Ex-Trump campaign aides under scrutiny. TRANSCRIPT: 03/08/2018. The Rachel Maddow Show

Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: March 8, 2018

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Some day, we`re going to have shows with swears, Chris, you and I.

CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST, "ALL IN": Some day.

MADDOW: Some day.

HAYES: I was swearing at 7:57 when I had to redo the show again. It didn`t go on air but --

MADDOW: Eventually, life and culture will devolve where we`re expected of a clean and unclean version of our shows every day. It`s going to be awesome.

HAYES: I look forward to that.

MADDOW: Me, too. Thank you, my friend.

Thanks to you at home for joining us his hour.

It has been a bit of a surreal news day and that has continued into tonight.

Today, at the same time, we had one Trump campaign manager refusing to answer questions at the House Intelligence Committee, while the guy that replaced him on the Trump campaign at that same moment was being arraigned on 18 felony counts in a federal courtroom in Virginia. That was surreal enough.

This afternoon, surprise, a meeting/announcement at the White House, one that had not been previously scheduled. There had been lots of reporting that the president would not be announcing new big tariffs on aluminum and steel today. But then in this unscheduled meeting, surprise, the president did announce them, and then he forgot to actually sign them.

Now, he does do this a lot. He did it with a coal-related thing at one point, where he had the big signing ceremony. Didn`t sign the thing. Then he did it with an Obamacare-related thing. He held the big signing ceremony. Didn`t sign the thing. They had to bring him back to the desk.

He did it once last March where it looked like he was about to sign but then he got asked a question about Mike Flynn and it appeared to fluster him so much that he didn`t sign the documents. He walked out of the room. The vice president Mike Pence said hey, do you want to sign this and went back into the room and collected unsigned documents and followed the president out of the room. So, maybe the president signed them later.

In any case, there was another one of those incidents today where the president convened everybody to see him sign a thing and he didn`t sign the thing. Then, he remembered and then he signed the thing.

But this does mean that he is going ahead with those tariffs, which means on the same day that 11 other countries signed a trade pact, that Trump pulled us out of, Trump did the opposite and eventually, he signed tariffs, which means on trade today at least, there home run parts of the world that are pulling together while the U.S. is now pulling back to be quite dramatically alone.

And then tonight, at the White House another surprise, an announcement by an official from the nation of South Korea, an announcement that there will be a new round of talks with North Korea about the North`s nuclear program.

Now, this ended being an amazing on a whole bunch of different levels, not least of which is the fact that literally today, also today, the State Department spokesperson announced explicitly that there was no way anything like this was happening.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HEATHER NAUERT, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON: We are not going to schedule talks about talks or any kind of chat or anything like that at this point.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: The State Department spokesperson today announcing this is definitely not going to happen. We`re not going to be scheduling talks. We`re not going to be scheduling talks about talks, no way.

Well, then, later in the day, tonight somewhat randomly, South Korean officials turn up outside the White House to announce not just the start of talks or even talks about talks but they announced that the president of the United States is going to meet personally with Kim Jong-un.

There have been a lot of talks about talks. There have been a lot of talks even over the years over the decades with North Korea about their weapons programs. What is totally unprecedented, what is brand-new is the announcement tonight for the first time ever, a sitting U.S. president will meet himself with the dictator of North Korea. Trump and Kim Jong-un meeting personally and directly according to tonight`s announcement and planning to do so reportedly a few weeks from now.

Now, you might imagine another president in this circumstance. Kim Jong-un makes a request, you want to meet? You might think like another president in this circumstance, you can imagine a president asking himself or herself, why has no other American president ever agreed to do is this? Why has no sitting American president ever met with a leader from North Korea? Why has that never happened in all the decades North Korea has existed as a nation? Why hasn`t any other president ever done -- should I take this to mean this might be a particularly risky or even unwise move?

See, I think that`s how most presidents would approach the idea of a personal presidential meeting with the North Korean dictator. I think a lot of people probably suspect tonight those are not the kinds of questions that this president asked himself before agreeing to this meeting. But this is the president we have and he said yes to North Korea.

"The New York Times" tonight headlining this breaking news as quote, a breathtaking gamble.

Joining us now is Courtney Kube, NBC`s national security and military reporter.

Courtney, thanks very much for joining us tonight for this breaking news.

Really appreciate having you here.

COURTNEY KUBE, NBC NEWS NATIONAL SECURITY & MILITARY REPORTER (via telephone): Thank you so much, Rachel.

MADDOW: So, it felt today watching this unfold like this was a surprise. It fell like a surprise to me because the State Department spokesperson said we`re not scheduling talks about talks, none of that is happening any time soon. Also, the somewhat unusual rollout with having South Korean officials announced it. Were there signs from your perspective this was coming?

KUBE: No. And I -- it was not just the South Korean national security advisor announcing it tonight, but announcing it at the White House that was very surprising. That was an unusual optic for us all to see. This was surprising.

And then we also had a senior administration official say after we had the announcement from the South Koreans was that the U.S. is not even talking about negotiations at this point. So, we`re getting some conflicting messages here.

What was particularly interesting to me out of the announcement from the White House today by the South Koreans again was that North Korea would not only according to this agreement, would not only refrain from further nuclear or missile tests, but they understand that routine joint military exercises between the United States and South Korea would have to continue. That is a huge departure from what we`ve heard from North Korea in the past. It`s what we heard earlier this week from the South Koreans after they had this next round of talks with Kim Jong-un, with the North Koreans.

But it was somewhat surprising. It`s the first time that we heard in fact it seems North Korea may agree to these two terms.

MADDOW: And this is, I mean, correct me if I`m wrong, Courtney, you know more about this than I do. But in my living memory as a human being that pays attention to the news, I feel like there have been other announcements from North Korea they were freezing their nuclear program, that they were stopping tests, that in the past, they`ve even pledged to dismantle their nuclear program. That`s what they pledged to the Clinton administration, during the Clinton administration. That, of course, all fell apart during the George W. Bush administration. There have been previous announcements from them about stopping or taking apart their program, right?

KUBE: There have.

And there`s also been a consistent of patterns with the North Koreans of making an agreement or seeming to come to sort of agreement and then reneging on it. It`s happened under, as you, the Clinton administration, George W. Bush and President Obama as well when they were dealing with an issue of food aid. So, there is certainly reason to be skeptical about this.

Another thing that I found really interesting and as part of this was, the South Korean national security adviser said that President Trump and Kim Jong-un, the leader of North Korea, would meet by May.

Well, we reported it, NBC News reported this week, broke the story actually that the two the U.S. and South Korean military exercises that are frequently annual around this time of year, that one of them would begin as early as March 31st, the end of this month, and that the real core of it would actually go through the month of April. There will be two at this point U.S./South Korean military exercises in the month of April, one of them going into May.

So, there is the potential, in an fact if this meeting occurs that it will be occurring during one or two large-scale U.S./South Korean military exercises which, of course, for years has been what the North Korean regime has said that these military exercises are provocative, and they use that as an excuse for more missile and ballistic missile and even nuclear testing.

MADDOW: All of that to say -- all of that going to the conclusion, as you were explaining before, that this was a surprise on a number of different levels.

Courtney, let me ask you one last piece. Obviously, the huge headline here is that no other American president, no other sitting president has ever agreed to meet one-on-one, to meet in person with a North Korean dictator. And because this was a surprise, because the secretary of state, you know, isn`t there, the secretary of state is in Africa right now, there isn`t a South Korean ambassador. The long-time head of North Korea policy at the State Department just left his job, just left last week.

Is there any concern that the president by agreeing to take this meeting, that he may be doing something risky? That there may be people within the national security establishment and in he military who may object to the president taking this meeting one-on-one?

KUBE: I -- it`s definitely risky. So, one of the things this would do, if there is -- if we have a picture of Kim Jong-un and President Trump standing next to one another, this actually achieves one of Kim Jong-un`s long-standing and his father`s goal which is to elevate North Korea, it`s to make them be seen as a major world power.

You know, you could make the argument that 2017 was really a banner year for North Korea for their ballistic missile and their nuclear testing. They achieved three intercontinental missiles that the Defense Intelligence Agency just said this week had the potential, had the capability of hitting North America.

You could make the argument that Kim Jong-un reached the point he wants to be at. He`s a nuclear power. He has ballistic missiles that are capable of hitting the United States and now, if he is to meet with President Trump -- well, now, he`s seen as a world leader. You know, that optic of him potentially being seen as an equal to the leader of the free world, the president of the United States.

MADDOW: Wow. Courtney Kube, national security and military reporter for NBC News, Courtney, thank you for joining us on such short notice. I really appreciate it.

KUBE: Sure. Thanks, Rachel.

MADDOW: Yes, this is a remarkable -- a remarkable change, right? It has been through Republican and Democratic administrations, the whole strategy not only for the United States but for the United States as leader of the free world to the extent that we are has been to treat North Korea as a pariah state and thereby, trying to change their behavior. This is obviously a big change if the president is going to shake hands and meet with this guy and sit down with him one on one at the table.

After this announcement was made tonight that President Trump is personally going to meet with the North Korean dictator, I think the initial shock value gave way to some sort of vexing questions. A couple of these I just discussed with Courtney.

I mean, first of all, why was a U.S. presidential summit announced by an official from a third country? South Korean security advisor came to stand outside the White House to announce this thing that the U.S. president is going to do. Has that ever happened before where the U.S. president has agreed to a summit, even a non-controversial summit, and a government official from a third country was brought to the United States to make the announcement that it was happening? Is there any precedent for that at all? Why might they have done it that way?

Also, the president is reported to have accepted this invitation to meet from Kim Jong-un, which means it was Kim Jong-un who asked to meet the American president and the American president said, sure, love to. This apparently happened today, tonight in fact.

Tonight, the U.S. secretary of state is in Ethiopia. The spokesperson for his department today said there wouldn`t be talks about talks any time soon, let alone direct negotiations between North Korea and the U.S. president.

If you were hoping that the president might have received advice on this matter if not from the secretary of state, then maybe from the best experts the U.S. has to offer on this subject, well, there is a special representative in the U.S. government, a serious pro with 30-plus years experience in diplomacy and foreign affairs, his name is Joseph Yun. He`s the top person on North Korea policy. He has handled talks and negotiations and the rescue of U.S. citizens in North Korea. He speaks Korean. He served at our embassy in South Korea.

He probably was not advising the president on this either tonight because Mr. Yun just quit his job. February 27th, he announced he was quitting. This past Friday was his last day. That said, maybe the president could have received advice from his own administration`s handpicked ambassador to South Korea. Theoretically, he would have wanted to do that. That`s why we have ambassadors. Subject matter expert ambassadors.

The problem with that prospect is that there is no Trump administration choice to be the ambassador to South Korea. The administration`s choice for that job, Victor Cha, he actually pull out of consideration for that ambassadorship during the State of the Union speech this year, in protest of the president`s approach to North Korea.

Tonight, Mr. Cha reacted to this somewhat strange announcement at the White House. He reacted with what appeared to be bewilderment.

He said online, quote, what are we putting on the table, sanctions? Normalization? Peace treaty?

Has any other president ever done anything like this? And when other presidents have made breath-taking gambles like this in the past in the words of "The New York Times" tonight, are there things that we should learn from history about how to manage the tremendous risks here and how to potentially do this kind of thing well.

Joining us now is Michael Beschloss, NBC News presidential historian.

Michael, thank you for joining us tonight. This is --

MICHAEL BESCHLOSS, NBC NEWS PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Pleasure, Rachel, always.

MADDOW: This is not what I expected to be talking to you about tonight.

BESCHLOSS: Me neither. Delighted just the same.

MADDOW: Is there any -- obviously, there is no historical precedent for the president speaking to a dictator of North Korea. We know that. This is brand new.

BESCHLOSS: No, no.

MADDOW: Is there any equivalent historical precedent that you see here in terms of this kind of a gamble, this kind of dramatic shift by a U.S. president with regard to a country that`s seen internationally the way that North Korea is?

BESCHLOSS: Well, this is not of the magnitude of Nixon going to China, and in decades of estrangement between China and the United States. But, you know, compare what we saw tonight that weird scene of the South Korean official making the announcement of a summit by an American president. What was that all about? You know, that`s not the way it`s done.

And then you look at Nixon as an example of this. Nixon in July of 1971, he staged it as a surprise. He flew actually to Burbank, California by helicopter and went to the NBC studio and made this brief announcement that he would go to China. It was at an appropriate time, before March of 1972.

But although that was a surprise to the public, Nixon had a lot of time in China diplomacy for the previous 20 years. He had Henry Kissinger. He drew on China experts. This was very carefully thought out and choreographed.

When you got a scene like today where as you were saying, Rachel, secretary of state doesn`t seem to have known much about this. The State Department is hollowed out. You know, did -- was Jared involved in this?

You know, it reminded me a little bit of the way that Trump`s decisions on tariffs was done very much at the last moment, impulsive without much consultation. That`s exactly the opposite of the way that a decision this important should be made.

MADDOW: Keep in mind very interesting parallel in Nixon and China. Obviously, that had immense international consequences, immense and long- lasting geopolitical consequences and it was a deliberate and thought out strategy by the Nixon administration. They had months to prepare in it was orchestrated. There were a lot of people involved in preparing him to do that.

But the reason we talk about Nixon to China, that`s an overused phrase now, it`s a Nixon to China moment is because of what we saw about the potential domestic politics of that decision for Nixon, that nobody other than Nixon, nobody who was seen as any softer than Nixon on communism on China could have ever pulled that off. It`s only because he had so much credibility on the issue that he was able to do it.

BESCHLOSS: Absolutely.

MADDOW: And if, if that was true for Nixon in terms of his decision-making there, how do you extrapolate that to right now with this Trump -- with this president and this Republican Party? Obviously, if President Obama said he would speak to Kim Jong-un --

BESCHLOSS: Right, he would have been torn apart.

MADDOW: We would hear Fox News from here if that had happened.

BESCHLOSS: Right.

MADDOW: What do you anticipate in terms of this president and this party this year?

BESCHLOSS: Well, his party has gone a very long way to accommodate him. Presumably, that`s going to happen again. I think you have to ask these questions.

And, you know, for Kim, the leader of North Korea, you know, this is a dream come true. He`s got a summit. He`s wanted that for decades. He and his family, you know, his ancestors who had this job, too.

He`s going to be dealing with a neophyte president who will only have a few weeks to prepare and a president who needs some good publicity. Donald Trump has got low poll ratings. He`s got a congressional election coming up. Mueller is closing in it, even Stormy Daniels.

This is someone who may try too hard to have a bargain with Kim that`s going to get him some publicity and that`s not a good situation for a president to be in if he`s trying to drive a hard bargain.

MADDOW: Michael Beschloss, NBC News presidential historian on a history- defying night, thank you for being here, Michael. It`s great to have you here.

BESCHLOSS: Thank you. I think we`ll remember this one, Rachel. Be well.

MADDOW: Yes, I think so, too.

And in fact, we`re going to -- when we remember this history-defying night, when historians write this up, oh the day a U.S. president was announced for the first time to be meeting with a North Korean dictator, what historians are also going to have to write in that same entry about what happened today is so awkward, I can hardly believe it. But that`s next, including some footage from this event that also happened today that you definitely have not seen anywhere else.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: If tonight goes down in history as the night when we learned that for the first time ever, a sitting U.S. president has agreed to meet in person with the dictator of North Korea, if and when that goes down in history tonight, when historians write this story in the history books, they will also have to explain that just a few hours before that somewhat hair-raising announcement was made, that same president`s campaign chairman was arraigned on 18 felony counts in a federal court in Alexandria, Virginia.

Now, in advance of this arraignment today, prosecutors working for special counsel Robert Mueller had had to file a status report with this judge in Virginia. That report spells out in stark detail what Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort is up against from the special counsel who is investigating the president`s campaign. He`s up against this -- it`s particularly stark given that his long-time deputy Rick Gates has flipped. So, this is now what he`s up against alone.

Mueller`s prosecutors say that in Washington D.C., where Manafort is facing five felony charges related to money-laundering and illegal foreign lobbying and false statements and conspiracy against the United States, Mueller`s prosecutors say their best estimate of the kind of jail time Manafort would face if he was convicted on those counts he`s facing in D.C., they say their expected range of sentence for him if he`s convicted would be 188 to 235 months in prison, which is 15 1/2 to 20 years in prison.

Now that`s not the statutory maximum he could face. The statutory maximum is more like 40 years. But prosecutors say under sentencing guidelines, they`d expect him to do more like 15 to 20 years just for the charges in D.C. For the charges he`s facing as of today in Virginia, these are the ones he got arraigned on today, it`s a little less clear, but as far as I read it in Virginia, it`s 18 felony charges that Manafort has been hit with. These are charges related to unreported foreign bank accounts and tax fraud and bank fraud.

Mueller`s prosecutors in terms of coming up with a sentence estimate, he`s committed on this Virginia charges, they pulled out five of the 18 charges he`s facing in Virginia and they just calculated his expected sentence for those five. Mueller`s team told the court that just for those five, just for the tax fraud felonies that Manafort is facing in Virginia, they say his expected sentence if convicted on those five would be 97 to 121 months, which is eight to ten years.

And as far as we can tell, if convicted, that eight to ten years in Virginia would be separate and apart from the 15 to 20 years he`d be looking at if convicted in D.C.

Bottom line, the president`s campaign chairman is facing a real prospect, you add those two together, 23 to 30 years in prison if he is convicted according to federal sentencing guidelines that would seem to apply to him -- 23 to 30 years. He`s 68 years old right now. So, that means if he were convicted and he got the bottom of the sentencing range, he would be in his 90s by the end of 23 years inside.

That is a stark reality both for that one man, Paul Manafort, but also for the campaign that he ran, which put this president in office. It`s also a pretty stark reality for everybody else who has been caught up at whatever level in this investigation thus far. I mean, they are talking decades- long sentences. This is not small stuff.

Tonight, we obtained portions of the transcript from Manafort`s arraignment today. The judge in this case, 77 years old, he`s apparently a take no guff kind of judge. From the transcript that we obtained tonight, this is the exchange in court that leads up to the judge giving Manafort his trial date in Virginia. You`ll remember he`s already got a trial date for his other charges in D.C. That one`s in mid-September.

But here was the argument today over when his other trial will be for felonies he`s facing in Virginia. Quote: defense counsel, in this perfect world where I have my rosy glasses on, we were envisioning that we would be trying this case in November, following the case in D.C. The judge, quote, you need to go back to the optometrist because that isn`t going to happen. To which the defense counsel says OK.

Then the judge says you`ve got a trial date in September in the district. Mr. Weismann, just one of Mueller`s prosecutors, this case seems maybe I`m not familiar with the indictment in D.C., but this case seems less complex than the one in D.C. Mr. Weismann answering for the government says, that`s our view, as well. The tax charges are due largely, the tax charges as we mentioned do largely overlap, but unlike the D.C. case, there are no Foreign Agent Registration Act charges before this court. Those involve quite an extensive array of evidence and different theories of liability. Here we have what I think are five bank frauds and they are discrete, over a two-year period, and the discovery has been produced.

The judge says, all right. Mr. Downing, Manafort`s defense counsel, I`m going to set this matter in July. Now, if in the course of your preparation something comes up that suggests you may have a more persuasive basis for me to consider on a later trial date, I`ll consider it, but for now, the 12th of -- no, not the 12th, the 10th of July at 10:00 a.m. with a jury.

And the judge says, also, having that earlier deadline is important. It will focus your minds. It will focus everyone`s minds on getting this matter done. Getting this matter done.

Eastern district of Virginia does have a reputation for going fast. They call it a rocket docket. Manafort, if you`ll remember, he was charged -- he was arraigned first in D.C. But he`s actually going to get put on trial first in Virginia on July 10th.

And in the meantime, between now and then, I kid you not, I kid you not, Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort will be wearing not one but two ankle bracelets. Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort will be wearing two ankle bracelets. This presumably is why god gave Paul Manafort two legs one for an electronic monitor to make sure he doesn`t flee ahead of his D.C. trial, and a second one to make sure he doesn`t flee ahead of his Virginia trial.

Apparently, the electronic monitoring systems in D.C. and Virginia aren`t the same so he needs two ankle bracelets. I hope he gets them on each ankle. It would be weird to have two-on-one, right? I don`t know.

But I also want to show you this footage. This is what happened when Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort left his arraignment today when this guy screams at him, show us your bracelet. He might not have known at the time it should be bracelets, plural.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Show us your bracelet! Hey, traitor, here is your flag. Russian flag. Traitor. Traitor. You`re selling out America to the Russians. How much did you get for that? Traitor.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: It has been a remarkable day in the news. President`s campaign chair pled not guilty today to 18 felonies and then the president announced he`ll be the first president ever to say yes to a meeting with the North Korean dictator and oh wait, there is more.

Stay with us tonight. You never know what might happen.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: Reporter Adam Entous now writes for "The New Yorker" magazine. But in December 2016, he was writing for "The Washington Post" when "The Post" received an intriguing letter about something that had just happened in New York City.

December 2016, this was right after the presidential election, the previous month Trump had won, the presidential transition was underway and according to Adam Entous, this anonymous letter showed up at "The Washington Post" in mid-December and it made a couple of serious but sort of hard to believe claims.

First, the letter claimed that Jared Kushner and Mike Flynn had met secretly with the Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, at Trump Tower just a few days earlier, at the start of December, 2016. At that meeting, the letter said, Jared had asked the Russian ambassador if there could be some sort of secret means of communication set up, maybe involving Russian diplomatic facilities, a secret means of communication so Trump folks could stay in communication with the Russian government without the U.S. government knowing about it.

Jared Kushner wants a secret way to communicate with the Russian government that the U.S. can`t listen to? That I`m sure seemed gonzo and nuts to Adam Entous and the other "Washington Post" reporters who saw that in that anonymous letter when it came over the transom in December 2016. But in fact, that claim, however fantastical it must have seemed at first, it was later borne out when U.S. intelligence intercepts captured the ambassador phoning home to Russia telling them about Kushner`s request for a secret means of communication. The ambassador was reportedly taken aback by this request but he said that is what Kushner asked him to do.

Now, the other eye-popping thing that letter claimed, this anonymous letter to the "Washington Post," the other thing it claimed was that in addition to asking the Russian ambassador for a way that Trump people could be in touch with the Russian government secretly, the other thing it claimed was that Kushner and Flynn at that Trump Tower meeting with the ambassador, they talked about setting up an in-person meeting between a representative for Trump and a representative for Russian President Vladimir Putin. They wanted to set up that in-person meeting in some low profile location in some third country.

Now, why on earth would they need to do that, right? In a matter of weeks Trump was going to be president and could meet with Putin himself. Why did they a third country meeting all in a rush before Trump gets sworn in? Why would they need to do that?

No idea. It must have seemed like a crazy, over the top, cloak and dagger proposition in this anonymous letter. And in fact, even though "The Washington Post" got that anonymous letter in mid-December, they said they couldn`t verify those claims for months. We didn`t learn about the existence of that letter for a very long time.

But, eventually both of those crazy-seeming claims were borne out by other sources and streams of reporting. And especially with what we just reported out in the last few days in the context of the special counsel`s investigation, now we`ve got this phenomenal, very tight timeline of a very busy few weeks, all of these secret meetings that happened in a real hurry right after Trump was elected but before he was sworn in.

So, Trump gets elected November 8th, three weeks later, on December 1st, that`s when Flynn and Jared meet with the Russian ambassador at Trump Tower and they apparently start talking about how they need a secure, secret, ongoing means of communication with the Russian government. Also, maybe they should set up a meeting in a third country where they could have an envoy for Trump meet with an envoy for Putin.

So that was December 1st. Then everything starts to happen in a rush. Monday, December 12th, less than two weeks later, after his last meeting there, the Russian ambassador comes back to Trump Tower. This time, he reportedly meets with Jared`s assistant. That was Monday, December 12th.

Then Tuesday, December 13th, Jared himself takes a meeting at Trump Tower with the head of a sanctioned Russian bank, one who has a military intelligence background. He was installed in his job by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

So, Monday, the 12th, Kislyak is back at Trump Tower again, meeting Jared`s assistant. Tuesday, the 13th, the very next days, Sergey Gorkov of VEB, that Trump Tower meeting with Jared himself.

Two days after that, Thursday December 15th, Trump Tower again, this time it`s Flynn, Kushner and Steve Bannon taking another secret meeting. This time with the crown prince of the United Arab Emirates. He`s known by the initials MBZ. This is the meeting that the crown prince and the Emirati government didn`t disclose to the Obama administration even though the U.S. government figured out he was here in the end.

So, the Emirati leader, MBZ, he`s accompanied at that the meeting at Trump Tower on the 15th, by an adviser named George Nader. After that meeting, Erik Prince reportedly approaches MBZ and tells him he is authorized to act as a surrogate for Trump. He asks MBZ to set up a meeting for him with a surrogate for Vladimir Putin. According to "The Washington Post", MBZ agreed to that request and proposed the Seychelles islands as the meeting place because of the privacy it would afford both sides.

And then sure enough, real quick, January 11th, MBZ and that same adviser, George Nader, they fly out to the Seychelles islands, they host a meeting between Erik Prince, who says he`s there as a representative of Trump, a meeting between him and the head of a sanctioned Russian sovereign wealth fund, who is likewise understood to be there as a representative of Putin. That`s the meeting where the special counsel`s office has now obtained evidence it was designed to create that aforementioned secret back channel between the Trump campaign and Putin`s office in Russia.

And you know, we still don`t know who wrote the anonymous letter to the "Washington Post" in the mid-December 2016, tipping them off that the series of secret meetings and back channel communications was starting up. But we do now know that special counsel Robert Mueller has people who are cooperating witnesses who were in on a lot of those meetings. That December 1st meeting at Trump Tower talking about setting up the secret back channel, Mike Flynn was there. Mike Flynn is cooperating with the special counsel.

The December 15th meeting at Trump Tower with the same guys from the UAE who later turn up meeting in the Seychelles with Erik Prince and the Russian guy, Mike Flynn was at that meet too in December 15th, and he`s now cooperating with the special counsel. George Nader was also at that meeting. He too is cooperating with the special counsel.

And then the Seychelles meeting in January that was convened by the UAE, so Erik Prince could represent the Trump side while the Russian fund manager represented Putin`s side. This guy George Nader was at the meeting too and is now cooperating with Robert Mueller.

So, one might guess that this is about to get unraveled given that you`ve got insiders talking to the prosecutors. The prime question here remains, obviously, why were they doing this? Why were Jared Kushner and these other people from the Trump side trying so hard to set up a secret unmonitored communication channel with the Russian government during the presidential transition? Why do that?

What did they need to talk to the Russian government buff so urgently during the transition that it couldn`t wait until Trump was sworn in just a couple weeks later? And why did they try to keep all the meetings about this secret?

Why were they doing this? Obviously, the prime question. But the other question I`ve got here is this: what does a prosecutor do with information like this? Right?

It seems important that Mueller and his prosecutors now have cooperating witness who are on the inside of al the shenanigans who are presumably explaining everything that happened there to Mueller`s team.

Acting secretively isn`t a crime, meetings with foreigners aren`t a crime. How and why does a prosecutor in a case like this follow this kind of trail? What are they looking to prove as they follow this trail?

We have some answers on that next. Stay with us.

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MADDOW: A bit of late breaking news tonight from "The Atlantic Magazine" concerning George Nader, the man who we`ve just learned this week is cooperating with special counsel Robert Muller.

George Nader is not a household name. He is reportedly recently been an adviser to the United Arab Emirates. He also has ties to both former and current aides to President Trump. Mr. Nader has been spotted at the White House early on in the Trump administration. He was reportedly a frequent guest of the White House.

But now tonight, Natasha Bertrand of "The Atlantic" is breaking news about Mr. Nader that I don`t -- I don`t quite know what to do with. Tonight, Natasha Bertrand at "The Atlantic" reports that George Nader, the newly reported cooperating witness in the investigation, she reports that he was indicted in 1985, quote, on charges of importing to the United States obscene material including photos of nude boys engaged in a variety of sexual acts.

According to this report tonight, Mr. Nader pleaded not guilty. And this is important, ultimately, charges were dismissed after evidence seized from Mr. Nader`s home was thrown out on procedural grounds. Now, a lawyer for Mr. Nader says he vigorously denies these allegations now as he did then.

Like I said, I`m not quite sure what to do with this information. Again, we`ve just learned this week the name of George Nader and that he`s cooperating in Robert Mueller`s investigation. There is still fairly I guess -- compared to the other people that we know about involved in this case thus far, there`s not that much publicly known about Nader.

Obviously, we know he has high profile connections. His links to the Trump campaign are becoming clearer all the time. Now we know about the obscenity charge from 1985. We also know that Mr. Nader was present at at least two secret meetings that were held during a very busy period of secret meetings during the Trump transition.

One meeting that Mr. Nader attended was one where he accompanied the crown prince of the United Arab Emirates to Trump Tower in New York where the crown prince met with the Jared Kushner and Michael Flynn and Steve Bannon. That meeting was reportedly held in part to discuss opening up some sort of secret channel in the future that would be a way to have representatives of President Trump speaking with representatives of President Putin.

Mr. Nader was also reportedly present at a follow-up meeting in the Seychelles islands. He once accompanied the crown prince from UAE and he and the crown prince convened a meeting between Erik Prince who was reportedly acting as a representative of the Trump transition team and the heads of a sanctioned sovereign wealth fund who was understood to be there as a representative of Putin.

This news arrives the day Paul Manafort was arraigned on federal tax and bank fraud charges. He pled not guilty to 18 felony counts today as a protester stood outside the courthouse calling him a traitor and throwing a Russian flag his direction. Paul Manafort will now be wearing not one but two ankle monitoring bracelets. He`s facing 23 to 30 years in federal prison.

Joining us now is Barbara McQuade, former U.S. attorney in Michigan, someone I rely on to help me understand these things as they break.

Barbara, thank you for being here tonight.

BARBARA MCQUADE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: You bet. Glad to be here, Rachel.

MADDOW: So, Mr. Nader is somebody who we are starting to learn about as a character in this drama most of us had never heard of not that long ago. It`s been described that he was detained at the airport in January by FBI officials. He had been planning to transit through the airport at Dulles and head down to Florida to go to Mar-a-Lago to celebrate the president`s one-year industry parties down there.

Mr. Nader was said to be hit with search warrants. They also said to have seized his electronic devices there when they detained him. What kind of interaction would he have had with the FBI at that point? Would he have had a choice as to whether to go with them or what to hand over?

MCQUADE: Yes, I think it`s very significant they met him at the airport as he got off a plane. This is not the way we`ve seen Robert Mueller typically doing business where he reaches out to somebody, schedules an interview, has them come in at a time of their convenience. They are waiting for him as he gets off the plane.

It`s quite possible as we saw with George Papadopoulos that they actually had criminal charges that they charged him with and arrested him at that time. We don`t know that. It could have been a confrontation we could arrest you or would you prefer to talk with us and instead be a witness.

If they had a search warrant to seize electronic devices, those may have provided to be very -- proved to be very fruitful. So, it seems like Robert Mueller was very keen to talk to him as quickly as possible and not let him get away and not lose another moment.

MADDOW: So, you`re saying it`s a non-zero possibility that they actually charged him at that time that there may -- if they ended up bringing those charges against him, he may have pled guilty. Those aren`t the things we wouldn`t necessarily see if those procedures had been pursued under seal?

MCQUADE: Right. That is quite possible and that`s exactly happened with George Papadopoulos. He was charged, he pled guilty and the agreement was put under seal so that he continue to cooperate without the whole world knowing about it, including a request for proactive cooperation which could entail meetings where he wears a wire or telephone calls where he talks with people to try to get incriminating statements from them. So, that may have happened in this scenario because that was the exact scenario that we saw with George Papadopoulos.

MADDOW: Barb, we`ve received a lot of new, recent information from reporting in the last couple of days, in the last week certainly, about this very busy period during the transition when there seemed to be a lot of secret meetings and a lot of reported discussions about trying to set up communication between people associated with Donald Trump and the Russian government.

How significant is it that Mueller may have not just one but two cooperating witnesses in both in Flynn and Nader who were in on some of those meetings? One of those meetings we know that Nader and Flynn were both there themselves two cooperating witnesses at the same meeting. Some of these other meetings had either Flynn or Nader.

But is it more than just a additive result that you get two people cooperating rather than one in meetings like this.

MCQUADE: Yes, it`s incredibly important to have more than one, because then they can become self-corroborating and corroborate each other. So, if you get one story from Flynn, then you separately discuss what happened at the meeting with Nader, if they tell you the same story, that makes it more believable.

And we also had Bannon at one of those meetings. So, you may have all of them at those meetings telling you. So you can probe their stories to see if they`re consistent on the details. If they are, I think it becomes more believable what they`re describing.

And don`t forget, Flynn with the leverage that they have over him has every incentive not just to answer questions yes or no, but to offer up every detail he can in an effort to get a better deal at the end of the day.

MADDOW: Barbara McQuade, former U.S. attorney from the great state of Michigan, really appreciate your time tonight, Barb. Thank you.

MCQUADE: Thanks, Rachel.

MADDOW: All right. We`ll be right back. Stay with us.

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MADDOW: Nominee for most notorious headline of the entire Trump/Russia scandal is probably this one. Russian dirt on Clinton? I love it, Donald Trump Jr. said.

This is the story of the Trump campaign meeting with a clown car`s worth of Russians after being promised Russian government material that was said to be damaging to Hillary Clinton.

When that meeting was first reported last year, the American public was introduced for the first time to some of these characters at that weird Russian meeting. These are all people we`ve never heard of before.

But in new reporting just released today by the super star investigative team of Michael Isikoff and David Corn, we learned not just about Donald Trump hanging out years before with some of the Russians who helped set up that Trump Tower meeting. Turns out two of those guys actually met with the future president in Trump Tower well before the presidential campaign in early 2015.

Quote, in January 2015, Trump had Emin Agalarov and Rob Goldstone as guests to his office in Trump Tower. A meeting that was never publicly revealed during the investigations that followed the 2016 election, never publicly revealed until now.

In a new book, I have been very excited to get my hands on, it`s Michael Isikoff and David Corn, two very, very good investigative journalists. Their new book is called "Russian Roulette." So far, we`ve just got their excerpt they put out today. The book comes out on Tuesday.

But I have two things to tell you, we got the first excerpt today, we`re going to the second excerpt from the book tomorrow morning. I`m getting up earlier than usual so I can read it.

Also, I`m happy to report before the book comes out on Tuesday, here on Monday night, Michael Isikoff and David Corn are going to join us here live on set for their first TV interview to discuss what is in their new book. Circle it on your calendar, Monday before 9:00 before that book comes out Tuesday morning. Woo-hoo!

Stay with us.

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MADDOW: That does it for us tonight on what has been a historic night in the news. President Trump becoming the first sitting U.S. president to accept an invitation to meet from a North Korean dictator.

We will see you again tomorrow.

Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL."

Good evening, Lawrence.

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