Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: January 2, 2018 Guest: Mark Mazzetti, Gabriel Maldonado
JOY REID, MSNBC HOST, "A.M. JOY": That is "ALL IN" for this evening.
THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts now.
Good evening, Rachel.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Joy. Thank you so much for helming the ship so ably, my dear.
REID: Thank you. Anytime. Good to have you back.
MADDOW: I want to tell you. When you go to heaven, which you undoubtedly well, what you are going to get is a lot of days off work. It`s going to be like one big snooze bar for you, Joy Reid. Every morning you`re going to wake up and thinking you have to go to work and God is going to come to you and say, Joy, uh-uh, sleep in, baby.
REID: I love it. I love it.
MADDOW: Yes, that`s how it works.
REID: Thank you. Have a great show.
MADDOW: And thanks to you at home for joining us tonight. It`s really great to be back.
Raise your hand if you`re wearing long johns right now?
National Weather Service is not putting a shine on this thing. Look at this. Bitterly cold temperatures and dangerous wind chills to persist east of the Rockies into the weekend. Lake effect snowfall will continue downwind of the Great Lakes, reinforcing shots of Arctic Air will continue across much of the eastern half of the country through this week, keeping high temperatures as much as 10 to 20 degrees below normal.
Tonight into tomorrow, the National Weather Service says snow and ice as far down as the Carolinas and even into Florida, and that`s all before it gets really cold. Look at this headline at "The Washington Post" tonight.
Bomb cyclone to blast East Coast before polar vortex uncorks tremendous cold late this week. Happy New Year. Happy bomb cyclone.
I mean -- bomb and cyclone both sound bad. Not only did I not know that was a thing you have to worry about, who knew that`s a thing you have to worry about in the weather? Bomb cyclone. Happy New Year. Wow.
And, in the wake of the East Coast storm that we`re getting, they`re saying the cold in the wake of the storm will be 20 to 40 degrees below normal for Friday and Saturday.
So, like I said, long underwear. You and me both. I`m not ashamed.
This New Year is starting with literal bluster in the form of this extreme weather but bluster also characterizes the new year of news so far. Kim Jong-un of North Korea is ringing in 2018 by simultaneously offering talks with South Korea about his country hopefully being allowed into the Olympics next month. And he`s announced, quote: The entire U.S. territories are within our firing range and the nuclear missile button is right there on my desk. This is not a threat, but reality.
President Trump responded to that tonight by saying, quote: North Korean leader Kim Jong-un just stated that the nuclear button is on his desk at all times. Will someone from his depleted and food-starved regime please inform him that I, too, have a nuclear button, but it is a much bigger and powerful one than his and my button works.
The president essentially daring the leader of nuclear-armed North Korea tonight to prove that his button works. This is our world now.
Meanwhile, protesters in Iran continue to defy live ammunition and arrests and now threats of execution by their government as they take to the streets to protest. The immediate catalyst for these Iranian protests appears to be an economic cause rather than any one political action by the Iranian government, but the response of the government to the protesters may well become its own catalyst for further and more widespread protests in the streets of Tehran and around that country. If that government continues to react with disproportionate force and a kind of panic they`ve shown thus far, they will likely spar even more protests that have already started. That`s at least how these things tend to go in the world these days.
That said, Iran often finds a way to write its own very specifically Iranian history. So, I`m not sure anybody knows for sure how things will end up with these big street protests. The Trump administration taunting the Iranian government over the protests now and taking the protester`s side. That`s really only one of the wild cards for that scenario.
The fact that the Iran statements from the president today came alongside an apparently out of the blue insult from our president to Pakistan, I mean, that -- I mean, that just makes everything all the much -- all that much harder to read. Nobody knows where the president was going with his anti-Pakistan out of the blue outburst today. But it did result in Pakistan summoning our ambassador, resulted in street protests in Pakistan and Pakistan protesters burning the U.S. flag. Presumably that is what they wanted, for some reason, hard to say.
There is a lot to get to tonight. A lot of stuff that your own government did over the holiday break that they didn`t put out any announcements about. We`ll be reporting out some of that, including talking with someone who the president just fired without warning, without any notice at all.
But we have to start tonight with a little breaking news. It is not often that news breaks on the opinion pages of a major newspaper, but that is what has just happened tonight in "The New York Times." Within the past hour, "The New York Times" has posted this from Glenn Simpson and Peter Fritch. They`re the two former "Wall Street Journal" reporters who founded a Washington, D.C. based research firm called Fusion GPS.
Now, Fusion was a low-profile research firm until a year ago, a year ago this month, when "BuzzFeed" published a dossier of alleged Russian dirt on Donald Trump and his campaign. Detailed allegations about the Russian government intervening in the election to help Trump win. That dossier was compiled by a respected former MI-6 British spy, Christopher Steele.
But the firm that paid him to do it was Fusion GPS. Now, the Trump White House and Trump supporting Republicans in Congress have since tried to make that dossier itself a scandal. They`ve tried to make Fusion itself a scandal. They tried to discredit the whole special counsel Robert Mueller- led investigation into the Trump potential -- the potential Trump collusion with Russia, they tried to turn that into something that is discredited by its association with the dossier.
But two things have now just happened. They are putting a real wrench in those works in terms of how the Republicans are trying to fend off the Russia investigation and the Mueller probe in particular. Now, one of them is this new op-ed which has just dropped at "The New York Times" Website within the past hour. And like I say, it`s weird for news to break on the opinion pages of a newspaper, but there are a few bombshells here.
First of all, Fusion`s founders are calling for the release of the transcripts of their 21 hours of testimony before three different congressional committees. Now, if you have been watching the show for awhile, you`ll remember that this is an issue that we`ve been following for awhile. We first started talking about these transcripts after Glenn Simpson, Fusion founder, gave ten hours of testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Now, Senator Chuck Grassley is the head of that committee, and he said publicly at the time that, yes, the transcript of that testimony would be released to the public. He was asked about it at a town hall at home in Iowa and he said the transcript would be need to be cleared through Fusion, cleared through their lawyers to make sure there wasn`t anything in there that need to be redacted, but then once that process was done, he didn`t see any reason why that transcript could not be released to the American people.
Now, we reported several weeks ago that that process was complete, that that review to see if anything needed to be redacted from the transcript, that was done. So, we reported several weeks ago that Senator Grassley was free to release that transcript like he said he would. He has not released the transcript.
Now, the whole reason we made an issue of it, the whole reason that I`ve been talking about it on the air, the whole reason I`ve been interested to see it and I think you would be, too, is because this was ten hours of sworn testimony behind closed doors. So, we didn`t get to see it when it happened, but it was ten hours of sworn testimony about that Trump/Russia dossier by the firm that commissioned it.
And the firm at the time said that they stood by the dossier, they stood by it veracity. So, that`s interesting, right? I mean, the Republicans are trying to say that the dossier is some sort of terrible scandal, it`s dodgy, it`s trash, it`s all of this other bad things, and any association with that dossier absolutely discredits the FBI, if they use the dossier at all to start its investigation. Here`s the guys who paid for the work that led to the dossier saying, actually, we know better than anybody what`s in there and we stand by it, and then giving ten hours initially of sworn testimony to back it up.
Wouldn`t you want to see what they had to say to back it up?
So, when we first found out there was a transcript and Fusion would be OK with it being released, obviously, we wanted to see it. We wanted to see what testimony these guys were able to give to support these claims. Well, we still haven`t seen those 10 hours of transcripts from the judiciary committee, nor have we seen transcripts from the other two Republican-led committees where Fusion has been called in to testify.
But again, tonight, in "The New York Times," Fusion is calling for those to be released and they are putting some icing on that cake. Quote: We walked investigators in these congressional hearings. We walked investigators through our year-long effort to decipher Mr. Trump`s complex business past in which the Steele dossier is but one chapter. Republicans have refused to release full transcripts of our firm`s testimony, even as they selectively leak details to media outlets on the far right. It`s time to share what the company told investigators.
And then in this op-ed just released tonight at "The New York Times," they do that, at least, they share some of what their company has told investigators, and this is all stuff we have not heard before. This is all new.
Quote: We suggested investigators look into the bank records of Deutsche Bank and others that were funding Mr. Trump`s businesses. Congress appears uninterested in that tip. Reportedly, our bank records, meaning Fusion`s bank records, are the only bank records the House Intelligence Committee has subpoenaed.
Also, quote: We told Congress that from Manhattan to Sunny Isles Beach, Florida, and from Toronto to Panama, we found widespread evidence that Trump and his organization had worked with a wide array of dubious Russians in arrangements that often raised questions about money laundering. Likewise, those deals continue seem to interest Congress.
Also, quote: We explained how from our past journalistic work in Europe we were deeply familiar with the political operative Paul Manafort`s coziness with Moscow and his financial ties to Russian oligarchs close to Vladimir Putin.
Yes, we hired Christopher Steele, a highly respected Russia expert. But we did so without informing Steele whom we were working for and gave him no specific marching orders beyond this basic question: why did Mr. Trump repeatedly seek to do deals in a notoriously corrupt police state that most serious investors shun?
What came back shocked us. Mr. Steele`s sources in Russia, who were not paid, reported on an extensive and now confirmed effort by the Kremlin to help elect Mr. Trump president. Mr. Steele saw this as a crime in progress and decided he needed to report it though the FBI. We did not discuss that decision with our clients or anyone else, instead, we deferred to Mr. Steele, a trusted friend and an intelligence professional with a long history of working with law enforcement. We did not speak to the FBI and we haven`t since.
Quote: After the election, Mr. Steele decided to share his intelligence with Senator John McCain via an emissary. We helped him do that. The goal was to alert the U.S. national security community to an attack on our country by a hostile foreign power. We did not, however, share the dossier with "BuzzFeed", which, to our dismay, published last January.
We`re extremely proud of our work to highlight Mr. Trump`s Russia ties. To have done so is our right under the First Amendment. The public still has much to learn within a man with the most troubling business past of any U.S. president. Congress should release transcripts of our firm`s testimony so that the American people can learn the truth about our work and most importantly, what happened to our democracy.
Again, this is coming tonight from the two founders of Fusion GPS. They say they have given these Republican-led committees in Congress information on Trump`s relationship with Deutsche Bank, on business dealings by the Trump organization that raised questions about money laundering. They said they did not want the dossier published. They said the Russian sources for Christopher Steele in the dossier were not paid.
They say they didn`t want the dossier published when "BuzzFeed" published it. They said they did help get it into the hands of Senator John McCain through an emissary. They said they did not meet themselves with the FBI.
And then there`s this one last thing. Quote: We don`t believe the Steele dossier was the trigger for the FBI`s investigation into Russian meddling. As we told the Senate Judiciary Committee in August, our sources said the dossier was taken so seriously because it corroborated reports the FBI had received from other sources, including one inside the Trump camp.
Now, that last claim, from this, again, op-ed place, weird place to break news, but that`s where it`s breaking tonight, that last claim, that the Christopher Steele dossier wasn`t what started the FBI`s counterintelligence investigation into whether or not the Trump campaign colluded with Russia, we are now learning, tonight, that the guys behind the dossier told the Senate that in August, maybe that`s why the Republicans in the Senate don`t want to release those transcripts. But we`ve also just had a big new piece of public reporting that corroborates that, as well. And that is not from the op-ed paging, but from the reporting pages of "The New York Times."
This bombshell story, which doesn`t just say that the dossier isn`t why the FBI started its counter intelligence operation, this "New York Times" story explains what did lead to the FBI counterintelligence investigation. According to "The Times", Trump foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos, who is now cooperating with the Mueller investigation, according to "The Times," he got drunk in London last May and on a drinking binge at -- in Kensington, in London, he told a top Australian diplomat that Russia had dirt on Hillary Clinton and thousands of stolen Democratic e-mails.
Now, that washes over us now because we now know of course that`s true, but in May of last year, nobody knew that. In May of last year, even the DNC didn`t know that their e-mails had been stolen. But Russia knew that they had stolen them. Russia knew they had hacked into the DNC and apparently this guy Papadopoulos from the Trump campaign knew it, too, and bragged about it. And who knows if the Australians even believed him when he first said it, on this drunken evening in London last May.
But two months later, when Russia, in fact, started circulating its stolen Democratic and Clinton campaign e-mails, well, then, Australia realized that this drunk braggart actually had some inside information. And the Australians called the FBI.
Quote: The hacking and the revelation that a member of the Trump campaign may have had inside information about it were driving factors that led the FBI to open an investigation in July 2016 into Russia`s attempts to disrupt the election and whether any of President Trump`s associates conspired. It was not, as Trump and other politicians have alleged, a dossier compiled by a former British spy hired by a rival campaign. Instead, it was first-hand information from one of America`s closest intelligence allies, so says this new reporting from "The New York Times" this weekend and so says the firm that paid for the dossier as of just about one hour ago tonight.
Joining us now is Mark Mazzetti, Washington investigations editor for "The New York Times."
Mr. Mazzetti, it`s really nice to have you here tonight. Thanks very much for being here.
MARK MAZZETTI, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Thanks, Rachel. Good to be back.
MADDOW: So, let me see if I understand the -- both the drama and the implications of this pretty incredible piece of reporting that you guys have now published. The drama involves the sort of human interaction between this campaign adviser, George Papadopoulos, and an Australian diplomat that didn`t react initially to what Papadopoulos was telling him, as if it was something red hot. As if it was something potentially damning.
Part of what you guys report is there was a delay of a couple months before Australia saw this as important enough information to deliver to U.S. authorities, right?
MARK MAZZETTI, WASHINGTON INVESTIGATIONS EDITOR, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Right. So, the drinking session in London happened in May of 2016. This was a couple of weeks after, according to Mueller`s documents, Papadopoulos learned about this Russian dirt, the dirt that Russians had on Hillary Clinton, from this London professor who apparently is some kind of Russian cutout. So, he talks to the Australian Alexander Downer in May of 2016, but it`s not until two months later, July 2016, when Downer, in a cable, relays this to other parts of his government and then that is relayed to the FBI.
And that is one, as we said, of the driving factors that leads the FBI to launch the investigation, the end of that month. Now, it`s around the same time as we, of course, remember when these DNC e-mails are leaking out on the eve of the Democratic convention. So, it is possible that we haven`t confirmed this yet that this becomes public and the Australian government realizes what it is sitting on and it notifies the U.S. government.
MADDOW: Because what was damning here in particular was the timing. As I said, now we`re hearing, oh, the Russians had tons of stolen e-mails, they had dirt on Hillary Clinton, we heard so much about that, it kind of washes over us, but in May 2016, there was no public information that anything had been stolen, that the Russians had been involved in any sort of disinformation campaign about Clinton.
That would have been -- that would have either sounded crazy or at least sounded like news at that time, right?
MAZZETTI: Right. I mean, certainly it was not, people were not focused on it at all, nearly to the extent that we are now, or have been for the last year. I think, you know, Papadopoulos mentioning this, it may not have raised the alarms, you know, as it did a couple of months later.
Why this drinking session happened, why Papadopoulos met with the Australian is still a little unclear. I mean, remember, he had just been named two months earlier as a member of Trump`s foreign policy team. So, it`s possible that, as a man living in London, some diplomats from, you know, close American allies might want to get a feel for the candidate and his team.
But, again, that`s a little bit of speculation. What`s obviously more important is the information that was conveyed and where it went from there.
MADDOW: Now, one of the crucial questions here, if Mr. Papadopoulos does, as you reported, if he did have advance knowledge of what the Russians had done, their intervention into the election, he think about that months before any of that was public, the question is whether or not he was a lone actor, whether he had that alone, whether he shared that information with the Trump campaign, whether he ever discussed that information with the Trump campaign.
You do say at one point in your reporting that while he continued to, for months to try to arrange meetings between the Trump campaign and the Russian government, he kept senior campaign advisers abreast of those efforts to set up a meeting. But do we know if he was in communication with anybody else in the Trump world about his information about what the Russians were doing to intervene in the campaign?
MAZZETTI: We know from both documents that Mueller`s put out, as well as some e-mails that we quote in our story, that Papadopoulos was keeping the campaign, including Stephen Miller and others, informed about what he was hearing, particularly about trying to set up a meeting between Trump and Putin. The day after he hears about these e-mails, he sends a note to Miller, basically saying, I`m hearing some interesting messages about this possible meeting.
Now, I should be clear, there is no public evidence now yet that he told anyone in the campaign about the e-mails or this alleged dirt. The Mueller documents are silent on that. It was in October when these documents came out, where we first learned about Papadopoulos rule and we first learned about that he had been told about this dirt and these thousands of emails.
But those documents are silent on this issue of did he tell anyone and it`s still a little unclear.
MADDOW: One last quick question for you, Mark, and it`s about a speech. From your reporting, Mr. Papadopoulos was trusted enough to edit the outline of Mr. Trump`s first major foreign policy speech on April 27th, in an address where the candidate said it was possible to improve relations with Russia. Mr. Papadopoulos flagged the speech to his newfound Russia contacts, telling one of them that it should be taken, quote, as the signal to meet.
What does that mean?
MAZZETTI: Good question. I mean, read one way, it means, you know, he is trying to broker this meeting, which he thinks is going to basically make him in the campaign, he`s starting out as an adviser, very low profile, no one really has heard of him, and if he brokers this meeting, it`s going to be big for his career and his life in the campaign.
Now, it`s possible read that one way, he`s, you know, the speech which gave some positive signs about where Trump would be if president towards Russia, that he`s using that as, you know, a signal that Trump wants to meet Putin for, you know, maybe nothing nefarious, maybe just a public meeting to discuss policy and other topics.
It is certainly cryptic, it`s certainly something we`ll be looking at further, but at this point, it`s a little bit of speculation what really he means there.
MADDOW: Mark Mazzetti, Washington investigations editor for "The New York Times", red-hot reporting here, thanks for helping us understand what it means. Really appreciate you being here.
MAZZETTI: OK, thanks.
MADDOW: All right. Thanks. All right. Big night, lots to get to tonight. We`ll be right back. Stay with us.
MADDOW: In mid-December, you might remember the Trump appointed chair of the Federal Communications Commission voted to make a big change to something that people really didn`t want changed. And I`m not saying that just impressionistically, I`m saying it because there`s data to prove it. On the eve of this vote to make this big change, there was a national poll about what the Trump administration was about to do.
Eighty-three percent of the American people said that they were against it. Even among just Republicans, 75 percent of Republicans were against it. But on December 14th, they went ahead and did it anyway. This was, of course, the net neutrality decision. That vote happened December 14th.
Whether or not you particularly care about that issue, whether you care about your cable company, your Internet provider having the able to control what you see and what you use online, the point is, when the Trump administration made this change, human beings did not want them to make that change. I`m sure a lot of companies did. But the American people were 83 percent opposed.
And this happens in politics. You know, you do see government officials, Congress, presidential administrations make decisions that are wildly at odds with public opinion. But in that particular vote, there was really something weird about it. It turns out something had gone haywire with the whole system of public comments about that rule before they voted on it.
The FCC received about 22 million comments about that issue before they took their vote. That`s a huge amount of comments. And there was a certain degree of public transparency as to those comments. You could access them, you could see what people were submitting.
First thing that people noticed when they started looking at those 22 million comments that there were a whole bunch of duplicates. Some comments sent in not just once or twice, but hundreds or thousands or in some cases, even hundreds of thousands of times. Maybe that`s just a predictable abuse of the online forum you could use to submit those comments, but it turned out not to be just the duplicates.
Next thing people noticed was there were a lot of comments that were sent in under obviously fake names or under no names.
And then the next revelations got even stranger. Turns out more than half a million e-mail addresses in Russia were used to submit comments on the net neutrality rule. What does Russia care about the net neutrality rules, right? I mean, Russian computers appear to be the source for hundreds of thousands of comments, both for and against the rule. Why did they do that?
Then came the even more unsettling revelations that a lot of the comments sent in by what appeared to be real Americans, people with names and e-mail addresses, those comments, which were overwhelmingly in favor of the Trump`s administration position, in favor of getting rid of net neutrality, a huge number of those appeared to have just been faked. That was more upsetting than comments turning up with no names on them or named Donald Duck or Mickey Mouse or something. These were real American identities, real American people`s names matched up with addresses, phone numbers, e- mail addresses that matched up to real people but those real people hadn`t submitted these comments.
So, like on June 2nd, Donna in Lake Bluff, Illinois, ostensibly wrote to the FCC, saying that Obama was ordering a control of the web that was an exploitation of the open internet, and that was kind of a crazy argument for killing net neutrality, but what was crazier about that comment is that person, Donna, in Lake Bluff, Illinois, at that specific address which she was listed on her comment, she is someone who died 12 years ago. So, she did not submit that comment. Somebody hijacked her identity including her name and her address in order to create the false appearance of support for what the Trump administration did with that rule.
And that appears to have happened hundreds of thousands if not millions of times in the comments that were accepted by that federal agency before they made this deeply, deeply unpopular decision to kill net neutrality. So, again, whether or not you care about net neutrality as an issue, the Trump administration voting to scrap it when 83 percent of the public disagreed with them on that, that was a little weird. What was really weird was learning about this whole universe of fake public comment that was created around that decision including stealing the identities of real Americans, living and dead, to make it seem like there was support for the Trump administration`s decision that didn`t exist in nature. That was a weird thing about the net neutrality decision last month.
Now, it turns out it was not an isolated incident. "The Wall Street Journal" did the front line reporting that exposed that weird stolen identity stuff around the fake comments on the net neutrality decision. Now, "The Journal" reports that it is happening again. This time, on a role related to the financial sector.
One of the reforms developed during the Obama administration after the Wall Street crash was something that was designed to prevent Wall Street firms and financial advisers from conning old people out of their retirement savings. And the proposed fix was very, very simple. It was something called the fiduciary rule, which sounds both boring and complicated, but it`s the simplest thing you can imagine.
Any investment adviser handling somebody`s retirement account -- here`s the rule -- has to act in the best interests of their client. That`s it. That`s the whole rule.
So, if you`re managing somebody`s retirement money, you have to manage their money in a way that benefits them, not you. That`s it. That`s the whole rule.
Lots of things about, you know, Wall Street and banking and financial regulation are complex and very controversial. This is not one of those things. New rule: can`t screw the client. It`s very hard to argue against that rule.
That rule to protect old people from getting conned out of their retirement savings, that was supposed to be in effect right now.
Trump administration appears to be against it. They blocked it. They decided to delay it, because they wanted to obtain more public comment on the matter.
Well, now, "The Wall Street journal" reports that, again, somehow, mysteriously, the public comments being submitted about this thing are fake. Quote, consider the experience of Robert Schubert, a Devon, Pennsylvania salesperson. A comment posted in his name on the Labor Department Website opposed to the rule says, I do not need, I do not want and I object to any federal interference in my retirement planning.
In an interview, Mr. Schubert said the comment is a fraud. He said he didn`t post it and he doesn`t agree with it. Quote: I`m disgusted that people can post comments using my name.
So, "Wall Street Journal" hired a research firm to contact people whose names appear in these comments, whose names and addresses appear on this government Website, supposedly because they`ve offered their public opinion on this rule. They interviewed 50 people about their supposed comments on this rule. Forty percent of them, 20 out of the 50 people said their comments had been fraudulently submitted. That actually wasn`t something they did.
So, this is somehow, somebody somewhere, obtaining Americans names, e-mail addresses, addresses and phone numbers for real Americans, but then hijacking those people`s identities to submit public comment, to make it seem like they are making public comments in favor of the Trump administration`s policies. And then the Trump administration presumably is using those public comments to justify what they intended to do with that policy in the first place.
So, as I said, "Wall Street Journal" has been in front on the reporting on this strange new phenomenon. They say they have identified the fake comments and real Americans names at five different agencies now, all agencies considering rule changes that could have a big effect on people`s lives. So, 2017 was an unsettling year in American politics, right?
Whether or not you like the results of the election, whether or not you like the way the Trump administration and Republicans in Congress have been approaching things since they`ve been in control, I think for most Americans, it is fair to say, left, right and center, that it has been a little unsettling, a little unnerving, a little even disorienting to realize that there are unseen forces at work in our politics, right? It was a year ago this week that the director of national intelligence released the declassified version of that assessment that Russia intervened in our presidential election to help Trump and hurt Clinton.
American politics has always been hard ball, and Americans through our political processes have made some good and bad decisions since our founding, but there is something discombobulating, something a little nauseating, right, to know that our American fate just isn`t being decided by the more or less rational decisions of our fellow Americans and our elected American leaders. It`s weird for us to realize that there are forces we can`t see faking our political processes, aping them, pretending to be us when they are not us.
Now that we know it`s happening in an ongoing way, the election wasn`t a one-off. I don`t know who is faking all the public comments on Trump administration rules changes. But if our political processes, and all these different levels, are being faked, live and dead Americans are being impersonated to affect our politics, is it better or worse if it`s foreign intelligence services or maybe, you know, special interests and lobbyists? Or just hackers for hire?
I mean, your call. What`s weirder? What`s worse? Happy New Year.
In the wake of the revelations this year of Russia`s involvement in the presidential election, and particularly Russia`s efforts to organize disinformation and propaganda campaigns online, targeting us, using social media, a group called the Alliance for Securing Democracy put up a Website that tracks online activity of about 600 Twitter accounts that appear to be linked to the effort by the Russian government to influence our election last year and to continue to influence American politics and public opinions since Trump was elected.
Just as we don`t have a lot of clarity as to why hundreds of thousands of Russian e-mail addresses were contributing comments about net neutrality, I think it`s also hard to see on any given day what exactly Russia is trying to accomplish with their ongoing efforts to influence, you know, online discussion about American news and politics throughout this past year and moving forward. But even if on a day-to-day basis we don`t know their exact motivations, exactly what they`re trying to accomplish, and sometimes it seems muddy or contradictory, we can see they are still active online targeting us, and we can see it in part through tools like this Russia influence tracker on Twitter.
The most recent snapshot they took up about Kremlin-oriented Twitter accounts were pushing online was from last month, just before the Roy Moore Senate election in Alabama. About 14 percent of the time, these Kremlin- linked Twitter accounts were posting on the issue of sexual misconduct, which is, of course, a very big topic in American politics, then and now. These Russian-linked Twitter accounts had a very specific angle on it, though. Half their tweets on sexual misconduct defended Roy Moore on that subject and the other half attacked Democrats on the subject.
The most prominent theme from these Kremlin-linked accounts last month was the FBI, trying to discredit the FBI. Second-most prominent topic discussed by these Kremlin-linked accounts was national security adviser Mike Flynn pleading guilty. These Kremlin-linked accounts had a very specific take on the Flynn guilty plea. They attacked media organizations for erroneously reporting information about Flynn`s guilty plea. They focused on a conspiracy theory that blamed the Obama administration for Flynn contacting the Russians, the theory that appears to be totally made up, but Russian-linked accounts heavily promoted that conspiracy last month.
And, again, there was the focus on the FBI, nearly half the Kremlin-linked accounts tweeting about the Flynn plea last month were devoted to trying to discredit the FBI for their role in the Russia investigation and Flynn`s guilty plea.
So, again, if you feel weird and unsettled by American politics right now, there`s a reason for that, right? This isn`t normal. We are used to having debates and fights among ourselves. Raucous, even occasionally insane or extreme fights.
But we`re used to having these debates and fights specifically among ourselves, among Americans. But now, in our generation, in our lifetimes, this year in our politics, there is a whole other type of player, a foreign influence that is impersonating America, Americans, throwing peanuts from the peanut gallery, trying to skew our American fights and disagreements in ways they think weaken us and thereby help them.
And their presence is unnerving. But it is also sometimes poorly disguised. We can sometimes see what they`re doing. And we can see from their online behavior what their influence operation is trying to do now is discredit the FBI.
Knowing that, seeing that that`s what Russia is trying to do is an important part I think of regaining our bearings and not being discombobulated anymore by these foreign forces at work in our politics in an ongoing way. Once you know that`s what they`re trying to do, though, it does put a whole new cast on the fact that their efforts appear to be gaining some traction since President Trump has been in office, obviously, he`s fired the FBI director, James Comey.
But over the holiday break, we also learned that the FBI`s chief counsel is mysteriously being reassigned for unknown reasons. He`s a 25-year FBI veteran. We also learned that the FBI deputy director will be retiring, which on its face doesn`t sound like a big deal until you realize he`s 49 years old. And he`s come under sustained political attack from the president himself, from Republicans who support Trump in Congress and from the conservative media that supports Trump.
FBI is under attack from the president, from the president`s Republican supporters in Congress, from the president`s conservative media supporters and also from the ongoing Russia influence operation that is still around since the election. What`s different now is that the FBI is starting to bleed out. The FBI is starting to shed its top officials, in the face of this pressure. And a process that seems just as likely to appease these attacks as it does to slow them down.
MADDOW: -- the brutally cold temperatures that aren`t just here for the holidays but have been here and are not leaving all over the eastern United States, spare a thought for your local letter carrier, right? Your local package delivery person. Lordy have they had a tough few weeks. Always tough this time of year, but this year, with this weather, whew.
Around the holidays, usually people are very excited about all the packages that get sent and received at this time. This holiday season, though, a handful of very important Americans got a package from FedEx, without warning, that contained bad and inexplicable news from the Trump administration of a mass firing. And that weird package delivery is next.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: Executive order number 12963 signed by President Bill Clinton in June 1995 that set up a new presidential advisory counsel on HIV and AIDS. Set up in `95, since then, every president since Clinton has kept it going. Rotating slate of doctors and medical professionals and people living with HIV offer advice to the president and his administration about how the federal government can better respond to the AIDS crisis, how they can better educate the public and offer better health care to people living with HIV and all the rest of it, started with that executive order.
Twenty-two years later, two days after Christmas this year, it all ended, with a FedEx delivery, with no warning and no explanation, every single member of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV and AIDS received a letter from the president via FedEx letting him or her know that they had been terminated effective immediately.
Now, as I said, there was no warning of this, and the White House has made no public comment about why it did this or if or when they plan to replace all the people they can. For the foreseeable future, though, the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV and AIDS still exists, but every single seat is empty.
One of those seats used to belong to Gabriel Maldonado, former member now of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV and AIDS. He`s executive director of the LGBT and HIV/AIDS group which is called True Evolution.
Mr. Maldonado, thank you very much for being with us tonight. It`s nice to have you here.
GABRIEL MALDONADO, FIRED BY THE TRUMP ADMINISTRATION FROM HIV/AIDS ADVISORY COUNCIL: Thank you, Rachel. Thank you for having me, it`s an honor.
MADDOW: Well, likewise, thank you for your service on the Presidential Advisory Commission on HIV and AIDS. Did you have any idea that you and all of your fellow commissioners were about to be fired?
MALDONADO: No, it really caught me by surprise. Especially, it`s been nearly a year we`ve been serving in this administration. And there was no clear indicator that this dismissal was imminent. So, no, it was a shock to me.
MADDOW: I know there were some members of the advisory counsel who decided they did not want to serve under Mr. Trump and they resigned earlier. I can imagine that may have been a source of friction. But was the council meeting? Were there policy disagreements? Was there any sort of confrontation?
MALDONADO: Yes, we definitely continued meeting and moving as business as usual. I served as co-chair of the disparities committee and I was already actually making plans for initiatives and policy recommendations I wanted to put forth next year. Like any council, we had differences of opinions, we have different ways of approaching public health and how we see HIV and AIDS policy. I would definitely say that our council were strong architects and many of us were contributing authors of the national HIV/AIDS strategy, which strongly supported and was included with the Affordable Care Act.
And so, when you just talk about fundamental differences, many of us on the council had fundamental differences from the direction that this administration seems to be taking.
MADDOW: Now, my impression of AIDS policy at the national level over the last couple of decades, since the council was first created, is that it`s one of the few issues in which Democrats and liberals, people living with AIDS, the gay community, might actually find a few nice things to say about George W. Bush. There weren`t that many -- there weren`t that many issues in that column in terms of the George W. Bush.
But the council in particular and the work of the national AIDS policy, the national AIDS-related policy was seen, I think, particularly because of the Bush administration, as being not the most partisan thing in the world. Certainly, there were differences of opinion, differences about how things could be funded, but this is something where a lot of the partisan heat, at least from my sense, had been removed.
MALDONADO: Absolutely. HIV and AIDS is not a partisan issue. It`s a human issue. It`s a human rights issue. It`s a civil rights issue. It`s a social justice issue.
It crosses all boundaries. It does not discriminate on the base of religious, race, even immigration status. As a person living with HIV myself, I can say that my HIV does not have a term limit. You know, it doesn`t expire or leave when new administration goes or comes. My HIV and for the 1.2 million people in this country living with HIV, this is something that we have dealt with for the last 30 years and will continue in the foreseeable feature to deal with for many administrations to come.
And so, to put political ideology of partisanship at the forefront in the decision making is not only damaging to the work that we have done, but it is also stagnating for advancing the lives and the health outcomes of those of us living with HIV and the communities that are hardest impacted.
MADDOW: Gabriel Maldonado, executive director of the LGBT and HIV/AIDS group True Evolution, and now very recently a former member of the presidential advisory counsel on HIV and AIDS, thank you for helping us understand this story. Will you keep us apprised, if you -- if, in terms of the future of the council, but in terms of what`s going to happen with this standoff. I`d love to hear from you again.
MALDONADO: Absolutely, Rachel. Anytime, I appreciate it. Thank you very much for having me.
MADDOW: Take care.
All right. A lot of things the Trump administration has done policy-wise are sort of honestly typical Republican things -- things that the Republicans in Congress might have wanted to do anyway. Getting rid of the AIDS council doesn`t make sense in partisan terms or any other terms with continuity in recent American politics. I don`t know why they did this. Maybe some day they`ll tell us.
We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: Today, the longest serving Republican in the U.S. Senate, Orrin Hatch, announced that he will not run for his seat again in November. And then look what happened right after he made that announcement. Mitt Romney moved. The little location tag for his Twitter account had said Massachusetts, but then Orrin Hatch retired and now bingo, Mitt Romney`s twitter tag now says he`s from Utah again. Amazing how that happened.
Tomorrow, two new members of the United States Senate will be sworn in, both Democrats. Doug Jones, the first Democratic senator from Alabama in more than two decades. And Tina Smith, who is the lieutenant governor of Minnesota. She will be finishing out the term of Minnesota Democrat Al Franken, who left the Senate today after sexual harassment allegations.
Both Jones and Smith will be sworn in tomorrow and neither of those is a pseudonym.
We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: We are out of time for tonight. I do just want to recap briefly the breaking news that we had at the top of the show tonight.
News breaking in a weird place on the opinion pages of "The New York Times." The founders of Fusion GPS tonight releasing a lot of new information in this op-ed, including their belief that the dossier that they commissioned, it`s created by Christopher Steele about allegations involving Donald Trump and Russia, they believe that dossier was not the source of the FBI counterintelligence investigation into the Trump campaign and Russia. The founders of Fusion also saying that they handed over to Congress information about potential money-laundering involving the president and his businesses. They are also calling for Congress to release the transcripts of their testimony before three congressional committees.
That does it for us tonight. We will see you again tomorrow.
Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL."
Good evening, Lawrence. And happy New Year.
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