Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: April 2, 2018 Guest: Michael McFaul, David Cay Johnston, Gabe Sherman
JOY REID, MSNBC HOST: Chris, happy anniversary.
CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST, "ALL IN": Thank you very much.
REID: Happy fifth anniversary. Great show. Great job.
HAYES: Thank you.
REID: "ALL IN", "ALL IN", "ALL IN".
HAYES: We`re here. We`re still here. You can`t get rid of us.
REID: Take care. Have a good night. All right, thank you, Chris.
And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. Rachel has the night off. She will be back tomorrow.
But we start tonight in Slovenia, a beautiful country, lots of great skiing, amazing lakes, lots of castles everywhere. For Americans, Slovenia is probably best known as the homeland of the First Lady Melania Trump.
But Slovenia played a pivotal role in American history once before, when it hosted the very first summit between George W. Bush who had been president of the United States for about five months and Vladimir Putin who had been president of Russia for just over a year. Apparently, everyone was super excited about the summit, especially the Slovenians. They even created a special logo for the summit with Bush and Putin`s names on it with like cool graphics. And they put the logo up all over the Slovenian capital leading up to the meeting. Woo-hoo.
That first summit between Bush and Putin in Slovenia also produced one of George W. Bush`s most memorable quotes, not just because of the way he described his Russian counterpart but because it was just not the way American presidents usually talked about other world leaders.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT: I looked the man in the eye I finally to be very straightforward and trustworthy. We had a very good dialogue. I was able to get a sense of his soul.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
REID: Well, not everybody at the time got the same sense of Putin soul. Joe Biden was then the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
As "The New York Times" delicately put it, Biden, quote, questioned whether trust was the right word to use about Mr. Putin, a former operative of the KGB, the Soviet intelligence service, and former head of Russia`s domestic intelligence service.
Michael McFaul, who would later become ambassador to Moscow under Bush`s successor President Barack Obama, told "The Times", quote, I think there is plenty of good reason not to trust President Putin. This is the man who was trained to lie.
But George W. Bush continued to try and build his relationship with the Russian president. A few months later, President Bush hosted President Putin at the White House, and then took him on a visit to his ranch in Crawford, Texas. Now, if you`re wondering how that was covered at the time, I think the best word is bemused.
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TOM BROKAW, NBC NEWS ANCHOR: Finally tonight, a picture to contemplate -- two baby boomers who not so many years ago never expected to be presidents of their country, meeting in Texas this weekend for pickups barbeque and, oh, yes, how to make the world safer in a nuclear age.
That`s "Nightly News" for Wednesday, I`m Tom Brokaw.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
REID: That`s "Nightly News" for Wednesday.
Just George and Vladimir riding around in a pickup truck, eating barbeque. But that was nothing compared to 2007 when Putin got to meet the whole family.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: For Vladimir Putin`s arrival the Bush`s worked some dad diplomacy. The 83-year-old former president served as official breeder when the Russian leader touched down by inviting Putin to the place where the first family gets out to play, advisor suggests this rare personal touch could encourage more trust.
At the seaside compound, the leaders will settle in for what`s informally dubbed the lobster summit. The Bushes welcome to the family seaside home quickly turned to full throttle diplomacy a quick trip cutting the waves with all that security. Advisers say bringing Putin into the family circle is meant to develop a deeper trust.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
REID: Lobster summit.
In all, Vladimir Putin visited President Bush in the United States five times. His last visit to the White House was in 2005. And Bush`s evaluation of Putin as very straightforward and trustworthy, well, that has not aged so well. Even Texas barbeque and a boat ride with mom and dad could not make Putin into an ally.
But whatever your opinion of the Bush administration and how it handled Vladimir Putin, at least we knew what they were doing. All these meetings and summits were highly telegraphed and choreographed affairs with the press staked out at Crawford and Kennebunkport, and White House officials keeping reporters apprised of what was being discussed and what the president was hoping to get out of his meetings.
With our current president, when it comes Russia, is a very strange dynamic that we have simply never seen before. And I don`t just mean the overall dynamic between this president and Putin, the deference that Trump seems to show Putin, which we`ve all observed. I mean, specifically, the way we find out about things the American president does that`s related to Russia.
The first time it happened was a few days after Donald Trump was sworn in. Reports started to circulate from the Kremlin that Trump would be having a phone call with the Russian president. The Kremlin spokesman told reporters that they were working with Washington to nail down a date for an upcoming call. The actual call happened on January 28th, but we got wind of it first from Russia.
Then it happened again and this time it wasn`t a call. In the spring right after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, Russia`s state news agency tweeted out this picture of Donald Trump and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov shaking hands inside the Oval Office. Lavrov even brought along Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak, you know, the guy whose meetings Trump campaign team members kept forgetting happened.
No one knew about the meeting in advance. American journalists were kept out. And the meeting was not on the president`s official schedule. And when it happened, the press pool was taken completely by surprise.
The White House said that Trump decided to take the meeting because, quote, Putin asked him to, so he said yes. And then we had to learn about it all from Russia.
Third time was in September with the new Russian ambassador who announced that the U.S. president, quote, received me in a warm and friendly way. The atmosphere was very genial, constructive and welcoming. That`s what Russian Ambassador Anatoly Antonov told Russia state-owned news agency.
But that meeting was not on Trump`s schedule that day. Instead, the White House announced it afterwards, once the report from Russian state media started getting around. And it was the Russian embassy that tweeted out this photo from the Oval Office.
Fourth time, November. There was a flurry of reporting again all sourced to the Kremlin on how Donald Trump was going to meet Vladimir Putin at the Asia-Pacific Summit. The White House initially denied they would meet, but then they met, just like the Kremlin said they would. That was in mid- November.
By the end of November, the Russian news agency Interfax reported that Trump and Putin were set to hold a call. Crickets from the White House that the call happened. That was the fifth time we learned the news from Russia.
The sixth time was on December 14th, when another Russian news agency tweeted a photo announcing that Vladimir Putin had yet another call with Donald Trump, thanks for the heads up. The seventh time came literally three days later on December 17th, the Russian state news agency TASS reported that Putin and Trump had another heart-to-heart.
The eighth time came at the end of January when "Reuters" citing Russian state news agency TASS reported that Russia`s foreign spy chief who I should note is under U.S. sanctions came to the U.S. the week before to meet with our spy chiefs. We later learned he did not come alone, but we first got the news from Russia.
In February, it happened again, the ninth time. Russian news agency Interfax put out a report that Putin had spoken to Trump on the phone. That Russian report was quickly followed up by a statement from the Kremlin, along with a tweet and a Facebook post. They blasted it all over social media for maximal effect.
And then last month, two days after Vladimir Putin secured another term as president in a sham election, it was the Kremlin that announced that Donald Trump had called to congratulate Putin on his victory, even after being told by his advisers not to congratulate.
And then a reporter asked Trump about it. Trump thinking to deliver a little news of his own.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I had a call with President Putin and congratulated him on the victory, his electoral victory. The call had to do also with the fact that we will probably get together in the not-too-distant future. We had a very good call and I suspect that we`ll probably be meeting in the not-too-distant future. So, I think probably we`ll be seeing president Putin in the not-too-distant future.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
REID: So, Trump called to congratulate Putin on his election win. But just in case you missed the important part, he repeated for you three times, did I mention we are getting together soon? So, ten times by our count where there was a meeting or a call between Washington and Russia but we here in the United States had to learn about it from Russia.
And now, today, we have again gotten the good word about what the American president is up to from the Russians, only this time, it`s not a call or a meeting with Putin. It`s something very important that he said during that last call. Today, the Kremlin told us that Donald Trump invited Vladimir Putin to visit the White House.
From "The Washington Post" today, quote, a Kremlin aide disclosed the White House invitation and comments to Russian journalists Monday. According to the Russian state news agency, the aide said, quote, when our president spoke on the phone, it was Trump who proposed holding the first meeting in Washington, in the White House. And once again, White House was forced to confirm something about the president of the United States that was first reported by Russian state media.
Quote: White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Monday that a number of potential venues, including the White House, were discussed. Apparently, that`s how Trump and Putin spent their last call last month, discussing all the possible places they could meet up. I wonder if Trump mentioned that he also knows a really great hotel just down the street used to be a Post Office.
The United States just expelled 60 Russian diplomats over the nerve agent poisoning of a former Russian spy and his daughter in the U.K., and it was less than a month ago that the FBI and homeland security and the Homeland Security Department issued an alert that Russia has been hacking into American nuclear plants. Did I mention the provocative missile tests?
See, there`s a reason Vladimir Putin has not been to the White House since 2005, someone might want to tell the White House.
Joining me now is Michael McFaul, former U.S. ambassador to Russia during the Obama administration.
Ambassador McFaul, thank you so much for your time tonight.
MICHAEL MCFAUL, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO RUSSIA: Sure, thanks for having me.
REID: So, let`s talk about the -- let`s go all the way back to George W. Bush.
REID: In sort of diplomatic speak. How big of a mistake was it for George W. Bush to come right out in his very first time ever meeting Vladimir Putin and say that he could see into his soul and got a sense of it?
MCFAUL: Well, thanks for doing all that research and reminding me what I said to "The New York Times" back then. I actually briefed the president before that meeting two weeks before he went on that trip and after that comment in "The New York Times", I was never invited back for eight years after that. But I do think he made a mistake as I said.
The strategy I understand. The strategy they were about to pull out of the ABM Treaty, the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty, and the president and his advisers including my colleague here, Condoleezza Rice, the national security advisor at the time, they were trying to soften him up before they did that action because they knew is going to be negative. But you don`t say things like that. It makes it look foolish and he paid a price for that.
REID: And just give us a sense of Vladimir Putin, you know, when he is meeting with these American presidents, what is his goal? You saw him, you know, hanging out with the Bush family, now he keeps calling and sort of kibitzing with Donald Trump. What is his goal in your view?
MCFAUL: Well, his goals changed from time to time. I participated in summits with Vladimir Putin as a prime minister and as a president with President Obama. But the key point, Joy, is to have a goal, to have an objective.
Vladimir Putin shows up to those meetings to try to achieve a concrete objective that he thinks is in Russia`s national security interest. What to me is so bizarre about President Trump and the way that he deals with Vladimir Putin is it doesn`t seem like he focuses on any concrete goal, concrete objective, including pushing back on that long list of very negative things that Vladimir Putin has done for our national interests. And therefore, to invite him to the White House especially by the way, without some concrete objective, in the government you call them deliverables, I think is just inappropriate. It means that he doesn`t understand how diplomacy works.
REID: Yes. You know it will be one thing, Ambassador McFaul, if both parties, right, at the White House, as well as the Kremlin decided, you know what, we`re going to have this call and neither of us are going to talk about it, or we`re going to have this call and both of us are going to talk about it.
But what does it say to you that they have these calls, they have these meetings, and then the White House is silent, we don`t get a readout from - - the American people do not hear from our White House communications team, but then, you know, the Russian state news agencies blast it all over their media and even on social media?
MCFAUL: Well, so if you do it the first time, you know, call it a rookie mistake, like I talked about the president 18 years ago or whatever it was. But the ninth or tenth time as you just described that long list, that`s just irresponsible. The readout and I wrote many of those readouts when I worked at the White House for the first three years of the Obama administration, that`s a chance for the Trump administration to shape their message, so they`re missing an opportunity there to do that.
But it is shocking let`s just be clear that Yuri Ushakov, somebody I did a lot of business with, that he announces that President Putin is coming to the White House, that`s just -- I don`t know to describe that. I can`t imagine any other leader around the world would announce that they`re coming to the White House without a formal statement put out by the White House about such a major event in the president`s agenda.
REID: Yes, it is curiouser and curiouser the way that Donald Trump deals with Vladimir Putin in Russia. It`s just weird, I`ll just put it that way.
Michael McFaul, former U.S. ambassador to Russia during the Obama administration, thank you so much. Really appreciate you being here tonight.
MCFAUL: Thanks for having me.
REID: Thank you.
And up next, several important developments in the Mueller investigation. We`ll be right back.
REID: Turns out Vladimir Putin is not the only autocratic leader to get a hearty congratulations on winning re-election from the American president. Today, we learned Trump also congratulated Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on his reelection win. This after al-Sisi was re-elected with 97 percent of the vote.
Trump has forged a close bond with the Egyptian strongman ever since the two first met in New York, while Trump was a candidate in 2016. It was only more recently that we learned how that meeting came about, when "The New York Times" reported that the initial get-together was set up by none other than Trump foreign policy advisor and supposed coffee boy George Papadopoulos. That`s some coffee boy.
Today, Papadopoulos found himself back in the headlines. A report on the liberal site Think Progress says Papadopoulos was apparently discussing the Russia investigation last week in the club. Quote, on Thursday at a Chicago nightclub, Papadopoulos had some drinks and in a conversation with a new acquaintance allegedly made new and explosive claims about Attorney General Jefferson Sessions.
Jason Wilson, a computer engineer who lives in Chicago recognized Papadopoulos and his wife at the Hydrate nightclub where he sat down at their table and introduced himself. Papadopoulos, according to Wilson, said that Sessions was well aware of the contact between himself and Joseph Mifsud, an academic from Malta with high-level connections in Russia, who first informed Papadopoulos about hacked Democratic emails.
Wilson told Think Progress, quote, Papadopoulos said during their conversation that Sessions encouraged me to find out anything he could about the hacked Hillary Clinton emails that Mifsud had mentioned. Whether that`s true or not, we do not know. Papadopoulos` wife denies any discussion about Sessions took place, though she did admit they spoke to Wilson at the club and that the Russian investigation was discussed.
NBC has not independently confirmed the Think Progress report. But the allegation comes as the attorney general is already under fire for inconsistencies in his testimony regarding his contacts with Papadopoulos, specifically, the attorney general`s claims that he, quote, shot down Papadopoulos at a March 2016 meeting when the advisor broached the idea of trying to arrange a meeting between the candidate and Vladimir Putin.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JERROLD NADLER (D), NEW YORK: There are reports that you shut George down, unquote, when he proposed that meeting with Putin. Is this correct? Yes or no?
JEFF SESSIONS, ATTORNEY GENERAL: Yes, I pushed back. I pushed back against his suggestion that I thought may have been improper.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
REID: That is what Sessions told Congress in November, but that now seems to be in some doubt. Two weeks ago, "Reuters" reported that three people at that March 2016 meeting have since contradicted the attorney general`s account in interviews with Robert Mueller and Congress. His sessions really did encourage Papadopoulos to find hacked emails, but obviously that would be a major development. Now again, we don`t know but we do know that Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI and is currently cooperating. What information he might give up as part of that plea deal has yet to surface publicly.
We also know that his cooperation continues as his sentencing date has been pushed back to April 23rd at the earliest and will likely be delayed even further.
Another cooperating witness, former national security adviser Michael Flynn who pleaded guilty to the same offense has similarly seen his sentence delayed, until May 1st at the earliest, and likely much longer.
The one person was pleaded guilty but is not cooperating with the special counsel is Alexander van der Zwaan, a lawyer who lied to the special counsel about his contact during the campaign with Paul Manafort and a Manafort employee in Ukraine, otherwise known as person A, who Mueller`s team said, quote, has ties to a Russian intelligence service and had such ties in 2016. Van der Zwaan sentencing is tomorrow. Tick, tick, tick.
Joining us now is Barbara McQuade, former U.S. attorney for the eastern district of Michigan.
Barbara, thanks for being here. Great to have you.
BARBARA MCQUADE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: My pleasure, Joy.
REID: So, let`s talk about -- let`s start going back to the Papadopoulos part of this, where Papadopoulos is in the club. He meets a brand new acquaintance and starts spilling his guts as it were allegedly about Jeff Sessions and whether Sessions who`s now the attorney general the United States knew about and encouraged his contacts with this professor Mifsud about getting Hillary Clinton`s emails. How much jeopardy could a simple claim like that made casually in a bar -- how much jeopardy could that in theory put Jeff Sessions?
MCQUADE: You know, it`s a fascinating story on so many levels. You know, first as you mentioned, this is a story not quite confirmed. It comes from a guy in a bar, but, you know, we know that George Papadopoulos has a habit of sort of spilling the beans to guys in a bar. So, it does have that corroborating factor to it.
But with respect to Jeff Sessions, if this statement is true, I think it`s problematic for Jeff Sessions on two levels. One, as you mentioned, it contradicts what he has told Congress about his reaction. Remember, first, he said there was no discussion about Russia with the campaign period, and then once the Papadopoulos information came out he said, oh now, my memory has been refreshed, but when it was brought up I pushed back. And said you know we should have no further contact with Russians.
And if instead, he encouraged Papadopoulos to find out as much as he could about these hacked emails, that would be a direct contradiction of what he told Congress and that is a prosecutable offense for lying to Congress. So, there`s that problem. I also think it opens the door for further inquiry by Robert Mueller about what is going on. Did they pursue those further contacts? To what end did they encourage the hacking or encourage the dissemination of those hacked emails, or provide advice and guidance as to the timing and location of those things.
So, I think it really raises a lot of questions, and it also causes some concern about George Papadopoulos as a cooperator and if I`m Robert Mueller`s team, I`m probably calling his lawyer and telling him to keep his mouth shut when he`s out at bars.
REID: Yes, very interesting that he -- I mean, is the fact that he is speaking so freely and he`s out in the club, you know, talking to people does that indicate that he is cooperating so fully that he has no fear of crossing the prosecutor at this point because he`s given it all up?
MCQUADE: Yes, I don`t know and it -- you know, he`s obviously free to say whatever he wants to say. The prosecutor -- the prosecution team can`t tell him not to speak about these things. But it certainly could diminish his value as a cooperator if he is out sort of shooting his mouth off in bars. He could be seen as someone who`s a bit of a loose cannon if he contradicts himself during some of these meetings with people when he`s out. That could be used to impeach him later.
So, it`s usually wise to kind of keep your mouth shut except when you`re talking to Robert Mueller.
So, I don`t know whether he`s feeling liberated because he`s told the truth or he just sort of likes the attention.
REID: And so, van der Zwaan in sentencing is tomorrow. What do you expect out of that?
MCQUADE: You know, it`s interesting. He`s not cooperating. He probably faces a fairly modest prison sentence. His lawyers are asking for probation.
The government is opposing that, but his maximum exposure I think is in the zero to six-month range. So, I think it`s likely that his sentence will not be an extreme one. He did not agree to cooperate, but I wonder whether in the end, Robert Mueller could compel him to testify about things like, you know, who was person A and some of the other factors about person A`s involvement in the Trump campaign in 2016, if he knows.
But it could be the end of it and I think if nothing more, it stands for the proposition that if you lie to the FBI, you will be convicted of a crime. You`ll have a felony conviction for the rest of your life. It could prevent him or harm him from practicing law as he goes forward, even if he doesn`t get any additional prison time.
REID: Yes, yes, the plot gets thicker.
Former U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade, thank you so much. Really appreciate your time.
MCQUADE: Thanks, Joy.
REID: Thank you.
And still ahead here tonight, one new reporting that could cost Trump yet another cabinet secretary. That`s next.
REID: Twenty-four hundred dollars, that`s how much it apparently cost to repair a door after you`ve broken it down. At least that`s how much it costs the Environmental Protection Agency when the EPA`s administrators security detail broke down his apartment door because they thought he was unconscious and needed to be rescued. It turns out Scott Pruitt was just fine, just a little groggy from his Wednesday afternoon nap.
We learned about that frantic incident over the weekend, right after we learned that the apartment where Scott Pruitt stayed last year actually belonged to the wife of a lobbyist. That lobbyists did work related to the export of liquefied natural gas for a company called Cheniere Energy. It turns out, Scott Pruitt was also very interested in promoting the export of liquefied natural gas, even though that has nothing to do with his official duties as head of the EPA. He traveled to Morocco as part of a $40,000 trip to pitch Morocco on the, quote, potential benefit of liquefied natural gas imports on Morocco`s economy.
And the only U.S. company that could actually provide that liquefied natural gas to Morocco was Cheniere Energy, the same company with ties to Scott Prutt`s landlord. Scott Pruitt also got a sweet deal on that apartment, 50 bucks a night, whenever he needed it. Ethics officials at the EPA have been scrambling to explain why they allowed Pruitt to rent this apartment in the first place.
Ethics experts and members of Congress are calling for a deeper review into that deal, and now, "The New York Times" is reporting that while Scott Pruitt was staying in the apartment, he signed off on a pipeline expansion that benefited another client of the lobbyist whose wife owned his apartment. So, there`s a lot still to be learned from this story, but when it comes to the rest of the Trump administration, Scott Pruitt is in good company. More on that next.
REID: "The Wall Street Journal" is breaking some news tonight about the head of the EPA, Scott Pruitt. The reporting over the past few days has been that Pruitt last year rented an apartment owned by the wife of an energy lobbyist. Scott Pruitt paid way below market rate to stay in that apartment, just 50 bucks a night, and he only had to pay for the days he was actually physically there.
"The Wall Street Journal" reports late tonight that the White House is conducting a review of Pruitt`s activities, quote, the purpose of the inquiry is to dig a little deeper, one White House official told "The Wall Street Journal", indicating that the White House isn`t satisfied with a statement from the EPA last week that the $50 a night lease agreement didn`t violate federal ethics rules. Quote: While there was no sign yet that Mr. Pruitt`s job is in jeopardy, another White House official said that few people are coming to Mr. Pruitt`s defense.
So, the White House tonight is making it known that they are not pleased with these reports about Scott Pruitt`s housing situation and making it clear that he has few supporters in the West Wing. This news is breaking at a time when a handful of Trump cabinet officials are facing ethics scandals of their own.
Before he was fired, V.A. Secretary David Shulkin was the subject of a scathing inspector general report admonishing him for sight-seeing on what was ostensibly a work trip to Europe and for making sure the V.A. paid for his wife`s travel as well.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke`s travel expenses are right now under investigation by the inspector general of the Interior Department. The office of special counsel, not Robert Mueller but the actual agency, is investigating a potential Hatch Act violation by Zinke for a speech he gave to a hockey team owned by one of his former campaign donors.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is under public scrutiny for costing taxpayers nearly million dollars for taking military planes on trips across the country. It cost taxpayers $33,000 for Mnuchin and his wife to travel to Kentucky last year.
Then there`s the $31,000 dining-room set that Candy Carson allegedly told Housing and Urban Development officials to order for her husband, Secretary Ben Carson. The inspector general at HUD is now reviewing the involvement of Ben Carson`s family at the agency.
Ben Carson`s not the only cabinet official whose fan who seems unusually involved in his work. "The Washington Post" last month reported that CIA Director Mike Pompeo`s wife had been working at the CIA as a volunteer and even has her own office space at CIA headquarters.
"New York Magazine" took on the epic task of putting together an omnibus timeline of quote official corruption from small-time graft and brazen influence peddling to full-blown raids on the Federal Treasury throughout the Trump administration. But it really does start from the top.
Journalist and Trumpologist David Cay Johnston writes in "New York Magazine" today that, quote, more than in any time in history, the president of the United States is actually actively using the power and prestige of his office to line his own pockets, landing loans for his businesses, steering wealthy buyers to his condos and securing cheap foreign labor for his resorts, preserving federal subsidies for his housing projects, easing regulations on his golf courses, licensing his name to overseas projects, even peddling coffee mugs and shot glasses bearing the presidential seal.
For Trump, whose business revolves around the marketability of his name, there has proved to be no public policy too big and no private opportunity too crass to exploit for personal profit.
And joining us now is David Cay Johnston, author of "The Making of Donald Trump" and founder of DCReport.org.
David, great to have you with us.
DAVID CAY JOHNSTON, AUTHOR, "THE MAKING OF DONALD TRUMP": Glad to be here.
REID: So let`s just run through some of the greatest hits or lowlights of the Trump administration`s you know spreading the wealth around both not only Donald Trump`s family but it really does seem that that has translated down to his cabinet.
JOHNSTON: Well, Joy, one of the things striking about the cabinet is what you went to in your intro -- all of the wives and their involvement in the case of EPA administrator Scott Pruitt, the wife of a lobbyist -- you know, I seem to recall Sebastian Gorka telling us that the alpha males are back in, and the era of the pajama boy is over. And apparently, one of the fundamental defining features of the alpha males is if something happens on their watch, uh-oh, talk to my wife, she did it, she did it.
JOHNSTON: They won`t take responsibility for their own actions. They want to blame their wives.
REID: I do believe that Sebastian Gorka`s wife might be working administration too. It is an interesting feature.
Let`s go back to Donald Trump. Ivanka Trump who`s been very much involved in his businesses going all the way back you know she`s featured in "The Apprentice" even. She now is this unpaid advisor, but she is also still tangentially involved or at least it ethically looks weird. She`s traveling to China. She gets all of these patents approved that the Chinese normally don`t approve.
How much is she still doing business while supposedly doing America`s business?
JOHNSTON: Well, nothing`s changed about her business. The business is now in one of these Trumpian Kushner eyes wide open blind trusts and the trustees are two of the Kushners, who, by the way, tell her they say about the finances, and she continues to wear clothes that make her a walking billboard for her businesses. You`ll recall she specifically promoted her a $10,000 bracelet and $138 dress which sold out immediately.
There are no boundaries to these people. They do not see any difference between their own personal profit and presidential duties.
And in the case of Ivanka Trump, I think this illustrates the second problem. She is not an employee of the federal government. She actually has no authority.
The same thing applies to the other wives like Mrs. Pompeo. Susan Pompeo apparently has been doing all sorts of things involving her husband in his national security position, and she`s not an employee. There`s a reason we want people who are our employees to be making these actions on our behalf so that we know that they`re also subject to ethics rules, to discipline and not just to -- if they really do something grossly improper -- the risk that they might get prosecuted.
REID: And you have now a lead White House and making it very well known but they want to look into Scott Pruitt`s apartment and living situation. But what about the idea that his landlords clients essentially are now having their products peddled in Morocco by Scott Pruitt?
JOHNSTON: Well, and there`s another element to that $40,000 trip to Morocco to promote something outside of the portfolio of the EPA administrator. Let`s keep in mind that the Qataris turned down the Kushner`s on a loan, the U.S. government through Donald Trump then turned on the Qatari government where we have our very, very important Middle East base. And what business of the Qatari is principally in? Exporting LNG.
This could be seen as an action on behalf of this American competitor against the Qataris and part of the attack on the Qataris by this administration.
REID: And LNG stands for?
JOHNSTON: Liquefied natural gas.
REID: It all comes together.
JOHNSTON: Press gas down -- to impress it down to one six hundredths of its normal size.
JOHNSTON: And that`s how a lot of -- Japan is heated, much of Europe or good parts of Europe through liquefied natural gas, and we`re about to get into that business.
By the way, it`s astonishing the White House says we`re conducting a review. What do you need to know about $50 a night, only on the nights are there and a free apartment for your daughter who`s there all the time and corruption? I mean, is any other president -- Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, they would have said you`re fired.
REID: Yes, it makes Teapot Dome look like a walk in the park.
David Cay Johnston, author of "The Making of Donald Trump" and founder of DCreport.org, thank you very much. Really appreciate your time.
JOHNSTON: Thank you.
REID: We`ll be right back.
REID: Last month, we got a really shocking announcement about a planned face-to-face meeting between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un of North Korea, the first-ever meeting between American and North Korean heads of state since the Korean War. Even more bizarre was the actual announcement itself.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: President Trump appreciated the briefing and said he would meet Kim Jong-un by May to achieve permanent denuclearization.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
REID: So, that was a top official from South Korea delivering this bombshell news about a meeting between the American president and the North Korean dictator, from the steps of the White House. Why were we getting this news from the South Koreans? Where were the American diplomats? The short answer is they don`t exist or at least the ambassador doesn`t.
The position of U.S. ambassador to South Korea is vacant and has been for more than a year. But someone was about to take that job, someone with really good credentials. He was previously President George W. Bush`s top North Korea representative and director for Asian affairs at the National Security Council. Then after months of vetting, his nomination was suddenly called off.
But tonight he is here speaking to us for the very first time in the interview.
Joining us now for the interview is Victor Cha. Today marks his first day as an NBC News and MSNBC Korean affairs analyst.
VICTOR CHA, NBC NEWS & MNSBC KOREAN AFFAIRS ANALYST: Thank you.
REID: Welcome to the family.
All right. Let`s first of all talk about this specifically how it is that you came to not be up for this nomination? Did you withdraw on your own or were you asked to withdraw?
CHA: Well, I was told my nomination was not being put forward, but I should say before that that you know every administration has the right to choose their own people and they have a right to change their mind.
CHA: And while the actual political appointment of ambassador is vacant in South Korea, the fellow right there now, the acting ambassador, Marc Knapper, a professional foreign service officer, is fantastic. He`s topnotch.
REID: OK. And so, what does it say to you that he was not the person that made that announcement about the meeting? That it was really -- it was the South Koreans that did it, not the acting ambassador?
CHA: So, that`s unusual.
CHA: You know, I`ve worked in the White House before and to have -- that was the South Korean national security advisor -- to have him come out and announce that the U.S. president was willing to meet with the North Korean leader, I`ve never seen anything like that before.
REID: Yes. Now, you wrote a piece in "The Washington Post" in which you talked about a policy difference that you had that may or may not have presaged your being -- your nomination being withdrawn, and you talked about this idea that there are people in the administration who seem to believe that a bloody nose, quite a quote, sort of limited strike against North Korea would somehow change the dynamic between the U.S. and North Korea, and help, you know, bring us closer to disarmament. What was your critique of it and what how was that received when you made that known?
CHA: So, essentially, I just thought it was not a smart idea to carry out a limited military strike. It would achieve none of the objectives, which would be to either stop their nuclear program or stop proliferation of materials or scientists or weapons or anything of that nature. And the risks were huge because we have 250,000 Americans who live in South Korea, a hundred thousand in Japan, all of them would be under threat of attack if the North Koreans retaliated.
These were just some of the views that I put forward when I was asked as an expert, not as a political person, to take this job.
REID: And who did you give those views to and how soon thereafter were you turfed out?
CHA: So I can -- I consulted widely within the U.S. government, you know, all the different agencies, that`s part of the process, as well as at the State Department and the White House.
So, now, incoming national security advisor, number three, the third one, is going to be John Bolton. There is very few people more hawkish than John Bolton who has made it pretty clear that he thinks first strikes are a great idea, whether it`s Iran or North Korea.
How concerned are you that there`s somebody now sitting at the National Security Council who has the exact diametric opposite view that you do when it comes to first strikes?
CHA: So, I`ve worked with John Bolton when I was at the NSC. He was at the State Department, and I believe that he is going to probably completely go along with this idea of summit diplomacy that President Trump has put forward. But I think his bottom line will really be with regard to the sanctions pressure, because he was part of the initial effort at smart sanctions on North over ten years ago.
So I think when he sees what has been now put on North Korea through ten U.N. Security Council resolution, you`ll see that as a very good thing and he won`t want to take his foot off the pedal in terms of sanctions. But I think he`ll go -- if the president wants to do a summit --
CHA: -- I`m sure he`ll go along with that.
REID: You don`t think it`ll be the other way around, that he`ll influence Donald Trump who ran is sort of a dove to suddenly say, you know, let`s go to war with the North Korea?
CHA: Well, certainly, if this summit fails, right? If something goes wrong, or if they show up at the summit and it`s pretty clear the North Koreans are not willing to give up anything with regards to their nuclear weapons -- you know, I think then Bolton will have a big part in playing whatever plan B would be.
REID: That`s really scary.
Lastly, you know, China seems to have really taken form, you know, prominence in terms of -- you know, that region of the world, we have -- you know, we`ve walked away from the TPP. They are now levying pretty draconian sanctions against us.
How much has the United States under Donald Trump ceded ground to China?
CHA: Well, certainly, I think that walking away from the trade agreements, in particular, TPP, you know undertaking these tariffs outside the WTO framework, these things certainly don`t help the United States. The United States historically has stood on three pillars in Asia, security, values and free trade. And we`re taking away at least one of those -- one of those pillars right now. It`s like a three-legged stool. You take away one leg.
CHA: Meanwhile, China is casting their economic shadow all over the region -- and it`s going to be difficult for the United States, unless we -- unless we figure out a way to get back into the trade game.
REID: Victor Cha, it`s great to have you here. It will be good to have you here as a resource in scary time. So, it`s good to have somebody of your experience on here.
CHA: Thanks very much.
REID: Thank you very much. Welcome. Appreciate your time.
And still ahead, the potentially troubling script being read by local news anchors around the country.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED ANCHORS: The sharing of biased and false news has become all too common on social media.
And this is extremely dangerous to our democracy.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE ANCHOR: This is extremely dangerous to our democracy.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE ANCHOR: This is extremely dangerous to our democracy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
REID: That is the Deadspin mashup of local Sinclair broadcasting anchors, anchors who spent years gaining the trust of their viewers forced to blur the lines between news and propaganda, order to recite what management calls a, quote, must-read script, a script that might ring a bell since it parents language usually peddled by the president.
Sinclair is the single largest owner of TV stations in the country and it`s on the cusp of getting even bigger if the Justice Department and the FCC give their approval for Sinclair to buy Tribune Media, which is why it helps that Sinclair has friends in high places, namely the aforementioned president who tweeted that Sinclair`s vote, quote, far superior to CNN and even more fake NBC, which is a total joke, end quote.
Donald Trump has had a conspicuously different take when it comes to CNN whose parent company Time Warner is also in need of the Justice Department`s blessing, as it tries to merge with AT&T. But there`s real concern that unlike the Sinclair deal, the CNN Time Warner/AT&T deal can be decided less on the merits and more on the fact that as one "Washington Post" op-ed put it, quote, the Justice Department opposition to the deal is less about antitrust concerns and more about carrying water for Trump, who`s famously unhappy about CNN`s coverage.
So, it`s no surprise that Trump`s bullying -- that he`s pulling for Sinclair. Sinclair and Trump go way back. During the campaign, Trump`s son-in-law Jared Kushner bragged about striking a deal with Sinclair for better coverage. Meanwhile, some of the local Sinclair anchors or being forced to recite that must read script are quietly pushing back, with one investigative reporter at a Sinclair station telling CNN, quote, it sickens me the way Sinclair is encroaching upon trusted news brands in rural markets. And there are reports of anger and tense conversations inside Sinclair newsrooms.
This all comes just as Pew Research reminds us that as much as we love our cable news and we do, most Americans continue to tune in to local news as their most trusted source of information. So, how dangerous is the Sinclair intrusion into that relationship of trust?
Joining me now is Gabe Sherman, special correspondent for "Vanity Fair".
And it`s great to have you here.
GABE SHERMAN, SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT, VANITY FAIR: Good to be here.
REID: So, let`s talk about this. Sinclair is about to get really big. If they get approved, they`ll reach 70 percent of U.S. household. What is the danger in that in your view?
SHERMAN: Well, really, I think, Joy, that the danger is that, you know, Sinclair is not marketing itself as a biased or partisan news network.
SHERMAN: This is what I find the most troubling is one`s viewers in their local markets tune in to say a Sinclair station, it will be branded, ABC or Fox or another network, they don`t know that Sinclair is pushing this message. They`re just saying, oh, this is my local ABC affiliate, I like these guys. I`m going to watch them.
It would be like going to the supermarket and buying Cheerios, except the actual box of Cheerios is not filled with the stuff that you think it is, it`s actually, you know, full of something that`s going to change your political viewpoint potentially. So, that to me I think is the misrepresentation of what Sinclair is really about, is what is troubling.
REID: And I mean -- and this is, you know, they were already forcing their stations to run these pieces by Sebastian Gorka or by Boris Epshteyn, obviously former Trump employees who are now peddling these propaganda, little bites. How materially different is it? I mean, I worked in local news. The local news anchor is like a member of the community.
I mean, can you just -- you know, sort of conceptualize for us how much different it is to have it come out of the mouth of the anchor?
SHERMAN: Oh without a question. I mean, these are the people that you tune into for watch out what`s -- to find out what`s going on with your city council, you know, fire, police activity. They`re not sort of attuned to covering national politics. And to hear these people saying don`t trust what you see on the other networks, that to me especially when you`re hearing it, it`s the scale at local market after local market, and it`s not seeming like it`s being pushed by one -- you know, when you watch Fox News, that is a single news outlet.
SHERMAN: Sinclair is spread across, you know, dozens of individual nations that`s amplifying their message.
REID: Yes. Absolutely, Malcolm Nance, a friend of the network things on a lot are former intelligence analyst, tweeted, welcome to American Pravda, and describing it.
REID: Let`s also go to some of the other sort of ways in which the Trump administration has this authoritarian tinge. Jim Acosta, a CNN reporter, Brad Parscale, who we know was notoriously involved in a lot of the weird targeting and online research --
SHERMAN: Facebook, yes.
REID: -- Facebook, et cetera, who`s now running the Trump reelect, tweeted today that Jim Acosta should have his credentials fold because he shouted a question at Donald Trump during the Easter egg roll.
SHERMAN: Yes. I mean, this is to me just a very troubling pattern that we are in, that if you are somehow independent from the administration, you are labeled an enemy of the state. If you are onboard of the administration, you are probably going to have your multi-billion dollar deal approved by the federal government.
This to me is what you see and say Putin`s Russia or in Turkey, Erdogan`s Turkey where it`s basically state capitalism. If you`re on board with the regime, you get the benefits of the state. If you are not, you are punished. And that should not happen in the United States, and as, you know, we were just talking, that`s the norm around the world. We thought we were immune and turns out we`re not.
REID: It turns out we`re not. Something Americans need to pay attention to.
Gabe Sherman, thank you very much.
SHERMAN: Thank you.
REID: Special correspondent for "Vanity Fair" -- I really appreciate you. Thank you.
And that does it for us tonight. Rachel will be back tomorrow.
But 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
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