Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: April 25, 2018 Guest: Leo Shane, Ronan Farrow
CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: Another piece of news today is that the Republican governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, is going after the now-retired Republican Congressman Blake Farenthold, right, who had an $84,000 sexual harassment settlement paid by public money, right, to pay -- not only pay that, but to pay for the cost of a special election --
STEVE KORNACKI, NBC NEWS: Which is coming up.
HAYES: Which is coming up.
Steve Kornacki, Jess McIntosh, and Cornell Belcher, thank you all for joining me.
That is "ALL IN" for this evening.
THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right now. Good evening, Rachel.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Thanks, my friend. Much appreciated.
HAYES: You bet.
MADDOW: And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.
It`s one of those days. We have the news meeting for the show, like early afternoon today. Finished the news meeting, planned the whole show and then I just turned and looked at my producer as well as the staff who works on my show and said, doesn`t that feel like a whole bunch of other stuff is about to break? Some day, we`ll do that show that we have planned to do in the early afternoon today, but everything has changed since then.
All right, lots going on. President Trump hired former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani six days ago, to be his personal lawyer, specifically to represent him in the Russia investigation. And that was fascinating for a lot of reasons. First and foremost, the news was, wow, hey, finally, somebody said yes. All right? The president has had a lot of trouble filling out his Russia legal team. By our latest count, just based on public reporting, as best as we can tell, we think the president has asked and been rejected by at least 12 different lawyers, just in the past few weeks.
Now, in a normal presidency, even a normal troubled presidency, it would be very unusual for a president to not be able to get anyone he wants to come represent him as a lawyer, right? It`s the president of the United States. It`s a great honor. You don`t say no.
It has not gone that way for President Trump, though. He hasn`t been able to get any high-profile lawyers to represent him on the Russia case. So, that was part of the big Rudy Giuliani news, right? Rudy Giuliani is a very high-profile person. He`s not necessarily a high-profile lawyer. I mean, he is a lawyer, but he`s not high-profile because of his lawyering these days.
But Trump did get a yes from him. And frankly, when Mr. Giuliani was hired, he quickly made clear that he wasn`t exactly planning on spending a lot of time in court on the Russia issue. The day he was hired, he told CNN`s Dana Bash that his role on Trump`s legal team would be, quote, limited. He told her, hey, he knows Mueller from back in the day. That should help him bring the Russia investigation to a quick conclusion. He said it just, quote, needs a little push.
Mr. Giuliani, how soon will you be able to bring this Russia investigation to a close? His answer, quote, maybe a couple of weeks. OK! Well, tick- tock then. I mean, almost done. Should be wrapped up on Thursday next week, if he`s on schedule.
Well, tonight we learned that Mr. Giuliani has just had his first meeting with special counsel Robert Mueller, and it`s not over yet.
"The Washington Post`s" Robert Costa and Carol Leonnig report tonight, quote: The face-to-face discussions illustrated how Rudy Giuliani is now functioning as Trump`s chief liaison and lead negotiator with the special counsel. The meeting renewed talks that have largely faltered since the resignation last month of John Dowd, a veteran lawyer, who had been serving as Trump`s lead outside attorney on the Russia investigation. Both Giuliani and Mueller were joined at the meeting by members of their teams. They met at Mueller`s office in southwest Washington. Giuliani pressed Mueller for clarity on when the probe is expected to end.
Well, unless Robert Mueller`s answer was, oh, some time in the next eight days, that would indicate that Mr. Giuliani`s two-week prediction might have been a little bit off. I should say, though, just as a separate matter, as kind of my personal observation here, as part of this excellent new reporting tonight from "The Washington Post," we are now experiencing a whole new round of renewed discussion about whether or not President Trump is eventually going to sit down for an interview with Robert Mueller as part of Mueller`s investigation.
That -- you know, lots of people discussing newly reported details about the content of those negotiations around the president`s potential interview. Trump is now reportedly very resistant to doing an interview, even though he used to really want to do the interview. Now his lawyers feel one way about it, his advisers feel another. There has been so much breath expelled on this question of how President Trump feels about the idea of giving an interview to the special counsel.
Honestly, you know what? He`s either going to do an interview with Mueller or he`s not. We will know once it happens or once they start fighting in court about whether or not the president can be forced to do it. Until then, all of this state of mind reporting about that subject, about who really wants what and who has worries and who has what feelings about it, as best as we can tell, all of that reporting is based on effort by the people involved in these negotiations, somehow, to spin the negotiations by changing public perception about them. Everybody has reason to lie and spin on that subject.
My take on that subject is just wait and see what happens. If the president is going to be interviewed, we`ll know it when we know it. Until then, I don`t believe anything anybody says about it. Despite all of that smoke on that particular subject, though, it does seem clearer than ever that this is now a two-front war for the president. It`s the Mueller investigation, all right, but it is also what`s going on in federal court, in New York.
Well, prosecutors earlier this month executed a search warrant to raid the home, the office, and the hotel room and the safety deposit box of Trump`s personal attorney, Michael Cohen. Computers, phones, documents, business records, e-mails, at least some of which relate to Mr. Cohen`s payment to a porn star named Stormy Daniels right before the 2016 election, to keep her from talking publicly about her alleged sexual affair with President Trump.
Now, Michael Cohen is a lawyer and he is a lawyer who represents the president. And he`s been in court trying to stop prosecutors from going through all the stuff that they seized. The president has also had his own lawyer in court making similar arguments.
We got a filing today from Michael Cohen`s legal team, saying that the federal prosecutor`s taint team, the prosecutor`s team that would go through all of the seized documents and communications to weed out anything that seemed to be protected by attorney/client privilege, Cohen`s legal team is now arguing that that taint team shouldn`t be allowed to review the seized documents. Instead, they want law firms representing Michael Cohen and Donald Trump to go through the seized documents. And then they can decide what`s privileged.
They can decide what documents pertain to Cohen and Trump having a confidential attorney/client relationship, and therefore, they should be shielded from prosecutors by attorney/client privilege. That`s what Cohen`s lawyers and Trump`s lawyer want. They want to review that stuff.
They`re now suggesting that an independent special master could be appointed to adjudicate disputes between them and the government about what prosecutors are allowed see. The president`s lawyer today submitted a lawyer to the judge saying that the president himself, personally, wants to review the materials that were seized from Michael Cohen. Quote, our client, that means, president Donald Trump, our client will make himself available as needed to aid in our privilege review on his behalf. The president himself is going to go through the document, so say his lawyers.
So, there`s a hearing tomorrow in federal court in Manhattan about all of this. And technically, in a normal case, that would be sort of a procedural thing, it would be boring. But at this point, anything about this case could turn out to be very exciting, because this is a very high- stakes thing. And as if to underscore just how high stakes it is, just a couple of hours ago, Michael Cohen formally notified the judge in the Stormy Daniels case, where Stormy Daniels is suing Michael Cohen and the president over this agreement she signed about the alleged affair.
In that case, Michael Cohen has just pled the Fifth. He has just officially asserted his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
Quoting from the filing: On April 9th, 2018, the Federal Bureau of Investigation executed three search warrants on his residence, office, and hotel room, respectively, without any prior notice. During the corresponding raids, the FBI seized various electronic devices and documents in my possession which contain information relating to the $130,000 payment to plaintiff Stephanie Clifford, Stormy Daniels` real name, at the center of this case and my communications with counsel relating to this action. Based on the advice of my counsel, I will assert my Fifth Amendment right in connection with all proceedings in this case due to the ongoing criminal investigation by the FBI and the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York.
The president`s personal attorney is pleading the Fifth in the Stormy Daniels case. How was your day?
Now, this was not unexpected. Michael Cohen signaled that he might plead the Fifth in the Stormy Daniels case earlier this month. But seeing it written out this way in black and white in a court filing, it is a good retirement of how much legal jeopardy the president`s personal attorney seems to be in, which is probably why, when the attorney general of the United States appeared before Congress today, there was a lot of talk about the possibility of a pardon for the president`s personal attorney seems to be in. Which is probably why, when the attorney general of the United States appeared before Congress today, there was a lot of talk about the possibility of a pardon for the president`s personal attorney, whether and how the president might use that power to try to help Michael Cohen out.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D-MD), COMMERCE, JUSTICE, SCIENCE SUBCOMMITTEE: We all have an interest in protecting the integrity of the Justice Department. And as a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, you made a statement at a hearing that I thoroughly agree with. And I`m quoting.
The power to pardon is a legitimate power. It is one that ought to be exercised with great care. And then you ended saying, I believe in the role of the pardon attorney, unquote. The pardon attorney is an office within the DOJ, is it not?
JEFF SESSIONS, ATTORNEY GENERAL: It is a position in the department.
VAN HOLLEN: Did the pardon of Sheriff Joseph Arpaio go through the pardon attorney office?
SESSIONS: I don`t believe it did.
VAN HOLLEN: Did the pardon of Scooter Libby go through the pardon office?
SESSIONS: I don`t believe it did.
SEN. CHRIS COONS (D-DE), COMMERCE, JUSTICE, SCIENCE SUBCOMMITTEE: Has the president or anyone in the administration discussed with you the possibility of President Trump pardoning Michael Cohen?
SESSIONS: I am unable to reveal the contents of any communications I might have with the president of the United States or his top staff.
COONS: Given the previous conversation you had with Senator Van Hollen, it`s my hope that if President Trump proceeded to pardon Michael Cohen in violation of long-standing policy and did not consult with a pardon attorney, did not consult with DOJ, that you would express strong objection to that and would consider resigning if that step were taken. Hopefully, it will not come to that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Hopefully it will not come to that.
But just as the -- just as in the Mueller investigation, the separate and now looming investigation into the president`s attorney, Michael Cohen, has had this big question hanging over it. Will the president try to fix this for his personal attorney by using his pardon power? The president has already pardoned at least a couple of people without going through any kind of Justice Department process.
There is a whole process at the Justice Department for dealing with pardons. He has not used that. He`s just pardoned people when he felt it. Will he do the same thing about the possibility of a Michael Cohen pardon? Would that even help Michael Cohen get out of this fix? Good questions.
The other question hanging over the Michael Cohen investigation is whether Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, should have any role in overseeing that case. Remember, Michael Cohen is being prosecuted by the special counsel`s office. He`s being investigated by federal prosecutors who work under the purview in the Justice Department, the federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York under the guidance of the U.S. attorney in that district.
Jeff Sessions is recused from any matters having anything to do with the 2016 campaign, including the Russia investigation. But on Cohen, there is a lack of clarity about whether in this case, he should also be recused, or if he is recused, should we even know about it? There`s sort of been reporting in both directions. There`s been arguments from the Justice Department that the Michael Cohen case doesn`t fall under Sessions` recusal from all matters related to the campaign.
It`s also been argued that part of what prosecutors are going after Michael Cohen for is campaign finance violations related to the 2016 presidential race. So, is that close enough to make this something that falls within Jeff Sessions` recusal? We don`t know. It`s very woolly.
And Attorney General Jeff Sessions is not really saying. He refused to answer senators` questions about this today. Are you overseeing the Michael Cohen probe, sir? No answer on that.
And you know what, procedurally, that`s probably kosher from Jeff Sessions. You`re not necessarily supposed to go into public detail about why you are recused from any particular case for any particular reason. Those details about your recusal might explain important details about the case that shouldn`t be publicly disclosed.
But in the Cohen case, it`s hard not to ask that question, right? With the president clearly feeling so threatened about the Michael Cohen case, with Michael Cohen`s lawyers declaring in open court that the Cohen search warrants were specifically looking for documents related to Donald Trump. There is the prospect that Attorney General Jeff Sessions, if he`s not recused, if he still has an oversight role as attorney general over that case -- well, could he potentially brief President Trump on what`s going on in that case?
That issue of Jeff Sessions` involvement in oversight in the Michael Cohen case is red hot for a bunch of reasons. And at this point, I`ve got to tell you, it is still super unclear.
There`s also the issue of Trump`s appointee to the U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York, where these prosecutors are investigating Michael Cohen. Trump`s appointee to lead the Southern District of New York is named Geoffrey Berman.
He`s a Trump donor. He`s somebody who worked on the Trump transition. He`s somebody who took a personal interview with Trump for the job, before he was named to it, which is not the kind of thing presidents typically do with U.S. attorneys. He`s also not incidentally Rudy Giuliani`s law partner.
Because of all of those things, it was not the world`s greatest shock when we learned that Geoffrey Berman, also, despite the fact that he leads this office, he is not involved in the Michael Cohen case. We learned that right after -- we learned recently that right after he took over the Southern District of New York`s U.S. attorney`s job in January, Mr. Berman notified Justice Department officials in Washington that he had a possible appearance of a conflict of interest in the Michael Cohen case. Those officials at DOJ in Washington reportedly determined that Geoff Berman shouldn`t oversee the Cohen investigation, even as he took this job in the Southern District of New York.
Now, what that conflict of interest is, specifically, we don`t know. Again, the recusal process is opaque in part because it`s hard to report on, but in part because there are rules around how much they`re supposed to disclose about this stuff. But there`s a question about with the Cohen stuff now getting super red hot and with Rudy Giuliani trying to negotiate an end to the Mueller investigation, a week from tomorrow, with the president promising that he`s going to personally review documents -- personally review documents that were seized from his attorney`s office earlier this month.
This recusal issue about Jeff Sessions as attorney general and also about the local U.S. attorney, Geoff Berman, they`ve been -- they are intriguing. And the fuzziness around those recusal issues remains a newsworthy point of interest. There had been worries that Geoff Berman`s role, his status as the interim U.S. attorney in the Southern District, his recusal, his not being involved in that Michael Cohen case, there had been worries that maybe the White House might try to use that as some sort of bargaining chip.
He`s the interim U.S. attorney. He has been appointed. He hasn`t been formally nominated to the Senate. The Senate has not confirmed him as U.S. attorney. As an interim U.S. attorney, Geoff Berman`s tenure in the Southern District of New York is scheduled to end next week, scheduled to end as of May 4th unless the Trump administration stepped in to formally and properly nominate him for the job.
So, it`s been this question hanging over the Cohen case. When his appointment expires next week, and all of a sudden, he can`t hold that job anymore without Trump`s say-so, might President Trump take that opportunity to appoint somebody else to lead the Southern District of New York, who wouldn`t have to take themselves out of running the Cohen case, who wouldn`t have a conflict of interest when it came to Michael Cohen? Was there any pressure one way or the other on whether Geoffrey Berman should be recused from the Cohen case? It`s been a real point of intrigue.
Well, today, a little bit of resolution. A week ahead of that deadline, the judges of the district court in the Southern District of New York unanimously appointed Geoff Berman to hold that job indefinitely. It`s one of the things that judges can do in this instance. They essentially removed that looming deadline hanging over the U.S. attorney`s office.
And that poured some oil on these very turbulent waters, where there`s lots and lots of intrigue, lots and lots of muddiness now. And this current appears to be moving very fast. Probably not fast enough for Giuliani to keep his promise to end the Mueller investigation by a week from tomorrow, but, still, fast.
MADDOW: Today was supposed to be the confirmation hearing for the president`s pick to lead the V.A. Instead of that, we got this, a two-page summary of fairly lurid accusations against Dr. Ronny Jackson, accusations that have ended up with the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. Montana Senator Jon Tester is the top Democrat on that committee. His staff says they spoke to 23 of Ronny Jackson`s current and former colleagues, most of them are still in uniform, because the White House medical office staffed by active duty military personnel.
I`m just going to read you straight from this report what, according to the Veterans Affairs Committee, what colleagues of Ronny Jackson had to say about their boss.
Jackson was described as, quote, the most unethical person I have ever worked with. Quote, flat-out unethical. Quote, explosive.
Quote, 100 percent bad temper. Quote, toxic, abusive, volatile. Quote, incapable of not losing his temper.
Quote, the worst officer I have ever served with. Quote, despicable, dishonest. Quote, screaming tantrums and screaming fits.
Dr. Jackson`s military colleagues described him as someone who would, quote, lose his mind over small things, who was vindictive, belittling. Quote, the worst leader I`ve ever worked for.
The report goes on, as Jackson gained power, he became intolerable. One physician said, quote, I have no faith in government that someone like Jackson could end up at the V.A. One nurse stated, working at the White House medical unit should have been the highlight of my military career, but it was my worst assignment. Another nurse told the committee that working at the White House medical unit was, quote, the worst experience of my life.
These would be really bad things to hear about the White House doctor if he wasn`t up for a big promotion.
A lot of accusations in this new report from Senator Tester have already got a familiar ring to them. Allegations that Dr. Jackson was reportedly drunk while on duty in traveling with the president. In one incident, he was allegedly found passed out on an overseas trip with President Obama. But there are some new accusations in this report we just got tonight, as well. Quote, missing Percocet -- pain pills -- missing Percocet once threw the White House medical unit into a panic. It turns out Ronny Jackson had provided a large supply of Percocet to a White House military officer staffer.
Quote: Jackson also had private stocks of controlled substances. Quote, one nurse said he wrote himself prescriptions. When caught, he had someone else, his P.A., do it.
This summary today of allegations against the would-be head of the V.A. is wide-ranging, but also brutally concise. This is the last line. Quote, at a Secret Service going-away party, Admiral Jackson got drunk and wrecked a government vehicle.
Now, NBC News talked to Ronny Jackson about that today. He says he has never wrecked a car. We checked with D.C. police. They say they do have two accident reports on file involving Ronny Jackson, one in 2013 and one in 2016.
But we don`t have any other information at all about those accidents or what caused them or how he was involved. We are still trying to find out more about that. We will keep you posted on that if we learn it.
The White House for its part spent the day defending Ronny Jackson, reportedly pushing the Senate to reschedule his confirmation hearing. But they`re not making it easy for the senators who are in charge of this nomination going along if it`s going to. Trying to give his nomination a boost last night, the White House gave reporters a stack of reports about Ronny Jackson`s time working in the White House.
In that stack of records was a whole bunch of good stuff, but also an inspector general report about the White House medical unit when he was one of its two leaders. It was written during the time he was in a leadership position there in 2012 and the report details a power struggle between Ronny Jackson and another doctor in the office. It also includes a whole bunch of quotes from Ronny Jackson`s subordinates and colleagues at the time that are terrible. And that sound a lot a like -- well, what we read in today`s report, as well.
From the I.G. report in 2012, quote, worst command ever. Senior officers are not leading. Quote, passive-aggressive behavior is exhibited by leadership. Quote, command climate is terrible. Quote, the leaders are child like.
That was a weird thing for the White House to hand to reporter ifs they were trying to salvage Ronny Jackson`s nomination, right? But the other weird thing about the White House handing out those records to reporters on purpose last night is that when they released them last night, they hadn`t actually given them to Congress, who was supposed to be vetting Ronny Jackson for this job. They`d never given them to the people in charge of vetting and confirming him for the V.A. job. They just gave them to the press instead.
Leo Shane from "Military Times" reports tonight that the Senate had not seen those documents until the White House handed them out and the press started reporting on them last night. Well, now, finally, the Senate does have those documents as well as this bulleted list of accusations against Ronny Jackson from the missing Percocets to the wrecked government vehicle to the staffer who called working for Ronny Jackson the worst experience of an entire working life. The list takes up the better part of two pages, single spaced.
Publicly, Ronny Jackson said he isn`t withdrawing his nomination, but "The Washington Post" reports tonight in private, he`s saying something different. Quote: White House physician Ronny Jackson has grown frustrated with the nomination process and has told colleagues he may remove his name from consideration.
How much longer is this going to go on? Hold that thought.
MADDOW: So we just got in some breaking news from "Reuters" about Ronny Jackson`s nomination to lead the V.A. Reuters has a source tonight telling them that as of about 15 minutes ago, Ronny Jackson was seen in a meeting at the White House, discussing, quote, whether to withdraw, as Trump`s nominee to head the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Now, I do not have the same source that "Reuters" does. I can tell you from this live picture that the lights are not all off at the White House tonight. Hey, you guys. Flash the light if you`re watching. It`s a live shot. Go on.
Joining us now is Leo Shane, deputy editor from "Military Times". He covers veterans affairs and the White House.
Leo, it`s really nice to see you. Thank you for being here.
LEO SHANE, DEPUTY DIRECTOR, MILITARY TIMES: Thanks for the invite.
MADDOW: So what`s your understanding of what`s happening now with this nomination and what`s likely to happen over the next day or two?
SHANE: I`m not sure I can predict a day from now. It seems to be changing minute by minute.
Look, the White House came out very strong this morning saying they were still behind Dr. Jackson, they wanted the nomination to go forward, they wanted to see a confirmation hearing. But there`s also been a lot of pressure from the White House saying the Senate Democrats are behind this, they`re making up allegations, these things.
So, that`s where we saw that document you put up earlier, from Senator Tester saying, look, this is not just Democrats trying to create something. This is a series of military officials, current and former, saying that they have serious problems, serious allegations against him. And almost as important as the allegations, this is stuff that the senators didn`t have any knowledge of, just days away from a confirmation hearing.
So, what I`m hearing on Capitol Hill right now is there`s not a lot of appetite to have one of these, short of, they could -- they could try and schedule one from two weeks from now or three weeks from now, but it feels like they`re really far away from feeling comfortable enough to bring him in front of a hearing and vet him to be the V.A. secretary.
MADDOW: And, Leo, you know these things much better than I do, but my impression of the veterans committee in the Senate, which is the entity that has to make a decision about whether or not they`re going to have a confirmation hearing on him, my impression is that that committee does not like or expect to be surprised.
They expect to be consulted on the senior leadership of the V.A. They expect to have lead time. They expect decisions to be consensus, essentially. Not just bipartisan, but they expect to have consensus decisions with the administration and within the committee on these things. And this seems just like a 180-degree departure from that, including the fact that the Senate didn`t have this I.G. report before the White House released it to the press last night.
SHANE: Right. Now, you`re absolutely right. I mean, this -- none of the committees like to be surprised by things, but usually, when there`s some critical issue with any of the nominees, you know, we know that ahead of time. You know, the senators have gotten some heads up, they sort of know where the questions are going to go, things can go along party lines.
The Veterans Affairs Committee in the Senate and in the House operate on a really bipartisan basis. You know, it`s not a good -- not a good look to be against veterans. So, both sides really do find a lot of common ground there.
And in this case, while the White House has been lashing out at Democrats, the Republicans also agreed to delay this confirmation hearing. This wasn`t something Democrats forced on them. Republicans stepped back and said, this is -- we don`t feel comfortable with the information we have. We don`t feel comfortable putting him in front of the public to be the face of V.A. and question him on this.
So, a lot of concern up here about what this next step is if he stays in. You know, I guess, I guess the White House can continue on this path where they say that it`s allegations, it`s not proof, but there sure is a lot of folks coming out of the work to talk about him right now.
MADDOW: Leo Shane, deputy editor of "Military Times," covering veterans and the White House, the preeminent veterans affairs reporter in Washington and in the country -- Leo, thank you for your time tonight. I really appreciate for your time tonight. Appreciate you being here.
SHANE: Thank you.
MADDOW: I will say, Leo`s point there about bipartisan on the veterans committee is for real. However this gets resolved, and this is an intense drama around Ronny Jackson, however this gets resolved, in terms of him being White House doctor, in terms of him being this nominee, in the best- case scenario, Jon Tester and Johnny Isakson, that top Republican and top Democrat, they come out together and make a unanimous decision and unanimous announcement about what happens here.
But veterans affairs, veterans policy is a bipartisan thing in Washington. We should all hope that this is not something that`s going to wreck that.
All right. We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: In January, "The New Yorker" had a scoop about presidential son- in-law Jared Kushner. This is before Kushner was downgraded in terms of his security clearance, before the White House stopped allowing him to have access to highly classified information.
But Evan Osnos and Adam Entous at "The New Yorker" in January, they were able to report out for the first time a bunch of stuff about Jared Kushner that was unnerving in terms of national security. That`s where we first learned that despite Mr. Kushner`s inability to get a permanent security clearance, he nevertheless was receiving the president`s daily brief from the intelligence community every day. That`s where we learned that it wasn`t just the president who was throwing intelligence protocols out the window, holding conversations with foreign leaders on his own, with no note-taker, no staff present, no briefing, it was also Jared Kushner doing the same thing.
That "New Yorker" report that said that, in particular, Mr. Kushner was known to repeatedly take unstaffed meetings with the Chinese ambassador to the United States, including at least one occasion which they met alone, which you`re not supposed to do.
That article is where we learned that Jared Kushner did this sort of thing with the Chinese ambassador and kept doing it, even though he was warned personally by the top counterintelligence official at the FBI that he, Jared Kushner, personally, was the target of a Chinese influence operation by Chinese intelligence. Ahead of the Chinese president going to Mar-a- Lago in April last year, U.S. surveillance intercepted Chinese officials saying that in meetings preparing for the Mar-a-Lago summit, Jared Kushner had discussed his own business interests with the Chinese ambassador along with U.S. policy. Quote: Some intelligence officials became concerned that the Chinese government was seeking to use business inducements to influence Mr. Kushner.
Last fall, in November 2017, Jared went along on the president`s trip to China. After they all came home from that trip, in December 2017, quote, U.S. intelligence agencies briefed a wider circle of Trump administration officials, telling them that a member of the president`s family was being targeted by a Chinese influence operation.
So, just a blockbuster story from "The New Yorker" in January. Jared Kushner still works at the White House. Can`t fire someone from the job of son-in-law, right? But he reportedly no longer has access to classified information.
And now apart from turning up at places like last night`s state dinner, Mr. Kushner has been playing a much lower profile. Well, now, new scoop. Fresh off winning a Pulitzer Prize last week for his reporting on Harvey Weinstein, Ronan Farrow, who also writes for "The New Yorker", has a new book out, which has a whole bunch of scoops in it.
The one that rings like a bell for me in terms of national security worries in this White House is a scoop about Jared Kushner. And it arrives right in the middle of a story about Rex Tillerson screwing something up.
Here`s the story. It starts on page 290 of Ronan`s book. Quote, during Tillerson`s first trip to China as secretary of state, he and President Xi Jinping sat in matching taupe leather armchairs in front of a mural of Chinese pastoral beauty, cranes soaring over pristine valleys and forests. They wore matching red ties and dark jackets. And in a move that left close followers of U.S./Chinese relations agape, they used matching language. President Xi urged the United States to expand cooperative areas and achieve win-win results. Tillerson agreed. The U.S. side is ready to develop relations with Chinese based on the policy of no conflict, no confrontation, mutual respect, and win-win cooperation.
A lay observer might have blinked and missed it, but Asia experts at the State Department and beyond saw something unusual immediately. Tillerson had all but copy and pasted earlier statements from by Xi, who just a few months before had expressed hope that President Trump would uphold the principles of non-conflict, non-confrontation, mutual respect, and win-win cooperation. That`s exactly what Tillerson said.
That was the most recent of many examples of Xi and other communist officials using that coded sequence of terms to describe a new balance of power, with China as an equal to the U.S., and the U.S. deferring to Chinese prerogatives on contentious issues from Taiwan to territorial disputes in the South China Sea. State-run Chinese media instantly picked up on the dog whistle.
Quote, Tillerson has implicitly endorsed the new model of major power relations, crowed the communist affiliated "Global Times", saying Rex`s language had given U.S. allies in the Asia Pacific Region an impression that China and the U.S. are equal, as Barack Obama refused to do.
So, why did Rex Tillerson do that? Whether or not you care about us and China, one basic thing to understand about the fundamental relationship between us and the most populist country on Earth, this other rising super power, is that China wants us to butt out of everything that interests them. They want to be seen as big and powerful and rich and influential enough that we should never deign to say anything about them about their actions. We should let them operate at will. That`s what they want from the United States.
And no, we`re not going to war with China. But in foreign relations and diplomacy and foreign policy, they`ve got this coded language they have been seeking from the United States to show, OK, we agree. We capitulate to that idea. You do whatever you want. We`ll stay out of it.
So, it`s a really big deal that Rex Tillerson went over to China and used that coded language. He recited their script, word for word, exactly what they want.
I mean, that we know from public reporting. But then Ronan, reporting in this book, he gets an interview with Tillerson for the book. He also gets an interview with Tillerson`s sort of right-hand guy at the State Department. And Ronan asks him, point-blank, quote, did Tillerson intend to mirror the language, I asked?
Ryan Hook (ph), quote, he`s not intending to mirror their language. But is he aware that`s what he did? Answer, he signs off on every statement he delivers.
So it kind of seems like Rex Tillerson might not have known. Rex Tillerson`s top staff seems surprised to learn that what Rex Tillerson said in China was a script from the Chinese government, with the U.S. agreeing to treat them a way we have never agreed to before. But that they have been demanding.
I mean, Rex Tillerson went over there and gave into that demand, without seeming to know that he was doing it. So where did that come from? Where did that script come from? How did that language get into Rex Tillerson`s prepared remarks for his China trip?
Back to the book, page 291. Quote, several officials told me, the State Department`s regional experts, attuned to the significance of such language have not been consulted on Tillerson`s statement in China. Instead, it had been drafted by the White House. According to several sources there, it was drafted by the office of Jared Kushner.
Oh. It seems like a big deal. Particularly where we also know about repeated FBI counterintelligence warnings to the White House about Mr. Kushner as a target of Chinese foreign influence operations.
We also learn in the book that Rex Tillerson blames Jared Kushner for pushing him out as secretary of state, apparently because Rex thinks Jared ultimately wants the secretary of state job himself, which will be a hard one with no security clearance.
But oh, wait, there`s more.
MADDOW: In Ronan Farrow`s new book, "War on Peace: The End of Diplomacy and the Decline of American Influence" -- I`m holding page 262 open with my finger -- we get a big rip-roaring argument about America giving up on diplomacy over time. And what made America a weak enough institution and by the time Donald Trump got there to kill it, Rex Tillerson was an easy and effective tool for doing that job.
This book will make Ronan Farrow lots more enemies. Nobody comes off great. But it does also have a bunch of scoops.
We learn, for example, this incredible new detail on page 262, about how Rex Tillerson handled one particularly timely and sensitive part of his job, quote, when the United States initiated strikes on Syria, the administration entirely skipped the conventional step of notifying NATO allies. Tillerson received a flood of calls. An officer in the State Department`s operation center, who spent months connecting Tillerson`s calls told Ronan, quote, when news broke, alarmed allies were calling, saying, I would like to speak with Secretary Tillerson. It was early on a Sunday afternoon, and Tillerson was in Washington and unoccupied.
The operations officer said, quote: We were told the secretary had had a long weekend. He was going to go home and have dinner with his wife and call it a night. No calls. The operations officer exasperated, said, we just bombed Syria without telling our allies, you might have to do some phone calls, even from home. That floored me, end quote.
Ronan Farrow`s new book is called "War on Peace: The End of Diplomacy and the Decline of American Influence". It`s good in part because Ronan knows what he`s talking about on this subject. He`s a former State Department official.
It`s good in part because he`s got a bunch of new scoops, and it`s good in part because he`s interviewed every living secretary of state and got them all to weigh in on what`s happened in the State Department disaster we are living through now that we will have to someday explain to the next generation when they wonder where it went and why we got rid of it.
But mostly, it`s good because he gets people like -- I kid you not -- the person connecting Rex Tillerson`s phone calls to talk to him about what`s really happening. And those, of course, are the people who always actually know what`s really happening.
Joining us now is my friend Ronan Farrow, fresh off his new Pulitzer Prize.
Congratulations on this new book, Ronan.
RONAN FARROW, AUTHOR, "WAR ON PEACE": Thank you for having me, Rachel.
MADDOW: Sure. This is -- this is a big deal. This is a big argument and a big piece of reporting. Congratulations.
FARROW: And I think an important untold story for a whole variety of reasons.
MADDOW: Well, you`re writing about a lot term front here about diplomacy getting under cut, foreign service getting under cut, the military taking over everything instead. The one thing I didn`t know when I got to the end of the book is, do you believe that process is complete? Is this essentially an obituary for the State Department?
FARROW: It is not.
FARROW: And here`s why I think that: administration after administration comes in and shortchanges diplomacy. It`s happening at a vastly accelerate rate now, it is not unprecedented, but it is at a new extreme. The results are devastating, they`re generational.
You have Colin Powell in this book on the record saying, Rex Tillerson tore the guts out of the State Department. This is mortgaging your future. And the reason it has a generational impact is the people who should be ambassadors 20 years from now aren`t even entering into the system. We are denigrating and sidelining the profession in a way that will take time to rebuild.
However, you can look at for instance at the second term of the Obama administration, where again senior officials in that administration are on the record in this book saying we screwed up. We had a culture of celebrity generals. It overtook our Afghanistan review process and other policy processes. But then they refocused, and --
MADDOW: The Iran deal.
FARROW: -- then they had a few good years, and you got the Iran deal, for all its controversy, a very serious diplomatic endeavor, the thawing relations with Cuba, the Paris climate change accord, and that took just a few short years. So, as much as the picture is dire, and this really is a crisis that is making us less safe, all of the whistleblowers were brave enough to speak here and say that they are hopeful. That they feel right now, potentially even under Mike Pompeo, there is the power to reverse course, to pull out of this nose dive.
MADDOW: Well, of course, we`re at this incredible moment, you couldn`t have known this when you timed the publication of the book, but Pompeo`s confirmation hearing is likely to be tomorrow. Is the expectation at State and people who are champions of the State Department, champions of diplomacy, is the expectation there that he`s there to finish the job, that he`s there to continue this ripping the guts out that Tillerson has been already engaged in?
FARROW: That is the desperate fear right now.
FARROW: And what we know about Mike Pompeo`s track record is, you know, look, I think no one ever questioned whether he would get through confirmation, he`s a skilled politician, but he`s much more lockstep with the president than Rex Tillerson was. Rex Tillerson gleefully and, you know, he says now partly due to inexperience, in this book he says that to me, provided over the cuts to the State Department but he also pushed back on efforts to get out of the Iran deal. He thought with the president.
In the announcement of the choice of Pompeo, the president said specifically, he`s the guy who`s on the same wavelength. This is a guy who has matched the president tweet for tweet on every statement about the Iran deal. So, there is a lot of fear, but this department desperately needs leadership. So, there`s also this hope.
MADDOW: Well, I mean, I would -- I feel like reading this, putting it more bluntly. I think there`s a question whether the Republican Party, continues to believe that there ought to be diplomacy, continues there ought to be a Department of State. I mean, killing it this way is one way to do it. Abolishing it will now become the pledge for people who are running to the right of Republican nominees in the future primaries.
FARROW: And that is one of the saddest parts of the story for me because there`s a fundamental cultural problem where on the campaign trail, politicians on both parties, but I do think that there`s somewhat more of it of late on the Republican side, denigrate what are really brave men and women serving the country without a lot of pay in very dangerous places and as you pointed out earlier, making it a lot safer, making our diplomacy more professional less vulnerable to influence and exploitation, saving American citizens around the world in a literal direct sense. They`re not getting credit for that.
MADDOW: Last question, briefly, does Jared Kushner deny he wrote Tillerson`s remarks in China, when Tillerson went over there and parroted the Chinese government?
FARROW: No comment from them.
MADDOW: Ronan Farrow, fresh off is new Pulitzer Prize, the author of "War on Peace: The End of Diplomacy and the Decline of American Influence", remarkable reporting. Thanks.
FARROW: Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: Great to see you.
FARROW: Great to be here.
MADDOW: All right. We`ll be back soon. Stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REX TILLERSON, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: Since the historic opening of relations between our two countries more than 40 years ago, the U.S.-China relationship has been guided by an understanding of non-conflict, non- confrontation, mutual respect and win-win cooperation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: So, heads up about tomorrow`s news schedule. Tomorrow should be fun. EPA administrator Scott Pruitt will be testifying in open session in two congressional committees tomorrow on your TV machine. Do you think members of Congress will have any hard question about troubling matters related to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt? Maybe his 24/7, 20-person security detail and his armored SUV seat covers? Perhaps his preference for first class travel so that people can`t say mean things to him? Will they want to talk to him about the condo he rents from an energy lobbyist for $50 a night while that energy lobbyist is doing business before the EPA? The $43,000 sound proof phone booth any of it?
Pruitt has largely avoided the press since these scandals descending on him like a waterfall pouring into a deep pool. Tomorrow, he will face members of the Congress in two separate committees on TV in open session for hours. Like I said, tomorrow should be fun.
That does it for us tonight. We`ll see you again tomorrow.
Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL".
Good evening, Lawrence.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END