Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: January 10, 2018 Guest: Ben Cardin, Ben Smith
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Thanks to you at home for joining us this hour as well.
All right. So, these guys -- whatever you think of them -- it is undoubtedly true that these guys cannot catch a break. Donald Trump for president campaign chairman Paul Manafort and Donald Trump for president deputy campaign chairman Rick Gates.
Both of them are currently under federal indictment on multiple felony charges. Sometimes when you`re under indictment on serious felony charges, they keep you in jail until your trial. Maybe it`s a break for them that neither Gates nor Manafort is in jail right now, but they are both essentially under house arrest.
They`ve had to surrender their passports. Some of the family members about to surrender their passports. They`re wearing monitoring devices. They have to get permission from the court if they want to go anywhere.
Their trial is set for May of this year and they`ve both had to put up millions and millions of dollars to secure their bonds, $10 million for Manafort, $5 million for Gates. Manafort went so far last week as to sue the government to try to get them to drop the charges against him, but also to basically dis-empanel the special counsel Robert Mueller, fired the special counsel Robert Mueller. He wasn`t a -- wasn`t appointed properly.
Now, nobody thinks that lawsuit for Manafort is going anywhere, and that raised the question of why he did it. Why did Manafort and his lawyers go through the time and the expense of filing that lawsuit when it was nothing anybody was going to take seriously? It just really looked like a very desperate move. What`s Paul Manafort feeling so desperate about?
Well, today Paul Manafort and Rick Gates got sued by a Putin-linked Russian oligarch who they used to do business with. Oleg Deripaska is his name. He was a major financial backer of some of Paul Manafort`s work in the former Soviet Union. He and Manafort and Gates and their company, then tried to do several big business deals together. At least one of those deals appears to have gone wrong.
From what we can tell, it seems like Oleg Deripaska gave Manafort and his company many millions of dollars, like $15 million or $20 million to try to buy a cable company in Ukraine. They don`t seem to have ever bought the cable company and Deripaska seems to think that his money nevertheless went walkies, that it got sort of siphoned off at least in part by Manafort and Gates. And we know he thinks that because Deripaska previously sued Paul Manafort to try to get the money back in 2014.
One of the intriguing storylines around Paul Manafort and his cash flow around his time running the Trump campaign and why he wanted to run the Trump campaign in the first place and Manafort`s mysterious communications during the campaign where he offered Deripaska private briefings on the campaign and he emailed somebody else he was working for about whether or not the campaign might be something he could use to get whole when it came to Deripaska, one of the intriguing question marks about all of that Paul Manafort stuff is that even though Oleg Deripaska sued Paul Manafort for $18 million in 2014 over that business deal gone wrong and all his missing money, that lawsuit mysteriously went away, with no evident resolution right around the time when Donald Trump started running for president, and Paul Manafort started running his campaign.
So, that`s -- I don`t know what any of that means, but it`s always been a really interesting open question here. I mean, given Paul Manafort`s extensive and somewhat secretive business dealings in the former Soviet Union and how those dealings overlap with his political work in the former Soviet Union, was he trying to do the same thing here? Was it also possible that there was something about this multimillion dollar business dispute with this Putin-linked oligarch which he saw as overlapping somehow with his political work for Donald Trump? I don`t know.
But why did that lawsuit go away when Paul Manafort took the Trump gig?
We still don`t know, but we do know that today, that lawsuit came back. Deripaska filing a lawsuit in New York state court today against Manafort and Gates. It seeks $25 million in punitive damages plus other compensatory damages as well. So, I mean -- these guys, while these guys from the Trump campaign are on house arrest awaiting trial on multiple felony counts that have been brought against them by Robert Mueller in the special counsel`s office, they are also as of tonight facing the new civil lawsuit in New York state court brought by a very powerful Putin-connected Russian billionaire oligarch who`s trying to soak them for more money than either of these guys have probably ever seen in the past and will definitely ever see in the future.
And just to twist the knife a little harder, Deripaska`s complaint in New York state court tonight makes clear that the source of this information that he is using to bring this new lawsuit against Manafort and Gates is the indictment, is the Robert Mueller indictment against Manafort and Gates. You might remember when the Manafort indictment came out, there`s all those pages and pages and pages in the document showing all that inflow and outflow of cash from his bank accounts, right, how Manafort was like paying his landscapers and like buying the rugs and all this -- the bank accounts in Cyprus and stuff.
Apparently, that financial information was of sufficient granular detail to as of today become the basis for another, potentially, financially crippling civil case against those guys from the Trump campaign. Tough night for those guys.
Oleg Deripaska is well -- I just -- you know, it trips off the tongue now, right? Oleg Deripaska, it`s one of those names that was long and foreign and unfamiliar and therefore hard to remember not that long ago. But now, for the first time in U.S. history, in order to follow current events related to the American presidency, you have to learn a lot of Russian names. A lot of names that would have been hard to remember a year ago we just got now. Oh, Oleg Deripaska, I remember.
Also names like Guccifer, Guccifer 2.0. I think you`re supposed to say Guccifer. I feel uncomfortable with that. So, I`m going to stick with the Gucc.
We all have to learn the name Guccifer 2.0 as part of this presidency, this presidential campaign. In June of 2016, something called DC Leaks and then Guccifer 2.0, took credit for hacking into the computer servers of the Democratic Party and the Clinton campaign and then releasing those documents to the public and also feeding them to WikiLeaks for them to release to the public. Both DC Leaks and Guccifer 2.0 were configured online to seem like to -- like people, seem like personalities, like they might be individual hackers. But that was a fairly thin disguise.
In the director of national intelligence report on the Russian attack on our election that was released this week last year, the DNI said that the U.S. intelligence community had assessed with high confidence that Guccifer 2.0 was not an individual or some small group of independent hackers. It was instead just an online persona that was created and used by Russian military intelligence, by the GRU.
That`s why it was potentially legally significant when we found out that a man named Roger Stone from the Trump campaign had been in contact with Guccifer 2.0, with Russian military intelligence during the campaign, including while Stone was giving the public advance notice about forthcoming leaks that would be targeting the Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta. He was in touch with Guccifer 2.0, which was Russian military intelligence and Stone was given advance notice of their next targets among American political figures. And he bragged about it weeks before those leaks became public knowledge.
Even though Guccifer 2.0 was a made-up name though, it was a false front created by Russian military intelligence, it wasn`t a randomly generated false name. Guccifer 2.0 was a sort of tribute, a shout-out to a very famous figure in criminal hacking. The original Guccifer. It wasn`t just a name drawn up by the Russian military in the first place. The original Guccifer, Guccifer 1.0 was a name drawn up by this man. His name is Marcel Lazar. He used the online name Guccifer when in he started hacking into personal email accounts for lots of famous people all over the world, including a whole bunch of U.S. political figures and celebrities.
Coli Powell, Senator Lisa Murkowski, Jim Nance, the football announcer from CBS, George W. Bush`s sister he hacked. Guccifer hacking George W. Bush`s sister I think is how we got the first public look at George W. Bush`s oil paintings, right? Part of how he reinvented himself in his post- presidency. He does oil paintings, they`re not that bad.
But I think the first time we the public got to see them was because Guccifer hacked into his sister personal email account. That`s how he first got him, and then that`s how he posted him online and that`s how we all first saw them.
What the hacker Guccifer did went on for a while, went on for several years, 2012, 2013. He released a lot of people`s personal information, medical information, contact information.
Incidentally by publishing some stolen emails that other famous people had sent to Hillary Clinton at her private email address, it was the Guccifer hacks that accidentally exposed that Hillary Clinton was using a private email server while she was secretary of state and you know how that ended.
But the important thing to know about that hacker from 2012, 2013 and beyond, Guccifer, aka, Marcel Lazar, is that he got caught. What he did that unauthorized access and stealing and redistributing data that he stole from people`s online accounts, that is illegal, and the U.S. Justice Department went after him.
He was a 40-something-year-old guy in Romania. I think he was like a retired taxi driver or something. They got him in Romania, brought him to the United States, prosecuted him here and they convicted him. And in September of 2016, he was sent away to prison for more than four years.
And as it often is the case when they get a conviction and a big high- profile incident like this, the Department of Justice sends out a press release -- this is the Department of Justice press release announcing that sentencing Romanian hacker Guccifer sentenced to 52 months in prison for computer hacking crimes.
But if you check out that press release now and you can see who led that case, down there in the fine print, it says senior counsel, Ryan K. Dickey. Ryan K. Dickey, the guy who led the prosecution of the original Guccifer, the inspiration and tribute of Guccifer 2.0.
Ryan K. Dickey, a cybercrime specialist prosecutor from the Department of Justice, we have just learned that he has a new gig. "The Washington Post" reports today that he is the latest specialist prosecutor brought on to Robert Mueller`s team, special counsel team operating under the leadership of Robert Mueller on the Russia investigation.
Now, according to Matt Zapotosky`s reporting in "The Post" on this today, this cyber specialist prosecutor, Ryan Dickey, he was not just added right now. Zapotosky reports that he was actually brought on to Mueller`s team in November. This is just the first time anybody has been able to report it.
Still, though, us learning about his appointment now does tell us a couple of things. First of all, for what it`s worth, I think this means there are at least 17 prosecutors working on Mueller`s team now. OK.
Number two, we know now that the very month the president`s Russia lawyer was publicly proclaiming that the Mueller investigation was coming to a close, would be over by thanksgiving, not only was Robert Mueller not wrapping up in November, he was still adding new prosecutors to his team at that time. And because of what we know about Ryan Dickey`s professional area of specialization, what he`s an expert at, we at least can now ask better questions about where Mueller is going with his team.
On cyber issues or at least on computer related issues, we know from previous reporting that Mueller`s investigators have sought documents from one of the firms that was hired to do data operations for the Trump campaign during the election, Cambridge Analytica.
We also know that RNC staffers were questioned last month, quote, about the party digital operation that worked with the Trump campaign to target voters in key swing states. Mueller`s investigators are seeking to determine if the joint effort was related to the activities of Russian trolls and bots aimed at influencing the American electorate. That was according to Michael Isikoff, his scoop between Christmas and New Year`s at Yahoo News.
We know from reporting this past fall that Robert Mueller obtained significant data about Russian efforts to influence the 2016 vote on American social media, including Facebook. He got a ton of data from Facebook. We know that in part because of Congress complaining that Facebook gave more information to Mueller than they gave to Congress.
So, we know that he`s pursued all those lines of inquiry, right? All those potential witnesses, all that documentation, all of that content in terms for computer-related stuff in the Russia attack and the question of collusion. So, given that he`s been pursuing all that stuff, and given the fact that Russian online interference in our election was known very early on, why at this late date would Mueller still be bringing on new prosecutors who specialized in cyber stuff and hacking?
None of the other prosecutors are working for him, or thought to be cyber specialists. Why did he wait so long to bring one on? And what caused him to bring one on like November of last year? We don`t know.
But there`s one other piece of the investigation about Russia and Trump campaign, in this case specifically the Trump Organization, that is related to computer stuff, is related to data, and really nobody has had any idea what to do with it since we first found out about it. It`s issue of Alfa Bank.
Right before the election, Slate.com and "New York Times" reported on unusual phenomenon that had been noticed online early in the presidential campaign. In the spring of 2016, a computer server that was part of the Trump organization started communicating with unusual frequency, started communicating almost exclusively with a server that was associated with big Russian bank called Alfa Bank. We have no idea what was going on with that communication between the Trump server and Russian Alfa Bank server during the campaign. It`s never been adequately explained.
But we do know that FBI apparently took that communication between those servers quite seriously. The contact between those servers happened in early 2016, was first reported in Slate.com in October of 2016, but CNN reported in March 2017 that the FBI still had the matter under investigation.
Quote: Federal investigators and computer scientists continue to examine whether there was a computer server connection between the Trump Organization and a Russian bank. The FBI`s investigation remains open. It`s in the hands of the FBI`s counterintelligence team, same team looking into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
So, if that report from CNN was accurate, that means that FBI looked into the Alfa Bank/Trump server communications. And they looked into it for months. They treated it as a counterintelligence issue. And we know that that investigation was likely still ongoing at the FBI in their counterintelligence division when Robert Mueller was appointed special counsel to take over the entirety of the Russian investigation just a couple of months later.
Now, as part of the controversy around those mysterious interactions between the bank and Trump Organization`s computer server, the Russian bank, Alfa Bank hired American lawyers to look into this matter, starting to get bad and weird press about, and basically to investigate it internally and to help convince anybody investigating the matter that it was just innocuous communication, that there was nothing weird going on there. Alfa Bank wanted to get out ahead of that story, at least defend themselves against these implicit allegations of collusion with the Trump campaign.
Well, one of the lawyers that Alfa Bank hired to do that was a lawyer who had been working on Trump transition team, a guy named Brian Benczkowski. Brian Benczkowski, led the Trump transition of the Department of Justice, he then left the Trump transition to go work for this Russian bank, to go work for Alfa Bank, to help try to clear their name on this allegation that they had colluded with the Trump campaign.
Very soon there after, Trump named Brian Benczkowski as his nominee to head the Criminal Division at Department of Justice. Now, that job is a really big deal at Department of Justice. To put the guy who is defending the Russian bank against the Trump campaign collusion ties in that kind of a job at the Justice Department, that was clearly a very controversial thing.
And so, this is kind of how it went when Trump tried on that nomination last year.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
THEN-SEN. AL FRANKEN (D), MINNESOTA: You`re asked to, in private practice, to look into whether this big Russian bank, owned by -- one of the top oligarchs in Russia, who was -- which is been accused -- you`ve read the report -- that by then there was interference by the Russians into Trump campaign -- I mean into the election and that there may have been collaboration with the Trump campaign.
You still would have done that? Knowing that you were going to get this --
BRIAN BENCZKOWSKI, TRUM APPOINTEE: If you`re asking me the question, Senator, would I do it differently now knowing that I would -- knowing in advance that I`d be nominated to head the Criminal Division?
BENCZKOWSKI: Then, of course.
FRANKEN: Well, that`s what I asked you.
BENCZKOWSKI: OK, I --
FRANKEN: Why did it take so long for you to come up with obvious answer?
BENCZKOWSKI: I apologize, Senator. I --
FRANKEN: Well, no, I really want to know that. I asked you a very easy question, knowing what you know now, would you have done it differently? And it took us a long time to get there, and that makes me wonder about your honesty.
It does. It was a simple question. And at first you said you wouldn`t have done it differently. Then you say you would have done it differently.
BENCZKOWSKI: Senator, again, I apologize. I didn`t understand the premise of your question. If I misunderstood it, I apologize.
I now understand you to be asking me, with perfect sort of hindsight, would I do it differently. Answer is yes. I wouldn`t have undertaken the representation, had I known at time I would be nominee to head the criminal division.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Yes, obviously. It`s a little weird that you would be running criminal division of the Justice Department right after representing the Russian bank accused of colluding with the Trump campaign at this particular time in our nation`s governance and at this particular time in our nation`s Justice Department, it would be weird.
So, because of what that guy did between the Trump transition and getting nominated to run the Justice Department`s criminal division, it didn`t work when Trump tried to put him forward to be head of the criminal division at DOJ last year.
Well, now, Trump has renominated him for the same job, same guy. Alfa Bank guy.
And while we`re on the subject, another piece of news broke today on very related matter. And that`s next.
MADDOW: I think Democrats may have just scored a big unexpected win or may be about to score a big unexpected win on an important legal matter related to the Trump or the Trump -- well may be related to the Trump Organization, definitely related to the Trump presidency.
Here`s what it`s about. We`ve spent a bunch time on the show talking about the otherwise sort of forgotten early legal scandal of the Trump presidency when Trump last March suddenly without warning fired all the U.S. attorneys all across the country.
Now, presidents get to replace all the us attorney`s if they want to and some have done so before. But nobody`s ever done it the way Trump did. None of them were given any warning. None of them were given any plan -- any time to plan for any sort of transition.
And at least one U.S. attorney who was told he could definitely stay was instead just yanked without explanation. The strangeness and still unexplained rushed nature of that mass surprise firing was made all the more acute because the one U.S. attorney who`d been told personally that he could definitely stay in his jurisdiction was the prosecutor in the southern district of New York in Manhattan, Preet Bharara.
Southern district of New York is one of the most powerful if not the most powerful U.S. attorney`s office in the country, more than prosecutors working under the U.S. attorney in that district. That jurisdiction includes basically every major financial institution in the United States because so many banking transactions worldwide are routed through Wall Street, in New York City.
But for this administration, it`s particularly important because southern district of New York, Manhattan, is also where the president has spent his entire working life and where he headquarters his business. Well, last week, the administration made another sudden no warning move when it comes to federal prosecutors, when all on one day, they announced new U.S. attorneys for districts all across the country including that crucial district in the southern district of New York, which is so near and dear to the president`s wallet -- I mean heart.
Questions were raised again about the timing, why this sudden move, why no notice?
Further questions and concerns have been raised by reports that indicate the president may have personally interviewed some of the candidates for U.S. attorney jobs before naming them, including the eventual nominee who he picked for the southern district of New York.
Well, now, today, Greg Farrell at "Bloomberg News" reports that the U.S. Attorney Trump is just appointed for that all-important job in Manhattan it isn`t just a law partner of his close friend Rudy Giuliani, he`s also a lawyer who has extensive history of doing legal work for Deutsche Bank. Deutsche Bank is the largest lender to President Trump. Personally, he owes them hundreds of millions of dollars, far more than he owes anybody else. Deutsche Bank has frequently bailed out his business ventures and him personally when no other financial institutions would touch him, even after he sued them, even after he was unable to repay some of their earlier loans to him.
Deutsche Bank also made a mysterious $285 million loan one month before the election to Jared Kushner, which Jared Kushner did not report on his financial disclosure forms. Deutsche Bank is also incidentally the subject of a massive Justice Department investigation into Russian money laundering, a scandal for which they`ve already paid hundreds of millions of dollars in fines to other regulators.
Deutsche Bank has received subpoenas about its ties to both Trump and Kushner from both the U.S. attorney in the eastern district of New York and from Robert Mueller`s office.
So, the idea that in Trump`s home district in Manhattan, the federal prosecutor`s office will now be run by a lawyer who has done lots of legal work for Deutsche Bank, that`s important news. "Bloomberg" further reports that two days after Trump appointed this particular lawyer to run that prosecutor`s office in Manhattan, that new interim U.S. attorney two days after Trump picked him, that guy picked his new deputy. Lots of prosecutors offices, the deputy rolls over and stays on, it`s sort of a career position even as the purpose person at the very top gets replaced every few years.
Well, in the southern district of New York, this new guy decided not to do that. He`s not going to keep on the assistant. Two days after he was named to run that office, he announced he would be bringing in his own deputy. His own deputy is the former general counsel of Deutsche Bank.
So, here`s the last big piece of news on this tonight. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand is the junior senator from the state of New York. She had previously expressed concerns about this appointment -- this important appointment in this important prosecutor`s office based on the fact that Trump had reportedly met personally with and personally interviewed this potential prosecutor before giving him the job that could potentially have so much bearing on the president himself.
Tonight, "The New York Times" reports that Senator Gillibrand will make her opposition to this nominee a formal thing. She will use what`s called the blue slip process to formally oppose the appointment of this U.S. attorney in Manhattan.
Now, over the last few months, Republicans started to make noise that they might not respect the blue slip process anymore, they might not let home state senators have a say in appointments like this from their state anymore. But in this case, look at this, Senator Chuck Grassley is the relevant committee chairman and he says through a spokesman tonight that he, quote, intends to honor the blue slip courtesy.
OK, if that`s true and if you add to that the weight from New York`s other senator, Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer who has reportedly told the White House that he also is not supportive of this crucial nominee, I think that means that even though Democrats are in the minority and they don`t control anything in Washington, this is one case where they might actually stop what Trump is trying to do, they might right now be stopping this nominee who Trump is trying to install in his home jurisdiction -- this guy with these close links to his biggest financial backer, and very close links to one of his best friends.
I`m not saying for sure that this thing is cooked, but it looks like Senator Kirsten Gillibrand in particular may have shut this down. Although, hey, the night is young, anything could happen.
Watch this space.
MADDOW: -- sure how to say this word, it is spelled B-A-M-S-E. I think it`s BAMSE. But this is this is an ad for the BAMSE missile defense system. It is made and sold by Saab which used to make nice cars where you had to ram the stick shift down and push it forward if you wanted the car to go in reverse -- very tricky.
The BAMSE missile defense system, this also is a different kind of defense system. Its name is also Bamse, but in this case, it`s Bamse the bear. Bamse is the world`s strongest bear. Bamse is the star of a Swedish cartoon show, "Bamse the bear and his friends".
And this Bamse the bear is now part of a national campaign in Sweden to teach Swedish kids how to spot fake news.
I read it on the Internet. All right, you did. OK, well, have you verified the source?
It may be that we cannot stop the sustained intent of Russia to disrupt democratic societies all over the West with state-sponsored hacking and fake news and troll farms and bots, but some countries are at least trying to counter it. The Dutch moved to start hand-counting their votes to stop -- basically to head off hacking efforts that might try to interfere with the vote count.
A multi-country European Website debunking disinformation, a really cute cartoon in Sweden that teaches school kids to check the source first before they believe what they read online. Countries all over the West that have been targeted by Russian influence operations have been developing strategies for several years now to actively try to stop Russian attempts to mess with their democracies and to mess with their populations.
Here in the United States, our top law enforcement official tells Congress he has no particular ideas for protecting the next election here from interference after what Russia did in the last one. Here in the United States, the president-elect`s national security advisor told Russia not to worry about the American sanctions President Obama imposed on Russia for them interfering in our election, then he lied about that to the FBI.
When the new administration took office, new Trump staffers sent to the State Department immediately started putting together plans to unilaterally rollback those sanctions against Russia. A veto-proof majority in Congress blocked that and even approved more sanctions, but the new president has since slow-walked them and even closed the State Department office in charge of sanctions.
Just yesterday, we learned that a Trump National Security Council appointee in the White House, immediately after the inauguration, proposed removing all U.S. troops from countries on Russia`s border, as a gesture to the Kremlin. He reportedly proposed that in February, and the following month, the same adviser proposed lifting all U.S. sanctions affecting the Russian oil industry, which would definitely make Vladimir Putin very happy, right? No sanctions, no U.S. troops on his border, would you like us to monogram our white flag?
The Swedes are reporting great success with their cartoon bear campaign against disinformation. Meanwhile, our government is closing the sanctions office and thinking what else we might stuff into a goodie bag for Vladimir Putin.
Today in the U.S. Senate, the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee issued a 200-page report on what Vladimir Putin is doing in Russia and Europe and what that means for U.S. national security.
Senator Ben Cardin commissioned this exhaustive look at the threat posed by Putin and the action being taken around the world to defend against it, with some positive results, even though there`s no comparatively total inaction by our own government in the U.S., down to not even spending the money Congress said should be spent on countering Kremlin disinformation.
And if you`ve seen any coverage about this new report today, you will have seen that the pull quote out of this report from Senator Cardin is that no president ever before has ignored a national security threat like this one. But I think having read the report, I think it`s worth noting that not only is our president not leading us to do the kinds of things other countries have been trying to do to put out the fire, in some ways, our government under this president has been pouring on gasoline and helping this thing burn.
Joining us now is Senator Ben Cardin. He`s the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee. He commissioned today`s report.
Senator Cardin, it`s really nice of you to be here with us tonight. Thank you for your time.
SEN. BEN CARDIN (D-MD), FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: It`s good to be with you, Rachel. Thanks.
MADDOW: So, you look at 19 different European countries. You give very readable, understandable case studies about on how Russia has tried to interfere with a lot of our allies and a lot of nations, particularly in what they like to think of as their geographical sphere of influence. You write about how other countries have come up with strategies to try to fend them off.
Do those things seem to you like things that could work in the United States, that we should be stealing and adopting for our own use?
CARDIN: Oh, absolutely. What we need is presidential leadership. We need a game plan to recognize that Russia is trying to bring down our democratic institutions.
After the 2016 election, the European capitals all took steps to protect their election systems. We saw, for example, that in France, they took actions recognizing that Russia would be active in their campaign and they were successful in blocking impact of Mr. Putin`s attempts in that election.
We saw the same thing happened in Germany. We saw where Russia attempted a coup in Montenegro in order to block them from entering NATO.
Those countries have taken steps to protect themselves because they recognize that Russia is trying to bring down their Democratic institutions.
In the United States, our president has not taken this seriously. He`s basically said he`s not even sure that Russia was involved in our elections when we know for sure that they were.
So, we don`t have presidential leadership. We don`t have a national game plan that recognizes the risk that Russia presents to our national security.
MADDOW: One of the things that I found distressing on just sort of an institutional level is that you highlight the State Department`s Global Engagement Center as a key part of the State Department that Congress has identified as a place, a resource within our government that could be very helpful, could be very useful in terms of combating Russian influence operations.
And you say that Congress identified that office, basically ordered that that office be used for that purpose, particularly given what Russia did in the 2016 election. But then under Rex Tillerson at State Department, under President Trump, despite those instructions from Congress, that just hasn`t happened, they just haven`t done it.
That makes me worry that this isn`t just sort of lackadaisical unwillingness to recognize the scope of the problem. It seems like active defiance.
CARDIN: Well, this problem has been identified by Congress, by the Senate. We have, as you pointed out, appropriated resources to work with our Europeans to protect us against these cyberattacks. We know that Mr. Putin uses criminal elements to try to carry out his designs.
So, we provided a game plan to work with our European friends in order to develop the defense mechanisms. The administration was very slow to even try to get that started. To this date they still have not fully engaged with the tools that have been provided by Congress.
So, there has been -- I use the term negligence. The president has been negligent in dealing with this problem, and this is a matter of high national security concern.
Russia is trying to compromise our democratic institutions. It`s not just elections. They want to bring down our way of government. They want corruption to reign. That`s how Mr. Putin has been able to accumulate tens of billions of dollars of illegal wealth. So, we`ve got to take action and that`s what Congress has authorized, and this administration is not following through.
MADDOW: Senator, one last question for you on this. I recognize, this is a comprehensive report. A big 200-page report. It`s a minority staff report from the Committee on Foreign Relations. It means it`s the Democrats.
Did you approach the Republican chairman, Senator Corker, and the other Republicans on the committee about working on this with you and they not want to do it? Or did you Democrats just set out to do this on your own from the outset?
CARDIN: Rachel, in January, very early in 2017, I made a decision on behalf of the Democratic members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that this story had to be told. The American people had to understand what Russia, what Mr. Putin was doing in our elections.
And it`s not isolated. It`s much broader. It deals with an overall game plan to try to compromise democratic institutions in Europe and in the United States.
I did go over this with Senator Corker. He was fully aware of what we were doing. It is our priority to get it started. We worked with Republicans on our committee throughout the year, but we wanted to make sure that this report could be released in a timely way.
We believe it`s not partisan report. We believe the recommendations we make will be embraced because of the need for national security. So, we -- this is not partisan report, but this was priority that Democrats brought in 2017.
MADDOW: Senator Ben Cardin, top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, thank you, sir, for giving us a heads up on this. Thanks for being with us tonight. I much appreciate it.
CARDIN: Thank you.
MADDOW: All right. We`ll post a link to the report. It`s worth looking at the executive summary. It`s also worth looking at some of the case studies for what happened in individual countries and how they came up with game plans to counteract it. It`s very readable stuff. We`ll post a link to it at MaddowBlog.com tonight.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: OK. This is from page 138 of the Fusion GPS transcript that got released yesterday. This is about five hours into 10-hour testimony of Glenn Simpson from Fusion GPS.
Question: It has been widely reported and Mr. Steele has acknowledged that he created 16 memos before the election, between the time period of June 2016 and October 2016. Is that accurate?
Answer: To the best of my knowledge, that`s accurate.
Question: I`m going to show you what we`ll just mark as exhibit three for identification purposes. Exhibit three that I just given you was a document that was produced to the committee by your lawyers. They had explained to us that this was document originally posted by "BuzzFeed" in January 2017. Question, if you could just take a look at that, is that what we were just discussing as the series of memos posted by "BuzzFeed" and created by Mr. Steele?
Answer: Yes, it is.
Question: Can you explain for us just what does this represent? The 16 memos that would have occurred between June and October 2016 that Mr. Steele created?
Answer: These are the memos that he created under the engagement.
Under the engagement.
Follow-up question: And does this represent the entire universe of memos that Mr. Steele created as part of this particular engagement for you?
Answer: To the best of my knowledge, as part of this engagement, this is it.
He didn`t say, yes, these are all the Christopher Steele memos about Russia, period, full stop. He says, these are all the memos that he created for us as part of this particular engagement.
Is there another engagement? Might there be more Trump-Russia memos other than what we saw in the dossier?
That little exchange, halfway through and barely noticed in the Glenn Simpson transcript lines up with a piece of reporting from "The New York Times" this week. If you look, I`m not kidding, 26 paragraphs down in their profile of Glenn Simpson from earlier this week, you will find this intriguing little nugget.
Quote: The work has not stopped. Fusion continues to look into ties between Mr. Trump and Russia, according to several people briefed on the research. Mr. Simpson`s specific areas of focus and information about any current benefactors, meaning who is paying for the work, that information is closely guarded.
The work has not stopped. Fusion GPS is still now investigating Trump and Russia.
The publication of the original memos by "BuzzFeed", which happened exactly a year ago tonight, that was apparently not the end of this work by Fusion GPS and maybe even by Christopher Steele.
But you know what? That night was the start of a whole new odyssey for "BuzzFeed" itself. "BuzzFeed" since has been fending off lawsuits and attacks from all sides, ever since they made the decision to do this.
But "BuzzFeed`s" editor in chief, Ben Smith, says today he is proud to have published the dossier. He joins us next.
MADDOW: -- Ben Smith, the editor in chief of "BuzzFeed".
Ben, thank you for coming and doing this. I really appreciate it.
BEN SMITH, EDITOR IN CHIEF, "BUZZFEED": Thank you for having me on.
MADDOW: One year since you published the dossier. You have talked about the internal decisions, the internal process that you went through in terms of figuring out whether or not to do this.
I have some very specific questions for you about the dossier and you can tell me to -- you can tell me you`re not going to answer them.
SMITH: I don`t know if I have answers or not.
MADDOW: It seems like there`s an indication in the Glenn Simpson transcript that maybe these things were out of order. Maybe the way you published them in the 35-page stack was not the chronological order in which those memos were written. Is that true?
SMITH: Each report, most of them two or three pages, is dated.
MADDOW: Most of them?
SMITH: You can go in there and look at that. There are elements of the numbering that isn`t that -- are not totally sequential.
And I think there was also things in the transcript that are really interesting and where there`s more reporting to be done on the extent of -- you know, Steele has a consulting firm that`s done a lot of work, is obviously a leading expert on the subject, kind of what else deal, reported on.
MADDOW: What do you mean? In terms of things that are noted in the dossier that -- I don`t understand what you mean by that.
SMITH: Oh, I just mean that there`s -- if you look at the pages of the dossier, the numbers aren`t sequential and as you`re referring to there -- you know, I don`t have a clear answer for those --
MADDOW: But you published everything that you had?
SMITH: We published everything that we had.
MADDOW: Who`s highlighting is on it? Was the highlighting on it when you guys got it or is that "BuzzFeed" highlighting?
SMITH: I don`t want to talk about anything near sourcing.
MADDOW: OK, not even highlighting sourcing. All right. Thought I`d try.
Tell me about how difficult it has been to deal with the legal fallout from publishing it? You guys are dealing with a lot of lawsuits.
SMITH: Yes. You know, nobody would tell you that you welcome litigation but obviously we feel very confident then, we feel very confident now that it was -- that this document was very, very much in the public interest. That -- and I think, you know, then it`s briefed to the president of the United States, top United States senators were fighting over it.
I think the extent to which the FBI was looking at it and talking to Steele has -- we know even more now but this was -- I think when you think about was this thing in the public interest, I think it was very clear then, it`s incredibly clear now. And I think if you look like what happened like even this week and imagine trying to tell the story of this hearing and this conflict of Grassley and Feinstein and everything else that happened, with the dossier as a piece of dark matter that you`re not allowed to talk about.
MADDOW: Right, with everybody projecting on the show (ph) what must be in it, right.
SMITH: The notion that it was, you know, we heard a lot at the time that we should absolutely, this thing should be kept secret forever I guess. You know, a year later, I really don`t hear anyone saying that.
MADDOW: The terms of fallout of publishing it, one of the things we learned in that transcript or at least yesterday was this quote from Glenn Simpson`s lawyer saying that somebody was killed as a result of the publication of the dossier. What do you make of that?
SMITH: I was really troubled to hear that. He today clarified that he was just speculating.
SMITH: And, in fact, there was a death some people have linked to the dossier. A former KGB general who was found dead in a car in Moscow but it was two weeks before we published.
SMITH: And I think there`s been some sloppy reporting linking those things, but that doesn`t make sense.
MADDOW: In terms of the backlash that came your way -- obviously, you knew you were making controversial decision.
MADDOW: Obviously, you had to weigh both legal risk and also your -- the ethical issues and the responsibilities that you had in doing that. What did you make about the response that you got from fellow journalists?
SMITH: You know, I think there was a very sharp and immediate backlash from a kind of traditionalist journalistic impulse to be the gatekeeper, you know? That in some ways really stems back from a moment when the gates were broadcast towers and printing presses, and if you didn`t have one of those, you can`t get information out.
And so -- and so, you had to make these decisions that really aren`t relevant anymore about --
SMITH: -- you know, what are we going to keep -- what are the whole categories of information, particularly about presidential health, about presidential affairs, things like that in the old days, that you would decide to keep from your audience.
But, you know, that was -- that was part of -- I think that was part of the backlash. That wasn`t so much part of our decision. I mean, we really thought this was just clearly in the public interest and that if NBC had it at the times, they should have published it.
MADDOW: Well, to see the initial backlash turned to, as you`re saying, like, now, nobody telling you it shouldn`t have happened.
SMITH: No. And I think -- and that probably started to change when Donald Trump came out the next day and congratulated the mainstream media for sitting on it.
MADDOW: Yes. Ben Smith, the editor in chief of "BuzzFeed" -- congratulations of making it a year after this very difficult decision. I appreciate it.
SMITH: Thank you, Rachel.
All right. We`ll be right back. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Did you see the normay news today? Normay?
Today, the president held a news conference at the White House alongside the prime minister of Norway. But in the White House announcement of this event, they described her as the prime minister of Normay. I`m sure she didn`t mind.
At that press conference, reporters asked if the president would sit down for an interview with Robert Mueller. The president gave a long not particularly coherent answer about Democrats being the ones who colluded with Russia and then he said, quote, nobody`s found any collusion at any level. It seems unlikely that you`d even have an interview.
Again, translating from the Trump-ese, it sounded like he was saying maybe he`s not going to have an interview with Robert Mueller. Was that the news he made today? It`s been hard to figure out over the course of the day.
But I can tell you, an official familiar with the negotiations has now told NBC News that despite what the president mumbled his way through today, alongside the president of Normay, quote, the logistics and scope of an interview with the president are still under discussion and being worked out. So, whatever you saw quoting the president of the contrary today, sounds like this thing is still on.
That does it for us tonight. We`ll see you again tomorrow.
Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL."
Good evening, Lawrence.
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