Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: March 5, 2018 Guest: Jane Mayer, Gardiner Harris
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: When do you find the time, Chris Hayes? When do you find the time? You`re like, oh and by the way, I wrote a whole new afterward to my book.
CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST, "ALL IN": I`m running on empty.
MADDOW: Well done, my friend. Congratulations on the book.
HAYES: Thank you.
MADDOW: And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. Happy Monday. Busy day today after a busy weekend of news, as well.
Jane Mayer has just posted a huge story at the New Yorker that`s about Christopher Steele, the author of the Trump-Russia dossier which has led to so much controversy and so consternation in the year or so since it was first published by "BuzzFeed News". Jane Mayer, I got to tell you, she`s got like a gazillion separate scoops in this one piece including her reporting on an additional intelligence memo from Christopher Steele that wasn`t published by "BuzzFeed".
It wasn`t part of the dossier because it was produced later, it was produced after the election. That memo reportedly cites a Russian government source basically bragging about the fact that the Russian government was given veto power over who the new Americans secretary of state would be in the Trump administration.
There`s been a lot of very good reporting in the past couple of years about how Hillary Clinton`s tenure as secretary of state so exorcised and upset Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Putin government that their ultimate efforts to interfere in the U.S. presidential election were steered as much as anything by Putin`s intense animus toward Clinton from her time as secretary of state. Well, after Russia did what they could do to keep Hillary Clinton, former secretary of state, from becoming president, Jane Mayer`s new reporting today suggests that Russia then felt empowered, they reportedly were somehow empowered to choose America`s next secretary of state under President Trump. They reportedly did not want to Mitt Romney, so they put the kibosh on him from Russia. That, of course, in turn implies that Russia did want Rex Tillerson, who is the person we all ended up with.
So, I`ll be talking in just a moment with Jane Mayer. She`s here live. We`re also going to be talking with Gardner Harris this hour. He has his own scoop today on what exactly Rex Tillerson has been delivering at the U.S. State Department since President Trump installed him in that job for whatever reason. In addition to the wholesale disassembly of the U.S. State Department, Tillerson has also taken in as you see in the headline there, taken in $120 million that Congress basically forced on the State Department to fight off Russian incursions. Under Tillerson`s leadership, the State Department has spent precisely zero dollars of that $120 million appropriation on trying to fend off the Russians.
So, again, we`ve got Gardner Harris here from "The Times" tonight. We`ve also got Jane Mayer here from "The New Yorker".
In terms of other stories that we`re watching tonight, today brought the very strange spectacle of yet another Trump campaign adviser playing the Vinny the Chin walking around in his bathrobe I`m too nuts to be in real trouble cart. This time, it was Sam Nunberg. He was a Trump advisor through August 2015. He`s been talking to reporters every step of the way about his interactions with the special counsel Robert Mueller investigation. He got on TV with Ari Melber here at MSNBC just a couple of weeks ago to tell Ari that the Mueller team had asked Sam Nunberg to come in and do an interview.
Mr. Nunberg then called reporters today to show them the subpoena that he had received from Mueller`s team. A subpoena requiring him to appear before the grand jury and to produce documents about his communications with other members of the Trump campaign, including Donald Trump himself.
After receiving that subpoena, Mr. Nunberg apparently thought about that for a while and then decided he`d called more reporters, including NBC`s Katy Tur who was live on the air at the time. Mr. Nunberg called her to say that he`d thought about it and he decided that, no, actually they wouldn`t comply with the subpoena to hand over those records.
Now, this is not like Steve Bannon being like, no, I`m not going to talk to Congress, or like Corey Lewandowski or Hope Hicks being like, no, I`m not going to answer your question. This is not a committee of Congress subpoena where Democrats and Republicans have to all agree to hold hands and vote to get you in trouble when you defy them. This is not a request for documents that Sam Nunberg says he is going to defy.
This is a grand jury subpoena in an ongoing criminal proceeding and Robert Mueller isn`t just the special counsel. Robert Mueller is a prosecutor. So, Sam Nunberg doesn`t legally have the option to say, no, I don`t feel like responding, but apparently, he`s going to try which probably will not end well. Mr. Nunberg after speaking about this today to Katy Tur and what was remarkable and weird TV, he then stayed on TV all day long today, talking about this decision of his and asking his various interviewers if they thought he`d go to jail.
His decision did not make any more sense the more he reiterated it, but it was a weird spectacle and he did capture the news cycle today and we will have more on that ahead, including some of the purportedly factual claims he made about president that are now basically flummoxing everybody`s saying, do we actually have to chase this down when it came from that guy? Should we -- should we say this is a credible allegation?
It`s a weird day today, but it has been a remarkable few days of news, a remarkably bad few days of news for the White House when it comes to the serious issue of following the money in various investigations involving the president himself his senior staff his family and these are some serious corruption allegations. They`ve been a whole bunch of them just over the last few days.
First, take Carl Icahn. Carl Icahn is an actual billionaire and legendary investor. When Carl Icahn first got in trouble, thanks to his role in the Trump White House, I asked the research folks on the staff of this show if they could check to see if Trump had ever mentioned Carl Icahn by name on the campaign trail, and producers came back -- producers came back to me and they were like, are you serious? How much of it do you want? Do you want us to keep going with this?
They told me, we could go on indefinitely adding more to this list, but here`s a starter.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You know, we have the greatest business people in the world. I have so many people endorsing me. Carl Icahn, great -- he`s a great natural, natural negotiator.
Carl Icahn endorsed me.
We`ve got Carl Icahn.
Carl Icahn. Carl Icahn. Carl Icahn. Carl Icahn. Carl Icahn. Carl Icahn.
Carl -- Carl Icahn. Carl Icahn. And I have Carl Icahn.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: And Mexico is going to pay for him.
Candidate Trump loved talking about Carl Icahn on the campaign trail. He loved dropping his name in every speech, and that`s because Carl Icahn is a very famous rich person and investor.
Once President Trump won the election, he then named Mr. Icahn to be a special advisor to the president on regulatory reform. You see that title in the headline of the press release. That title did not last long though.
Then Carl Icahn would later claim that that press release had never actually been issued, he`d never actually been given that title, when it emerged that these regulations he`d been advising the president about were actually regulations where he personally had had hundreds of millions of dollars riding on the White House decision on those matters.
That caused him to leave the White House and to pretend like he`d never been there in the first place.
Well, now, Center for American Progress and "The Washington Post" report that once again, Carl Icahn appears to be uncannily financially inbred with the Trump White House. Two weeks ago, Mr. Icahn apparently had the uncanny foresight to sell off more than $30 million of stock that he had just been sitting on for years it was millions of shares of stock in a company whose stock price would definitely tank if the U.S. government announced tariffs on steel. Well, a few days after Carl Icahn made that dramatic move and sold those $30 million worth of shares, just a few days later, bingo, Trump announced tariffs on steel.
And everybody invested in steel dependent industries took a bath, except for Carl Icahn.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Carl Icahn. Carl -- Carl Icahn. Carl Icahn.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Carl, Carl, he did fine.
The last time Carl Icahn was reported to have used his access to the White House to gain his market investments, the New York attorney general`s office told us that Icahn`s behavior in that regulatory matter was, quote, on our radar. Well, in the reporting on these latest circumstances, so far, Carl Icahn is admitting that he has been in communications with the White House since he left his job, which he doesn`t want anybody to remember that he had.
He`s not said anything specific about whether his sudden urge to sell all that steel related stock had anything to do with those ongoing White House communications, but that is potentially a very serious fallow the money story on Carl Icahn. There`s also a little more follow the money news about the president`s alleged relationship with an adult film star who goes by the name Stormy Daniels and importantly, a payment made to her right before the presidential election, a payment intended to buy her silence about the alleged affair that she said she had with Donald Trump.
Now, the Wall Street Journal has some interesting new reporting on the side of who made that payment to Stormy Daniels right before the election. "The Journal" today is reporting that Michael Cohen, President Trump`s personal lawyer complained that that deal with Stormy Daniels had been delayed at least a couple of times because he said he couldn`t easily reach Trump himself in the last days before the election. That implies Trump was personally involved in that deal.
Cohen also reportedly complained to friends that he hadn`t been reimbursed for the money he put out to pay Stormy Daniels. Reimbursed by whom? We don`t know.
"The Journal" also reporting that Michael Cohen`s bank flagged that $130,000 payment as suspicious and reported it to the treasury`s financial crime section. So, that`s all for the "Wall Street Journal". Even more intriguing to me though is the report in "The Washington Post" about Stormy Daniels and that money. What "The Post" reports is about the receiving side of that payment. They report that there was also some sort of red flag raised way after the payment was made to Stormy Daniels.
So, this was a payment that was made by Michael Cohen, the president`s lawyer. It was received by Stormy Daniels through her lawyer. Stormy Daniels` lawyer received the $130,000 payment for her 12 days before the election in October 2016. And apparently, there was no problem with that bank receiving that wire transfer of funds that was ultimately intended for Stormy Daniels in October.
But then nearly a year later, 11 months later, in September of 2017, this past fall, that bank suddenly started asking questions about that payment that they received for Stormy Daniels. That bank, the one that received the money, they reportedly contacted Stormy Daniels` lawyer and asked him about the source of that funds, source of those funds, where that 130 grand come from, that you got right before the election.
Now, that`s intriguing because it implies that something sparked the interest of that bank in California sparked concern by that Bank in California 11 months after the transaction. Why they need to go back eleven months, why did they all of a sudden need new background information on that payment that hadn`t recently any issues for them when they received it? If they were asking about that payment 11 months after the fact, because 11 months after the fact, they received a subpoena about it or a request for information from regulators, so they got some other requests about that money from law enforcement, the bank could likely not say that out loud, they couldn`t talk about it.
But something happened 11 months after that money went to Stormy Daniels that made the bank that received the funds for her start asking. And now, that`s the other she we`re waiting to drop on that story. I mean, however titillating the alleged affair between Donald Trump and Stormy Daniels and I`m sorry I just said titillating, however -- sorry, however salacious not alleged affair maybe, who paid this woman to be quiet about it right before the election is potentially a serious criminal matter. And it now really looks like that as a matter that is being investigated by somebody other than really good reporters.
So, really interesting and troubling Carl Icahn follow the money story, interesting and increasingly intriguing follow the money story about the Stormy Daniels payment and when it comes to following the money, there are now officially a gazillion and eight stories up there about potential corruption allegations and investigations that center on the presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner and his family real estate company.
Now, after New York Times reporting last week about the Kushner real estate company receiving a half billion dollars in loans from two companies last year shortly after executives from those companies met with Jared at the White House, "The Associated Press" then followed up this weekend with the news that after one of those firms, Apollo Global Management, after they made that $184 million loan to Jared`s family company, the SEC dropped an ongoing investigation of that same firm.
Now, those two things may have no connection at all, right? But we can`t know that if high-ranking government officials are meeting willy-nilly in the White House with people who are also giving them money in a business capacity, right? There`s Jared Kushner meeting with this firm, then there`s the firm giving his family business $184 million, then the SEC drops the investigation into that firm.
Maybe all of those things are totally unconnected but how are we supposed to know? We`re never even supposed to have to ask these questions because conflict of interest rules and ethics rules are supposed to prevent those kinds of meetings and interactions from ever happening inside the U.S. government.
Same goes for the Trump administration taking a bewilderingly hard-line stance against the nation of Qatar all of a sudden a few months ago. It turns out that was right after officials from Qatar had a meeting with Jared`s dad in April of last year. In that meeting, they turned down his request for a big multi-gazillion dollar Qatari investment in Kushner`s family real estate.
Now, we don`t know if the policy change to get super hard line on Qatar and Qatar turning down the Kushner family`s request for money for their business. We don`t know if those two things related.
But again, that`s why you`re not supposed to be simultaneously working on U.S. government policy while you and your family are also trying to do business with entities and countries affected by U.S. government policy. That`s why we have ethics laws and conflict of interest rules that are supposed to prevent people like Jared Kushner from ever having a job like the one he has, and the same goes for the newly reported interest by the special counsel Robert Mueller and Trump administration policy toward not just Qatar, but also of the United Arab Emirates and also Turkey and also China and also Russia, while we`re reportedly looking into whether policy toward any of those countries, was it all inflected by Jared`s contemporaneous discussions with officials and with government linked businesses in those countries about investing in his family business.
So, it`s a lot, but basically, we`re reaping a bumper harvest of follow the money stories about various scandals and corruption allegations afflicting this White House, all the way from Carl Icahn stock sales to the money paid to the porn star to presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner stripped off his security clearance now and now drowning in corruption allegations involving multiple foreign countries and also his dad.
And then there`s Jane Mayer. Jane Mayer is a national treasure as a reporter. That is an inarguable fact. Jane Mayer does national security and she does politics and she does the intersection between national security and politics better than almost anyone. Go back and read her Iran-Contra book if you want to know how long she`s been this good at this.
Jane Mayer also just has an incredible track record of turning up new information that other people have never been able to get. And so, even though the Russia investigation and the Christopher Steele dossier and even Christopher Steele himself are now really well trod ground in terms of investigative reporting.
Naturally, when Jane Mayer does that story, she turns out totally new stuff and not just like one or two things but a whole bunch of things. Here`s just a few of the embedded scoops from Jane Mayer`s new reporting.
Number one is the secretary of state issue. Jane Mayer reports that Christopher Steele, author of the controversial Trump-Russia dossier, she met -- excuse me -- he met at length with Robert Mueller`s investigators at the special counsels office this past September in 2017. Quote: One subject that Steele is believed to have discussed with Mueller`s investigators is a memo that he wrote in late November after his contract with Fusion had ended. This memo which did not surface publicly with the others when "BuzzFeed" published the dossier last January, this one is shorter than the rest and it`s based on one source described as a senior Russian official.
The official said that he was merely relaying talk circulating in the Russian ministry of foreign affairs but what he had heard was astonishing. People were saying that the Kremlin had intervened to block Trump`s initial choice for secretary of state Mitt, Romney. During Romney`s run for the White House in 2012, he was notably hawkish on Russia, calling it the single greatest threat to the U.S.
Steele`s steals memo said that the Kremlin through unspecified channels had asked Trump to appoint someone who would be prepared to lift Ukraine related sanctions and would cooperate on security issues of interest to Russia. If what the source heard was true then a foreign power was exercising pivotal influence over U.S. foreign policy and an incoming president.
Mayer then continues, quote, on December 13th, 2016, Trump gave Rex Tillerson, the CEO of ExxonMobil, the secretary of state job. The choice was a surprise to most and that happy one in Moscow, because Tillerson`s business ties with the Kremlin were long-standing and warm.
In 2011, he had brokered a historic partnership between ExxonMobil and Rosneft, the state-owned Russian oil giant. Quote, after the election, Congress imposed additional sanctions on Russia and retaliation for its election interference but Trump and Tillerson have resisted enacting those additional sections.
It`s interesting, this bombshell from Jane Mayer today sort of being treated like a Mitt Romney story and of course in part it is but to my mind more than that. It is a story about who the secretary of state ended up being. I mean, if this memo was correct and Russia did get veto authority to say no to Mitt Romney getting that job, presumably that means they said yes to the guy who did get the job.
To put it mildly, that should put a spotlight on that man`s behavior while in office. I mean, if the Russians were so psyched to get you there, why was that? What about you do they like so much and are they happy with their purchase and are their receipts?
Second revelation, brand new revelation from Jane Mayer. She`s got a lot of detail here about the past relationship between Christopher Steele and the FBI, him helping the FBI with what ended up being a huge criminal indictment on corruption and international soccer, his work on an international gambling and money-laundering ring that coincidentally led back to an apartment in Trump Tower of all places.
There`s new news here about the Clinton campaign only having a vague idea of what research Christopher Steele was doing, about him not knowing for months that his own work was being paid for by the Democratic Party. There`s an interesting detail here about the fact that the Clinton campaign never knew that Christopher Steele had taken his material to the FBI. We talk with Jane Mayer about all of that.
But there`s also this great revelation about why this particular guy was so well-positioned to do this research beyond the fact that he`d been the top Russia guy for MI6. Quote: Even before Steele became involved in the U.S. presidential campaign, he was convinced that the Kremlin was interfering in Western elections. In April 2016, not long before he took on the Fusion assignment, he finished a secret investigation which he called Project Charlemagne for a private client. It involved a survey of Russian interference and the politics of France, Italy, the U.K., Germany and Turkey. The report chronicles persistent aggressive political interference by the Kremlin, social media warfare aimed at enflaming fear and prejudice, also opaque financial support given to favored politicians in the form of bank loans, gifts and other kinds of support.
The report discusses the Kremlin`s entanglement with the former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and the right-wing and the French right- wing leader Marine Le Pen. It also suggests that Russian aide was likely given to lesser-known right-wing nationalists in the U.K. and elsewhere. The Kremlin`s long term aim, the report concludes, was to boost extremist groups and politicians at the expense of Europe`s liberal democracies. The more immediate goal was to destroy the E.U. in order to end the punishing economic sanctions that the E.U. and the U.S. had imposed on Russia after its political interference in Ukraine.
Although the reports language was dry and many of the details familiar to anybody who`d been closely watching Russia, Project Charlemagne was the equivalent of a flashing red light it warned that Russian intelligence services were becoming more strategic and increasingly disruptive. And then check out the killer quote here at the end: Russian interference and foreign elections, it cautioned, was only likely to grow in size and reach over time. Yes, how about reaching across the Atlantic?
That`s the work that Christopher Steele was wrapping up in the spring of 2016. He produced that report documenting Russian interference in foreign elections and saying it was about to spread and get bigger. He finished that report in April 2016, right then is when Fusion GPS happened to call and say, hey, do you want to do a little look-see into Russia and this Republican presidential candidate in the U.S.? Yes, yes, he did want to do that, perfectly positioned to do that.
And then there`s the part about the death that Robert Mueller is reportedly investigating in conjunction with his special counsel investigation, the dead person. That`s next with Jane Mayer.
MADDOW: About seven weeks ago, Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein of California surprised everyone when she basically just threw up her hands said what the heck, and she made an individual decision that she would unilaterally release a transcript, a transcript of ten hours of Senate testimony from the founder of research firm fusion GPS, Glenn Simpson.
That decision by Feinstein led to all sorts of congressional fighting about all sorts of things both substantive and otherwise. But there was an immediate shock factor that day that the transcript was surprisingly released there was an immediate shock factor from one quick line very late in the day in Simpson`s testimony. It was a line that was actually uttered by his lawyer.
Quote, question, earlier you talked about evaluating the credibility of the information in the memoranda that you were being provided by Mr. Steele, he talked about your belief that he was credible. Did you take any steps to try to assess the credibility of his unnamed sources and the material he was providing to you?
Answer by Mr. Simpson: yes, but I`m not going to get into sourcing information.
Question, so without getting into naming the sources or anything like that, what steps did you take to try to verify their credibility? Answer: Mr. Simpson, I`m going to decline to answer that question. Question, why? Answer: not by Glenn Simpson, answered by Simpson`s lawyer, quote: this is a voluntary interview and in addition to that he wants to be very careful to protect his sources somebody has already been killed as a result of the publication of this dossier and no harm should come to anybody related to this honest work.
Somebody has already been killed. That was nine hours into ten hours of testimony from August. That was the transcript that was released to the public in January, thanks to Dianne Feinstein.
Well, now, here`s Jane Mayer tonight at "The New Yorker". Quote, in Russia, there were rumors of a more primitive kind of justice taking place, during Glenn Simpson`s testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee, his lawyer asserted that somebody`s already been killed as a result of the publication of this dossier.
Mayer continues: who that could be has been the subject of much media speculation. One possibility that has been mentioned is Oleg Erovinkin, a former FSB officer and top aide to Igor Sechin, the president of Russian oil giant Rosneft. On December 26th, 2016, in fact, Erovinkin was found dead in his car. No official cause of death has been cited.
But Jane Mayer continues, quote: no evidence has emerged that Oleg Erovinkin was a source for Christopher Steele, and in fact, special counsel Mueller is believed to be investigating a different death that is possibly related to the dossier.
A different death. Jane Mayer, you are making me crazy.
Joining us now is Jane Mayer from "The New Yorker Magazine".
Jane, congratulations on this scoop. It is killing me.
JANE MAYER, STAFF WRITER, NEW YORKER: Thank you so much. Great to be with you.
MADDOW: So I have a few different -- there`s obviously a lot here, a lot of new material, a lot of stuff nobody else has reported and I want to ask you about a bunch of it. Let me start with the reporting about the memo from Steele that was not released by "BuzzFeed", that was after his Fusion GPS contract ended, it was produced in late November after the election in 2016, and it was based on a Russian source suggesting that the Kremlin had had a hand in casting the U.S. secretary of state for the Trump administration.
What else can you tell us about that reporting and its credibility?
MAYER: Well, you know, it`s hard to evaluate. It`s only based on one source. It`s a shorter memo than most of the Steele memos that created the dossier.
But one of the things -- I mean, you know, on its face, it seems fantastical that something like this could be true, that a foreign power would intervene with an unelected president by then which Trump was and shape the foreign policy of our country. But one of the things that that seemed suspicious and kind of backs it up to some extent is that the circumstances of what happened with Romney, which was this very long -- it was a prolonged process of him being interviewed for secretary of state. It seemed to go on and on, it was kind of humiliating. He sort of dragged through dinners and the limelight and interviews and it was just odd and then in the end of it, Trump decided not to pick him and very quickly and as a big surprise turned to Tillerson instead.
So, I mean, you know, hard to know. I mean, one of the things that I think we`re going to find with much of what`s in the Steele dossier, first of all, it`s looking better and better every day, more and more credible. But I think it`s going to take somebody like Mueller who`s got subpoena power to be able to really nail down a lot of the things that you need to know. Somebody who can take a look at all kinds of -- other kinds of intelligence and so, that`s what -- that`s what it`s probably going to take.
MADDOW: And you do have reporting on some potential new territory for the Mueller investigation, if in fact as your report, he`s looking at a death that is related to the dossier that isn`t the much-discussed aide to Igor Sechin who turned up dead in his car the day after Christmas, the month after our election. Can you talk anything further about that?
MAYER: You know one of the things that I thought was a really interesting point that was made by a former very top CIA official who I interviewed who`s an expert in the area of Russia and he said, you know, apropos of President Trump has said this is all fake news, he said, fake news doesn`t produce real deaths. And there were real repercussions from this dossier, it seems. And including somebody who may have been killed and quite a few other things that happened to potential sources that we think may have been Steele sources in Russia.
MADDOW: Is that explain some of the state of mind that you describe in terms of Steele feeling potentially that his life might have been in danger or that he needed to take steps to protect himself in addition news sources?
MAYER: I think it explains why he has been so careful about not speaking, he`s -- his lawyers have told him not to talk to the press and he`s had to be very, very careful about his life, his family`s life but also about his sources. I mean, these are our people he`s worked with for many years. This is -- they didn`t just come out of the woodwork for this one task which was to do this investigation of Trump, these are people who`ve worked with him for all kinds of assignments on many other cases as well.
And interestingly, they are the his sources and some sources, many of them were known to the FBI because Steele`s worked with the FBI over the years on a number of cases and the FBI had a lot of confidence in both him and in these sources, his network.
MADDOW: Jane, if you don`t mind sticking around for a second, there`s one other matter that I`m sort of desperate to ask you about. It`s something I`ve been wondering about since the campaign, since we found out that the Clinton campaign was paying at one point for Steele`s investigation, why didn`t they then use this material during the -- during the campaign.
MAYER: Good question.
MADDOW: You`ve got -- you`ve got very good reporting on that. Do you mind sticking around to talk to us about that?
MADDOW: All right, Jane Mayer from "The New Yorker" stays with us. We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: Joining us once again is Jane Mayer, who`s a staff writer at "The New Yorker", who`s the reporter behind this pretty staggering new piece of reporting all based around Christopher`s Steele the man behind the dossier.
Jane, thank you for sticking around.
As I mentioned before the break, I wanted to ask you about the Clinton campaign. You have a lot of new information about Christopher Steele and the FBI, including the fact that the Clinton campaign didn`t know that Steele had taken his reporting to the FBI, there`s this remarkable moment in your piece when a top Clinton campaign official tells you, quote: If I had known the FBI was investigating Trump, I would have been shouting it from the rooftops. This was -- this was such a mystery when we found out that the Clinton and the DNC were paying Fusion, who were paying Steele to do this work, well then presumably, they owned his work product and so why didn`t they use that during the campaign? Why didn`t they know?
MAYER: It was kind of staggering. It`s kind of the opposite of the conspiracy theory that Devin Nunes and Chuck Grassley have been pushing. And in fact, you`ve got the campaign paying for Steele`s research, but Steele went to the FBI and he didn`t ever tell them about that, and as it blossomed into a huge investigation at the FBI, the whole thing was kept really secret.
So, the campaign, they may have gotten word through the grapevine that he`d gone to the FBI in the very beginning but they had no idea that there was a parallel investigation of Trump going on during the summer when the campaign was being beaten up about the FBI investigation into Hillary Clinton. So, John Podesta didn`t know that there was an FBI investigation. He didn`t know about Steele, same with Robby Mook, this was the campaign chairman, campaign manager. It`s kind of amazing that they didn`t know, but they didn`t.
MADDOW: And the president and vice president, President Obama and Vice President Biden weren`t briefed fully by the FBI until early January, well after the election. Was the implication of your reporting there that they also did not know that there was an open counterintelligence investigation into Trump and his campaign and had been for months?
MAYER: People who were in that Oval Office meeting in January, you know, way after the election said that it was chilling and that the president and the vice president had no idea of the extent of the charges of collusion and they had no idea about the dossier until James Comey, the FBI director, briefed them on it. It was, you know, completely startling to them because they`ve been making a big effort to not politicize everything and to stay out of the FBI`s business, which is, you know, what they`re supposed to be doing. They were playing by the old rules.
MADDOW: Yes, exactly. The idea of Biden and Obama sitting there and learning it in January as they`re preparing to do the transit -- you know, as they`re well into the transition for this new in life this new president is going to be sworn in, it`s just remarkable stuff.
Jane Mayer, staff writer for the "New Yorker" with some incredible work, thank you for being here tonight to talk to us about it.
MAYER: So great to be with you, thanks.
MADDOW: Thank you, Jane.
All right much more tonight, including yet another twist in the story that captivated much of cable news all day today, turns out that guy says he wasn`t drunk but he has changed his mind again, just in the last few minutes. That`s next.
MADDOW: So much can happen in a hurry. Here was former Trump campaign staffer Sam Nunberg last month, giving special counsel Robert Mueller`s team what amounted to a great review on Yelp.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SAM NUNBERG, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN AIDE: What I would say, one, is the taxpayer is getting their money`s worth. They were highly professional.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mueller`s investigators?
NUNBERG: Mueller`s investigators. They didn`t call me in just to check a box. Everything they asked me, they -- you know, it was backed up. I can`t get into the -- I can`t -- I don`t want to get into it to give away their investigation, but I would say is it wasn`t a waste of our my time or their time. I was happy to cooperate with them as I told you on this show and they`re very talented.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Happy to cooperate, very talented, try the veal, reserve your table early.
That was then, this is today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you worried about getting arrested?
NUNBERG: I think it would be funny if they arrested me. It`s ridiculous.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you ready to go to jail?
NUNBERG: I`m not going to go to jail.
They`re not going to send me to jail. You know what Mr. Mueller if he wants to send me to jail, he can send me to jail and then I`ll laugh about it and I`ll make a bigger spectacle that I am on your TV show right now.
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MADDOW: How do you really judge the size of a spectacle?
What happened between happy to cooperate, they`re so talented and let him come and get me they`ll be funny if I go to jail -- what happened between those two things is that Sam Nunberg got served with a subpoena from the very talented special counsel and his team, a subpoena demanding that he hand over documents, text messages, telegrams, magnetic tape, emails, everything, dating back to November 2015, and there was a list of ten separate members of the Trump campaign including the president whose communications the special counsel wanted to see.
Now, Sam Nunberg says that he`s been told, directed by the subpoena that she should appear before the grand jury this week on Friday. But then, all day long today and into tonight, Sam Nunberg has been unraveling in slow motion on national television, doing interview after interview after interview, brandishing that subpoena that he got and saying that he will defy it. At times, Mr. Nunberg did seem a little unhinged. Reporters today openly speculated that he might have been day drinking. Mr. Nunberg denies that.
Another theory is that this is all just weird Trump-like political kabuki, some sort of PR stunt we don`t get now, but someday we will. I kind of like that theory.
That said, in the middle of his most unexpected response to a grand jury subpoena in an ongoing criminal investigation. Sam Nunberg did make some serious allegations and he made him in his weird way, but he said he thinks the special counsel, quote, may have something on the president. He says the president may have done something during the election. He said Steve Bannon agrees with him that Trump may have done something during the election. He said in his own interview with special counsel Mueller`s team, they seemed particularly interested in the way Trump runs his business.
So, I mean, how seriously do you take this guy?
Sam Nunberg broke new ground in cable TV craziness today. It was gob- smacking. It was circuit frying.
Tonight, though, he says after all of that after all those interviews now, he says probably end up cooperating with the subpoena, after hours and hours and hours of interview, being a spectacle today saying he wouldn`t cooperate, all day today saying, I will not comply. Now, he says, maybe I comply.
By morning, who knows? Check in.
For all the non-stop nuttiness today, if Mr. Nunberg does decide he`s going to ignore the subpoena, it`s a serious matter and he may end up getting arrested sooner rather than later if he chooses to defy that subpoena. The only thing I would say to watch for here, whatever you think of Sam Nunberg himself, if somebody gets arrested under those circumstances in this probe resisting Mueller and his subpoenas, who knows where that will kick among other crazy people involved in this story?
Watch this space.
MADDOW: One of the biggest bombshells from Jane Mayer`s big new piece in the "New Yorker" is an allegation surfaced by Trump dossier author Christopher Steele shortly after the 2016 presidential election, revelation or at least reporting from one of Steele sources that the Kremlin had intervened to block Trump`s initial choice for secretary of state Mitt Romney. Jane Mayer reports that when Rex Tillerson was chosen over Romney, that made Moscow very happy, so happy to hear this news.
If there`s one thing President Vladimir Putin of Russia doesn`t like, it`s an assertive U.S. State Department, chiding him about human rights violations and screw the election results in Russia and levying and implementing sanctions against Russia for its foreign policy and military adventurism. Having an understanding soul in an American secretary of state would presumably mean much less of that for Putin to have to deal with, while he`s running Russia.
Under Rex Tillerson`s leadership at the State Department, there`s been an unprecedented parade of senior level talent leaving the building. There`s also been obvious and stalwart slow-walking of U.S. sanctions against Russia. And now, here`s something else.
In 2016, as part of the defense bill that President Obama signed that year, the State Department was handed tens of millions of dollars a year to work on combating Russian disinformation campaigns. Under Rex Tillerson, the State Department never collected the money for that program.
One source telling "Politico" in August that a Tillerson had, quote, suggested the money is unwelcome because any extra funding for programs to counter Russian media influence would anger Moscow. I can`t have that.
Well, now, today, "The New York Times" reports that the State Department still hasn`t collected that money for this year either. It`s now $120 million just sitting there that they haven`t spent. As a result, quote, not one of the 23 analysts working in the department`s global engagement center which has been tasked with countering Moscow`s disinformation campaign, not one of them speaks Russian, and a department hiring freeze has hindered efforts to recruit the computer experts needed to track the Russian efforts.
This is the State Department being told, here, here`s something you can do, here are the tools and the money to do it, and they have responded by no thanksing it, for over a year.
Is this normal?
Joining us now is Gardiner Harris, reporter for "The New York Times" covering the State Department and international diplomacy.
Mr. Gardiner, congratulations on this scope and thanks for joining us to talk about it.
GARDINER HARRIS, STATE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Glad to be here, Rachel.
MADDOW: I am not well-versed in bureaucratic wrangling and interagency fighting around the foreign service and the Pentagon and broader issues within the State Department, is it possible that this is a normal policy dispute where this money`s just been hung up because of normal bickering, or is this something that is actually quite strange?
HARRIS: I mean, it`s a little hard to believe that there is normal bickering going on. The one thing that we know about the Trump administration is that Tillerson, the secretary of state, and Mattis, the defense secretary, are very close. Mattis actually lives across the street from the State Department, he and Tillerson get together for breakfast at least once a week, we`ve long been told.
They constantly coordinate on what they`re going to say together at the White House. They like each other. They respect each other.
So the idea that Rex Tillerson has wanted to get money out of the Pentagon and the Pentagon has not been willing to give it for more than a year just strains a little bit of credulity, because one would imagine that in one of those breakfast meetings between Tillerson and Mattis, if Tillerson said, hey, would love to get some of this money so that we can counter this Russian propaganda effort, that Mattis would probably say yes.
Instead, of course, what happened is that Tillerson didn`t even get a round to asking for the money that resides at the Pentagon in this sort of complicated way that it was authorized by Congress. He didn`t get around to asking for it until the last few days of the 2017 fiscal year, so he basically lost his chance for the first $60 million. And since then, the Pentagon and the State Department have sort of been bickering over how the State Department would precisely spend this money and that negotiations continues to this day.
Now, the State Department had told me that they expect to get $40 million, they didn`t even ask for the full $60 million. They expect to get $40 million sometime in April, but a top Pentagon official said in public testimony on Wednesday that a lot of discussion has yet to go.
So, will the State Department get this money? When will it get this money? We still don`t know.
And I`m not even talking about some other monies that they got in a counter ISIS supplemental. There was another $20 million that they haven`t spent.
The remarkable thing is that the State Department and the Trump administration writ large as you`ve talked about have really done almost nothing to counter Russian meddling in the 2018 midterm elections and also Russian meddling in elections across the West. Remember, there`s a whole series of elections going on in Eastern Europe and in Central Europe over this next year that the Russians we know are worried about.
MADDOW: Gardiner Harris, reporter for "The New York Times" covering the State Department and international diplomacy, Mr. Harris, thank you for talking about this. I feel like this is something that I have a lot of interesting in and very little native knowledge on it, and I would be very happy if you`d come back and talk to us about this again in the future.
HARRIS: Would love to, Rachel.
MADDOW: Great. Thank you very much. We`ll be right back.
HARRIS: All right. Take care.
MADDOW: Stay with us.
MADDOW: That does it for us tonight. See you again tomorrow, where among other things, we should have some primary election results from the great state of Texas.
Texas Democrats are very excited about their turnout numbers in Texas thus far. They`ve got those primaries tomorrow. We may have results for you this time tomorrow night. I`ll see you then.
Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL."
Good evening, Lawrence.
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