Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: March 15, 2018 Guest: Nicole Perlroth, Eric Swalwell
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Do you mind if I sit in an office chair on the corner of your set?
CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST, "ALL IN": Please, come. You`re for than invited.
MADDOW: Every once in awhile, I do lurk around the Chris Hayes set but tomorrow, I feel like I should advance declare myself I will be there.
MADDOW: Thank you, my friend. Well done. Congratulations.
And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. Happy to have you here.
Whole bunch of news today. A senior adviser to HUD Secretary Ben Carson resigned today after being confronted with reports that he faked all the important bits on his resume. That resignation and those questions about how people get vetted to be in this administration anyway, that resignation comes amid reports today that Ben Carson made himself have lied about he and his wife being personally involved in choosing $39,000 worth of new furniture for his office at HUD.
Now, whether or not you like expensive furniture in government offices lying about it when you are confronted about it is never a good idea and there are now multiple reports that Ben Carson is among several senior Trump administration officials and cabinet secretaries who may be losing their jobs sometime soon after the firing of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson just two days ago.
On that same subject, in that same theme, the Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin -- I have been working on it, it is Steve, it`s sorry, it is not Steve, it`s Steven, and it`s not Mnuchin, it`s Mnuchin, like he`s from the island of minutia. It`s Steven Mnuchin from minutia.
Working on it. Sorry, I know I`ve gotten it wrong 4,000 times on the air I will not get it wrong again. Steven Mnuchin, treasury secretary, he is reportedly also on the block today after documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request show that he charged taxpayers for roughly $1 million worth of flights on military aircraft just in the first nine months he was in office.
Steven Mnuchin is not in the military. He has no military responsibilities. The Air Force frankly has better things to do than fly him around. And the expense is just extraordinary. Private jets themselves are very expensive -- just asked fired health secretary Tom Price about the cost of private jets and how that looks when you charge them to the taxpayers. But private jets are nothing compared to military flights. Military flights are really, really, really expensive like $25,000 an hour expensive.
And apparently, the treasury secretary has been enjoying military flights as what he thought should be just a regular perk of his job and you have been paying for it through the nose a million dollars just the first nine months he was there. And that kind of spending scandal by a Trump cabinet secretary is dog bites man regular news for this particular administration I know, but reports like that are taking on new importance and new potential significance amid this wave of reporting and overt hinting by the president that he`s enjoying firing people right now, and that he`s about to get rid of even more senior officials including potentially from his cabinet. The president repeatedly saying now that he`s almost got the cabinet that he wants.
"The New York Times" broke news this afternoon that made everybody say, aha, maybe that`s why the president has seemed so particularly off the rails these past few weeks. "The Times" reporting this afternoon that sometime in the past few weeks Robert Mueller special counsel`s office has issued a subpoena to President Trump`s business, to the Trump Organization.
Now, it had previously been reported that the Trump Organization was voluntarily handing over documents to Mueller`s team. They had responded to requests from Mueller for information from the Trump organization that reportedly spanned the length of Trump`s presidential campaign, from the time he announced he was running, until the time he was sworn in as president.
Well, now, "The Times" reports that Mueller steam is no longer just asking the Trump Organization for information, they`re legally demanding that they hand over information with this subpoena and the time they want information now from -- this time, they want information from before the time that Trump was running for president. They`ve subpoenaed documents from the Trump Organization from before the that Trump announced he was running in the 2015.
"The Wall Street Journal" is reporting that the subpoena is for documents and emails that reference a set of Russia-related keywords and the subpoena is requiring the production of those materials for more than a dozen people at Trump`s business.
Now, a couple of things to know about this. One is that this might be driving the president and the White House more broadly a little bit nuts. The president had previously said that if the special counsel started looking into his business activities, he would see that as a violation.
One of the president`s lawyers, Jay Sekulow, the one who goes on TV a lot, he also said in November that he would register a formal objection with the special counsel Robert Mueller and with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein who oversees the Mueller investigation if Mueller started looking into Trump`s real estate dealings. He said that Trump`s legal team would view those kinds of inquiries as outside the scope of legitimate inquiry.
So, if "The New York Times" is right today and this subpoena arrived at the Trump Organization within the last few weeks, perhaps that explains why the Trump White House has been operating like a blender filled up to the rim set on puree and having the lid off for the past few weeks.
The other thing to know about this though is that, again, if the time says reporting here is right, if this subpoena is about Trump Organization activity specifically involving Russia -- well, just over the last couple of days we`ve been reporting on a serious allegation about the Trump Organization and its dealings in Russia, an allegation that popped into public view just a couple of days ago in response to the Republicans in Congress abruptly shutting down the Russia investigation in the House of Representatives.
If that is the allegation that Robert Mueller and his investigators are now chasing at Trump`s business with this new subpoena and especially if that subpoena is what`s driving this recent streak of erratic behavior by the president and these new waves of departures from the White House, then just as an informed citizen, you know, you should know everything there is to know about these allegations. We`ve got a congressman who knows all about it coming up live with us in just a moment. I`m very much looking forward to that conversation.
Before we get to him, though, I want to take a look at the other thing that Robert Mueller is apparently doing. One month ago when Robert Mueller and his prosecutors brought a blockbuster indictment against 13 Russian nationals and a handful of Russian organizations and businesses, that was yet another surprise turn and the special counsels investigation.
I`m not sure anybody saw that coming, but it was also a landmark moment for us as a country in this whole arc of a story about Russia attacking our election, messing with our democracy, trying to mess with our ability to choose our own leaders, because when Robert Mueller brought that indictment, brought those felony criminal charges against all those Russians who had worked on this attack into our election process, that was the first time since this president has been in office that any action was taken to defend us from what Russia did, to -- it was the first time our government in any form had done anything to defend us, to try to push back at what Russia had done, to try to punish them at all for the Russian attack, it was almost like you know, well, if the American government as a whole isn`t going to push back on this or fight against what the Russians have been doing at least, the special counsels will -- special counsel`s office will do its bit to try.
That`s obviously a very awkward way for a country to try to remedy that wrong and individual criminal indictments are a weird way to make foreign policy and to stand up for yourself geopolitically as a nation.
Robert Mueller and his prosecutors tried with those indictments. Part of that I think the national reaction to those indictments was like, whoo, finally, somebody`s pushing back at him, and their work to push back at Russia for the attack as of today it`s no longer just the basis of those criminal indictments that we saw filed a month ago. As of today, that work done in the special counsel`s office is now U.S. policy for the whole American government because today the U.S. Treasury Department under Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced that basically they copied everything in the Mueller indictment against those Russians, they copied it into a new document and called it sanctions. All those people charged by Mueller and his team last month are now the subject of new U.S. sanctions against Russia, in response to the Russian attack on our election.
Lots of news coverage today described these sanctions as the most significant action taken against Russia since President Trump took office. Let the record show, this is actually the only action taken against Russia since President Trump took office. I mean, there were the indictments from Mueller`s office a month ago and now, those indictments have become sanctions. That`s it. That`s all they`ve done.
I mean, the Obama administration before they left office they took action they expelled 35 Russian diplomats. They seized two Russian-controlled diplomatic facilities, one on the West Coast, one on the East Coast. They did impose new sanctions on Russian officials for the Russian attack.
The Obama administration did all that remember after the presidential election but before Trump was sworn in. They did that during the transition, and you will also remember how Trump`s folks responded to that, right?
Quite famously, Trump`s soon-to-be national security adviser Mike Flynn and a whole bunch of other senior officials involved in the Trump transition, they all decided it would be a good idea to have Flynn -- have some secret conversations with the Russian government, undercutting Obama`s sanctions, telling Russia not to worry about those sanctions from Obama, letting Russia know that even though maybe the Obama administration wanted to punish them for what Russia did in the election, the incoming Trump administration had no such intention, so they should stand down and not worry about it too much.
And then once the Trump folks got in office, they in fact started to have discussions immediately about how they could unilaterally move to get rid of those sanctions that Obama had imposed to punish Russia for the election attack. That was investigative reporter Michael Isikoff`s big scoop last summer about those efforts in the very first days of the Trump administration where they were already trying to get rid of the sanctions on Russia.
And those efforts so alarmed national security folks across Washington, across different agencies, across both parties, they so alarmed people that Congress almost unanimously passed new sanctions legislation in response. Congress passed legislation that took the sanctions decision out of Trump`s hands. They passed legislation that legally required him to keep Obama sanctions in place and legally required him to levy new sanctions of his own against the Russian government.
That bill again passed almost unanimously. Trump said he would have vetoed it, he didn`t want to do it, but the margins by which it passed were too great to do great so he reluctantly signed it. Trump is therefore required by U.S. law to institute new sanctions against Russia as punishment against them for their attack on our election. Despite the existence of that law, the Trump administration has been dragging its feet and they have missed every single deadline imposed by that law.
On one class of those sanctions, they just flat-out said they wouldn`t do it. The law requires the Trump administration to impose new sanctions on people doing business with Russians Russia`s weapons and military sector, the Trump administration announced they wouldn`t do it. They said in their estimation, just the existence of this law itself was a such great deterrent value against Russia that no new sanctions would actually be necessary.
The problem is those new sanctions required by law we`re not about deterring anything, they were about punishing Russia for something they already did. The Trump administration opted out of that, decided not to do it.
One of the other requirements of the law was that the Trump administration was supposed to draw up, essentially a list of oligarchs -- high net worth individuals who are known to have acquired their wealth at least in part thanks to the good graces of Vladimir Putin`s government and state assets, people who are believed to be personally close to or linked to Putin, people who were involved to be who are thought to be involved in pursuing the Kremlin`s goals in Russia or around the world through public or private action. The idea of an oligarch`s list for sanctions of hitting Putin and the cronies he controls hitting them where it hurts them the most in the wallet, that is required by the sanctions law and it`s considered to be a particularly potent way of pushing back at Putin for what he did.
Well, weird thing happened on the way to the oligarch`s list. Our reporting indicates that a real list of the kind described in the law was made or it was at least seriously researched and worked on at the State Department and at other agencies responsible for producing these sanctions. For whatever reason though, that real list disappeared, no real list of the kind required by the law was ever put out on the day of the deadline, basically at midnight on the day of the deadline for those sanctions to be published, Trump`s Treasury Department instead released a laugh-out-loud list of Kremlin officials and rich Russians that hadn`t absolutely nothing to do with the requirements of the law.
Treasury Department was later forced to admit that the way they produced their lists was literally by copying down the list of richest Russians they got out of "Forbes" magazine and adding to it a list of government officials they appear to have just copied and pasted off the Kremlin Website.
If Steven Mnuchin was not treasury secretary and was instead a high school sophomore, even a lazy teacher running that submission through one of those programs that catches plagiarism would red flag that sucker and send it back and fail him and maybe suspend him.
So, despite the law requiring the Trump administration to sanction the Russians for what they did in our election, the Trump administration has gone through back flips to not do that, until today. They announced their first new sanctions today, and this is also a cut and paste base job, they did just copy the new sanctions today right from Robert Mueller`s indictment, but OK in this case, at least they were plagiarizing from somebody who appears to know what he`s doing and appears to be taking his work seriously.
Once again, Robert Mueller thank you for doing what you`re doing to build us a national defense against the Russian attack. But here`s the other thing that happened alongside this today, we got this announcement of the sanctions copied from the Mueller indictment, OK. But then we also got this -- it`s a big technical warning released by the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI. It is also about Russia. It is much harder to read but it is as serious as a heart attack and that story is next.
MADDOW: Today, the Treasury Department announced they were going to bring sanctions -- new sanctions against the Russians who were indicted by Robert Mueller last month, yet another payout from the Robert Mueller special counsel`s office. But then at the same time, we also got this -- a technical alert from the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security.
This alert provides information on Russian government actions targeting U.S. government entities, as well as organizations and the energy, nuclear, commercial facilities, water, aviation and critical manufacturing sectors. This alert contains indicators of compromise and technical details on the tactics, techniques and procedures used by Russian government cyber actors on compromised victim networks.
Now, you can tell from all the weird nouns there that this is obviously a technical document. This is a long and technical document, but the plain English of it is clear. It`s a -- it`s a warning. It`s some sort of nationwide signal that something is wrong.
It says right at the top of the report. Contact DHS or law enforcement immediately to report an intrusion.
Now, I am not tech savvy enough or sort of computer engineer minded enough to understand a ton of what is here, particularly the long strings of computer code that are included in this report, but what is clear to me just as somebody who reads the news is that this appears to be the follow- up and much more serious and much more public update to something we saw that happen this past summer. This past summer, you might remember this when you see this picture of that nuclear power plant. This past summer, Bloomberg News and "New York Times" reported that a secret warning had been issued by these same agencies by Homeland Security and the FBI, a secret warning had been issued to American power plant operators, telling them that there had been cyber attacks specifically targeting U.S. power plants, including memorably, the operator of this big isolated nuclear reactor out in Burlington, Kansas.
The warning this past summer about these cyber attacks on American power plants, it didn`t name who the perpetrator of those attacks was and clearly, that warning was also never meant to be public. It was sent out secretly to power plant operators to let them know how to protect themselves. We the public only found out about it because of very alarming leaks about this secret warning that made their way into the pages of "The New York Times" and Bloomberg News.
So, that was last summer. Now it`s seven eight months later now the government is making a public warning, saying that these attacks on U.S. power plants have been committed by a known perpetrator. They`ve been perpetrated by the government of Russia and this time the warning is public. It`s not a secret warning that only goes out to power plant operators and skilled journalists. It`s going to everybody. And I think what they are saying is that these attacks have gotten more serious.
Nicole Perlroth at "The New York Times" covered this for "The Times" last summer when the warning had been secret and it hadn`t named Russia. Nicole Perlroth is also covering it tonight for "The New York Times" now that the warning is public, and it does name Russia. Here`s how she explains the evolution here.
Quote: In its urgent report in June, the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI notified power plant operators about the attacks, but stopped short of identifying Russia as the culprit. By then, Russian spies had compromised the business networks, business networks, of several American energy, water and nuclear plants, mapping out their corporate structures and computer networks. They included that of the Wolf Creek Nuclear Operating Corporation which runs a nuclear plant near Burlington, Kansas.
But in that case and those of other nuclear operators, Russian hackers hadn`t left from the company`s business networks into nuclear plant controls, forensic analysis suggested that Russian spies were looking for inroads although it wasn`t clear what their goal was. Well, now, apparently, they`ve gotten further in these attacks.
According to this report released today by Homeland Security and the FBI, by the spring of 2017, Russian attackers successfully compromised some North American and European energy operators in the following months the Russian hackers made their way to machines that have access to critical control systems at power plants, so not just the business side but the stuff that actually controls the power plants. New computer screenshots released in the report today show that Russian state hackers had the foothold they would have needed to manipulate or shut down a U.S. power plants.
According to Eric Chien, a security technology director at Symantec, a digital security firm that`s reported extensively on this attacks, quote: We now have evidence that they`re sitting on the machines connected to industrial control infrastructure that allow them to effectively turn the power off or effect sabotage. From what we can see, they`re there and they have the ability to shut the power off, all that`s missing is some political motivation.
The reason this story belongs today alongside the new sanctions that were just announced against Russia and the Mueller investigation more broadly, the reason this belongs aligned side that reporting is in part because this is something else done by the Russian government to us, but it`s also because of the timing. What`s described here in this new technical warning from Homeland Security and the FBI is an attack that does have roots and you can see first signs of it going several years back. But in terms of when this really got going, it parallels exactly the timing and the pace at which Russia was mounting their other attacks on our election leading up to the election victory of Donald Trump.
Quote: The strikes accelerated in late 2015, at the same time the Russian interference in the American election was underway. By December 2015, the Russian hacks had taken an aggressive turn. The attacks were no longer aimed at intelligence gathering but at potentially sabotaging or shutting down power plant operations. This would suggest that at least three separate Russian cyber operations were underway simultaneously, one focused on stealing documents from the Democratic National Committee and other political groups, a second using social media to sow discord and division and this third effort sought to burrow into the infrastructure of American and European nations.
Joining us now is Nicole Perlroth, who covered the secret warning to power plant operators last summer, who`s covering this public warning and technical alert from DHS and FBI tonight at "The New York Times".
Ms. Perlroth, thanks very much for joining us. I appreciate you being here.
NICOLE PERLROTH, REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Thanks, Rachel.
MADDOW: So, first of all, this is technical stuff and I`m not that technically minded. I will bet that I just got some of that wrong. Can you tell me if I got anything important wrong or if those basics were correct?
PERLROTH: The basics were correct you did a pretty good job there. You know, the point is we`ve been under attack by Russia for a while now. This is the first time today that the U.S. government has come out publicly and named Russia as the perpetrator behind some of these pretty serious attacks on her critical infrastructure. You know, last year as you mentioned, I covered the attack on the Wolf Creek Nuclear Plant. That was one of about a dozen nuclear power plants that Russians had targeted.
What`s different in the announcement today is it actually included a screenshot. It showed Russian hackers have their buttons -- sorry their fingers on the buttons here. They -- if they wanted to, could have shut down some of these power plants or sabotage them in some way.
Now, there`s no evidence that they have done that yet, but for the first time, we put out publicly that they certainly have that capability.
MADDOW: Why was the previous warning to power plant operators secret? The one that you reported on last summer, that was not a public warning. It did all ultimately make it into public discussion in part because of your reporting on it.
But this one is public today. Is it -- does it necessarily follow that the increased severity of these cyberattacks would result in it being more important for this warning to be public or would some of the same caution apply that led them to keep the previous warning under wraps?
PERLROTH: I think when they first came out with it last year, it had been about three months of -- into a series of attacks on power plants and nuclear facilities. And as we reported last year, basically, they had only gotten into the business and administrative computer networks back then, they hadn`t been able to make the leap from those networks into the control systems themselves.
What`s different now and what they came out with today was basically that`s changed. We`re now in a very serious situation where Russian hackers are no longer just in the administrative networks. They actually are in the computers that have access to the machinery themselves. They`re stealing screenshots and they were taking screenshots that that the Department of Homeland Security published today which shows that they were they were -- they can turn off some of those power plant systems if they want to, they could manipulate them, they can sabotage them and they`re there and I think we`ve got into a point where these attacks have gotten so serious that we were left with no choice but to come out and say, hey, we know you`re there.
MADDOW: Is -- this the sort of thing we`re identifying it, pointing out what they`ve done, naming in some cases the specific technical ways that these hacks were achieved, the specific type of malware that was used on all these other things, strings of computer code that are in this technical alert, is this a sort of thing we`re naming it and identifying it will allow power plant operators to stop hackers from potentially doing this or are these power plant operators essentially helpless and tonight if Russian hackers wanted to they could shut these things down?
PERLROTH: I mean, it`s a great question. I think at this point part of the reason they came out with this is to tell power plant operators, hey, look for this on your systems because it`s happening and it`s real.
The separate question is whether they can defend against it and there, it`s just not clear. Unfortunately, when you look at the critical infrastructure in the United States, first of all, most of its controlled privately. It`s not like if we`re attacked, the government can come in and sweep things up and fix things. This is largely been left to the private sector to deal with.
And the private sectors relied on a lot of old legacy software, which just makes it even easier for some of these attacks to happen. So, in some cases, when you talk to some of the targets, they don`t even know that they`ve been compromised. Hopefully, we hope that in many cases when the government sees evidence or picks up evidence that that Russians are inside their systems, they tip off these companies as soon as possible, but there`s definitely some instances out there where you have a situation where a plant or a critical infrastructure provider, oil and pipeline operator has been compromised by some of these Russian state-sponsored groups and don`t even know about it.
MADDOW: Wow. Well, everybody`s tipped off now and now it`s a question of whether or not they can successfully defend themselves and fix -- and fix what`s already gone wrong.
Nicole Perlroth, cybersecurity reporter at "The New York Times", that was an absolutely terrifying discussion but clarifying as well. Thank you for helping us understand it.
PERLROTH: Thanks for having me, Rachel.
MADDOW: All right. I thought the scariest thing in cyberattack news today was going to be the other story that Nicole Perlroth had in "The New York Times" today, which is about a petrochemical plant in Saudi Arabia being hit by a cyber attack that was designed to not just shut it down but to make it explode and kill people, and then we got her follow-up story which is about what`s happening here, right under our noses in our country.
All right. Since I have been speaking in the last couple of minutes, we`ve got some breaking news tonight about what is said to be the next high-level major staff shake-up at the White House. One of the reporters who just broke that story joins us next. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Upheaval has been the subheading on all news about the White House in the past few weeks. Communications director Hope Hicks, out. Economic advisor Gary Cohn, out. The president`s personal assistant, out. The secretary of state, the president fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson but apparently learned he had been canned when the president tweeted the news.
President fired Rex Tillerson, nominated the CIA director to replace -- Mike Pompeo to replace him just, said that the deputy director of the CIA would move up to replace him.
Today, we have another sign that more high-level turnover is on the way. "Washington Post" just now reporting that the president is about to remove national security adviser H.R. McMaster who himself was the replacement for the first national security adviser Michael Flynn who has now pled guilty and is cooperating with the special counsels investigation. Our colleague Nicole Wallace here at MSNBC has been reporting this month.
Well, "The Washington Post" tonight adds weight to that story. Quote: President Trump has decided to remove H.R. McMaster as his national security adviser and is actively discussing potential replacements according to five people with knowledge of the plans, preparing to deliver yet another jolt to the senior ranks of his administration. Trump is now comfortable with ousting McMaster, with whom he has never personally gelled but he`s willing to take time executing the move because he wants to ensure both that the three-star army general is not humiliated and that there`s a strong successor lined up.
Yes, great way to make sure somebody`s not humiliated is by making sure that for weeks, people are talking about the fact that you don`t like them and you`re about to fire them. Well, if the turbulence is part of a broader potential shake-up under consideration by Trump, that is likely to include senior officials at the White House where staffers are gripped by fear and uncertainty as they await the next move from an impulsive president who enjoys stoking conflict.
Are you not entertained?
Joining us now is "Washington Post" White House reporter, one of four reporters bylined on this story, Ashley Parker.
Ms. Parker, thank you very much for joining us on short notice. I really appreciate you being here.
ASHLEY PARKER, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, WASHINGTON POST (via telephone): Thanks for having me.
MADDOW: I find some irony or some difficulty in squaring the idea of Trump not wanting McMaster to be humiliated and Trump telling so many people that he doesn`t like McMaster and he`s really looking forward to getting rid of him.
PARKER: Yes, there`s something a little in Congress and disingenuous about that. But the one thing that sort of is true is that there isn`t recognition within Trump world and within this White House that basically everyone who leave this White House leave in some manner of disrepair or ill repute, and so they do want McMaster to ideally leave and have a soft landing and ideally a promotion from a three-star, which is what he is now to a four-star, because they want to prove and sort of show to people that you actually can work in this White House it`s not suffer severe reputational damage.
MADDOW: Wow, a striking note there. I also just want -- I`m going to read to you just a portion of the reporting tonight which you and your colleagues have just posted at "The Washington Post", just to have you talked me down off the ledge about what this might mean.
The mood inside the White House in recent days has verged on mania as Trump increasingly keeps his own counsel on senior aides struggled to determine the gradations between rumor and truth at times. They are anxious and nervous, wondering what each new headline may mean for them personally, but in other moments, they appear almost as characters in an absurdist farce, openly joking about whose career might end with the next presidential tweet, some White House officials have begun betting about which staffer will be ousted next. The few if any have much reliable information about what is actually going on.
So, actually, that`s worrying for -- that would be worrying for a small business that I don`t patronize. It`s very worrying when that`s the White House.
All right. Are you saying there -- you and your colleagues saying that the president is no longer talking to his senior staff about these major moves he`s making?
PARKER: It`s a little of that. Some of that, to be fair and to be clear, is a function of the fact that the president has spent sort of the first part of this week traveling. He was in California and making his way back, and part of it though -- it`s been a striking departure for us to have covered the president the campaign and into this White House, that this is the White House as you all know that always chaotic and always turbulent. That`s not new. What is so new is how little even very senior people, even people who should know, like people in the communications department, know about what is actually going to happen.
And so, in our reporting we go to them with rumors if you sort of say, look, I have to check this out. It sounds kind of crazy but we think it might be true, and the response back there`s always kind of, you know what, that absolutely does sound crazy but you`re absolutely right, it might be true. And that`s sort of the difference and also this sort of manic cycling between correctly being very worried and nervous about what this means generally and, of course, for them personally but also sort of this just gallows humor because it has reached these absurdist levels where rumors run rampant and no one really knows what`s coming.
MADDOW: The mood inside the White House verging on mania. Remarkable reporting.
Ashley Parker, "The Washington Post" White House correspondent, really appreciate you joining us on short notice with the scoop. Thank you for being with us.
PARKER: Thank you.
MADDOW: Again, breaking news tonight. "Washington Post" reporting, as our colleague Nicolle Wallace has been reporting here at MSNBC, that President Trump has decided to remove his second national security adviser H.R. McMaster. "The Post" reporting tonight that among the people potentially being considered to replace him are John Bolton famous for his various stints in the George W. Bush administration and also Keith Kellogg who`s currently chief of staff to the National Security Council.
According to "The Washington Post", tonight part of the reason that Keith Kellogg is in contention to be national security adviser is because in part the president likes his company and thinks he is fun.
We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: On Tuesday night, Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee -- surprise -- released a 21-page status report on the Russia investigation in the House. They released it in response to the Republicans in the House announcing their own surprise on Monday that they would be abruptly shutting down that investigation.
Well, one line in that that status report that the Democrats released jumped out at me like it glowed in the dark. It was on page six of their report. This is the line: The committee has learned that candidate Trump`s private business was actively negotiating a business deal in Moscow with a sanctioned Russian bank during the election period.
Trump`s private business actively negotiating a business deal with a bank it`s illegal for Americans to negotiate business deals with, all right? That sounds illegal. It also sounds potentially really relevant to the big hairy question at the center of this whole scandal, which is about Russia`s attack on our election and the question of whether the Trump campaign might have helped with that or known about it or been in on it in some way.
So, we have since asked the committee Democrats for more information about what they mean here. A source familiar with this reporting told us that there were troubling inconsistencies between public assertions made by the Trump team regarding a Trump Tower Moscow project that the Trump Organization had pursued in 2015 and 2016. They were troubling inconsistencies between their public assertions about it and what the committee learned and its investigation both through documentary evidence and testimony.
So, we reported that last night. Then today, "The New York Times" reported that Robert Mueller has subpoenaed the Trump Organization for documents related to the Trump organizations dealings in Russia. This is the first known time that special counsel Robert Mueller has demanded documents directly related to President Trump`s businesses and it`s specifically President Trump`s business in Russia. Why subpoena the Trump organization now rather than just continuing to request stuff from them voluntarily? Why do this now at all?
And in light of this subpoena why are House Democrats now confidently asserting that they`ve got evidence, they`ve got documentary evidence and testimonial evidence that the Trump Organization was actively negotiating with a sanctioned Russian bank?
That`s a very serious allegation and Democrats say they`ve got the evidence of it. Why is that? That`s next with somebody who knows. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Dot number one, the special counsel Robert Mueller`s office has reportedly subpoenaed the Trump Organization, Donald Trump`s business, for any documents related to Russia.
Dot number two, the House Intelligence Committee Democrats have now asserted, quote, the committee has learned that candidate Trump`s private business was actively negotiating a business deal in Moscow with a sanctioned Russian bank during the election period.
Dot one and dot two. Should those dots be connected?
Congressman Eric Swalwell sits on the House Intelligence Committee and he joins us live now.
Congressman Swalwell, thank you very much for being with us.
REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D), CALIFORNIA: Thanks for having me back, Rachel.
MADDOW: So, let me ask about this assertion. The Democrats -- you and your fellow Democrats in the House Intelligence Committee has released a status report on the Russian investigation, basically a snapshot of how far the investigation had gotten before Republicans shut it down abruptly this week. One of the assertions made in that report is that the committee has learned that Trump`s business was negotiating a business deal in Moscow with a sanctioned Russian bank during the election.
What do you mean the committee has learned that? What sort of evidence you talking about?
SWALWELL: Rachel, I`m heartened to see that Bob Mueller is willing to do what the Republicans were not, which was to subpoena the Trump Organization. We saw evidence both from witnesses and documents we reviewed that during the campaign, Donald Trump`s organization, the Trump Organization, was seeking to do business in Russia through a sanctioned Russian bank.
And remember this would not be the only time that this happened. This also happened when Jared Kushner sat down with a sanctioned Russian bank during the transition period, where the bank said that the reason was for business and Jared said that the reason for that meeting was not.
I can put this in context for you Rachel. If you recall, Felix Sater was central to the Trump Moscow Tower project. Felix Sater is a Russian American who helped finance Donald Trump`s Trump SoHo Project. He`s a friend of the Trump family.
In October 2015, the first offer to connect Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin was made from Felix Sater to Michael Cohen. He said, simply, let`s build a Trump Tower in Moscow. Let`s get Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin together. We can get our boy elected. We can engineer this and make him president.
Now, throughout the campaign, of course, other previews of what getting Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin together look like would mean for the Trump campaign would materialize but Felix Sater is also, which cannot be forgotten, was just reported by "BuzzFeed" is somebody who over decades had delivered information to the intelligence community on Osama bin Laden and the North Koreans that have been verified in these public reports if he was able to deliver Osama bin Laden information and information about the North Koreans, I think we have to assess him as someone who credibly could have assisted the Trump campaign and working with Russia to interfere in the election.
MADDOW: Can you tell us tonight which sanctioned Russian bank we`re talking about here?
SWALWELL: I cannot, Rachel, but what I can tell you is that we believe in a ranking member Schiff has been leading this charge, we believe the transcripts of this investigation should be made public. That is a promise that Republicans made throughout the investigation and now as we saw yesterday and reports, Chairman Conaway, the acting chairman of the committee for the investigation, is backing away from.
The public should be able to see the transcripts and judge for themselves and they would find this information in those transcripts.
MADDOW: Now, there was a similar dispute in this on the Senate side and the judiciary committee where Democrats and Republicans had different views about which transcripts should be released to the public and Republicans had initially said they wanted some transcripts released and then were either slow-walking or changing their mind about that. Senator Dianne Feinstein quite famously made a unilateral decision in this side that she was going to release one transcript that she saw -- thought was of public interest and she just did it on her own.
Is it possible that Democrats in the House might do something similar?
SWALWELL: I don`t want to go you know there yet, you know, I know that this is something the ranking member has been talking with other Democrats on the committee about is, you know, what can we do to best inform the public about the findings on our side of the investigation. But also, Rachel, just remember, this whole investigation essentially was a sham they`ve declared that there was no collusion the fact is we saw significant evidence of collusion, they have just chosen to bury it, most evidenced by the recent declaration that they won`t show the public the transcripts.
MADDOW: If you have what you`re describing here is basically direct evidence that the Trump Organization as an American business was negotiating with a sanctioned Russian bank, that -- I`m no expert on these things that sounds to me like illegal behavior. It sounds like illegal activity.
Is there a question of whether or not something like that should be directly referred to the Justice Department or is there some other way that evidence like that should be handled as a law enforcement matter?
SWALWELL: Rachel, that`s why I was heartened to see that Bob Mueller is subpoenaing Trump Organization documents. Also, you know, if our transcripts were made public, of course, the special counsel would be able to review those transcripts.
The bigger issue here Rachel is that we have done a great disservice though by ending this investigation in such an inaccurate and incomplete fashion, my fear is that we will go into this upcoming election inviting Russia to interfere again and that if Democrats win the majority, we will be charged not only with investigating the interference in the election but we will also have to investigate the interference that the Republicans have invited and have given a green light to in this upcoming election.
MADDOW: Congressman, on that point, I had a discussion earlier this hour with a "New York Times" reporter who`s covering this emergency alert essentially, this technical alert I should say from the Homeland Security Department and the FBI, alerting people who operate networks and systems around American power plants that there have been -- there`s been a serious cyber attack on the United States and Russian government hackers appear to have obtained command and control ability over U.S. -- parts of the U.S. power grid, over U.S. power plants.
It`s a technical alert from DHS and the FBI, but it`s very serious. It follows a secret alert that went out directly to power plant operators last summer. This is a public alert saying that they`re further along. Do you have any insight into that warning today and why it was made public and how serious this is?
SWALWELL: Rachel, I can only tell you that we`ve seen a number of signs that Russia seeks to continue to attack us. We have our guard down right now against Russia and they`re continuing to throw punches and they have us on the ropes.
Today, President Trump announcing sanctions, you know, that can`t just be a one-off. That was the least he could do. He needs to declare a strategy against Russia to counter their interference and attacks on our infrastructure system, whether it`s elections or whether it`s our electricity grids. That includes the tactics of sanctions, directly confronting the Russians, funding -- spending the money that`s already been funded through the State Department and making sure that we harden our election systems as we go to the ballot box this November. Congressman Eric Swalwell, the House Intelligence Committee, sir, thank you for your time tonight.
SWALWELL: My pleasure.
MADDOW: Thank you. I`ll be right back. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Recapping the breaking news that is just posted at "The Washington Post" Website. A story citing 19 presidential advisers and administration officials saying that the mood at the White House right now, quote, verges on mania and the president has decided to remove yet another top national security official. President Trump, according to "The Washington Post", deciding to remove H.R. McMaster as his second national security advisor. Why not?
That does for us tonight. We`ll see you again tomorrow.
Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL."
Good evening, Lawrence.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END