Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: January 22, 2018 Guest: Evan Osnos
CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST, ALL IN: That was "ALL IN" for this evening.
THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right now.
Good evening, Rachel.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Thank you, my friend.
HAYES: You bet.
MADDOW: Much appreciated.
And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. Hey, shutdown is over. But don`t worry, in all likelihood, we`ll have another one two weeks from Thursday. You can mark it on your calendar now.
Government shutdown started at midnight on Friday. It ended this afternoon. The point of it all is absolutely up for debate.
But in terms of concrete consequences, here is the best I can tell. The government is funded again for 17 more days. So that`s why I say we`re maybe shutting down again two weeks from Thursday on February 8th.
The CHIP program, which is almost literally the least controversial seriously consequential policy in Washington, the CHIP program which nobody is against, which provides health insurance to 9 million kids and lots of pregnant women, that CHIP program did finally get re-upped. Republicans had let that program expire in September. Again, this is not a controversial program, at all, which means they could have held a vote to reauthorize this thing any time in the past year, let alone since it expired but until we have this ridiculous three-day shutdown this weekend, they wouldn`t do it.
But now they have. CHIP has reauthorized for six years. This means parents who have kids who are in ongoing treatment for any kind of illness, they no longer have to worry that their kid`s health insurance is about to get yanked, even though nobody thinks it should.
In terms of political accomplishments, celebrating this is the rough equivalent of throwing yourself a huge congratulatory party because you remembered to close the fridge door after taking the milk out for your cereal this morning. This should not be something you have to celebrate. But it`s the kind of thing that we have to celebrate now, when it happens. Oh, look, shoes tied, wow!
On DACA, on the DREAMers, Democrats had said they were not going to vote for any funding bill for the government unless that bill settled the DACA matter and protected the 700,000 young people. In the end, the Democrats in the Senate did for the most part vote for a funding bill without those protections.
But the Democrats did make the Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell agree for the first time that he will hold a vote on the DACA issue. That means they will work out the DREAMers, the DACA issue as part of the next bill to fund the government before February 8th, 17 days from now. Or if they don`t, thereafter, after February 8th, Mitch McConnell will put DACA up for a vote.
Now, there are two immediate problems with that. First, even if a DREAMers bill passes the Senate, who thinks House Speaker Paul Ryan will let it pass the House? So the DREAMers are still going to be up a creek without a paddle if Democrats do succeed in getting a Senate bill. Problem one.
Problem two, if there isn`t another deal reached to fund the government by February 8th, 17 days from now, we`re going to have another government shutdown, at which point, raise your hand if you think everybody thereafter is going to keep their promises about what bills they intend to keep up under regular order.
So, the shutdown is done for now. We know when the next one is likely to arrive. DREAMers still at the end of a tether with nothing resolved, CHIP did get reupped, which is a huge deal for millions of American families. But why is that something -- something that simple and uncontroversial, why is it that something that simple and uncontroversial had to get forced into being by the most extreme possible measures? Anybody`s guess.
I mean, when this goes down in the history books as the first weird three- day government shutdown of 2018, this goes down in the history books as the first ever U.S. government shutdown with one party controlling the White House, the House, and the Senate. There will be a bottom-line, bold-face reserved spot underneath the entry for this shutdown, where they explain why this shutdown happened and what came of it.
What anybody is going to put in that spot, what is the point is -- what is the point of this quandary, who knows? I mean, once we regain -- once we regain the basic ability to govern in this country, this pointless three- day shutdown that we just had, which only achieved something everybody already agreed on and otherwise changed nothing, this is something that future generations will not understand. Why did they do that?
A bunch of other news broke late in the day today. Supreme Court and the state of Pennsylvania, so that the top court in the state, not the U.S. Supreme Court just ruled that congressional districts in Pennsylvania were drawn by the Republican-led legislature in a way that unconstitutionally tilts the playing field toward Republicans.
Pennsylvania is a swing state. In the 2016 election, there was less than a single point difference between Trump and Clinton, although Trump won. Despite the closeness of the politics perennially in Pennsylvania, Republicans drew the congressional maps in that state so that out of the 18 congressional seats in that state, 13 of them are held by Republicans. Thirteen out of 18 seats are Republican in a state that is basically even- steven, totally because of the maps.
Well, that pro-Republican map has been struck down by the state Supreme Court. The court has told the legislature they need to redraw the districts in a less partisan way and they need to do it by February 15th. Republicans, of course, don`t want to do it. They say they`re going to take their case to the federal court system.
But for now, if this ruling stands in Pennsylvania, Democrats would stand to pick up seats in that state, maybe two, three, four, seats. They stand to pick them up that many seats in November in Congress, just from the court forcing a less biased map for the next election.
Last week, the government asked for a delay in sentencing for George Papadopoulos, a foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign who pled guilty to lying to the FBI and then agreed to become a cooperating witness for the Robert Mueller special investigation. The way it works with a cooperating witness is that a judge is supposed to factor into your sentence how much help you have been to law enforcement while you have been cooperating.
In order to measure that, they have to wait until you`re done cooperating before they get sentenced. They wait until law enforcement has everything they might want to get out of you before they bring you up for your sentencing before the judge. Well, today was the day that lawyers on both sides of the George Papadopoulos case were supposed to have a conference with the judge who will sentence Mr. Papadopoulos.
But apparently, the government is not done with him yet. They are nowhere near done with him yet and that sentencing is not happening. They just delayed that initial conversation about his sentencing for three months. So we don`t know what that means but then tonight in an interview with "The Washington Post," George Papadopoulos` fiancee proclaims -- you can see there in the headlines -- she proclaimed that George Papadopoulos will be the John Dean of the Russia investigation.
John Dean, of course, was White House counsel to Richard Nixon. He pled guilty in Watergate. He then became the single most important witness against Nixon and other Nixon administration officials. I have no idea why George Papadopoulos` fiancee says that the John Dean role is the one that her beloved fiance is going to play in the Russia investigation, but that is what she just told Rosalind Helderman at "The Washington Post."
Now, I should also tell you that it`s possible there might be a language thing here going on. Mr. Papadopoulos` fiancee is named Simona Mangiante. I hope I`m saying that right. She`s Italian.
And she says she`s going to be the John Dean of the Russia investigation, but she also says at one point in the interview, quote, there is a lot to come. He was the first one to break a hole on all of this.
The first one to break a hole. He was the first one to break a hole on all -- I don`t know what that means. So, there might be a little language thing here. I know what John dean means. I don`t know what it means to be the first one to break a hole. But we`re going to have to see how that shakes out.
So, as I say, a bunch of news broke late in the day today, but we`re actually kind of scrambling the show today a bit because a big story has just broken within the last hour from Axios.com. Reporter Jonathan Swan at Axios.com has just reported within the last hour some dramatic news about the FBI. He`s reporting that FBI Director Chris Wray is threatening to resign from the FBI, or at least has threatened to resign from the FBI because of pressure being put on him by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, that he should fire his deputy, that he should fire his -- the number two person at the FBI, Deputy Director Andrew McCabe.
Here is the lead from this new report. Quote, Attorney General Jeff Sessions at the public urging of President Donald Trump has been pressuring FBI Director Chris Wray to fire FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe. But Wray threatened to resign if McCabe was removed. That`s according to three sources with direct knowledge.
According to this new reporting tonight from Axios tonight, Attorney General Jeff Sessions told the White House counsel Don McGahn about how upset the FBI director was about the pressure on him to fire his deputy, Andrew McCabe. McGahn told Sessions this issue was not worth losing the FBI director over. That`s according to a source familiar with the situation.
Now, we do not know when this occurred, the FBI director threatening to resign in the face of pressure on him to remove the deputy director of the bureau. Of course, the president nominated Chris Wray to be FBI director just this past summer, after he fired the previous FBI director, James Comey. James Comey later testified to Congress that he was fired after he refused to let go of the FBI investigation into the president`s national security advisor Mike Flynn.
But this reporting tonight about the pressure being applied by the administration now to James Comey`s successor, Chris Wray, this is new. We`ve known that Republicans in Congress have for a long time wanted to get rid of the number two at the FBI, they wanted to get rid of Andrew McCabe. They`ve attacked him as compromised in the FBI investigation of Hillary Clinton and her e-mails. They think that he`s compromised in part because his wife ran for office in Virginia as a Democrat.
Republicans have kept on attacking him month after month despite the FBI recently releasing records that showed that in fact, the FBI did not believe he had any conflict of interest in the Clinton investigation and they say he handled all matters related to the Clinton e-mail investigation and his wife`s candidacy, he handled all those matters within FBI ethics guidelines.
So, we knew about the attacks on the FBI deputy director. We did not know until this evening what lengths the president and his attorney general had been going to, to try to get rid of the FBI deputy director, including reportedly direct pressure on the current FBI director, that was so uncomfortable for him he threatened to resign over it.
Joining us now on the phone is Ben Wittes. He`s the editor in chief of the Lawfare blog. He`s written about law and national security for decades. He`s now an MSNBC legal analyst and he joins us tonight on very short notice as we digest this breaking news.
Mr. Wittes, thank you very much for joining us.
BEN WITTES, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST (via telephone): Thanks for having me.
MADDOW: So part of the reason I wanted to talk to you about this tonight is because you are not a lawyer, as best I know, but you are very good at explaining Justice Department norms and politics around Justice Department independence to those of us who aren`t lawyers and who don`t understand this stuff intrinsically. Can I just get your top line reaction to this news that the FBI director threatened to resign over this pressure on him?
WITTES: Well, so my top line reaction is that Chris Wray behaved -- seems to have behaved with a lot of backbone here. He`s under -- we`ve known that he`s under enormous pressure. It`s hard to stand up to the attorney general of the United States. It`s harder still to stand up to the president of the United States. We knew that Donald Trump was angry at Chris Wray relatively soon after appointing him, and we seem to know that it had something to do with Andy McCabe, whom the president really seems to hate.
But I think what we learned today, from this "Axios" story, is that at some point -- and my suspicion is that it was a number of weeks ago, but I`m not sure of that -- at some point, that really came to a head and involved a serious confrontation between the FBI director and the attorney general in which the FBI director was, you know, forced to defend the line of the political -- the apolitical nature of the law enforcement function, and to Chris Wray`s credit, he appears to have done that and said, I don`t -- you know, I don`t get rid of my deputy director, who, by the way, is a career FBI agent, who is accused of really nothing more than being married to a Democrat.
I`m also married to a Democrat, by the way. I don`t consider that the worse crime in the world. And, you know, Chris Wray seems to have passed that test with flying colors.
MADDOW: Who would get to fire the deputy director of the FBI, if the deputy director was going to be fired? Is that one of those things where the president could reach down and do that himself, or it would have to be the attorney general, or the director -- the bureau director himself? How does that chain of command work?
WITTES: The staffing of the bureau is the province of the FBI director. And the FBI director -- the wrinkle there, of course, is that the FBI director himself is on the organizational chart, reports to the attorney general and, of course, can be, as we learned last year, can be summarily fired by the president himself. And so, you know, the power to fire is inherently the power to direct the conduct of, but the staffing of the bureau is the province of the FBI director, at least unless you remove him.
MADDOW: This is the second report from the same reporter, Jonathan Swan at Axios.com, about pressure on Christopher Wray, pressure on the upper ranks of the FBI. He previously reported that in addition to this pressure to fire Andrew McCabe, Jeff Sessions, the attorney general had also been pressuring the bureau, pressuring Director Wray, that he should clean house and get rid of Jim Baker, who is the FBI counsel who is recently reported to have been reassigned within the bureau out of that top lawyer position.
I don`t know what to make about this idea that the White House or the attorney general is pressuring the FBI to remove multiple senior officials under the director, if it`s an axe to grind against each of these people individually, if they`re just going after everybody who James Comey spoke to when he had his conversations with the president that bothered him so much.
How do you see this pressure overall?
WITTES: Well, look, I want to be clear. I`m not a neutral observer of this, you know. Jim Baker is a friend and I, you know, I could not be more appalled by the treatment of senior, long-serving, career law enforcement people by this administration.
Look, I think it is very clear that the president personally has it in for a group of people whom he perceives as having been close to Jim Comey or part of Comey`s senior management team. And I think the president also very clear -- and by the way, you don`t have to take my word for that. The president tweeted about Jim Baker and Andy McCabe, and, you know, that is a remarkable thing for the president to be tweeting about by name, about members of the bureaucracy, you know, not the cabinet level, but these are not even sub-cabinet. These are sort of senior level career bureaucrats in the Justice Department. For them to be individually named by the president and accused of things is an unbelievable breach of every protocol we thought we knew about the way the president interacts with law enforcement.
It also reflects -- and let`s just be frank about this -- it reflects the fact that the president believes that the FBI should do his political bidding. And there`s a group of people who run the FBI who actually have this quaint notion that the FBI should be an institution that enforces the law and protects the national security of the United States in certain types of domestic national security investigations, and that it should do that without reference to political favor. And this seems to be an idea that the president is incapable of getting his hands around and I think we should be candid that that is what`s going on here.
MADDOW: Benjamin Wittes, MSNBC legal analyst, editor in chief at "Lawfare" -- Ben, I really appreciate you joining us, especially on short notice for this breaking news tonight. Thank you.
WITTES: Thanks for having me.
MADDOW: I will just say, this is a dramatic report from Axios.com. Again, the FBI Director Christopher Wray reportedly threatening to resign if Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the president were to prevail in pressuring Andrew McCabe, the FBI deputy director, if they were able to prevail in pressuring him out of the organization.
It had been reported towards the end of last year, that McCabe was, in fact, going to step down right around Christmastime. It was reported that he would retire from the FBI. He may the number of years in that would allow him to retire soon. He`s 49 years old, though. This is not a time when people typically retire.
Again, "The New York Times" reported in late December that McCabe was going to retire early this year. "Axios" is reporting McCabe is still there and their further reporting that the FBI director is threatening to quit if McCabe is removed.
I should also mention, that McCabe and Jim Baker, the FBI counsel who Sessions apparently has been pressuring the FBI to remove both of them, those were two of the people who James Comey confided in when he had conversations with the president that were later described as likely forming the basis of an obstruction of justice case against the president if, in fact, Robert Mueller goes in that direction with his special counsel investigation.
We`ve been watching them one by one go after the people who Comey confided in after he had those conversations with the president, trying to discredit them and get them fired from the FBI would certainly be a way to undermine the credibility of those witnesses who would otherwise stand with Comey in terms of what happened between him and the president, around Mike Flynn and the Russia investigation before Comey was fired. Serious stuff.
All right. We`ll be right back. Stay with us.
MADDOW: So, a bunch of late-breaking news this evening. The president has just in the last few minutes signed the continuing resolution to keep the government open for the next 17 days, which is the ignominious conclusion to the weird, three-day government shutdown we just had. Axios.com has just reported tonight that that the White House and Attorney General Jeff Sessions have been pressuring the FBI director to fire his deputy, to fire the number two officials at the FBI.
That pressure reportedly leading the FBI director, Chris Wray, to threaten to quit in protest. NBC is not confirming that reporting. It is just axios.com that has that story at this point, but we`re continuing to follow that. So, lots going on.
But for my money, it is Adam Entous and Evan Osnos at "The New Yorker" magazine who have just broken what may be the biggest story of the year so far. According to their new reporting in "The New Yorker", U.S. intelligence agencies felt compelled to give a very unusual briefing/warning to the Trump administration. We don`t know exactly how many people they briefed or who exactly, but given the contents of the warning, the contents of the briefing, one might imagine this was a very senior level thing.
Quoting from "The New Yorker," in December, U.S. intelligence agencies briefed Trump administration officials, saying that a member of the president`s family was being targeted by a Chinese influence operation.
Now, what influence operation means in this context, I think, is that the Chinese government is allegedly running an intelligence operation to try to compromise a member of the president`s family, or to induce a member of the president`s family to do the bidding of the Chinese government, whether or not they were aware that was happening.
Which member of the Trump family are we talking about? According to Adam Entous and Evan Osnos, in this very careful reporting, they say it`s not clear which Trump family member the warning was about, but honestly, this is starting to seem like a game of clue, where all but three characters are dead and there`s only three rooms left and you know for sure it was at candle stick. There`s not a ton of suspense here.
This new report from Adam Entous and Evan Osnos is about Jared Kushner. It`s about the president`s son-in-law. You might remember this last week, we got an unusual kind of inescapable report from "The Wall Street Journal" which said that U.S. counterintelligence officials had come to Jared Kushner with a warning, quote, that Wendi Deng Murdoch, a prominent Chinese-American businesswoman, could be using her close friendship with Mr. Kushner and his wife, Ivanka Trump, to further the interest of the Chinese government.
Now, what was crazy about the report last week in "The Wall Street Journal" is that the guy who owns "The Wall Street journal" until quite recently was married to the subject of this article, Wendy Deng Murdoch, right? She was -- according to this "Wall Street Journal" article, she was the subject of this counterintelligence warning about the fact that she might be a Chinese spy, right? It`s kind of the elephant in the living room in the middle of that story that that was her ex`s husband paper which was first to report on that warning.
Well, now we got a little more explanation as to where that came from. This is from "The New Yorker" now.
Quote, in March 2017, Bill Priestap, the FBI`s chief of counterintelligence, visited the White House and briefed Jared Kushner about the danger of foreign influence operations. Priestap told Kushner that he was among the top intelligence targets worldwide. Priestap and Kushner discussed some of Kushner`s contacts, including Wendi Deng Murdoch, the ex-wife of Rupert Murdoch, U.S. diplomats and intelligence officials have long speculated about Wendi Murdoch`s ties to the Chinese government. Internally, some Chinese officials spoke about her in ways that suggested they had influence over her. According to a person close to Kushner, quote, when Kushner was briefed by the FBI, he saw little cause for alarm.
So, we had previously heard about this strange warning involving Rupert Murdoch`s ex-wife and her friendship with Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump. Now, we have that in context, that what Jared Kushner was being warned about, was a larger scale threat that he was being targeted by sophisticated foreign
Now, it`s clear in both in "The Wall Street Journal" reporting last week and in this new reporting from "The New Yorker," that Jared Kushner was utterly unfazed by these warnings he was getting, that he obviously thinks there was nothing to worry about. Why are these people concerned? I am 36 years old. I can handle myself. I imagine him saying.
Well, now we know at least in part why counterintelligence officials might have been so concerned about Mr. Kushner and it`s because of the intelligence intercepts they reportedly have about Jared Kushner. This is a big-deal story.
In order to understand how this got to be so bad, you have to understand a little bit about the distance between how a normal American government handles this kind of risk, and what the Trump administration has been doing. There`s quite a distance.
Quote: Shortly before the election, staffers prepared a memo for Chris Christie, who at that time was the head of the transition team. It concerned the sensitive matter of conversations with foreign powers. The memo said in part: because the current President Barack Obama is still in office, calls made during the transition period should be high-level non- substantive and should consist largely of diplomatic pleasantries. The transition was warned that Trump would be inundated with requests for thousands of calls from around the world, those requests would come through campaign staff, advisers, and other third-parties.
According to this advice memo for the transition, Trump must not accept these requests. Requests must be methodically returned in a sequence of calls that will not create any diplomatic incidents or negative press stories. The president-elect must have a classified intelligence briefing before conversations with foreign leaders and then conduct the meetings only when a note-taker and a national security aide are present. The aide suggested that Trump make five waves of calls over a number of days, starting with the U.K. and ending with Pakistan.
A senior transition official recalled recently, quote: Obviously, all that just got tossed aside because Trump was excited that important people were calling him. Trump spoke to more than two dozen heads of state before his campaign ever contacted the State Department. That free-wheeling access extended to in-person meetings.
And the in-person meetings were not just held by the president-elect and then the new president, they were also held by his son-in-law, Jared Kushner. Adam Entous and Evan Osnos report now that despite those established protocols, right, despite the well-earned reason there are national security standards around contacts with foreign governments like this, right, which require having a note-taker there, and having national security aides involved and being briefed by people who are experts on the subject matter before you have those conversations, despite all of that well-earned caution, Jared Kushner reportedly, repeatedly took unstaffed meetings with the Chinese ambassador including at least one occasion in which they met alone.
You know, it`s one thing if you`re meeting with an old pal. But if you`re meeting with a high ranked and experienced government official from a foreign power that is aggressively spying on the United States and trying to recruit or manipulate U.S. officials in support of their incredibly sophisticated intelligence apparatus, right, those solo meetings with your new bud, those might be a problem.
And part of what happened after Jared Kushner decided to take solo or unstaffed meetings with the Chinese ambassador is that the Chinese ambassador started reporting home to Beijing what Jared Kushner was allegedly telling him in these meetings. Quote, U.S. intelligence agencies aggressively target Chinese government communications, including their American ambassador`s reports to Beijing about his meetings in the U.S. According to current and former officials briefed on U.S. intelligence about Chinese communications, Chinese officials said that in meetings to prepare for the Chinese president`s summit at Mar-a-Lago this past April, the Chinese ambassador and Jared Kushner discussed Kushner`s business interests, along with policy.
Now, Jared Kushner is denying this. A spokesman for Mr. Kushner told "The New Yorker," quote, there was never a time, never, that Mr. Kushner spoke to any foreign officials about any personal or family business. He was scrupulous in this regard.
But, you know what, if he was talking to the Chinese government without any other Americans present, not even so much as a note-taker, can he prove that he didn`t talk about his business interests? Did the Chinese record the meeting?
Again, what`s being described here are U.S. intelligence intercepts about Chinese, right? Chinese government officials discussing what Jared allegedly told them at these un-staffed meetings. Now, the Chinese may be lying about what Jared told them in these meetings. They may be concocting a plot to make it look like Jared was conducting U.S. official business for the private benefit of himself and his family. It may be made up by the Chinese.
But if you`ve been taking solo meetings with the Chinese government, without protecting yourself against that possibility, then you have put China in a position to exert leverage over you, right? When they talk in intelligence circles about people being compromised, this is being compromised by a foreign intelligence operation. I mean, think back to those easy-peasy days of like Russia trying to get the floor plans and the architectural drawings and the security arrangements for the American embassy in Moscow, right? Back in the Cold War days, Russia mounted an intelligence operation to get that material and the way they did it was convincing some lonely, bored, slightly disgruntled U.S. marines who were working security at that embassy that they should bend the rules a bit and date a nice Russian girl.
Now, there are rules against fraternizing with local women in these circumstances, but that`s not the worst thing in the world, right? The reasons the Russians did that to the Marines, the reason they targeted the Marines with that is not because the end in itself was getting them to date Russian women. It was so they could collect evidence of the marines doing something bad, something wrong, something against the rules that could get them fired, could get them in a lot of trouble.
And then once they had that evidence, dead to right, once they have that to lured over them, then they slowly and inexorably twisted those marines into ultimately getting the real intel about the embassy that they wanted from that operation. That`s how it works, right? So, did Jared Kushner try to talk about a little family business? Hey, I got a billion-dollar big building on Park Avenue I need to pay back some of the mortgage this year. I mean, did he discuss that while he was discussing bringing President Xi to Mar-a-Lago for a summit?
Jared Kushner absolutely denies it, and maybe he didn`t bring up any of his personal and family business in those conversations. But if he did and the Chinese have evidence of that, or if something like that, or if they can concoct that evidence because Jared Kushner has been brilliantly casting aside decades of government hard-earned protocol about not meeting alone with foreign countries that are targeting us, then, what were the words of that warning from the U.S. intelligence agency last month? What were the words of that?
Quote, a member of the president`s family was being targeted by a Chinese influence operation.
There is one last piece of this. The presidents` daily brief, highly classified summary of intelligence delivered daily to the president in person. According to Adam Entous and Evan Osnos in this new reporting at "The New Yorker," by the time President Obama was wrapping up his eight years in office, a circle of high-ranking government officials who were allowed to receive the same version of the PDB that`s given to the president, had expanded to a pretty significant group. A total of seven White House officials were authorized to receive those crown jewels, right? The same version of the PDB that appeared on President Obama`s iPad.
Again, that was at the end of eight years in office. They allowed seven people to see that information. Donald Trump has just hit one year in office and his first national security advisor just pled guilty to the FBI for lying about his contacts with the Russian government.
But nevertheless, the number of people inside the Trump administration who have been cleared to receive the president`s version of the PDB is a remarkable 14 already, and that number includes Jared Kushner. And Jared Kushner does not have a security clearance. And the reason he cannot get one is because apparently, he cannot get one.
There was controversy from the outset about his security clearance, right? Two days before the inauguration, Jared Kushner made his initial application for a security clearance. He reportedly listed zero contacts on that application with foreign governments.
This is after his meeting with the Chinese. He`s secretly meeting with the Emiratis. He`s secretly meeting with the Trump Tower Russians. All of those foreign meetings, he disclosed zero foreign meetings initially on his security clearance application.
Mr. Kushner then repeatedly sent new updates, supplements, each time, listing more and more foreign contacts he had previously neglected to disclose. So, there has been controversy around his security application already. But Jared Kushner`s process of trying to get a security clearance started a year ago, started in January.
Quote: As months passed, some members of the White House received their permanent security clearances, but Kushner continued to wait.
For high level appointees like him, the process is normally expedited, says one former senior White House official. It can be completed in several months, unless, of course, derogatory information pops up during the review.
Jared Kushner apparently still has not received a full security clearance to this day, but he gets full access to the president`s daily brief any way, along with 13 other people.
David Priess is a former CIA officer who we`ve had on the show before. He wrote "The President`s Book of Secrets", which is all about the history of the PDB. He tells "The New Yorker" that this situation with Jared Kushner is unprecedented in U.S. history.
Quote: Having study the president`s daily brief`s six-decade history, I have not come across the case of another White House official being a designated recipient for that length of time without having a full security clearance.
Here`s, right, obvious questions here. Why can`t Jared Kushner get a security clearance? When U.S. intelligence agencies gave that briefing last month, telling Trump administration officials that a member of the president`s family was being targeted by a Chinese influence operation, was Jared Kushner that member of the president`s family? And if these intelligence intercepts happen as described here, and the Chinese government has been saying among themselves that Jared keeps bringing up Kushner family business alongside U.S. government policy, what`s the counter espionage cure to that? What are intelligence agencies supposed to do with a problem like this?
Hold that thought.
MADDOW: -- staff writer with "The New Yorker". He`s co-author of a blockbuster new report about White House adviser Jared Kushner.
Mr. Osnos and his co-author Adam Entous reporting that after taking unstaffed and even solo meetings with the Chinese ambassador on intelligence intercepts, Chinese officials were heard saying that Jared Kushner had raised his own private business interests with the Chinese. Jared Kushner is denying that strenuously, but then there`s also the question of why one year on after applying for a security clearance, Jared Kushner still does not have one and why as recently as last month, intelligence officials were reportedly warning the Trump administration that a member of the Trump family had been targeted in a Chinese influence operation.
Evan Osnos, thank you very much for being with us tonight. Congratulations on this story.
EVAN OSNOS, STAFF WRITER, THE NEW YORKER: Thanks for having me on.
MADDOW: Let me ask you about the last point first. It`s a very provocative scene you described. Last month intelligence officials warning administration officials that a member of the Trump family has been targeted by a Chinese influence operation. What is an influence operation in this context and how unusual is that warning?
OSNOS: Well, an influence operation is in some sense an effort by a foreign government to try to alter the decision making of powerful people in a foreign power.
You know, as we all know, as we`ve all heard now, Russia sought to impact American politics by getting involved in the election itself. China takes a different approach. It`s trying to leverage or bring pressure or persuade foreign leaders in Australia, in New Zealand, and indeed in the United States, to try to make policy choices that are closer to Chinese objectives.
And this has become a growing subject of interest among counterintelligence officials over the course of the last couple years, and now we`ve begun to hear more specific information about what might be happening at the top of the U.S. government.
MADDOW: I`m struck by the strenuous denial that you received from Mr. Kushner`s spokesman, that`s also unusual for a White House adviser to have his own spokesman, but these are the days -- these are the times that we`re in.
He`s denying that he ever spoke on personal or family business matters with the Chinese, but your reporting, again, very compelling scene is that intelligence intercepts show Chinese officials discussing among themselves, Mr. Kushner making those kinds of personal requests or personal describing those personal business matters, basically mixing them in with policy discussions.
Do we know -- first of all, is that accurate the way I`m describing it? And do we know if the U.S. intelligence community has any view as to whether or not Mr. Kushner actually did these things?
OSNOS: We know a couple things. One is that there is always reasons to be careful and to be wary around intercepted communications because it`s very possible that a foreign government is mischaracterizing what happened in the room.
OSNOS: And that`s one of the reason why protocol and tradition and best practices call that you go in there with a line-up of various specialists, note-takers, basically people to help fortify your side of the story.
I should say that one of the sources, an intelligence official in our reporting, was clear that as far as they are concerned, they didn`t see evidence that Mr. Kushner was successfully compromised in this operation. And that`s an important point to know.
The other thing is that it`s not clear who raised it. And one of the reasons why that`s not clear is that if it was, in fact -- meaning it`s not clear who raised the matter, if it was raised of personal or family business. Now, if it was raised by the Chinese side, that would be consistent with what the FBI was warning Mr. Kushner about, which is the possibility that they would introduce business incentives, in some ways to try to introduce an effort to curry favor.
So at this point, Mr. Kushner has been clear and as far as he`s concerned, he made no effort to try to raise any discussion of his businesses and it`s not clear it was successful. But the broader point by taking the approach that he did to diplomacy of in a sense going around the system, going around the machinery of government as he calls it, that he put himself into a position of being at greater risk than he would have otherwise if he had relied on some of the tools that are at his disposal, other parts of the U.S. government to help him.
MADDOW: Evan Osnos, staff writer with "The New Yorker" -- super compelling story with a lot of embedded, very important information. Thank you for helping us understand your reporting tonight. Thanks.
OSNOS: My pleasure. Thank you.
MADDOW: The PDB thing alone is remarkable, if Jared Kushner is one of the people who`s receiving the president`s version of the PDB, which is very highly classified information, he may be the only person in history who`s ever received that in a sustained way, without being granted a full security clearance. We don`t know why he hasn`t gotten the security clearance, but we know he`s been trying to get one for a year and failing. I`d love to know why.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: On the night before the night before the night before the night before the night before Christmas, on December 20th, politico.com broke the news that for weeks a group of Republican members of Congress had been quietly running a secret working group on Capitol Hill. They were using classified material obtained by the intelligence committee for purposes of the Russia investigation, but they were using that material instead to try to take down the FBI.
They`re meeting secretly using intelligence committee materials to put together a case that the FBI and the Justice Department were the real criminals in the Russia investigation. This secret working group of Republicans, quote, hoped to release a report early next year, so the final product could ultimately be used by Republicans to discredit special counsel Robert Mueller`s investigation.
Early next year. Which would be now. And now we know what they really think. Now we know what they got.
MADDOW: -- politico.com broke the news that a group of Republican congressmen had formed a secret working group in the House to try to indict the FBI, to try to discredit the FBI. The group has been led by Congressman Devin Nunes of California, and his staffers have apparently now written a memo, a four-page memo that outlines their promised case against the FBI. The memo reportedly uses material drawn from the application materials for a FISA warrant, targeting Carter Page, a one-time campaign adviser to Donald Trump. Although the application is said to have drawn on a variety of material, the memo apparently focuses on one strand -- information from Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence agent who wrote the dossier of allegations that suggested that Mr. Trump had been compromised by a Russian intelligence.
Now, Republicans in the House Intelligence Committee voted last week that they would make this memo, this damning memo available to all members of the House. Now, that surprised Democrats on the intelligence committee who didn`t even know this memo existed. But this has now led to a huge right- wing campaign to demand that this memo be declassified and released to the public.
Again, to be clear, this is just a memo written by House Republicans. It`s not like it`s a secret Justice Department document that`s been unearthed through incredible detective work. It`s not like it`s something that has been pried out of the FBI and now must see the light of day.
This is something House Republicans wrote themselves, and now they`ve created a campaign saying it must be released, this thing we wrote ourselves.
But this release the memo cause has become a leading cause of Russian bots and trolls online. #releasethememo has gone around many hundreds of thousands of times in the past few days. Whatever it is the House Republicans are trying to gin up with this memo that they wrote, the Russian bots online are doing everything they can to help. It`s weird that "release the memo" is both a rallying cry for Republicans and for Russians online.
The secret Republican group seemingly wants everybody to see their memo attacking the FBI with one exception. I should tell you, they are not showing the material to the FBI. The FBI has reportedly asked Congressman Nunes for a copy, quote, in order to evaluate the information and take appropriate steps in necessary. To date their request has been declined.
If this were an effort to try to clean up something terrible at the FBI, you`d think they would confront the FBI with it. But the FBI apparently is not being allowed to see this memo about them.
Watch this space.
MADDOW: The second annual Women`s March happened this weekend. The first one last year the day after the inauguration may have been the largest single day of protest in history. After that, nobody knew what to expect for the second annual marches this weekend.
As it turns out, more than 200,000 people hit the streets in New York City. In Los Angeles, it was triple that number, 600,000 people turned out in L.A. In Sandy Cove, Nova Scotia, half the town turned out to demonstrate. There`s a population of 65 in that town, 32 people turned out and a baby. That`s half. No one was home to answer the phone.
I know for a fact nobody expected the Women`s Marches last year to be as big as they were. But I don`t think anybody thought they`d be as big as they were this year either. This is going to be a fascinating year 2018.
That does it for us tonight. We will see you tomorrow.
Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL."
Good evening, Lawrence.
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