Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: January 9, 2018 Guest: Sheldon Whitehouse, Adam Schiff
JOY REID, MSNBC HOST, A.M. JOY: That`s "ALL IN" for this evening.
THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right now. Good evening, Rachel.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Joy. Thank you, my friend. Much appreciated. Thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.
Anything happen today? I have to tell you, mostly, I just took a big nap this afternoon. Like cold. I tuned everything out.
I figured I would come on the air tonight and ask around. I didn`t hear -- jiminy cricket. This was a freaking news day -- and a news night. It is still happening.
It`s never good when this is the out box on my desk for the first segment we`re going to do tonight. There is more than one segment in this show tonight. Holy mackerel, there`s a lot to get to over the course of the next hour.
I`m glad that you`re here. This isn`t the show you want to like washing dishes and listening with one ear and doing other stuff. If you have a chance to sit down, even if you have to hit push pause on me right now so you can sit down later, this is the kind of show for which you might want to do that.
And we have to start tonight with some of the news that is just breaking tonight. This evening, CNN is reporting there is the possibility there will be two more very high-profile departures from the Trump administration, two senior officials who may be readying their own exit strategy from the Trump White House.
Now, this you will recognize as the ongoing list we`ve been trying to keep updated about people who have left the Trump White House already. As you can see, the font keeps getting smaller.
This pace of turnover in terms of senior officials is unprecedented in any American presidency ever, in less than a year in office, there has never been a White House that turfed out this many people before.
But what CNN is reporting tonight is that both national security advisor H.R. McMaster and White House counsel Don McGahn may be about to join that list. They may be planning their exits.
Don McGahn, obviously, is right in the middle of all the Trump legal worries and investigations. He`s the White House counsel. H.R. McMaster was, of course, brought on to try to clean up one of the very first Trump administration`s scandals, when the first national security adviser Mike Flynn who has found to have lied about his secret contacts with the Russian government about easing sanctions.
H.R. McMaster is the new national security adviser who was brought in to replace Flynn. But again, CNN is reporting tonight that both Don McGahn, White House counsel, and H.R. McMaster, the national security adviser, may be soon planning to leave the Trump White House.
This, of course, comes on a day when Steve Bannon, former White House chief strategist, the man who was brought on to run the Trump campaign after campaign chairman Paul Manafort was ousted amid concerns about his own secret dealings with the Russians, his business dealings from the former Soviet Union, his links to pro-Putin oligarchs. That`s why Manafort was ousted from the Trump campaign. Steve Bannon was brought in to run the Trump campaign thereafter.
When Trump was elected, Steve Bannon became White House senior strategist. He was fired from the White House in August.
Last week, in the wake of Michael Wolff`s bombshell book quoting Steve Bannon saying all sorts of unflattering things about the president and his family and the campaign and the administration, Steve Bannon lost the support of his longtime financial backers, the billionaire Mercer family. Today, Steve Bannon was fired from his Website, Breitbart.com. The Mercers have been multimillion dollar investors in Breitbart.com. Whether or not their financial backing is directly connected to Bannon being fired today, we don`t yet know.
But this is obviously a landmark development in the weird right-wing soap opera where all living in right now, where all the people who helped create the Trump presidency, one by one, are finding themselves destroyed, in terms of their careers, often publicly humiliated, sometimes unemployed and not infrequently indicted.
Despite that happening to all the people who made him president, not for nothing, Trump is still president. All the other people that got him into the White House have not been faring very well since then, but he`s president and today, he invited members of Congress into the White House for an on-camera meeting about immigration. The whole meeting happened on camera for almost an hour.
By the end of it, the president was offering to change a lot of his proposed immigration policies that people thought that he felt strongest about. So that was very confusing. Trump is giving up what he wants to do on immigration? Seemed like he was radically changing his mind on this signature issue at a televised meeting.
Then it turned out though that nothing was actually being decided and when you parsed what he said, Trump actually seemed to agree both to his own policies and to the opposite of his policies when they were being discussed at the same meeting. So, what was that for?
In the end, nothing was decided and apparently that whole hour-long meeting on camera really was just a show for the cameras. As shows where people pretend to make policy, though, as shows like that go, it looked great. But that was super weird. This president has never done anything like that before. I really don`t know what it was about.
But speaking of things making no sense, you might remember just a few days ago, the Trump administration announced a plan to open up all of the U.S. coast to offshore oil drilling just announced a few days ago. Well, after the weird immigration TV show, this means nothing event that they had today, very shortly thereafter, the Trump administration announced that Florida is now going to be exempt from the new offshore drilling.
Now, apparently, the basis of this reversal is because the Florida governor asked, that apparently constitutes a major policy review. I don`t know if the Florida governor has a magic password or something else that the other governors don`t have. All the other governors on the eastern and western coast of the United States are opposed to this, as well, but apparently, everybody else is on the hook and just Florida doesn`t have to do it anymore.
I thought that would be the last weird thing that broke before the show tonight, but oh, no, Spencer Ackerman has just posted a new scoop at "The Daily Beast" tonight as well. Spencer Ackerman is a veteran, very good national security reporter at "The Daily Beast".
And tonight, he has just broken some serious new news about what happened right at the start of the Trump administration when it came to Russia, right? Time-wise, this is right after Russia intervened in the 2016 election to help Donald Trump`s chances in that election and to hurt Hillary Clinton`s chances. That is still a matter that is under investigation. We`ll have more on that in just a moment.
But, you know, before tonight, we have had some good reporting, not just about what Russia did, but about what Trump and his team did toward Russia, did back to Russia right after this election in which Russia tried to help them win. We knew for example, we knew before tonight that during the Trump transition, top Trump transition officials were in on the decision to have national security advisor Mike Flynn call the Russian government secretly to try to under cut the imposition of new sanctions that the Obama administration was imposing on Russia in response to them messing with our election.
Mike Flynn did not make those calls to the Russian government alone. Top echelons of the Trump transition knew that he was doing that. They were in discussion about the strategy while he was doing that. Ultimately, Flynn ended up lying about that to the FBI and the rest is history.
But in addition to that incident that happened after the election during the transition, we also know from Michael Isikoff`s reporting at Yahoo News that as soon as the Trump people started landing at the State Department, after the inauguration, they started working right away on a proposal to have the U.S. unilaterally drop sanctions against Russia. Their actions right after they arrived in Washington so alarmed career State Department people, that people at the State Department contacted members of Congress, Democrats and Republicans, and that`s how legislation to head this off was drawn up very quickly. That is how President Trump ended up being blocked from Congress by lifting sanctions against Russia on his own, because his people at the State Department tried to do it as soon as it got there and it freaked everybody out.
So, from stories like that, we already know a little bit about not just what Russia did, but about Trump trying to take pretty dramatic action very early on to try to help Russia, to try to relieve the effective sanctions on Russia as soon as the Trump folks got any power at all after the election.
Well, now tonight, Spencer Ackerman reports that in the early days of the Trump administration, one of Mike Flynn`s hires at the National Security Council, quote, proposed withdrawing some military forces from Eastern Europe as an overture to Vladimir Putin.
While the proposal was ultimately not adopted, it`s the first known case of senior aides to Donald Trump seeking to reposition U.S. military forces to please Putin, something that smelled to a colleague like a return on Russia`s election time investment in President Trump.
The official that offered the proposal was Kevin Harrington. His title is senior official for strategic planning at the National Security Council. He had neither military experience nor significant government experience before joining the White House, but he did have one influential credential. He was a managing director for the Thiel Macro Hedge Fund and thus close to Trump patron and ally Peter Thiel.
According to Spencer Ackerman`s reporting tonight, this guy Kevin Harrington in the early days of the Trump administration, he proposed taking all U.S. troops out of the Baltic States, quote, as a gesture to the Kremlin. He reportedly made this proposal in February, by March, he was proposing that the U.S. should drop all sanctions on the Russian oil industry. Sure, why not?
Kevin Harrington again is someone with no known national security credentials. He was memorably described in "The Washington Post" last month as believing that the world is about to face an energy apocalypse. He believes only Russia can save the United States in the inevitable event of the apocalypse.
That description in "The Washington Post" last month makes Kevin Harrington kind of easy to remember. How many other people in really influential positions in national security can be known as the guy who thinks the end is nigh and only Putin can save us? But that is apparently his central animating national security idea.
And given what we know now, it no longer seems weird that somebody like Mike Flynn might have hired the Putin is our savior guy for a senior job in the National Security Council, but what does seem weird is that he didn`t leave when Flynn did. Kevin Harrington is still serving at the N National Security Council right now. He survived Mike Flynn`s departure as national security advisor.
If CNN is correct tonight and H.R. McMaster is also about to leave as Trump`s second national security adviser, will the end is nigh and Putin is our savior guy survive that departure as well? After he proposed removing all U.S. troops from the Baltics to be nice to Putin?
So, again, it`s been a very busy news day. It`s been an even busier news night, including that new reporting, which I think is very important from Spencer Ackerman at "The Daily Beast" about the Trump administration`s behavior toward Russia that could be construed as potentially trying to pay Russia back for their help with the election.
But on that subject is where we got the really big news today courtesy of California Senator Diane Feinstein. Now, last night on the show, we reported on the possibility that some Democrats in the Senate were considering relatively extreme measures to try to get released into the public record an important transcript from the Russia investigation.
Greg Sargent at "The Washington Post" had reported that Democratic senators were considering gambits like maybe trying to read this contested transcript into the congressional record to force its public release even though Republicans wanted to keep it under wraps.
Well, this morning, literally as she attended that all-for-show immigration meeting with President Trump, Senator Diane Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, did an end run around that possibility by just cutting to the chase and deciding to release the whole darn thing herself.
Nobody has to do a stunt. Nobody has to do a gambit. She`s just putting it out there. What, are you going to come for her?
This is the 312-page transcript of more than 10 hours of testimony by Glenn Simpson, the founder of the research firm Fusion GPS, which commissioned the now very famous Trump-Russia dossier.
This testimony happened August 22nd behind closed doors in the Judiciary Committee in the Senate. The chairman of the committee, Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa, initially said he would allow a vote by the committee as to whether that transcript should be released. Senator Grassley said publicly to his constituents in August that he saw no reason why he himself would vote no on releasing that transcript.
At least one other Republican senator, Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, told us at the time that he, too, thought that he would vote yes to release that transcript.
But then something happened -- something happened between August and now and Senator Grassley changed his mind. He decided as chairman he would not let the transcript be released. And because he`s the chairman, he runs the committee and usually that means whatever he says goes.
But Dianne Feinstein, even though she`s in the minority, even though she`s just the top Democrat, she just decided to set this thing out on her own today. We know of no precedent for a senator doing something exactly like this in the past, it seems like she just decided boom, why not?
Now, one other bit of back-story here that may or may not be relevant is that there has been quite a bit of speculation on Capitol Hill over the last few days that Senator Feinstein might be ticked off at the chairman of that committee, at Chuck Grassley. They worked together pretty well on this committee more or less over the last year since they have been investigating part of the Russia scandal. There has been some tensions.
But apparently, it has been -- there has been speculation, I should say, on Capitol Hill that Senator Feinstein was aggravated by something Chuck Grassley did. Last week, without a vote from the committee, and apparently without consultation or even notification of any of the Democrats including Feinstein, last week, Chuck Grassley and another Republican senator, Lindsey Graham, decided to take a dramatic step of sending the Justice Department a referral for criminal investigation targeting Christopher Steele, the former British intelligence agent who compiled the Russian dossier.
There has been some discussion on Capitol Hill that Senator Feinstein might have been mad that Chuck Grassley did that on his own, not only without the committee, but without her. Whatever you think of Dianne Feinstein, you would not like her when she`s angry. And today, she couldn`t have been more blunt when she was asked why she decided to release this thing on her own despite the objections of Chairman Grassley.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: Senator Feinstein, do you have any response to chairman Grassley saying that the release of the transcripts hurts the legitimacy of the investigation by the Judiciary Committee?
SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D-CA), RANKING MEMBER, SENATE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: I haven`t seen that. No, I have no response at this time.
REPORTER: Why did you decide to do that?
FEINSTEIN: Because I think people are entitled to know what was said and the lawyers also wanted it released. I see no problem with releasing it.
REPORTER: But, Senator Feinstein, Senator Grassley says you jeopardized their ability to get certain witnesses like Kushner. Your reaction?
FEINSTEIN: I don`t think so. That`s been difficult in any event.
REPORTER: Why do you think they referred Steele to the Justice Department for potential criminal investigation?
FEINSTEIN: My own view because to my knowledge, there has not been a single fact in that report that has been proven to be incorrect, that it`s really to muddy the waters and create a problem. You know, Steele brought this information into the FBI and it`s quite amazing that you get punished for providing information.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Senator Dianne Feinstein speaking today about this extraordinary decision, possibly unprecedented decision she made to unilaterally release this transcript.
And in those remarks, she says two important things about the dossier. One is what she`s saying there at the end, that Christopher Steele, this British intelligence agent whose reports made up the dossier, he brought this information that he found to the FBI because he thought that he had uncovered something that indicated there might be a serious crime in the process.
That`s the right thing to do if you uncover evidence that a serious crime might be in process, right? The fact that he`s the only person who the Republicans have referred for criminal investigation in their entire gamut of congressional investigation of the Russia matter, that seems to tick her off.
But then she also says, quote: To my knowledge, there has not been a single fact in that report that`s proven to be incorrect.
She`s talking there about the dossier and that -- that is important here, big picture. As Republicans over the course of the past year have changed course from a year ago this week when the intelligence committee report came out saying Russia meddled in our election, they changed course from a year ago, from conceding that the Russia interference in our election was serious and it must be investigated and Americans who may have helped them or may have been on it must be brought to justice. Republicans were in that space a year ago.
Over the course of this year, they have changed from that point of view to instead trying to block and divert the investigations into the Russia matter, to make the investigations themselves a scandal.
And over the course of that transition, one of the counter-punching tactics they have used most aggressively is to go after the dossier, to say that that dossier, that`s the real root of the problem. None of it`s true. It came from bad people who had a corrupt purpose, that dossier and all of its terribleness was the basis for the FBI even looking into this stuff and the first place, it`s all bad information. Anybody who relied on it, anybody who got anywhere near it, it`s tainted by it. It is fake. And therefore, the whole Russia investigation is fake.
That`s the main counter argument by the Republicans and by the White House against the investigation into what happened to our election and whether the Trump campaign was in on it. If everything else dropped out, they`d still hold on to that.
There is Dianne Feinstein today saying, quote, to my knowledge, there has not been a single fact in that report that has proven to be incorrect. And what we got today from her releasing these 312 pages against the wishes of Republicans is a clear, readable statement about where the dossier, in fact, came from, how it came to be this former British intelligence agent was engaged by this American company to talk to people in Russia about Trump`s business trips there and about the Russian government`s interest and involvement in the presidential election involving Trump.
I mean, if your counter argument against the whole Russia investigation that threatens this presidency, if your whole counter-argument is that the dossier produced by Fusion GPS is corrupt and not credible and the whole investigation springs from that, if that`s what you`re counting on, it is existentially damaging to that argument, to have the public learn in detail how that thing actually came to be and why the people who created it believed its credibility at the time and how they handled the information as they received it and why to a one they all stand by it now.
So, let`s talk about what we learned today. That`s next.
MADDOW: One year ago today, "BuzzFeed News" published the Trump-Russian dossier to much controversy, much criticism, much attention. Gradually, over the course of the last year, Trump supporting Republicans in the conservative media have tried to turn the whole Russia investigation into a scandal that`s about the dossier.
Well, today because Dianne Feinstein took it upon herself to release the transcript of 10 hours of testimony by the founder of Fusion GPS explaining the origin of the dossier, and why his firm paid for it, now, finally, there is on the record their own story, their own explanation about who they are, how this came to be.
So, who is Fusion GPS? How come we have never heard of them before? Are they some big political player? Are they a big partisan firm?
Well, here`s how they explain who they are: quote: we do things like policy disputes, one industry versus another, one company versus another. We don`t do a lot of campaign consulting, but every four years for the last couple of cycles, we`ve done some presidential work.
Most campaigns don`t have the budget for the services that we provide, so we only would do things where people have the resources to pay for a serious piece of research. So, we do things like California initiative or presidential.
Question, and how would you describe your pitch and why would a client need your services? Answer: Generally speaking, people tend to get referred to us when they have a sort of undefined need, like they feel they don`t know what happened or they don`t know what`s going on.
Question, you described your work as open-ended and not results directed. Can you explain a little more what you mean by that?
Answer: in general, when people come to us and they tell us what their challenges, we stipulate that they retain us for 30 days, they agree to pay our fee, they don`t tell us what to do, they don`t tell us, you know, what result to get. I like to call it a holistic methodology. The reason we do it that way is, A, we`re professionals and we feel like it`s not helpful to have somebody dictating how you do things. But B, if you predetermine the results that you`re looking for, you tend to miss things.
So, that`s starting on page 54 of the transcript. That`s how they work broadly speaking.
Then, on page 62, we learn about how they were engaged to look at Donald Trump during the presidential campaign, and what they were looking for. And this is fascinating.
Page 62. Quote: It was broadly speaking a kind of holistic examination of Donald Trump`s business record, and his associations, his bankruptcies, his suppliers, you know, offshore or third world suppliers of products that he was selling. It evolved somewhat quickly into issues of relationships to organized crime figures. But, you know, really, the gambit of Donald Trump.
What we generally do at the beginning of the case, if it`s possible, is to order all the books about the subject from Amazon, so we`re not reinventing the wheel. We know what`s been written and said before. This was typical. We ordered every Donald Trump book and to my surprise, that`s a lot of books.
I was never very interested in Donald Trump. He was not a serious political figure that I`d ever been exposed to. He`s a New York figure really. So, anyway, we read everything we could read about Donald Trump.
Those books cover his divorces, his casinos, his early years dealing with labor unions and mafia figures. His taxes certainly have always been a big issue. Again, it was sort of an unlimited look at, you know, his businesses, his finances, that sort of thing.
As a company, we began to look at where his money came from. And, you know, that raised a lot of questions. We saw indications that some money came from Kazakhstan, among other places. And some of it you just couldn`t account for.
We also conducted a much broader sort of look at his entire career and his overseas investments in places like Europe and Latin America. You know, it wasn`t really a Russia-focused investigation for the first half of it. That was just one component of a broader look at his business career, his finances.
We looked at the golf courses and whether they actually made any money and how much debt they had. We looked at the bankruptcies. How could someone go through so many bankruptcies and still have a billion dollars in personal assets?
We looked at a lot of things like his tax bills. In the early stage of an investigation, you want to get every lawsuit the guy has ever been in. So, you know, we collected lawsuits from around the country and around the world.
Question: And when did you engage Mr. Steele to conduct opposition research on candidate Trump?
Answer: I don`t specifically recall but it would have been May or June 2016.
Question: And why did you engage Mr. Steele in May or June of 2016?
Answer: We had done an enormous amount of work on Trump generally at this point in the project and we began to drill down on specific areas. Steele is not the only subcontractor we engaged. Other parts of the world required other people.
For example, we were interested in the fact that the Trump family was selling merchandise under the Trump brand in the U.S. that was made in sweatshops in Asia and South America. So, we needed somebody else for that.
There were other things. We were not totally focused on Russia at the time. We`ve done a lot of reading and research. And we were drilling down on specific areas. Scotland was another one.
What happens when you get to this point in an investigation, when you gathered all of the public record information and you began to exhaust the open source material, you tend to find specialists who can take you further into a subject.
I had known Christopher Steele since I left "The Wall Street Journal". He was the leading Russianist at MI-6 prior to leaving the government, and an extremely well-regarded investigator. I would say that is broadly why I asked him to see what he could find out about Donald Trump`s business activities in Russia.
Question: So, in May or June 2016, you hired Steele to find out what he could about Trump`s business activities in Russia? Did something in particular trigger that assignment?
Answer: No, I don`t think I could point to something in particular as a trigger. I mean, the basis for the request was he made a number of trips to Russia and had talked about doing a number of business deals. But he never did one and that struck me as odd and called for an explanation.
We didn`t know. It was opaque what Donald Trump had been doing on these business trips to Russia. We didn`t know what he was doing there. So, we gave Chris a sort of assignment. We said, see if he can find out what Donald Trump has been doing on these trips to Russia.
That`s only up to page 82 and that`s where it gets really interesting.
We`ll be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE (D-RI), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: The FBI investigation did not begin because of opposition research. It did not begin because researchers or journalists or American national security officials fell victim to Russian disinformation. It did not begin because of fake news or because Democrats needed an explanation for losing an election.
It began when multiple allies, friends of the United States warned us the Russian government was interfering in our democratic process.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island is going to be live with us here in just a minute. That was him today on the Senate floor giving a barn-burner of a speech about what Russia did and how the congressional investigations into it are being diverted and thwarted by the Republican-led Congress, including by the Republicans who are trying to turn the Russia scandal into a scandal about the Trump Russia dossier, which blew wide open today on the eve of the one-year anniversary on the day the dossier was first published by "BuzzFeed News".
So, today, surprise, Senator Dianne Feinstein of California decided to unilaterally make the decision to release the ten-hour transcript of testimony from Fusion GPS` founder Glenn Simpson from when the Judiciary Committee interviewed him about his firm and its role in the dossier. The dossier that has become central to the Republicans and the White House pushback against the investigation.
Now, one of the things that is a revelation in these transcripts today is that Fusion GPS and Christopher Steele apparently didn`t know, they had no idea that they were going to find what they found about Donald Trump when Steele first started making his reports. So, from page 143 of the transcript that was released today.
So, this is Glenn Simpson speaking: So, the purpose of this, he means the purpose of engaging Christopher Steele, was to see if we could learn more about his business dealings in Russia. What came back was something very different and obviously more alarming, which had to do with, you know, which outlined a political conspiracy and a much broader set of issues than the ones we`ve basically went looking for. You know, initially, we didn`t know what to do with this.
Page 147. So this was unusual in what we were doing here and it`s not what I had in mind when I asked Chris Steele to begin collecting information on this. My expectation was something a lot less interesting than this, more along the lines of a typical corruption investigation.
So, they asked Steele to look into Trump`s business trips to Russia, his business dealings in Russia. They got this information collected by Christopher Steele, which Fusion says was not at all what they were expecting to get, but then once they had it, they had to decide what to do with it. They were unprepared, according to Fusion GPS.
And then we get like this human drama between the guy from Fusion, the ex- journalist Glenn Simpson, he`s testifying here, and Chris Steele, this intelligence guy who he has engaged to find this oh my God, what did you find about Donald Trump.
Quote, page 159, after the first memo, Chris said he was very concerned about whether this represented a national security threat. He said he wanted to. He said he thought we were obligated to tell someone in government, in our government about this information. He thought from his perspective there was an issue, a security issue about whether a presidential candidate was being blackmailed.
So, he proposed to, he said we should tell the FBI. It`s a national security issue. I didn`t originally agree or disagree. I just put it off. I said I needed to think about it. Then he raised it again with me. I don`t remember the exact sequence of these events, but my recollection is that I questioned how we would do that because I didn`t know anybody there that I could report something like this to and be believed, and I didn`t really think it was necessarily appropriate for me to do that.
In any event, he said, meaning Steele said, don`t worry about that. I know the perfect person. I have a contact there. They will listen to me. They know who I am. I`ll take care of it.
I said, OK. You know, I agreed. It`s potentially a crime in progress. So, you know, if we can do that in the most appropriate way, I said it was OK for him to do that.
Question: Who was involved in discussions about whether it was appropriate to take either the memo or information in the memo to the FBI?
Answer: It was Chris and me.
Question: You said you asked for some time to think it over. What in particular did he articulate to you that was of significant national security concern to indicate that it should be taken to the FBI?
Answer: His concern, which is something counterintelligence people deal with a lot, whether or not there was blackmail going on, whether a political candidate was being blackmailed or had been compromised, he honed in on this issue of blackmail as being a significant national security issue.
Joining us now is Senator Sheldon White House of Rhode Island. A Democrat who serves on the Judiciary Committee who made a big public stink about the fact that these transcripts ought to be released.
Sir, thank you very much for your time tonight. I really appreciate you being here.
WHITEHOUSE: Good to be with you.
MADDOW: First, let me ask you about the process by which these came to light. You and Senator Blumenthal I think above all others had been very articulate in making the case that these transcripts should be released, that Senator Grassley was wrong to be holding them back from the public.
What do you make of the decision by your colleague Senator Feinstein to just unilaterally release them today?
WHITEHOUSE: Well, I think she made the right call. The Senate Judiciary Committee has been essentially divided by Chairman Grassley, saying, look, we`re going to do our own investigations on the Republican side and you should go do your investigations on the Democratic side. So given that, and given the, I guess, misleading way in which some of this information has been handled in the past, I think the ranking member, Senator Feinstein, felt it was appropriate on the Democratic side for her to release the actual transcript of this information, which I think helps rebut a lot of the narrative that has been build around a very few selected facts and frankly, the best way to do that is simply let the American public see what this guy actually said and puts it into a very different context.
MADDOW: This information in this transcript is obviously new to us in the public. It is not new to you and colleagues in the committee because this was testimony before your committee and this information has been available to you.
Can I just ask about Senator Feinstein`s assertion today that nothing in this report, meaning the dossier, has been disproven? The witness who`s the subject of this transcript, Glenn Simpson, also says that in the year this dossier has been public now, it has -- none of it has ever been proven to be disinformation. Do you share that believe that nothing in the dossier has been conclusively disproven?
WHITEHOUSE: Well, I think there is one, there are typographical things. Alfa Bank is spelled a different way, and there is a location Prague where a meeting was asserted to have taken place and I don`t think it can be shown that the individual was actually there, but that could be a question of just getting the geography wrong.
I think what you have here is a dossier that was put together as a draft initial intelligence product, but one of the senior people from the London desk of M-16 looking at Russia. And so, he`s a very credible person. He`s a person who our law enforcement community and our national security community have relied on for analysis and information fairly regularly.
So, he`s not an unknown and he comes in, I think, with a very thoughtful and thorough report but it is a first cut. So, there are going to be likely some errors in it, which most astonishing is when you consider how politically charged this is and how this fraught this whole investigation is for the Trumps, that with everything that the Republicans have had to level at this report, we`re down to discussing was the meeting really in Prague and did you spell Alfa Bank right?
So, against the kind of pressure that`s been brought to bear against the report and considering that it was only offered as a preliminary intelligence survey, I think the report held up dammed well.
MADDOW: We`ve seen some evolution on the subject of this report among your Republican colleagues. As I pointed out earlier in the show, in August, shortly after this testimony was first given, Senator Grassley seemed domitable to releasing this information, he said he didn`t see any reason why he would vote to keep this information from the public. Indeed, he told constituents at home in Iowa that he would allow the committee to vote on whether or not this should be released. At least one other Republican member of your committee told us that he also, Senator Hatch, would vote to release it.
Since then, Senator Grassley changed his mind. We`ve had that sort of an evolution. We`ve also seen a little bit of evolution just today since this was released. Senator Graham today made comments that he essentially is glad that this is now out in the public record. He had not previously been saying it should be released.
Senator Cornyn from Texas is also saying essentially he`s glad this is out now.
Where do you assess your Republican colleagues in terms of where they are at on the Russia investigation writ large? Your speech today on the Senate floor was scathing in terms of the way they tried to divert the Russia investigation into chasing other kinds of rabbits as you describe tonight.
WHITEHOUSE: Yes. Yes, that goes back to the famous Senator Sam Irvin in Watergate, talking about -- you know, when you try to go out on a bear hunt, the people don`t want you to get the bear, try to get you chasing rabbits instead. So, I went through a list of the rabbits that the Republicans have put in front of us and in front of the public to try to divert what`s going on.
This came into that world when they were able to begin to create the narrative that somehow the Russians were not only going after Hillary, but they are going after Trump. They weren`t trying to help him. They`re going after both of them and that the Fusion GPS contract and the Steele dossier were somehow involved in all of that.
And I think at that point, things got a little bit complicated for them because that departs from the facts as disclosed by this transcript. You have to take a little bit of information here and a little bit of information there and build a narrative around them that the real context explodes, and I think that`s been the difficulty is that they have built this narrative or at least some have built this narrative on a very selected little set of facts. But now that the whole thing is out there, the story that they were shopping just doesn`t stand up.
MADDOW: If the argument is well-run, the people who have the facts on their side should win the argument in the end and persuade the people who had a misunderstanding of the facts.
WHITEHOUSE: Typically, but your start is an incomplete and selective set of facts chosen for the purpose of a particular narrative.
MADDOW: Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, thank you for being with us tonight, sir. Really appreciate your time tonight.
WHITEHOUSE: My pleasure.
All right. We`ll be right back. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Here we are, a day that ends with Y, which we now know stands for yet more news, can`t go to bed yet.
Late tonight, as we are getting on the air, we got the news that a long- time Trump lawyer has filed a new lawsuit over the Trump-Russia dossier. Michael Cohen has been the president`s personal attorney and an executive at the Trump Organization for a long time. He features prominently by name in the dossier. He`s been very vocal about his denials that he did any of the things he`s described as doing in the dossier.
Well, as of tonight, he has sued "BuzzFeed News" for publishing that document a year ago. He`s suing them for defamation, saying he had no involvement in this Russian collusion conspiracy. Mr. Cohen is also suing Fusion GPS, the research firm behind the dossier.
It is transcript of the founder from Fusion GPS that has turned the news upside down today. If you thought this story had already gone to 11, turns out the dial goes to 12.
Congressman Adam Schiff joins us next.
MADDOW: He is the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.
Congressman Schiff, thank you so much for being here tonight. I really appreciate it.
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), RANKING MEMBER, HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: It`s good to be with you.
MADDOW: I was looking forward to getting your reaction to this dramatic move by Senator Dianne Feinstein of your home state California. She made a unilateral decision to release this transcript today against the wishes of the committee chairman.
What`s your reaction to her decision to do that and to what we`ve learned based on this new transcript?
SCHIFF: Well, a couple of reactions. First of all, I`m very glad that she did it. The Senate Judiciary Committee operates under different rules than we do in the House Intelligence Committee can and they have more latitude than to release transcripts than we do. But I was also calling for their release so that the public could see exactly what Glenn Simpson had to say and what the situation was in terms of Christopher Steele and put away I think some of the misinformation campaign that has been put out there by the administration and its allies.
So, I think it`s very positive that she has done this. I also say I can certainly understand her concern if this was a part of her calculation with the letter that Senators Grassley and Graham wrote urging an investigation of Christopher Steele. I think that`s a terrible thing to do and just part of an effort to go after Christopher Steele and go after Fusion GPS, go after the FBI, go after the DOJ, look at anything except what Russia did in our election.
Tremendous disservice I think to Christopher Steele who really did a patriotic duty in alerting the FBI that a presidential campaign may be compromised by the Russians.
MADDOW: Senator Grassley has raised the concern that releasing this transcript will affect the ability of his committee to get other witnesses to come in. It will -- it may affect the integrity of the investigation by giving other witnesses information about what Simpson has testified to which might affect their own version of events.
What do you think about those concerns?
SCHIFF: Well, I know one of the concerns that he expressed was that others would be chilled from testifying. I don`t think that`s true because here you had Glenn Simpson calling for his own transcript to be released. If you have a witness who doesn`t want that to take place, that`s quite a different circumstance.
There are from time to time good investigative reasons to do things in closed session and not to release the transcripts so that people don`t link up their stories together. But here, I don`t think you can really complain about it when you see so much misinformation being put out about Mr. Simpson. And it`s -- there is a certain basic level of fairness you have to consider in allowing a witness to defend themselves.
So, I think it was the right decision by Senator Feinstein. It certainly seems like some of the GOP members of the committee can now concur with that.
MADDOW: Congressman, I wanted to ask you about one of the things that appeared in this transcript that I think will not be new to you, because of your role in the intelligence committee. But I think is probably new to much of the public. And so, I`ll only ask you to comment on this. Obviously not in terms of your knowledge of classified information, but in terms of what has been publicly discussed.
But there is a dramatic moment late in the transcript, page 279 to be precise, when a questioner is -- an investigator is asking Mr. Simpson about how Fusion assessed the credibility of Christopher Steele`s source, his sources in Russia for this document, these reports that he produced. Without getting into naming the sources or anything like that, what steps did you take to try to verify their credibility?
Simpson declines to answer that and clearly there has been some negotiation between Simpson and the committee as to what he would talk about. But the investigator then asks, why? Why are you refusing to answer this question?
And Simpson`s lawyer responds as such, quote: It`s a voluntary a interview, and in addition to that, he wants to be very careful to protect his sources. Somebody has already been killed as a result of the publication of this dossier, and no harm should come to anybody related to this honest work.
Can you tell us anything about what that`s about?
SCHIFF: Well, I mean, there has been a lot of speculation about who the sources might be. Certainly a lot of speculation in the United States.
You have to imagine there is a lot of speculation going on in Russia as well. They`re watching this very carefully. And anyone that is providing information that went to Christopher Steele, it ultimately went to the FBI, they would have the greatest desire to find and to kill.
And when people have died under mysterious circumstances in Russia, there have been profound questions about whether those deaths or death -- death or deaths have connected here.
Now I can`t say whether they are or they aren`t. But I can say Glenn Simpson has I think a well-founded concern, as does Christopher Steele, over the safety of anyone that was a source for these reports. So, that information has to be very jealously guarded. And I can understand why he would have such a tremendous hesitation about that.
MADDOW: Congressman Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee. Thank you so much for being with us tonight, sir. I really appreciate your time.
SCHIFF: You bet. Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: All right. Somebody`s already been killed as a result of the publication of this dossier.
It`s been a big day of news. Stay with us. And we`ll be right back.
MADDOW: Congressman Ron DeSantis is a Republican congressman from Florida. He is running for governor there. You might have heard his name in national news recently when President Trump apparently saw him on the FOX News Channel and volunteered publicly how great he thought Ron DeSantis would be as Florida governor.
Well, now, since then, Congressman DeSantis has stepped up his involvement in the Republican campaign against the Russia investigations. Tonight, he has written to House Speaker Paul Ryan telling the House Speaker to declassify documents held by the House Intelligence Committee about the Trump-Russia dossier.
Congressman DeSantis is not on that committee. But he is running for governor of Florida with the president`s support, and now he says he would like the speaker of the house to force House Intel to release classified documents about that dossier. Mr. DeSantis says, quote: The people have the right to know if the FBI used its considerable resources to interfere, period.
We don`t yet know whether Speaker Ryan has replied or what he will say, but anything is possible.
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.
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