Pruitt denied knowing about staff pay raises. TRANSCRIPT: 04/06/2018. The Rachel Maddow Show

Guests: Tim Dickinson; Chris Lu

Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: April 6, 2018 Guest: Tim Dickinson; Chris Lu

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Happy Friday. Thanks for joining us tonight. This is a live news show right now. It's Friday night and this era in America news and politics, that means keep your tray tables stowed and your seat in a upright position because anything could happen. And in fact we do need to start tonight with something new to report concerning the EPA Administrator, Scott Pruitt. Who appears to be hanging on to his job in the Trump cabinet, not just by a thread but by a thread that is invisible.

That has been cut and retied and several times inexpertly and either actively frayed or on fire. Right now depending how you squint at it. One of the elements of controversy around Scott Pruitt has to do with the upper level staffing that he's done at his agency at EPA. When "FOX News" reporter Ed Henry this week interviewed Scott Pruitt, that was the part, the staffing part was where they got into their biggest fight.

(VIDEO CLIP BEGINS)

ED HENREY, FOX NEWS REPORTER: Why did you go around the President in the White House to give pay raisers to two staffers --

SCOTT PRUITT, EPA ADMINISTRATOR: I did not. My staff did. And I found out about that yesterday and I changed it.

HENREY: Was somebody being fired for it?

PRUITT: That it should not have done. And admit it --

HENREY: So who did it?

PRUITT: There will be some accountability about it.

HENREY: A career person or a political person?

PRUITT: I'll have to - I don't know.

HENREY: you don't know who did this?

PRUITT: I found out about this yesterday and I corrected the action and we are in the process of finding out how it took place and correcting it.

HENREY: Hang on, both of these staffers who got these large pay raises are friends of yours. I believe, from Oklahoma, right?

PRUITT: They are staffers here in the agency.

HENREY: Then there from Oklahoma? They're friends of yours?

PRUITT: Well they serve a very important person.

HENREY: And you didn't know they got these large pay raises?

PRUITT: I did not know that they got the pay raises until yesterday.

HENREY: OK, one got a raise of let's see $28,000 and the other was $56,000. Do you know what the median income in this country is?

PRUITT: No what was it?

HENREY: $57,000 a year.

PRUITT: OK.

HENREY: So one of your friends from Oklahoma got a pay raise that's the medium income.

PRUITT: They did not get a pay raise.

HENREY: They did.

PRUITT: They did not get a pay raise. No they did not. I stopped that yesterday.

HENREY: You stopped it. Are you embarrassed that --

PRUITT: It should not have happened, it should not have happened. And the officials that were involved in that process should not have done what they did.

(VIDEO CLIIP ENDS)

MADDOW: I love the part where he says there are staffers here in this - so hang on, these staffers their friends of yours from Oklahoma, right? Their staffers here in the agency, their friends of yours? And then Scott Pruitt says they serve a very important person. They're his staff. Yes they do serve a very important person. But the substance of that public explanation from EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is he had no idea about these big pay raises, $30,000, $50,000 pay raises that went to his staffers.

We later found out that the money for those pay raises came from the Safe Drinking Water Act, where it is in the law that an administrator can do that because the EPA is supposed to be able to hire engineers and scientific experts quickly to respond to drinking water emergencies. That is not what Scott Pruitt used that money for. Now he's saying publicly he had no idea how this happened, he only found out about it in the press this week. It was news to him. He definitely didn't do it himself. He says he's not even sure who might have done it but when he figures it out, their going to be in trouble.

Well "The Washington Post" now reports now that Scott Pruitt not only knew about those pay raises for his staffers, he signed off on them himself. The Post sighting three Trump Administration Officials confirming that Scott Pruitt endorsed the idea last month of giving these substantial pay raises to two of his new staffers. So according to this multiply sourced report in The Post Scott Pruitt is lying publically about one of the things he's been caught out for in this scandal avalanche. That has currently turned him into a rolling EPA Administrator snowball.

But here's something new on top of that, last week we talked a little bit about the amazing trip to Morocco that Scott Pruitt took in December. It was amazing for lots of reasons. First of all he took seven staffers with him on the trip. Including one of the Oklahoma staffers who he gave the giant raise to and he's now denying it anything to do with giving her a raise. But including her, he brought seven staffers plus his security detail.

Now "The Associated Press" reports just a little while ago tonight, just within the past couple hours. That Pruitt's security detail was, we now know a multi million dollar affair. According to new documents reviewed tonight by "The Associated Press" quote EPA Chief Scott Pruitt's concern for his safety came at a steep cost for taxpayers. As his swollen security detail blew through over time budgets and at times diverted officers from investing environmental crimes so those officers could instead protect him.

All together the agency spent millions of dollars for a 20-member security detail. That is three times the size of his predecessor's security contingent and hers was only part time. So we don't know exactly how many members of Scott Pruitt's 20-person full-time security team got to go on the trip to Morocco. But it was Scott Pruitt, seven staffers plus the security team flying international first class, paid for by us, the taxpayers.

Happily that trip came with a Saturday night layover in Paris, France. We learned yesterday that after the Saturday night layover in Paris, Pruitt and company didn't actually show up for their Sunday morning connecting flight from Paris to Morocco. Oops. That meant another day and night in Paris on the taxpayer's dime. Finally on Monday they did manage to catch another flight where Pruitt got down to the business of the trip.

And the business of the trip inexplicably was that Pruitt went to Morocco to lobby government officials there. That they should change their National energy strategy and start importing liquefied natural gas from the U.S. That's not his job. It is not the job of the environmental protection agency to talk other countries into importing American natural gas. That is not anywhere near what the American EPA is supposed to do.

Now we talked about that story last night. The reason we focused on that last night is because at the time of that inexplicable lavish taxpayer funded trip. There was only one company operating and export terminal in the whole United States for liquefied natural gas, a company called Cheniere. The controlling shareholder of Cheniere was Carl Icahn. Former Trump White House Official who left his position as Trumps regulatory advisor amid very serious reports that he had used that position to benefit companies he was invested in. And just to flat out make himself money on the markets.

Carl Icahn also reportedly got Scott Pruitt his job running the EPA. According to Patrick Radden Keefe last year in the "The New Yorker" after Scott Pruitt interviewed with Trump at Trump Tower. Trump asked Pruitt to seal the deal by walking two blocks north to Carl Icahn's office. Because Trump told him Carl had some questions for him before Scott Pruitt could be green lit for the job. Carl Icahn apparently asked his questions, Pruitt gave the right answers, he got green lit, he got the EPA job.

And soon thereafter, Pruitt went to Morocco and hooked up Carl's company with a big policy ad that had nothing whatsoever to do with the EPA. So that Morocco trip is also amazing story because the top lobbyist for Cheniere Energy company is the lobbyist whose house Pruitt has been living in, in Washington D.C. for $50 a night. So this Morocco thing is an astonishing circumstance in lots of ways. But check this out. Put this in your liquefied natural gas pipe and smoke it.

One of the people on that amaze-balls trip was a newly hired senior counsel at the EPA named Samantha Dravis. In the middle of this scandal swirling around Scott Pruitt, this EPA staffer Samantha Dravis, she quit. We found out this week she was quitting. And nobody was quite sure why when he first got word that she was quitting. But then we learned that this letter had been sent to the EPA's Inspector General ahead of Samantha Dravis' sudden resignation.

Senator Tom Carper of Delaware is the top Democrat on the environment committee. And he sent this letter this week asking the Inspector General at Pruitt's agency to investigate reports that this Senior staffer for Scott Pruitt, the person whose actually said to be his closest aide at the agency. According to Carpers letter, there are reports she was being paid full-time for that Senior Counsel job at the EPA even though she was not actually showing up for work, for three months.

According to Carpers letter, she did not show up for work despite being paid full-time in November 2017, December 2017, and January 2018. If that's true, that's an amazing gig, right? I mean look at that timeline. If what Senator Carper is asking about is true, that would mean that Scott Pruitt's Senior Counsel at EPA was getting paid for a full-time gig.

And that included her getting to go on the Morocco trip where she got to fly international first class for - to Paris for the weekend and then on to morocco. And she got to avoid that awkward thing where you come back from the awesome trip and get dirty looks from your co-workers. That heard how awesome it was but didn't get to go. And so you don't really know if you can talk to them.

She didn't have deal with any of that because she actually didn't have to go to work, for months. So that Senior Counsel again described as the closest staffer to Scott Pruitt at the EPA, she has now resigned in the middle of this scandal. I said Carper sent that letter this week. He sent it last week. We've learned about her resignation this week. Scott Pruitt is still in his job, she's gone.

But we've got new information about this issue with Pruitt's Senior Counsel that may show this to be a bigger problem than it's understood to be. This new information tonight comes from the committee where Carper is the ranking Democrat to the Senate Environment committee, a staffer on the committee tonight gave us some of the back ground of what lead to this request from Senator Carper.

Just so you know this is exactly how Carper put it. This what Carper said to the EPA Inspector General. Quote I write to request that the Inspector General conduct an immediate review of EPA's efforts to prevent fraud related to employee time and attendance. Including an investigation into potential fraud committed by Scott Pruitt's political staff.

Specifically the Senator says I have been informed that Ms. Samantha Dravis did not attend work or perform her duties for much if not all of the months of November 2017 though January 2018. I am additionally informed that Ms. Dravis was likely compensated as a full-time employee throughout that time. Well now we can report what led to this sort of remarkable claim is that this committee, the environment committee in the Senate was contacted but multiple sources on this matter over a period of four to six weeks.

Multiple sources contacted the committee via calls, e-mails and in person meetings all raising the same issue about Samantha Dravis being the Senior Counsel at the EPA, but her not being at work. The sources were told include former EPA political appointees, current EPA political appointees, as well as current EPA staff. We're told all sources that contacted the committee expressed similar concerns.

So tonight, 64 democratic members of Congress signed a statement calling on Scott Pruitt to resign. That was before the new reporting from the AP about the multimillion dollar security costs. And that was before this new reporting tonight about his Senior Counsel and multiple staffers including current political appointees raising the issues with the Senate Staff - Senate Committee that oversees the EPA.

Raising this question of whether or not Dravis actually had to come to work in order to earn her Senior Council salary working for Scott Pruitt. But like I said, she has resigned. As of this second, Scott Pruitt is still in his job in Donald Trump's cabinet. But the night is young and stuff happens on Fridays. The one very high profile person who is definitely leaving Washington tonight is H.R. McMaster.

I hope you saw this footage today. Did you see this today? This remarkable footage of West Wing Staff and Security Counsel Staff coming outside onto the grounds of the White House to cheer for him and applaud for him, as he left the White House for the last time. General H.R. McMaster was fired by President Trump about two weeks ago. Today was his last day. And he went out with this remarkable show of support from his colleagues and from White House staff today.

But he is now gone. And the new National Security Advisor, the President's third after Mike Flynn who is awaiting sentencing and H.R. McMaster, the new National Security Advisor John Bolton is due to start on Monday. You probably want to stick a pin in that for now because there are questions about john Bolton starting on Monday. Real questions out of today's news and we'll get to that in a minute with "Rolling Stone" reporter Tim Dickinson tonight.

But before we get to the substantive issue of John Bolton taking this job and the question of if that's going to work, also just consider the immediate timeline here. And when we got those -- that footage today of McMaster leaving and all the staff coming out and applauding him and everything, that was not a show. He left. He's actually gone. John Bolton we're told is due to start first thing Monday morning. Is anybody working?

For the weekend there's no National Security Advisor I guess? Hold tight. Hold tight particularly because there is a lot of international eye poking going on right now. including the President trying to start this trade war with China. You saw the markets go off a cliff today, again because of that. The President of Mexico has previously been pretty even keeled about President Trump.

He's now making stern nationally televised denunciations of the U.S. Government over the President's most recent remarks insulting Mexico and insulting Mexicans. And of course there's what's going on with Russia. And a whole bunch of really important stuff happens today when it comes to Russia and that's next. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: During the Trump era we are used to any confrontation with Russia happening not so much through the U.S. Government, it more often happens through the Special Counsel's office. Robert Mueller and his team of prosecutors in the Special Counsel's office went after Russia directly for their interference in the 2016 Presidential election. When in February they indicted 13 Russians, including a billionaire Russian oligarch, who Putin gave all the kindering contracts for the Russian military in Russian schools.

This is a guy close to Putin. People call him Putin's chef. Robert Mueller straight up indicted that guy in February. Those Russian indictments by Mueller in February, those ended up becoming the basis for the first significant U.S. government sanctions against Russia for the election interference issue in the Trump era. It happened a few weeks ago. Mueller was the one who picked those targets, named them and literally brought Federal Criminal charges against them. Then the Trump administration just kind of gloomed on to the indictment and said OK yeah, we'll sanction them, too.

Since then, Robert Mueller hasn't just charged, he also secured his first prison sentence in the Russia scandal for a Dutch lawyer. A Dutch lawyer who speaks fluent Russian, he is the son-in-law of another Russian oligarch who is close to Putin. In our country neither Alex van der Zwaan the lawyer, nor his father-in-law German Kahn are high profile figures. But German Kahn absolutely is in Russia and in the Kremlin.

And so the jailing of his son has to have some kind of residence in Russia. Since then we have also learned thanks to a fascinating "CNN" report from a couple of days ago that Mueller and his prosecutors have also been stopping Russian oligarchs at U.S. airports, including in at least one instance searching the electronic devices of an oligarch when he landed in the U.S. in a private plane.

So up until today, it's kind of been the Special Counsel's Office who has - - that's been responsible in the United States for punching back at Russia on behalf of the American people. Whose election was interfered with by Russia in 2016. And they've done so in some ways that have been quite provocative. Well, now today, on H.R. McMaster's last day in office, as National Security Advisor, today the Treasury Department announced what experts in this field consider to be a real list.

A substantive list of newly sanctioned Russian individuals, and entities as punishment for Russia quote attempting to subvert Western democracies. They got close to saying it. I think they are including messing with our democracy, in that but couldn't explicitly say it. Don't upset the President. Whether or not that preamble matters in terms of the exact verbiage, the list that they put out today for these new sanctions its aggressive. It includes Putin's son-in-law.

Who he set up with billions of dollars worth of shares in formerly state- run entities when this young man married Putin's daughter several years ago. It also sanctions the head of the Gazprom, which is the gigantic Russian natural gas company, which is a key source of energy to Western Europe. There are also a couple people on the list who sanctions experts and Russian experts describe not just as obvious choices but as clever choices. For example, there are sanctions announced against Igor Rotenberg.

Igor Rotenberg is not a famous person but his dad is. His dad and his uncle are among the richest guys in Russia and among the closest oligarchs to Putin. They've been given gigantic construction and building contracts by Putin's government. The contracts they tend to get are both very large, and very, very well padded. Because Putin's government has used Rotenberg's dad and uncle to accomplish government aims, because they have been so enriched by Putin's government.

Igor Rotenberg's dad and uncle were both put on the very strict sanctions list. The U.S. and European sanctions list in 2014 that happened after Russia invaded Crimea. Well when those guys, when Igor's dad and uncle got sanctioned back in 2014 what they did was they transferred all of their assets and their companies to the kid. They just gave everything to Igor, right? There still believed to materially control all these assets but Igor's not sanctioned so put everything on him.

Well today Igor is the one who got sanctioned. So both him, and his dad, and uncle are all in a position where their assets are not stripped but quite internationally constrained. There's two last things to know here about this. First, is that the person who appears to be hardest hit by these sanctions today is somebody who is a very familiar figure from the Russia scandal. And in particular the scandal surrounding indicted Trump Campaign Chairman Paul Manafort.

His name is Oleg Deripaska, and like all these other guys who got sanctioned today, he's a very, very rich Russian oligarch close to Putin. He runs the biggest aluminum manufacturing concern anywhere in the world, outside of China. Oleg Deripaska is sanctioned personally today on top of that there are 12 oligarch controlled companies that got sanctioned today. Of the 12, eight are companies controlled by Oleg Deripaska. He's really singled out.

Now aside from his business influence, Oleg Deripaska has become well-known to us here in the United States because of his long standing business dealings with Trump Champaign Chair Paul Manafort. Who's not awaiting trial on multiple felonies. The AP reported back in March of last year that in 2006, Manafort signed a $10 million a year contract with Oleg Deripaska to promote the interests of Putins government in the United States, and around the world.

Manafort denies he ever did that, but the AP has stood by that reporting. Court records indicate that beyond that $10 million a year reported contract, Deripaska and Manafort at least tried multiple business ventures together. I say tried because part of the way we know that is that Deripaska has sued Manafort in multiple jurisdictions trying to get back millions of dollars that he says Manafort stole from him.

While he thought they were doing business together. Then in the past year, "The Atlantic Magazine" turned up e-mails from when Manafort was running Trump's Campaign. And in these e-mails Manafort appeared to link his job on the Trump Campaign to his outstanding unsettled business matters with Oleg Deripaska.

Manafort e-mailed a business associate of his own, asking if Oleg Deripaska had seen the press clippings about Manafort becoming Trumps Campaign Chair. He asked if there was some way we could - he could use that to get whole with Oleg Deripaska. He offered private briefings on the campaign to Deripaska. Manaforts business associate, somebody who says Muellers prosecutors say asses as having current ties to Russian intelligence.

Manaforts business associate then e-mailed Manafort to say he spent five hours meeting with Oleg Deripaska. And that he had several important messages from Deripaska that he needed to deliver in person to Manafort. He said those messages concerned the future of his country, meaning Oleg's Deripaska's country, meaning Russia. So Manafort and his business associate then met up. In New York in early August 2016 to discuss whatever those messages were from Oleg Deripaska.

At the time, Manafort was Trump's Campaign Manager. Well, Oleg Deripaska is now sanctioned by the U.S. Government and his business empire has just had an anvil dropped on it by these sanctions today. And he is close to Putin and nobody knows how the Russian government is going to respond to this. They say they're gonna respond in kind. But there is no Russian equivalent to locking multibillionaires out of the U.S. Economy. Not when your country is economically weak as Russia is. Russia's the biggest country on earth by land area. They got an economy the size of Italy.

In part because it's so freaking corrupt that they have to create oligarchs to do their work everywhere. So nobody really knows what Russia means when they say they're going to retaliate in kind. Hopefully they won't do anything to get a new National Security Advisor in place Monday morning. Russia doesn't work week ends, do they? That's all before we get to the problem, the other big problem with the new sanctions list, which is a problem for the new guy who is supposed to start as National Security Advisor on Monday. And that story will curl your hair. And that's coming up next. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO)

DAVID KEENE, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE NATIONAL RIFLE ASSOCIATION: The NRA has 5 million members. We work with everyone both in the United States and of course here in Russia. There are no more people that are more alike than Americans in Russians. We're hunters, we're shooters, we do all the things, we value the same kind of things and we need to work together.

(END VIDEO)

MADDOW: No peoples are more alike than the Americans and Russians. NRA President David Keene. That happened during a visit when David Keene and other NRA officials traveled to Moscow to attend a conference put on by a group called The Right to Bear Arms.

Now the Right to Bear Arms is purportedly a gun rights group founded by a senior member of Putin's political party which is called United Russia. What's funny about that concept is that Vladimir Putin and his party, United Russia, they don't actually support gun rights in Russia. So why did they create this group that purports to promote that?

A deputy governor of the Russian central bank, a former senior member of the Russian parliament and a close ally of Vladimir Putin and ranking member of his party started this gun rights group in Russia. now, they didn't actually do much to promote gun rights in Russia. Now didn't actually do much to promote gun rights in Russia at all. They also named themselves the right to bear arms, which has a lot more residence in the English language than it does in Russian. What they did do is they started making lots and lots of connections to the American NRA.

Aleksandr Torshin was this United Russia Party official. He started cultivating ties with the NRA in 2010. He became a NRA member. He and a charismatic female prot‚g‚ who you see him with here, they started attending the NRA's yearly conferences in the U.S. every year. They met with top NRA officials, they cultivated friendships with them. They met with lots of Republican Party big wigs. They sought out Republican politician introductions whenever they could, and they twice got senior NRA officials and NRA-affiliated celebrities to visit Russia, all expenses paid as guests of this Putin-affiliated fake gun rights group, that honestly wasn't actually promoting gun rights in Russia.

Now among the U.S. officials who personally promoted this Russian group is John Bolton who is supposed to start on Monday as National Security Advisor. Here he is as you've never seen him before with Russian subtitles.

(BEGIN VIDE0)

JOHN BOLTON, UNITED STATES NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: Thank you for this opportunity to address the Russian people on the 20th anniversary of the adoption of the Russian constitution. Today you're engaged in a historic debate about the possible expansion of your freedoms. Should the Russian people have the right to bear arms?

(END VIDEO)

MADDOWS: They're not actually engaged in that debate. To be clear, Vladimir Putin and his political party do not believe the Russian people should have the right to bear arms. These people from his political party wanted to appear to be promoting that in Russia, they appear to have been doing so for effect - for effect on an American audience. They were trying to cultivate ties between the American political right and Putin's government. McClatchy (ph) reports that the FBI is now investigating whether this group and Aleksandr Torshin used this relationship they built with the NRA to funnel foreign cash into the U.S. to support the election of Donald Trump, and that of course is awkward for John Bolton starting as National Security Advisor on Monday if in fact that's an active counter intelligence FBI investigation.

All of these contacts form part of a new article in "Rolling Stone" called the "Decade's Long Campaign", excuse me, "The Decade's Long Russian Campaign To Infiltrate the NRA and Eventually Help Elect Donald Trump." Quote, Russian experts believe Torshin's interest in U.S. gun culture masked a dark ulterior motive.

Steven Hall that served as CIA Chief of Russia Operations told the magazine quote, the idea of private gun ownership is anathema Putin. So then the question is why? Why was a pro-gun campaign being hatched by a leader in Putin's own party?

As I mentioned before a few weeks ago, McClatchy reported the FBI is investigating whether any NRA money went to help Trump through what appears to be this Russian op targeting the NRA. The NRA spent a record $55 million on the 2016 election; that's triple what they spent

on the previous presidential election. Central to that reported FBI investigation is the head of the fake Russian gun rights group, Aleksandr Torshin. You know it's funny, since this is generated a little scandal for the NRA, the NRA has grudgingly admitted to taking foreign money but they say they don't do so for election purposes. The one foreign donation the NRA has admitted to in the middle of the controversy is a $1,000 payment from Aleksandr Torshin for his own personal life membership in the NRA.

They say that's the only Russian money -- it's just -- that's - Well Aleksandr Torshin, as of today, finds himself unable to enter the United States or attend any more NRA conferences or do any business with any of his American friends because he's just been named on the Treasury Department list of 17 top Russian government officials who are now sanctioned by the U.S. government because of Russia's interference in the election in 2016.

Will our new National Security Advisor John Bolton have to ask for his video back? Joining us now is Tim Dickinson, "Rolling Stone" contributing editor and he wrote this article, "Decades Long Russian Campaign to Infiltrate the NRA and Eventually Help Elect Donald Trump." Mr. Dickinson, thanks very much for being with us. I really appreciate your time tonight.

TIM DICKINSON, CONTRIBUTING EDITOR FOR "THE ROLLING STONE": Great to be with you.

MADDOWS: So one of the things I'm curious about is why Aleksandr Torshin ended up on this sanctions list today -- this sanctions list today in terms of what it said it was about. I'm not sure how that connects to Torshin and what he's known for doing in Russian politics.

DICKINSON: Well, I think one of the things missing in this talk about Torshin is how big a figure he was in the Russian Senate. He was number two and briefly rose to be the acting chairman. He was briefly Mitch McConnell essentially. And Aleksandr was there in 2014 when Russia was officially annexing Crimea and so Torshin helped steer that legislation and appeared at the Kremlin signing ceremony with Vladimir Putin.

This is a big - this guy's a big deal in Russian politics far apart from any of the scandal we're talking about. There was a plausible reason to sanction him back in 2014. That didn't happen to (inaudible) and other high level Russian officials were sanctioned then, so the question I guess this raises for me is why now? Why is he getting targeted now and Steve Mnuchin the out-going Treasury Secretary talked in pretty specific terms, broad terms about Russia's malign influence including its influence and interference in western elections.

It seemed to me that I think the right question is does someone in the administration have other information that's come to light that makes this person of significant interest now to be seeking to punish.

MADDOWS: And on the why question here, I think if we can agree that it would be unnatural to the point of impossible to exist in nature that there could be a Putin-supported Russian gun rights group that was actually going to aggressively promote gun rights in Russia and private gun ownership in Russia the way the NRA does here.

If we can set aside the possibility that's actually what that group is for, is it clear to you from your reporting and what you understand from the investigations here what exactly they were after in cultivating the NRA this hard and running what is an op to try to get lots of visits on both sides and cultivate friendships and turn it into relationships with American politicians. What was it about?

DICKINSON: We're looking through a glass darkly here. We don't have all the information. Having gone back through years and years of social media posts, you know, just extensive research, what you're describing is absolutely right. What we see is a sophisticated influence campaign where Torshin and his prot‚g‚ Butina are seeking to open the NRA as a conduit to do Russia's bidding in American politics.

So the NRA conventions and reciprocated on the other side in Moscow but in America they become a conduit to meet people like David Keene, who's a conservative everywhere man. He ran for many years the organization that runs CPAC, all roads of conservatism lead through this guy. He's one of the most connected guys in Washington and is likely the reason that John Bolton appeared in this video. The only public discussion we had of this that David Keene asked Bolton to record this video for his friends in Russia and Bolton unwittingly sort of agreed is the story we've heard.

But the idea that Bolton is mixed-up in this speaks to the depth and success of this Russian effort to influence the NRA and to open these doors and these pathways. And so what this allowed was for Torshin to in 2015 to back-channel through another operative, a deputy of Keenes named Paul Erickson to extend an invitation to the Trump campaign to try and broker a meeting between Putin and Trump.

So this is the pathway that was open. This is a level of communication that was open. Torshin claimed he met Trump personally in 2015 and eventually ended up meeting at the NRA Convention in 2015 in Louisville where Trump received the endorsement of the group. He met with the President's son just weeks before the infamous Trump Tower meeting where Trump, Jr., is meeting with other Russians and in fact just a couple weeks after that Torshin receives very interesting medal from the FSB, which is the successor organization to the KGB. Now maybe this is a lifetime achievement medal, but it gives the impression that this is a reward for something much more current.

MADDOWS: Well done. They - when we saw Kislyak come back to Moscow after his term as Ambassador was done after his remarkable turn in the Trump campaign. They basically crowd surfed him from St. Petersburg to Moscow, meanwhile the NRA guy is getting the FSB medal. Remarkable .

DICKINSON: Well then go back to 2012 because Torshin is meeting - Torshin is an observer in the 2012 election between Obama and Romney and he's thinking about American politics deeply at that point. After that trip he goes and visits NRA headquarters and he goes and visits Sergey Kislyak. What's going on here? It's really -- I suspect on some level the NRA got the wool pulled over its eyes here. What we're left to understand is that there may have been a way for the Russians to steer money through the NRA without the NRA necessarily being aware.

MADDOWS: They should probably be aware with the sanctions of Torshin. Tim Dickinson, Contributing Editor at "Rolling Stone," congratulations on this reporting. Thanks for joining us.

DICKINSON: Appreciate it. MADDOWS: All right. We got much more ahead tonight, just stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOWS: So we have some breaking news at the top of the hour tonight, news that multiple current staffers of the EPA including both career staffers and Trump Administration political appointees have come forward to the committee that has oversight over the EPA to complain to that committee that embattled EPA administrator Scott Pruitt hired a senior staffer at the agency for what was essentially a no show job.

According to these whistle-blower EPA employees who have come forward to the Senate Environment Committee, the allegation is that a senior staffer working for Scott Pruitt was hired for a job that came with full pay but no responsibility to actually go to work for what is reported to be a three month period.

We've got more on that breaking news coming up, stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOWS: It was one of the weirdest con jobs you have ever heard about in government. The kind of thing you can't believe somebody actually pulled off particularly for as long as this dude did. His name is John Beale. He was a career staffer at the EPA. He worked for the EPA for over 20 years, one of the country's leading experts on climate change. While he was doing that expert work, he was also pretending to be moonlighting as a CIA agent. For more than ten years, John Beale told his EPA supervisors, hey I'm going to need some time off because I've got some highly secret work to do for the CIA. And apparently everybody just believed him. They apparently really believed that he

he was involved in some covert operation and so best not to call too much attention to it by calling anybody and checking it out. So this started as a few days here and there for my secret operations then it turned into a six month stretch where John Beale didn't show up to work at all.

Then an 18 month long stretch where again, he just didn't show up to work and the EPA was apparently fine with it. They kept paying him. He kept getting paid and he actually kept getting promoted. He ended up becoming the highest paid official at the EPA. He at the end he was getting paid more than the head of the EPA. Gina McCarthy was the EPA administrator; John Beale was getting paid more. What did he say he did with all the time once he got caught? He was quote working around the house, riding his bicycle and reading books.

MADDOWS: Basically he's my hero. John Beale was eventually caught, he pled guilty in 2013 to defrauding the U.S. government of like a million dollars. He was sentenced to a lot of time in prison. But it still kind of boggles the mind that a real live person, not a character in a movie, could pull off something that - anyway -- something of that magnitude for as long as he did.

But tonight the "Yes That Really Happened" adventures of that one magnificent EPA conman. Those adventures are back in the news because of news that among EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt's mounting pile of scandals, is word that multiple EPA staffers, both career staffers and Trump political appointees have apparently come forward over a period of 4 to 6 weeks by phone, by e-mail and in person meetings.

They've come forward to alert the Senate committee that has oversight over the EPA that there is another scandal of this type at the EPA, another senior no-show staffer. In this case, it's a senior council to Scott Pruitt someone who he hired. She is an official who is said to be the closest aid to Scott Pruitt at the agency. She has resigned in the past week but according to these EPA staffers who have come forward to the Senate Environmental Committee, she was allegedly being paid full time, even though she wasn't turning up at work for months at a time -- for three months between November and January. Joining us now is Chris Lu. He's managed President Obama's first term cabinet. He's now a senior fellow at the University of Virginia Miller Center. Mr. Lu, thank you for being here. It's a weird story.

CHRIS LU, FORMER UNITED STATES DEPUTY SECRETARY OF LABOR: You know it is a weird story but it's part and parcel of a culture of anything goes and we've seen with Pruitt the excessive spending, the first class travel, the salaries that he gave to a couple of his officials, so when you have a culture of misconduct this is not surprising at all.

MADDOWS: When you were managing the cabinet in the Obama Administration, if you got word of some alleged scandal involving not necessarily the administrator him or herself but a senior staff, something weird about some hiring, there's some money that was paid to augment someone's salary radically where it looks like that's not where the money should have come from. There's an allegation about a no show job in this case. Is that the sort of thing you would expect the administrator to fix the cabinet official to fix or is that something where the White House might get involved?

LU: Well look, you know and that's the important point, we in the Obama Administration all salary increases for political appointees had to be cleared by the White House and that's to insure that there's parity not only within the agency but across agencies as well. And so whether it was scrutinizing trips, spending, all of these things came to the White House because we had the tone of ethics, because president Obama set that tone. You have Donald Trump who frankly not only is indifferent to ethics but has been frankly blatantly hostile to it. They clearly haven't set up the processes to check these kinds of abuses.

MADDOWS: On -- on the staffing issue, those large raises we are discussing, the way that's been reported out and I should say that Scott Pruitt denies all of it; denies knowing about it; denies having signed off on it. The way this is being reported out is it looks like the White House may have not cleared some of the people who he wanted to hire and, therefore, the administrator, Scott Pruitt, seems to have decided with his senior staff that he would use the Safe Drinking Water Act as a way to circumvent that White House - the White House turning them down to get those people hired anyway. Is that the sort of circumstance defying or circumventing -- going behind the White House's back. That would seem to be a fatal offense in any cabinet just because of insubordination.

LU: Yes and that's right. To an outsider this seems like inside baseball, but there are processes in place and those cabinet members that are trying to follow the rules and are submitting their salary increases, some get approved, some get turned down, don't take well 7

to somebody who goes around the process and gives unilaterally these salary increases. And what's egregious is that he uses the authority under the Safe Drinking Water Act and one of these people is a former chemical lobbyist. And so it's not even clear that this person qualifies, and so yes, that deliberate flouting of the White House process in and of itself should mean that he gets taken to the wood shed by the woodshed by the White House Chief of Staff.

MADDOWS: And Chris we saw 64 House Democrats, Democrats. There have been three House Republicans who have called for Pruitt's resignation. Sixty- four House Democrats came out in a joint statement today. Does Congress have any recourse here?

LU: Well look, yes, they do but what we have found in this Administration is that the President has been fairly defiant of Congress, and as i said, he's turned a blind eye to ethics. And frankly as long as Scott Pruitt is doing serious damage to clean air, clean water, turning a blind eye to climate change, he's doing exactly what Donald Trump wants him to do. We can never normalize this disregard of ethics and we have to keep talking about it, and I do think at some point there is something that's going to be the final straw, but what it is I'm not sure.

MADDOWS: Chris Lu, Former White House Cabinet Secretary under President Obama, someone who's been there but never quite had to confront something like this. Thank you Chris, nice to see you.

LU: Thank you.

MADDOWS: We'll be right back. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOWS: "The Cook Political Report" is the gold standard of tracking elections and they don't just pop up at election time. They're around all the time. So right now, seven months out from the midterm elections, you might look at "Cook" as a handy way to gauge which way the political winds are blowing this second. Today the "Cook Political Report" changed their ratings on 13 different congressional elections for November, there are races all over the country. They changed their prediction for how these races would go and for all 13 of them today, they shifted those races, to lean more in the direction of the Democrats, meaning for all 13 of these seats, if they were kind of leaning Democratic, they're leaning more so. Seats that were leaning solidly Republican are looking less solidly Republican.

The list of races moved by "The Cook Political Report" toward the Democrats includes one congressional seat in purple Wisconsin. That is resonating right now because Democrats and Progressives have been winning upset elections there. In January, a Democrat won a Wisconsin Senate set in a district that had gone for Trump by 17 points. Last week a liberal-leaning candidate for the Wisconsin Supreme Court won a 10-year term. That was the first time a candidate backed by a liberal

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