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Trump spends MLK Jr. Day at Mar-A-Lago Transcript 1/15/18 The Rachel Maddow Show

Guests: Thomas Frank, Dan Rather

Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: January 15, 2018 Guest: Thomas Frank, Dan Rather

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST, THE BEAT: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right now.

Good evening, Rachel.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Ari, how are we going to make Chris bring in the new baby?

MELBER: Well --

MADDOW: Because he gets to take all this time off, and then he gets to come back and we`ve all seen pictures of the baby, but we don`t get to see the actual baby, I feel like we should have some sort of, like we should -- we should be -- I don`t know, I feel like we should get to see the baby.

MELBER: All I`ll say because I want to throw it back to you is I`ve heard you have a big following on the Twitter. Maybe the people on the Twitter can say they want to see the baby live and the family will decide when that time comes.

MADDOW: We demand to see the baby. That`s an excellent strategy. Thank you, Ari. I appreciate it, my friend.

MELBER: Thank you.

MADDOW: And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. Happy to have you here.

This is chromium atomic number 24. You need chromium to make stainless steel. You also need chromium for chrome plating. Chromium is a useful, even a necessary thing in modern life.

Mining and processing it though tend to be very, very toxic enterprises, even if you like chrome, you probably would not be psyched to live near or have your kids school near a chromium smelter or some other facility that processed this stuff. One third of all the chromium in the world apparently comes from here, from this former Soviet facility in western Kazakhstan close to the Russian border.

Mark Champion at "Bloomberg News" just did a report on how toxic and dire the conditions are at that facility. But he also got the simple, sad story of the finances of that place and how the finances of that place that produces a third of the chromium in the world ended up connected to the president of the United States.

When the Soviet Union broke up, and former Soviet states tried to create a new post-Soviet economic system for themselves, one of the things that happened at gigantic Soviet plants like this chromium facility is that people who worked there were literally given shares in the place they worked at. They were going to be employee owners. Mark Champion at "Bloomberg" this week reports on how those regular workers those regular employees, people who are working in these very toxic conditions to supply the world with chromium, they were forced one by one to give up those shares, to sell those shares they`ve been given, but to sell them for basically nothing.

And the entity on the other end of that forced transaction, the entity to which they were forced to sell their shares for less than pennies on the dollar was like a random no-name company registered in the British Virgin Islands, right? It`s in Congress when you`re looking at these pictures of this bleak landlocked central Asian toxic site producing chromium for the world. British Virgin Islands, really? I mean, nothing against British Virgin Islands, but international companies will often headquarters themselves there in name only as a scheme to avoid taxes and to stay anonymous.

So, the people who are working at this chromium plant were basically robbed of their equity, right? They used to be employee owners. They at least -- they used to have shares. They work in dire, toxic conditions, and efforts have been made through the banking system to obscure who really owns that place, who is reaping the financial rewards from that gigantic plant now that the people who work there aren`t.

Well, "Bloomberg" reports that the controlling interest in that plant is held by this guy whose name is Refik Arif, you do not need to remember that name. But you should know that his brother created a very pronounceable company called Bayrock.

There were two principals in Bayrock. One is the brother of the guy who`s got the chromium plant and the other one is Felix Sater, who at one point worked for the Trump organization as a senior advisor to Donald Trump. Felix Sater, you might, remember is the one who was pursuing a Trump Tower Moscow project during Trump`s presidential campaign, even when Trump was saying he had no deals and no ties to Russia during the campaign, he signed a letter of intent to pursue Trump Tower Moscow, this project that was being arranged by Felix Sater.

So, Sater`s company, Bayrock, he was one of the principals in Bayrock. Another one of the principals was the guy who was the brother of the chromium plant, right? Bayrock was headquartered in Trump Tower. Bayrock is also the company that developed the Trump SoHo Hotel and Condominium Complex.

Now, a former finance director at Bayrock brought a lawsuit last year which alleged that at least $10 million of the money behind Bayrock came straight out of that chromium plant in Kazakhstan. So, around the same time that those allegedly ill-gotten gains were being smuggled out of that chromium plant in Kazakhstan, routed through a bunch of offshore companies and given to Bayrock, Bayrock at the same time was also bragging publicly about being substantially funded by another metals fortune from Kazakhstan, from that same country.

Most of the metal wealth in that whole country is controlled by a trio of three billionaires, that`s what happens when you let the entire metal wealth of a large nation be controlled by three guys. They all become billionaires right. Those three guys formed a holding company that tried to go kind of legit a decade ago in 2007. They tried to list themselves on a stock exchange. They tried to go public in London in 2007.

It turns out to have been a terrible move. When you become a public company, that triggers all sorts of reporting requirements. You have to -- you know, be able to account for your actions as a company and for your finances. They did get themselves listed on the stock exchange in London for a time, but it created a huge scandal on the London stock exchange. It immediately triggered a major inquiry by the serious fraud office in Britain.

Within a few years, they had yanked the company off the stock exchange and they were forced to become a private company again against their will. Here`s how the "Financial Times" reported it when the company got yanked. Quote: scandal hit Eurasian Natural Resources Corporation is due to leave the stock market on Monday. The mining group put together by three oligarchs from assets assembled in Kazakhstan is being taken private by its founders after an investigation by the serious fraud office. One top 20 shareholder at the company says with the benefit of hindsight, the company`s overall corporate governance, quote, should have set off alarm bells.

The investor told "FT", quote, the NRC was a company that never should have been listed in the first place and should have been left well alone. Another top 30 investor in the company says, quote, this has not been good for shareholders, for the city of London or anyone. It more than anything highlights the dangers of buying into companies with poor corporate governance.

These guys were so corrupt they embarrassed the stock market.

One of the guys who ran that apparently repulsively corrupt company, one of these three guys who controls all the metals in Kazakhstan, the guy who is incidentally famous for his 300-foot long yacht, it`s very nice. Bayrock also bragged in its corporate documents that he was a major investor in Bayrock, a strategic investor behind Bayrock, behind what they were able to do.

And again, what that company was able to do was come up with the money for Trump SoHo. So, Kazakhstan, right? That`s Kazakhstan story number one.

Next time you see something chrome-plated, take a deep breath, cough it out, and think of the Trump SoHo. So, that`s Trump Kazakhstan story number one. Kazakhstan story number two is about BTA Bank, largest bank in that big country.

Kazakhstan is a big country. It`s only got 18 million people, but it`s the size of Western Europe. It`s the largest landlocked country in the world. I think it`s like the ninth largest country in the world overall. It`s a quarter the size of the United States. It`s gigantic.

BTA Bank was the biggest bank in Kazakhstan. In 2009, the chairman of that bank disappeared, fled the country, and what they found after he was gone that about half of the loan book for that entire bank half the loan book for the biggest bank in the country appears to have been loans that the chairman made to himself. He`d like invent little companies, or nominally create little companies all over the place, and then he would give them incredibly generous loans. He was loaning the bank`s money to himself, billions of dollars, and then he disappeared with the money. Needless to say, he was not planning on paying back any of those loans.

He initially turned up in the U.K. which he apparently found very much to his liking. He lived in a 15,000 square foot home. He had a hundred acre country estate. The only problem with him living in London is that British courts soon convicted him of misappropriating $4 billion from that bank he had just fled back home in Kazakhstan.

Upon being convicted, he fled the U.K., went instead to France which he also liked very much. He had a very nice villa in France, which was lovely and picturesque, until it turned out all the people working around his villa who he thought were gardeners we`re actually French police officers in disguise who had turned up and dressed up as gardeners so they could surprise him and arrest him. So, they got that guy.

But it has now been a long saga of many years of trying to find all his money, trying to trace the billions of dollars that he was convicted of misappropriating out of that country`s biggest bank. "Bloomberg News" reported in December, on court filings, that alleged that some of that money some of that Kazakhstan money can also be traced to Trump SoHo. Three Trump SoHo condos that were bought in a multi-million dollar cash purchase in 2013 all bought through shell companies but traced to the family of that guy who misappropriated those billions of dollars out of that giant bank.

So, Kazakhstan`s story number one: chrome. Kazakhstan`s story number two, that BTA bank guy needing to hide his money. Both of those stories end up with Trump SoHo getting the loot, right, and playing a key plot point.

Here`s Kazakhstan story number three and this is the last one I swear to you, and this is the only one where we get pictures of the president. This one also is related to that BTA Bank, to the biggest bank in Kazakhstan, the one that got looted by its chairman. Another place besides Trump SoHo where it looks like the BTA Bank money went is here in the nation of Georgia.

"Forbes" and Adam Davidson at "The New Yorker" reported this out a few months ago and the story was about this sort of -- I don`t know -- it`s sort of sad sack town in Georgia called Batumi. And by sad sack, I do not mean to be rude. It looks like a very nice place, right? On the coast, right?

By sad sack, I mean that it looks like this town was used for a stunt. It appears to have -- it`s a stunt that appears to have laundered a lot of money and made a bunch of money for Donald Trump, but they never actually gotten built to anything because of this stunt.

Part of the reason people were able to follow the trail of this particular story is because Trump himself turned up in Georgia, in this little town in Batumi, Georgia, for an amazing publicity stunt in the middle of this scheme. Mr. Trump was reportedly paid a million dollars to show up and to lend his name to a new certain to be very luxurious Donald Trump Tower in Batumi, Georgia.

Now, this little town seemed like an unlikely place for that kind of a development, but miraculously, somebody found a ton of money -- a ton of money to do this deal. It turns out basically all the money came from BTA Bank, which appears to have basically cooked up this whole scheme. They said they were going to build the Trump Tower. Trump showed up there in Georgia to make it seem like that was true, but they never built it and it seems like maybe they never intended to.

What the bank did was they funded a gazillion different small companies who were all supposedly going to have some role in building this new Trump luxury hotel that was going to go up in this little town. None of the companies had real estate or development experience they all seemed to have been created just for the purpose of this new project, and it turned out in the end that all of these new entities created and then lavishly funded by BTA Bank, they all turned out to be controlled by the chairman of the bank or people close to him, right?

That was his M.O. That was how he allegedly stole all the money out of the bank. He would lend it -- lend it -- to fake companies which are really just himself you know and then after you made those loans last thing you`d want to do is fritter away the money by actually spending it to build something.

So, even though Trump showed up and got his million-dollar fee to tour around the nation of Georgia and announced the location of his grand new tower, there was no brand new tower. There were just the loans which extracted money from the bank and put it apparently in the chairman`s pocket. That`s what happened to the Trump hotel in Batumi. That`s the reason there isn`t one.

And despite what you might have heard about the grand planned opening, it appears to have just been a scam. It appears to have just been a way to embezzle money out of a bank, embezzle money out of the biggest bank in Kazakhstan to launder it through companies and transactions that look legit even though they weren`t and in 2012, Donald Trump got paid a million dollars to go over there and help make it look real.

So, there`s three stories about Kazakhstan. Of all the countries in the world, right, it`s a random place to have all these different kinds of associations with the president of the United States. But they really do keep coming up. When the Fusion GPS transcript was released last week, honestly, the Kazakhstan stuff was my favorite part. Well, there are some contenders. It was among my favorite parts.

This from page 293 in the transcript. Quote, question, what if any research did you conduct that gave you any concerns about then-candidate Trump and any illicit activity? Answer, his relationship with organized crime figures, that was a concern.

Question, and what can you share with us about the findings, your findings? Answer, there were various allegations of fraudulent business practices or dishonest business practices or connections with organized crime figures. There was a long history of associations with people accused of involvement with criminal activity.

Quote, in the early -- the very first weekend that I started boning up on Donald Trump, you know, I found various references to him having connections to Italian organized crime and later to a Russian organized crime figure named Felix Sater, the Bayrock guy. Sater, S-A-T-E-R. It wasn`t hard to find. It wasn`t any great achievement. It was in "The New York Times".

But as someone who`d done a lot of Russian organized crime investigations as a journalist originally, that caught my attention and it became something that I focused on. All of that entered into my thinking when I saw that Donald Trump was in business with Felix Sater and the Trump SoHo project and a number of other controversial condo projects. We began to look at where his money came from and, you know, that raised a lot of questions. We saw indications that some of the money came from Kazakhstan, among other places, and some of it you just couldn`t account for question.

Question, there was an investigation about money from Kazakhstan? Yes. And could you tell me about that and what you investigated and what you learned? Answer, there was some litigation in New York involving attempts by the government of Kazakhstan to recover money that had been allegedly stolen from Kazakhstan, billions of dollars in a colossal bank failure.

The name of the bank was BTA Bank. It`s been well-established in various courts that the government`s allegations are basically true, which is that large amounts of money were illicitly removed from this bank, laundered across Europe and into the United States apparently, allegedly.

So, there was a civil case, at least one civil case involving some alleged Kazakh money launderers. We learned that Felix Sater had some connections with these people. There`s been media reports that the money went into the Trump SoHo or went into the company that built the Trump SoHo. It was a company that Felix Sater and Donald Trump were involved in together.

All right. So, there`s one last thing here and then there`s the part of it that`s insane that`s going to make part of your day tomorrow at least partially insane.

All right. the one last thing to know about all this Kazakhstan stuff and Trump is what it might take to nail any of this stuff down if, say, someone were investigating him for potential criminal liability on money laundering or any of these other things. If the president were potentially going to be in trouble for any of his business dealings involving all this sketchy money from Kazakhstan, how would that be proven, how would it be found out, where`s the documentation?

Well particularly on the stuff about BTA Bank, there is one thing you need to know. Remember I said the chairman of that bank fled the country and ran off to the U.K. and then France, right? After he left, who took control of that bank? Who took control of that bank, including all of its records, all of its files, all of its transactions, all of its archives, who took control?

The government of Kazakhstan, specifically the dictator of Kazakhstan put his son-in-law in control of that bank, which means if there is any problematic surviving evidence of any malfeasance or willful blindness or participation in these big obvious money laundering schemes, right, there`s any potential criminal liability by the Trump Organization from all its different dealings with that bank and with other Kazakh figures, records of those transactions would now be in the hands of they`d likely be in the office safe of the son-in-law of the dictator of Kazakhstan.

Guess who`s coming to the White House tomorrow? I told you this is going to make your Tuesday weird. The dictator of Kazakhstan is coming to the White House tomorrow. He`s been invited to meet president Trump at the White House tomorrow at noon. Really? Of all the dictators in the world?

There`s a lot of sort of weird stuff going on in the news tonight. "Wall Street Journal" tonight came out with the story saying that Jared Kushner was warned by U.S. intelligence about his friendship with a woman named Wendi Deng. Wendi Deng is the ex-wife of the man who owns the "Wall Street Journal", Rupert Murdoch.

"The Wall Street Journal" story tonight is that the intelligence community warned Jared Kushner that Wendi Deng is basically a Chinese spy. The newspaper writes allegation of spying about newspaper owner`s ex-wife. What? Right, that kind of day. Stuff like that`s been happening today.

Today is also the federal holiday honoring the birthday of the great American civil rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. All previous presidents have acknowledged this day by honoring the wishes of the King family and participating in civic-minded public service projects, you know, feed the poor, read kids stories, do something.

Our current president is actively right now embroiled in a big controversy over what exact racist epithet he is to describe Africa and Haiti several days ago. In the middle of that controversy, he decided that he would you know clear his name on MLK day by spending today golfing instead of doing any form of public service. That`s how he decided to honor the holiday.

President`s White House chief strategist who was fired from the White House in August and who is just this week fresh off a big new fight with the president in the White House that resulted in him getting fired from his day job at Breitbart.com, right after this controversy over his remarks in a new book by Michael Wolff, including his assertion that the special counsel Robert Mueller probe is quote all about the money laundering, Steve Bannon tomorrow will be testifying to the House Intelligence Committee. I wonder if he`s got a story to tell, wonder if he`s going to be in a charitable frame of mind or not toward the president after the president publicly declared that he had lost his mind and then got him fired and defunded.

And now we know that while Steve "it`s all about money laundering" Bannon will be testifying at the House Intelligence Committee while that is happening tomorrow at that moment, President Trump simultaneously will be hosting the dictator of Kazakhstan in the Oval Office. Kazakhstan, which is basically like the spindle around which the record of Trumps alleged money laundering has been spinning for the last decade.

The Kazakhstan dictator tomorrow, really?

Weird times. Buckle up. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: In August 2017, America`s bloodhound unit when it comes to financial crimes, the financial crimes enforcement network at the Department of Treasury, FinCEN, they put real estate professionals across the country on notice, warning the real estate industry about quote money laundering risks associated with certain real estate transactions, those involving luxury property purchased through shell companies particularly when conducted with cash and no financing. These deals can be an attractive avenue for criminals to launder illegal proceeds while masking their identities.

You know, there`s a reason why investigators all have the same mantra, right? Follow the money, follow the money, follow the money.

Our next guest has been living that mantra to an extreme degree. "BuzzFeed" reporters spent months painstakingly combing through the paperwork behind, I kid you not, every single sale of a Trump branded condominium in the United States back to the 1980s. Thousands of real estate deals, that`s a lot of paper.

This means they have done not just a comprehensive, but possibly a complete analysis of the degree to which the president`s business has been built specifically on the kind of secretive transactions that the nation`s top financial crime unit now warns our big red flags for money laundering.

Joining us now is Thomas Frank. He`s a reporter at "BuzzFeed News".

Mr. Frank, really appreciate your time tonight. Thanks very much for being with us.

THOMAS FRANK, FBI REPORTER, BUZZFEED: Great to be here, Rachel. Thank you.

MADDOW: So, first, I just want to congratulate you on that the effort. There`s a reason that an analysis like this the one this comprehensive has never been done before. Why did you approach it this way given how labor- intensive this must have been?

FRANK: Well, let me just correct something. I actually didn`t use -- look at any piece of paper. It was all online. So, it`s actually, it wasn`t -- well, I shouldn`t say it wasn`t that hard. It was incredibly difficult.

No, it was -- it was a way to do it because one of the great things about property records is that they`re all online, especially in places like New York City and Miami, and I was aware that FinCEN as you pointed out has become concern about possible money laundering through these high-end purchases of luxury real estate in places like Miami and New York, which is where a lot of the president`s condos have been built. And so, I wanted to try to quantify the extent of exactly how many condos that were sold under Trump`s name fit this sort of broad definition that FinCEN itself uses of a transaction that may involve money laundering.

And, you know, the numbers I came up with were very large. It was $1.5 billion dollars worth of real estate fell into this broad categorization of potential money laundering.

MADDOW: And what kind of proportion of that was that overall of the total dollar amount of real estate transactions that you look at?

FRANK: So, it was 21 percent of the total number of transactions.

MADDOW: OK.

FRANK: So -- and to be fair, that`s actually not unusual when you`re talking about the kind of properties that Donald Trump has both built and licensed to be built under his name, especially in cities like Miami and Manhattan where, of course, there`s a lot of high-end property and a lot of rich foreigners want to invest their money in real estate because it`s safe, it`s going to appreciate and because they`re rich, they pay cash, they don`t need a mortgage.

MADDOW: One of the things that -- one of the reasons I wanted to talk to you tonight was because of the visit of the president of Kazakhstan to the White House tomorrow, and because Kazakhstan kind of pops when you start looking at Donald Trump and financing and this possibility that the Mueller investigation in particular might be looking at questions of possible money-laundering.

One of the things that comes up around Kazakhstan stuff is that these three Trump SoHo condos that were bought that have been traced back to a controversial figure in Kazakhstan in terms of money laundering and misappropriation of funds, they were turned around really fast. They were bought in a multi-million dollar cash sale in 2013. Within two years, by 2015, all three of them had been sold again and they were sold at a loss.

FRANK: Right.

MADDOW: That might just be bad you know somebody miss reading the market or picking bad apartments, but is that kind of turnaround, transactional turnaround on these apartments and these sales, is that also kind of a red flag?

FRANK: The National Association of Realtors which represents realtors, real estate agents has said in its own advisory that one of the warning signs in addition to what FinCEN has described, one of the warning signs of money laundering can be what it calls an immediate resale of a property, particularly at a big gain or a big loss. It doesn`t really define immediate, but when you see something being turned around that quickly, it does raise the question of why did the person buy it, or why did the shell company buy it? Did they buy it as an investment or was it just a way of cleaning some cash up?

And then they had no reason to hold on to it and they`re willing to sell it as a loss because they didn`t use it as an investment. They used it as a money laundering tactic. So, you know, the thing is property records in and of themselves don`t answer the question that everybody wants answered which is, was there money laundering?

As you point out, those three properties that were bought for $3.1 million, there is a lawsuit filed by the city of Almaty, Kazakhstan -- while the one just want to complete your education of Kazakhstan -- the largest city in Kazakhstan where the this man was the mayor has filed a lawsuit in the U.S., claiming that those properties among others in the U.S. were bought using illegally obtained money that the former mayor is trying to launder.

Clear as day, right?

MADDOW: Well, you know -- I mean, this is why God gives us holidays in some ways to do this kind of thing.

FRANK: Right.

MADDOW: But the one thing about those lawsuits -- various lawsuits that have filed, there`s the Bayrock lawsuit that`s been filed by the former finance director there, there`s that lawsuit from the city of Almaty in Kazakhstan, that these lawsuits, whether or not they ultimately succeed, that`s how we get a lot of this documentation that at least helps us flush up the story.

Thomas Frank, reporter at "BuzzFeed News", who did a lot of real legwork here -- thank you for helping us understand your reporting.

FRANK: Thank you, Rachel.

MADDOW: All right. Much more ahead tonight. Dan Rather is going to be here with us shortly. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: -- the day nominee, "Expletive, Expletive, Expletive", which may be just about right if you are from New Orleans and your beloved Saints just lost a playoff game on a last second miracle throw. Dude scored with literally zero, zero, zero, zero on the clock, I scream so loud, I scared the dog.

If you`re a football fan under those circumstances, "The Times Picayune" leading today with "Expletive, Expletive, Expletive". And it seems maybe even modest. But incidentally, it may also be the perfect headline for our national conversation that we are being forced to have right now on this particular federal holiday.

As of tonight, a lot of countries have summoned U.S. ambassadors to explain that profane and frankly racist thing the sitting president of the United States said in a White House meeting last week. The list of countries who have summoned our ambassadors includes Haiti, South Africa, Nigeria, Ghana, Botswana, Senegal, all of whom have said they would like to see the senior American diplomat in country, please?

The entire African Union is demanding an apology from the president, quote, not only to the Africans but to all people of African descent around the globe. For the U.S. diplomats who are having to deal with this on the ground, the advice from the State Department is reportedly to not try to interpret or soften the president`s remarks but rather to just listen and acknowledge the other country`s concerns. Good luck with that.

Privately, State Department officials tell foreign policy tonight that, quote, strong relationships with some African countries that took decades to build have suddenly lurched into a crisis mode. And it`s not just other countries our allies around the world that we`ve been working on relationships with for decades.

It`s not just countries that are mad. In South Florida today, hundreds of people, protestors lined the route Mar-a-Lago from the president`s nearby golf course. The golf course is where and how the president chose to spend his Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service today. They`re saying, what do we want, apology.

It can be uncomfortable as a pairing, right? The president getting in a golf game and not doing any public service on a federal holiday about racial justice that the King family has asked us to honor by doing public service. All the while, people he tried to demean with racist remarks march along the road to his country club with signs calling him to account, lots of the protesters today waving Haitian flags demanding an apology from him.

Whatever the White House expected after those reports about the president`s remarks last week, the reaction to what he said is growing it`s not fading away. Over the weekend, the secretary of homeland security told Fox News that she does not recall the president using that exact phrase in that White House meeting. She was there at the meeting. She says she just doesn`t remember if she heard the president using that epithet. You heard a president say that, wouldn`t you remember?

Tomorrow, she will face questioning from somebody who says he does clearly remember what the president said. Tomorrow, Secretary Nielsen will testify in an oversight hearing before the Judiciary Committee in the Senate, that`s interesting on its face, but it`s also interesting because one senior member of that committee is Senator Dick Durbin, who was also in that meeting and who has been steadfast in his account of the president`s worth last week. Yes, he said it, I was there. If he`s denying it, he`s lying.

Senator Durbin and the homeland security secretary were both in the room. Presumably, Senator Durbin will ask her about that and about her memory. Presumably, that will be another uncomfortable moment around what has probably been the squirmiest MLK federal holiday ever in this country.

Being uncomfortable with what is happening now, remaining uncomfortable and refusing to adjust to it, is turning out to be a big part of civic life these days, especially on this day.

Hold that thought. Dan Rather joins us next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Please do not get too comfortable. Quote: Dr. King has now spoken up with hushed and nearly universal acclaim, but this has deadened the radicalism of King`s message. We must remember that King was a deeply contentious person at the time of his death. The clarity of his mission for justice was not welcome in many corridors of power.

I believe that many who now pay homage to his legacy would be singing different tunes if King was still actively rallying civil disobedience toward the twin causes of racial and economic fairness for the marginal and the dispossessed.

Thoughts on today`s MLK Day from longtime CBS news anchor, host of "The Big Interview" on AXS TV and the author of "What Unites Us: Reflections on Patriotism".

Mr. Dan Rather, thank you so much for being with me again.

DAN RATHER, HOST OF "THE BIG INTERVIEW" ON AXS TV: Thank you, Rachel. It`s good to see you.

MADDOW: Really good to see you too.

I wanted to ask you about your thoughts on this day and where we are. I also wanted to ask you about your -- how do you think we should absorb what`s just happened with this latest racial controversy involving the president? His remarks which are now a source of contention both in terms of their factual accuracy and the way they were quoted, but also in terms of whether or not it was as racist as it seemed? How do you absorb this new news from --

RATHER: Well, I`m not sure, like a lot of you, I`m sure I can absorb it.

MADDOW: Yes.

RATHER: But I will say, you know, I can`t read Donald Trump`s heart. I don`t know what`s inside him. So, we have to judge him by what he says and what he does.

Now, these comments, even by the best of descriptions, these comments were racist comments and for president the United States to have to say straight out, I am not a racist, who says echoes of President Nixon back in the mid `70s saying, I am not a crook, you know, as a people, as a country, as a society, we`re better than this. We`re better than this, which is what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was always trying to say, that a version of we`re better than this.

The King that we remember on his birthday, the King I met and covered in the early 1960s, the peak of his appeal if you will and what people remember is that period in the civil rights, the basic beginning and middle of a civilized movement, late 1950s to about 1963-`64, once Dr. King moved more into talking for economic justice and came out against the Vietnam War, not so much. President Johnson`s split with him over that and a lot of people split with him over that.

But I will say that, you know, for people who don`t really know Dr. King`s background or were not alive or remember age at the time, you know, he was in terms of asking the best of the country a kind of extended shining star comet, I don`t think, the likes of which we are not likely to see again any time soon. He was the most charismatic and the most eloquent champion of the America that could be and certainly, I don`t presume to speak for him, but I think he`d be absolutely amazed and appalled to hear a president of the United States say any number of things the president who said even before this most recently outrage of using the s-hole name.

You know, King`s -- he was a follower of Mahatma Gandhi, believed in non- violence. The other thing about Dr. King that I think is really worth remembering and he`d be the first to say if he were here but he was the face of the movement but what made the movement were ranking final people the people including women and children who got out and marched with him. They were the soul of it,.

And also, he had a lot of good help. Andrew Young, who still alive at Atlanta; John Lewis was a congressman now, and, yes, the Reverend Jesse Jackson and others helped him mightily. And King was the kind of person who was very eager for others to get the credit.

MADDOW: When you were covering him contemporaneously in that moment, especially when that transition was happening that you were just describing, from -- you know, what we remember now in terms of the earlier years of the civil rights movement versus his more controversial causes and his activism later in his life, were there controversies was it a contested space within the media and when in terms of how it was covered, in terms of the kind of respect that he got versus kind of criticism that he got and how much attention he received?

RATHER: Absolutely. During the what I call the height of his of his rise, the early 1960s, to almost the mid-1960s, he was a favorite of the media. Once he began calling for economic justice, once he broke with support of the Vietnam War and said some very controversial things, then not so much.

You know, when I was covering Dr. King, you always knew he was walking moment to moment on the razor`s edge of danger and death. Once he came out against the Vietnam war and started saying some very controversial things at that time about the war, then one took a deep breath and said, you know, the target on his back just got bigger and it was in fact not very long after that, he was assassinated.

MADDOW: Do you feel like the holiday now that we`ve been celebrating it for this many years as a federal holiday and it is striking to see the president not acknowledge it really in any in any way today at least not do any public service the way that other presidents have, do you feel like the holiday is appreciating him as a full, as in the fullness of his being? I mean, you sent -- you publicized this portion of what unites us today I think basically to try to widen the lens in terms of the way the King is remembered.

RATHER: Right. No, and I`m not at all sure this holiday will survive as time goes on. I certainly hope it does. But as a national holiday, I mean the fact that a president the United States and ostensibly ignored it -- he put out a statement -- but didn`t he didn`t pay service to it, I think going forward, to keep it to be a true national holiday, it`s going to require a continued struggle. I hope I`m wrong about that.

MADDOW: Dan Rather, veteran CBS News anchor. The host of the big interview on AXS TV, the author of "What Unites Us: Reflections on Patriotism", thank you, sir.

RATHER: Thank you very much.

MADDOW: I really appreciate your time.

RATHER: Thank you so much.

MADDOW: All right. Still to come tonight, a couple of questions we are trying desperately to get answers to. We`ve got two stories left tonight, neither of which I can tell you definitively how they end. It`s kind of my favorite, at least favorite kind of stories, coming up.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- a look at Ronald Reagan and the age issues. Is he too old to be running for president? He`ll be 70 years old next February and if elected will be the oldest man ever elected president.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ronald Reagan`s supporters gave him a 69th birthday party during the New Hampshire primary campaign, a reminder that he is the oldest of the major candidates in this year`s elections. The others range in age from 48 to 57.

RONALD REAGAN, FORMER PRESIDENT: Many of you are wondering why there are only three candles, which one stands for ten, because this is 30th anniversary of my 39th birthday.

(LAUGHTER)

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MADDOW: When Ronald Reagan ran for president, he knew he`d be the oldest man sworn in as president if he won.

And he tried laughing off concerns about. He tried playing it to his favor. But eventually, his campaign decided to answer the issue head on. The candidate gave an extraordinary interview to the "New York Times" in which he pledged that he would submit to psychological testing as president. He pledged that if the White House doctor found mental deterioration while he was in office, he would resign. Quote: If I were president and had any feeling at all that my capabilities have been reduced, I would walk away. I would step down.

I should tell you, we don`t know of any formal psychological tests that were done on Ronald Reagan while he was president. He did get regular annual checkups. But those records are still closed.

There`s been discussion over the years, of course, about the possibility that his mental abilities might have been compromised in some way before he left office, years before he was formally diagnosed with Alzheimer`s in 1994.

That`s the backdrop to last year Donald Trump breaking Ronald Reagan`s age record when he became the oldest president ever elected. He was sworn in at age 70. He`s now 71.

On Friday, Donald Trump went in for his first physical. Now, this comes as an interesting time because there`s been speculation, founded or not, about whether or not the president`s health is sound, questions of his state of mind.

A couple hours after completing the physical, Sarah Huckabee-Sanders passed out a short statement that she contributed to the doctor who conducted the exam. It said, quote, in total, the president`s exam today at Walter Reed National Military Hospital went exceptionally well. The president is in excellent health and I look forward to briefing some of the details on Tuesday. Exceptional, excellent.

Now, they put the White House physician`s name on the statement. You see Dr. Ronnie Jackson there. As we pointed out on Monday, that is now, not how the Rear Admiral, Dr. Ronnie Jackson, spells his name.

So, yes, the exam may have gone exceptional well, and the president maybe in excellent health, but why would Dr. Ronny Jackson, Ronny with y, misspell his own name on a statement attesting to those things.

Now, after our report on Friday, the White House issued a correction, with the correct spelling of the physician`s name. Still most doctors would say Ronnie Jackson M.D., right? Not Dr. Ronny Jackson.

Anyway, we have a bunch of questions. What type of exams did the president undergo for his physical? What type of information will the White House or the doctor plan on releasing tomorrow?

Not incidentally, did the White House physician, Dr. Ronnie Jackson, actually write that statement? If so, why did he misspell his own name?

We reached out today to the White House medical unit asking to talk to Dr. Ronny Jackson. We also called the Walter Reed Medical Center where the exam was conducted. We called the White House. The White House did get back to us about our money questions. They told us this, quote, all can be asked and will be addressed at tomorrow`s press briefing.

We are expecting to hear from the White House physician tomorrow in the White House briefing room. He is expected to take questions. I`m very curious as to his answers. It`s a mystery that will hopefully be solved tomorrow. Did you write that thing?

There`s also one more mystery about something else that just happened in the news that we have really not made any progress on figuring at all, but you should. This is an outstanding question. That strange story from late Friday night is next.

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MADDOW: Nine-forty-five p.m. on Friday night, Politico.com, quote: Theresa Manning, the controversial official in charge of Title 10 Federal Family Planning Program was escorted from the Department of Health and Human Services premises on Friday. Quote: Staff members were told to leave the floor of the HHS building and take their computers in order to ensure no one witnessed her being escorted out.

Any other administration, you know, senior health official whisked away by security in secret after other employees told to clear the floor. That might be a news cycle stopping event. Nowadays, it`s like, get in line.

This is kind of weird. Title 10 is the federal grant program that provides family planning services and health care to millions of Americans, prior to allegedly getting thrown out of the Health and Human Services Headquarters building on Friday.

Theresa Manning was already a controversial pick for that program. She`s a committed antiabortion activists. This is the family planning part of the program. She said she doesn`t think contraception works.

But reports did surface last week that this federal health agency has stalled the process for states to apply for funding under Title 10. States haven`t been able to apply for the money they`ve counted on this year, even though that process was supposed to start in November. So, I don`t know. Maybe you can draw a line between that controversy and this official getting a boot Friday night when everyone had to clear the floor to not see her get walked out by security.

We have no idea if those things are related. We made a bunch of calls today trying to get to the bottom of it. We called groups that cared about this funding. We asked the top members of the health care committee in the Senate if they heard anything.

We called the federal health department. Nobody would give us an answer. Most people flat-out just ignored our calls. So, we don`t know what happened there, but a senior health and human services official was marched out of headquarters on Friday with no explanation, and she was a really controversial pick for that job.

Why`d that happen? What`s going on there? We`ll let you know as soon as we figure it out.

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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