Jones" posted David Corn`s article under this headline: A veteran spy has given the FBI information alleging a Russian operation to cultivate Donald Trump.
It was the public`s first glimpse of a story that a handful of reporters had been chasing for months, a candidate with a murky relationship to a hostile foreign power, a Russian plot to tamper with our election. Possible Trump campaign collusion with the Kremlin.
The story was potentially huge and intriguing. But it was vague. Who was this veteran spy? And what was the Russian operation? How serious were these allegations?
Ultimately, David Corn`s article was swamped by the news cycle. Days earlier, the FBI had reopened an investigation of Hillary Clinton`s use of a private e-mail server while secretary of state.
LESTER HOLT, NBC NEWS ANCHOR: The FBI dropped a bomb in the race for president this afternoon.
MADDOW: That story and reaction to it would dominate the headlines right up to Election Day.
TRUMP: Very proud that the FBI was willing to do this, actually. Really.
MADDOW: When the calendar finally flipped November 8th and election day arrived, Donald Trump won enough electoral votes to become president of the United States.
AUDIENCE: USA! USA! USA!
MADDOW: The election may have been over, but the hard work of finding out what role the Russians played in the 2016 election, that work is just beginning.
MADDOW: In the dwindling days of 2016, President-elect Donald Trump went about choosing his cabinet and his White House staff. David Corn`s October scoop about those Trump memos from a Western spy, that was long forgotten until, 10 days before the inauguration, that story came roaring back when CNN reported that both President Obama and President-elect Trump had been briefed by the intelligence community on a two-page summary of the Christopher Steele dossier.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: The information was provided as part of last week`s classified intelligence briefings regarding Russian efforts to undermine the U.S. election.
MADDOW: That report set off alarm bells in the New York offices of "BuzzFeed News". As was true at several other news organizations, reporters at BuzzFeed had obtained a copy of Christopher Steele`s memos.
BEN SMITH, BUZZFEED: We looked at things that seemed confirmable.
MADDOW: Ben Smith is "BuzzFeed`s" editor-in-chief. He says BuzzFeed was not able to verify claims in the dossier, but Smith felt that the fact that such a dossier was being taken seriously by U.S. intelligence, that itself was news.
SMITH: We knew that this document was being circulated and acted upon at the levels of government, and you see important decision-makers making decisions about how they are relating to the administration, how about they are thinking about Russia that are explained by this piece of dark matter.
MADDOW: Ben Smith and others at "BuzzFeed" felt it was time to let their audience in on what was fast becoming the worst-kept secret in Washington.
SMITH: The question we ask ourselves is why would we keep this from the audience?
MADDOW: At 5:20 p.m. on January 10th, "BuzzFeed" hit publish. All 35 pages of the dossier went online with a warning that the allegations are unverified and the report contains errors.
SMITH: That was really our main goal in our summery of it was to say very, very clearly we haven`t verified this, there are some minor as you say, minor but real errors in it that could give you pause, and here is what we know about where it comes from.
MADDOW: It was explosive stuff and not just the lewd allegations. There were other serious charges, names named in black and white. The public was seeing it all for the first time. According to the dossier`s unnamed sources, campaign chairman Paul Manafort managed a conspiracy of cooperation with the Russians. Foreign policy advisor Carter Page served as an intermediary with the Russians. Trump`s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, traveled to Prague to meet with Russians trying to cover up the scandal.
MATTHEWS: Damaging allegations about Trump and his dealings with Russians.
MADDOW: The reaction from the Trump camp was immediate and furious.
REINCE PRIEBUS, FORMER RNC CHAIRMAN: The "BuzzFeed" memo is total complete garbage is what it is.
MADDOW: The Trump associates named in the dossier vehemently denied any wrongdoing. Paul Manafort said the allegations were a Democrat Party dirty trick and completely false.
CARTER PAGE, TRUMP CAMPAIGN AIDE: It`s so crazy that it`s laughable.
MADDOW: Carter Page admitted he had been to Russia but gone on personal business, not as Trump`s Russian go between.
PAGE: I had no dealings in Russia that would directly lead -- that had anything to do with the Trump campaign.
MADDOW: As for Michael Cohen, Trump`s lawyer, he tweeted a picture of his passport and said he had never been to Prague, and even though it is common to travel in Europe without a passport stamped in every country visited, Cohen`s passport tweet was touted by the president-elect as a definitive repudiation of the entire dossier.
TRUMP: It`s a disgrace what took place. It`s a disgrace and I think they ought to apologize and start with Michael Cohen.
MADDOW: At the press conference, the president-elect attacked not just the dossier itself, he accused the U.S. intelligence community of leaking it.
TRUMP: I think it was disgraceful, disgraceful that the intelligence agencies allowed any information that turned out to be so false and fake out. I think it`s a disgrace and I say that and I say that and that`s something that Nazi Germany would have done and did do.
MADDOW: Trump also lashed out at "BuzzFeed".
TRUMP: "BuzzFeed", which is a failing pile of garbage.
MADDOW: On top of the criticism from the president-elect, "BuzzFeed" also took heat from journalists for having published admittedly unverified allegations.
CHUCK TODD, MODERATOR, MEET THE PRESS: Are you knowingly spreading false information?
SMITH: I mean, I think as with the Obama birth certificate during the Obama campaign, this is an incredibly difficult balance that everybody in our business navigates every day.
MADDOW: Because "BuzzFeed" did not redact all personal identifying information for people mentioned in the dossier, several Russians named in it later said they had been libeled by its publications. Those Russians are now suing "BuzzFeed", Christopher Steele and Fusion GPS.
David Corn feared that "BuzzFeed" put at risk the lives of Christopher Steele`s sources.
CORN: One concern I had was, you know, that this could put some sources into trouble and, you know, maybe even put Steele into some trouble, as well.
MADDOW: Days after "BuzzFeed" published the dossier, "The Wall Street Journal" publicly identified Christopher Steele as the dossier`s author.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The reports compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele and published by "BuzzFeed".
MADDOW: Within hours of being outed, Steele went into hiding with his wife and children.
WEST: The media were all over him.
MADDOW: Christopher Steele`s friend Nigel West.
WEST: The expedient he adopted was absolutely the correct advice anybody in reputation management would give, which is say nothing and disappear.
MADDOW: In the days immediately after the dossier`s publication, anyone interested in Russia`s role in the 2016 election had read it, including Christopher Steele`s old friend Jonathan Winer.
WINER: I looked at it like I look at all reports which is you look at the professionalism of the person gathering it, their background, the care with which they operate. And you say this is serious stuff. But intelligence is not evidence. These are two very different things.
MADDOW: Now that the dossier was public record and fierce political controversy, the core question remained, were the allegations in it true? Intelligence professionals like former British officer Glenn Mortimer Harvey (ph) wondered if perhaps the Russians might have deliberately fed Steele some bogus information.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The thing depends on who indeed Christopher Steele sources were. They might indeed have genuine access of the kind he talks about, and 70, 80 percent of what they are telling him was true. However, there might be that 20 percent actually comes from Putin`s administration and it is information they want to put over. It`s not necessarily correct.
MADDOW: The truth, deliberate lies, weaponized half-truths, it would be up to investigators to sort those out.
On the Russian side, though, their response was clear and consistent from the beginning. Deny everything.
Dmitri Peskov is Putin`s press secretary.
DMITRI PESKOV, PUTIN`S PRESS SECRETARY: But I can ensure you that the allegations in those -- in this paper and so-called report, they are untrue and they are all fake.
MADDOW: Fake may have been the word for it in Moscow but in Washington, the dossier and some of its allegations were starting to bare out under scrutiny and thus began an unprecedented national security scandal that threatened to end a presidency as it was beginning.
TRUMP: I, Donald John Trump, do solemnly swear that --
MADDOW: After Donald Trump took the oath of office in January 2017, a steady barrage of news reports started to reveal the character of the Russian campaign to influence the American presidential election, the circulation and hyping of internal Democratic Party documents that had been stolen by Russian hackers. Fake social media profiles pushing divisive story lines and attempting to drive support for Trump.
Thousands of Russian bought online ads targeting and trying to sway millions of American voters. And alongside those revelations, time and again, previously unreported meetings between Trump associates and Russians linked to the Putin government, both during the campaign and during the presidential transition.
HOLT: A storm of controversy swirling around national security advisor Michael Flynn.
BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST, THE 11TH HOUR: We`re staying with breaking news that Donald Trump`s attorney general met with the Russian ambassador.
CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST, ALL IN: Jared Kushner met with the Russian ambassador in secret.
MADDOW: In response, the president would invert the revelations about Russia flooding propaganda and disinformation into the campaign. He flipped that. He denounced mainstream American journalism as fake news.
TRUMP: The leaks are absolutely real. The news is fake, because so much of the news is fake.
MADDOW: By late January, the White House had been warned that the president`s national security advisor Michael Flynn had been compromised by his undisclosed contacts with the Russian ambassador. In February, Flynn resigned.
MIKA BRZEZINSKI, MSNBC HOST, MORNIGN JOE: National security advisor Michael Flynn is OUT.
MADDOW: In March, Attorney General Jeff Session was forced to admit he also had unreported meetings with the Russian ambassador.
JEFF SESSIONS, ATTORNEY GENERAL: I haven now decided to recuse myself from any existing or future investigations.
MADDOW: And in May, the most stunning turn of all, the president fired FBI Director James Comey, a man who had been leading the counter intelligence investigation into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia -- Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), SENATE MINORITY LEADER: President Trump called me and informed me he was firing Director Comey. I told the president, Mr. President, with all due respect, you`re making a big mistake.
MADDOW: In an interview with NBC`s Lester Holt, Trump acknowledged that the Russia investigation was one reason for the firing.
TRUMP: When I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made up story.
MADDOW: Under oath, Comey would later testify on four separate occasions, the president had pressured him over the FBI`s Russia investigation. The president firing James Comey did not derail that investigation. It led instead to a special counsel taking the reins. Former FBI Director Robert Mueller. In March 2017, after two months of hiding, Christopher Steele eventually reemerged.
CHRISTOPHER STEELE, EX-BRITISH SPY: I`m really pleased to be back here working again at the offices in London today.
MADDOW: But he left it to others to solve the puzzle his dossier created.
STEELE: Just to add I won`t be making any further statements or comments at this time. Thank you so much.
MADDOW: True to his word, Steele stayed out of the public eye but has reportedly been interviewed by the investigators working for special counsel Robert Mueller. And in a November 2017 book by Luke Harding, a reporter for "The Guardian" newspaper, Harding says Steele has told friends that he believes his dossier is 70 to 90 percent accurate and it will be vindicated by Robert Mueller`s investigation.
According to Harding, Steele said, quote, I`ve been dealing with this country for 30 years. Why would I invent stuff?
Now, more than a year after the presidential election, Steele`s memos are an object of fierce controversy. Some elements of the dossier have been verified. A number remain neither verified nor proven false, but none so far have been publicly disproven.
The ranking Democrat on the Intelligence Committee in the House is California Congressman Adam Schiff.
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: When you look at just what has become public, some of the public information is very much in line with what is reported in that dossier.
MADDOW: MSNBC contributor John McLaughlin spent 40 years analyzing the dark arts of counter espionage. He says that while the broad themes of the dossier seem to be bearing out, collusion is a hard thing to prove.
JOHN MCLAUGHLIN, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: If you`re looking at the fact pattern we have here involving a number of figures in the Trump administration having had one interaction or another with the Russians whether financial or otherwise. You know, if you`re in the intelligence business, that still amounts to smoke.
MADDOW: It may be only smoke, but there seems to be a lot of it billowing up from places that Christopher Steele first pointed out in 2016.
MADDOW: It began as a hunch, a feeling among Donald Trump`s political opponents that his frequent praise of Vladimir Putin --
TRUMP: I respect Putin. He`s a strong leader, I can tell you that.
MADDOW: -- might be based on something more than mutual adoration.
TRUMP: Putin did call me a genius and he said I`m the future of the Republican Party.
MADDOW: That is what Christopher Steele was hired to check out. Now, nearly a year after he filed his last report, his dossier has become virtually a road map for anyone investigating the Trump campaign and Russia`s role in our 2016 election. According to Steele sources, the Kremlin had been feeding Trump and his team valuable intelligence on his opponents, including Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton for several years.
A new link has surfaced between the president`s namesake and a Russian lawmaker.
We now know at least nine Trump associates had contacts with Russian officials during the campaign or the transition. Meetings happened in New York, in Washington, in Europe, in Russia, former Trump advisor Carter Page has now told congressional investigators that despite his previous denials, he did meet with high ranking Russians in Moscow in July 2016. Christopher Steele had reported this much at the time in the dossier.
DILANIAN: He`s been forced to acknowledge that he had encounters with senior Russian officials. Now, he continues to this was meaningless and it wasn`t about collusion and the thing asserted about him in the dossier are not true. But nonetheless, the account has significantly changed from when we first heard about this trip.
MADDOW: What is now the notorious Trump campaign Russia meeting happened in June 2016 at Trump Tower. Donald Trump, Jr., Paul Manafort, and the president`s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, met with a group of Russians with Kremlin connections. A now public e-mail chain shows that the Trump camp accepted that meeting on the understand that they`d be given Russian government provided dirt on Hillary Clinton.
One e-mail read: This is part of Russia and its government`s support for Mr. Trump.
The president`s son, son-in-law, and former campaign chairman have all denied that anything of significance happened at that meeting. Here`s what Donald Trump, Jr. said about it on Fox News.
DONALD TRUMP JR., PRESIDENT TRUMP`S SON: I can`t help what someone sends me, you know? I read it, I responded accordingly, and if there is something interesting there? I think it`s pretty common.
CORN: And the Trump people refused in a lot of ways to recognize the significance of this. When revelations and disclosures come out like this, it`s often just the tip of the iceberg. And this was the tip of the iceberg, that iceberg must be damn big.
MADDOW: A Russian lawyer who attended the meeting, Natalia Veselnitskaya now says that Donald Trump Jr. indicated his father`s administration would consider lifting economic sanctions on Russia if he won the presidency.
So, point one, like Steele had said, Russia had been feeding information to Trump and his team.
Point two, according to Steele sources, the Russians hoped their election meddling would shift U.S. policy consensus on Ukraine. We know now that at the Republican National Convention in Ohio, the Trump campaign intervened to soften the language of support for Ukraine in the Republican Party platform. And we know once they won the e election, they did take action on Russia`s sanctions.
NBC`s Ken Dilanian.
DILANIAN: The sanctions are really biting the Russian economy. It remains a main goal of the Russian government to get those lifted.
MADDOW: We know now as soon as they arrived in Washington, they directed the State Department to start working on plans to lift the Russian sanctions. Senior State Department personnel pushed back, alerting both Capitol Hill and the press.
NORAH O`DONNELL, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: What was concerning to those state department officials who talked to our colleagues, they felt this was not in the best interest of the U.S. and was too premature to be concerned.
MADDOW: So, Steele`s point one, intel from Russia to the Trump campaign. Steele`s point two, the Trump camp acting to help Russia on both Ukraine and on sanctions. Point three, before U.S. intelligence agencies made public their conclusion that American democracy was under an orchestrated attack from Russia, Christopher Steele had reported in the dossier, quote, Kremlin behind recent appearance of DNC e-mails on WikiLeaks.
The intelligence community now says that is true. We also now know that the Russian hack of the DNC and the weaponization of stolen Democratic e- mails through WikiLeaks, that was only part of the Russian campaign to influence our election.
DILANIAN: Russia was buying ads, setting up fake accounts using Twitter bots to push divisive messages. It fueled misinformation, it fueled fake news. They were designed to drive turnout in favor of Trump in some areas, in favor of Democratic opponents to Hillary Clinton in other areas. And what U.S. intelligence officials have said is this is the most sophisticated information operation they`ve ever seen.
MADDOW: Point four, Christopher Steele reported that Trump`s campaign chair, Paul Manafort, was managing the Trump campaign relations with the Russians. We now know in October 2017, a federal grand jury indicted Paul Manafort and another top Trump campaign officials on multiple accounts of money laundering, perjury and conspiracy against the United States.
At the same time special counsel Robert Mueller also announced that a third Trump campaign advisor, George Papadopoulos, had pled guilty to lying about his own contacts with Russian operatives.
Then, a month later another person mentioned in the Steele dossier pled guilty to lying. It was Trump`s former national security advisor Michael Flynn. Flynn has agreed to become a Cooperating witness in the Mueller investigation.
Above all else, we know this about the now famous dossier: Christopher Steele had this story before the rest of America did. And he got it from Russian sources. And whether or not the compromised, the alleged American/Russia conspiracy at the heart of Steele`s narrative is ever proven out, our understanding of what Russia did and why and how well they did it and whether they had help, it`s all still in its early stages.
WINER: What is important is that the American public gets the truth, the full truth and nothing but the truth about what happened in our elections in 2016.
MADDOW: It took an ex-British spy to give us our first look into what Moscow might have been up to. American investigators and journalists and prosecutors will now have to fill in the rest of the picture.
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