Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: May 8, 2018
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. I have to tell you, this is one of those days when I`ve not only enjoyed doing the show and having this job, I enjoy having you as a guy who works down the all.
CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST, ALL IN: I know. We were doing a lot of huddling today to make sense of what happens.
MADDOW: There`s a lot of, dude, did you see that? I know, what are you going to do? Me neither.
I thought like I had a real comrade in arms today. Thank you, my friend.
HAYES: Well, I`m going to go watch and see what came out of all that.
MADDOW: Not much. Thank you.
And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.
Yes, it`s one of those days. Just another previously unimaginable Tuesday in today`s news, right? Enough going on for you? Have you been able to keep up with the successive bombshell in today`s news? Do you have a colleague that you -- a beloved colleague you can run into in the halls at work when each news story breaks so you can say, what does this one mean? It`s a remarkable day today.
The president today announced that the United States is blowing up the nuclear deal that Iran signed in 2015, with not just us but with us, alongside the U.K. and France and Germany and Russia and China and the European Union. We`re going toe have expert help tonight to talk about why our country`s allies are so rattled by this decision, what they`re likely to do in response and why this is such a banner accomplishment for the American hardliners who have been hoping for and working for an actual new U.S. war with Iran, ever since they started the last new U.S. war in Iraq 15 years ago.
And speaking of 15 years ago, in March 2003, while the George W. Bush administration was ordering the invasion of Iraq, this man was captured in Pakistan. He was soon named as the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks.
In CIA custody, Khalid Sheik Mohamed was tortured for weeks over 15 different sessions. He was waterboarded 183 times. He was forcibly fed through his rectum instead of being given food as food. He was kept awake for a week, kept awake for a week while they kept him standing with his hands chained to the ceiling.
We remember the Bush administration`s complicity and facilitation of the torture program because officials like Vice President Dick Cheney cheered for it at the time, and because Bush administration lawyers wrote memos saying all the laws makes torture illegal didn`t really make torture illegal, not if you squinted at it the right way and listened to the vice president.
But in the secret prisons, the CIA maintained at this time, the CIA also went beyond even what they got that fake lawyerly permission to do. The CIA did things to their undeclared prisoners in these black site prisons things that weren`t even purportedly cleared by those memos that the government later disavowed. The CIA also reportedly told White House they were getting tons of good intel by torturing people.
It turns out what they were actually getting was the kind of gibberish and say anything to make it stop nonsense that you get when you torture people to the point of death or just this side of it. In the case of Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the so-called 9/11 mastermind, he told the CIA folks who were beating the hell out of him and drowning him that he had recruited black American Muslims in Montana to carry out homegrown terrorist attacks on behalf of al Qaeda in America. He had done so such thing. He was only saying he had done that because he was trying to make them stop torturing him.
Well, tomorrow a veteran CIA officer who ran one of the secret CIA prisons where the CIA tortured people, she`s going to have her confirmation hearing tomorrow to be the director of the CIA. We do not know if Gina Haspel helped torture Khalid Sheikh Mohammed personally or if she oversaw officers who carried out that torture. We do know that she personally oversaw one of the torture sites and that she played a key role in the CIA destroying the videotaped evidence of those torture sessions, even though the CIA had been ordered to preserve those tapes.
But get this, just talk about a news day today. That confirmation hearing for Gina Haspel to run the CIA, the confirmation hearing again is tomorrow, Charlie Savage is now reporting at "The New York Times" that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the supposed 9/11 mastermind guy, the guy who was waterboarded 183 times in CIA custody, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed has now filed an emergency request with the military commission that is trying him at Guantanamo. He is asking for emergency permission from the judge in his case -- he wants the judge to allow him to provide information to the Senate committee in time for Gina Haspel`s confirmation hearing tomorrow. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed wants to give them a statement about Gina Haspel.
Again, we know that this guy was tortured by the CIA. We know that Gina Haspel ran one of the torture sites at the time that he was in custody. We don`t know if she tortured him and we don`t know exactly what the information is that he wants to provide to the Senate.
But he has asked permission to give the Senate something, it is reportedly six paragraphs of written information that he wants to hand over to the Senate committee considering her confirmation. We don`t know what`s in those six paragraphs and we don`t know what the judge will say. We don`t know if the judge will allow it to go to the Senate in time for tomorrow`s hearing.
But this is obviously just a remarkable turn of events. This is the kind of long, poisonous tail for the torture policies of the Bush administration that everybody who lived through that era knew we would be living with for the rest of our lives. Like I said, just another previously unimaginable day in the news. Happy Tuesday.
But it is also election night tonight. Four different states have been watching returns over the course of this evening, and about a half dozen or so races that are seen to have national implications. There are Senate primaries for the Republican Party tonight. Republicans are choosing their nominees to run against Senator Joe Manchin in West Virginia and against Senator Joe Donnelly in Indiana.
Vice President Mike Pence`s brother, Greg, tonight has won a Republican congressional primary in Indiana. That`s already happened. Ohio Governor John Kasich has hit his term limit in that state. There are primaries for the governor`s race in Ohio in both parties tonight. We`re going to have coverage of those races ahead tonight. The great Steve Kornacki will be here to walk us through the important ones.
But yet there`s more. The story that has been breaking tonight, including into this tour, is this document. This seven-page document that`s just been released by the attorney for adult film actress Stormy Daniels, Michael Avenatti.
I should tell you that after releasing this document tonight, Mr. Avenatti will be on "THE LAST WORD" with Lawrence O`Donnell, next hour here on MSNBC, and you should probably plan to watch that.
I know what you are thinking. You are thinking, I know that handsome lawyer. I have seen a lot of Michael Avenatti on TV. Every time I turn on the TV, there he is. Why would I make sure to watch this guy tonight?
Well, it`s because of this document that he has just released. Mr. Avenatti put this out this afternoon, posted it online. And it was this standalone set of sort of jaw-dropping allegations about financial transactions involving the president`s lawyer, Michael Cohen. Mr. Avenatti did not release any supporting documentation or information to go along with this thing that he posted online, and so, initially, I`m not sure anybody in the news business knew exactly what to make of sort of wild and surprising allegations he`s making here. It`s hard to know what to do with it without any backup.
But now, over the course of the last couple of hours, both "The New York Times" and NBC News have reported that they (AUDIO GAP) reviewed original financial documents that substantiate what Michael Avenatti is saying.
And so, now, we`ve got some actual news here. It`s about the company that Michael Cohen used, the president`s lawyer used to pay off Stormy Daniels right before the election, so she would not speak publicly about her alleged affair with the president. We learned a few months ago from reporting first in "The Wall Street Journal" that Michael Cohen didn`t just pay Stormy Daniels directly. He created a company called Essential Consultants, and then Essential Consultants was the entity that paid $130,000 to Ms. Daniels.
What we`ve learned tonight from this document that was first released by Mr. Avenatti. It`s been subsequently reported out by "The New York Times" and other news organizations, is that this little company that Michael Cohen set up to pay Stormy Daniels, Essential Consultants, LLC, it appears to have been used for a whole lot more than just paying $130,000 to Stormy Daniels. Essential Consultants also appears to have paid Michael Cohen more than a million dollars. Oh.
According to Mr. Avenatti`s document, three checks from essential consultants, two for a quarter million dollars, one for $505,000, were deposited in Mr. Cohen`s own bank account last summer, the summer of 2017. What that looks like is this little company he set up, Essential Consultants, paying Michael Cohen more than a million bucks. That`s what it looks like. Of course, that raises more questions.
First, was Michael Cohen ultimately the recipient of that million bucks or was he depositing those checks and getting that money for someone else? We don`t exactly know what happened to the money ultimately. We just know that Michael Cohen put it in one of his own bank accounts.
But also, where did that money come from? Where did Essential Consultants get a million freaking bucks, right? Michael Cohen, didn`t he say he need to take out a home equity line of credit to scratch up the $130,000 that that company was going to pay Stormy Daniels just a few months before? He had to take a home equity line to get 130 grand? Well, where did that same company get a million bucks to pay Michael Cohen just a few months later last summer?
Well, that`s where we get to the juicy part. According to these documents released by Mr. Avenatti tonight, the same company that Michael Cohen used to pay Stormy Daniels, Essential Consultants LLC, they took in a lot of money from a lot of surprising places. They got paid $150,000 by Korea Aerospace Industries last November, November 2017. OK.
Essential Consultants reportedly got paid $200,000 in four installments, four separate payments of 50 grand each in late 2017 and early 2018. That $200,000 in four separate payments came from a little company you might have heard of -- AT&T.
Essential Consultants got paid $400,000 by Novartis, the global pharmaceutical company. According to these documents, the way Novartis paid -- this is interesting -- was four separate payments to Essential Consultants, to this little company Michael Cohen set up, which paid off the porn star, Novartis Pharmaceuticals paid $20 less than $100,000. They paid $99,980 on October 5th, again on November 3rd, again on December 1st and again on January 5th, 2018, this year. So, four payments, each for just under $100,000, almost as if there was a $20 wire fee that Novartis was deducting from what Mr. Cohen got to take.
And as -- Mr. Avenatti notes, and it`s true, right after that last payment from Novartis in January 2018, President Trump did have dinner with the CEO of Novartis, before his speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos. What was Novartis paying for?
But there`s one more payment, and the other payment is the one that gets the front page headline in "The New York Times" tonight. Firm tied to Russian oligarch made payments to Michael Cohen.
All right. Here`s how it`s presented in Avenatti`s documents. Chief among the suspiciously financial transactions involving Essential Consultants LLC are approximately $500,000 in payments received from Mr. Viktor Vekselberg, a Russian oligarch with an estimated net worth of nearly $13 billion. Mr. Vekselberg and his cousin, Andrew Intrater, routed eight payments to Michael Cohen, to Essential Consultants LLC, through a company called Columbus Nova, beginning in January 2017 and continuing until at least August 2017.
Columbus Nova is a private equity firm with over $2 billion in assets. Andrew Intrater is the CEO of Columbus Nova. Columbus Nova is the U.S. investment vehicle for Renova Group, which is a multinational company controlled by Viktor Vekselberg.
OK. So, Michael Cohen, president`s lawyer, with a background in, like, the taxi business, sets up this little Delaware shell company as a way of paying the porn star, paying Stormy Daniels that $130,000 right before the election. He says publicly to come up with that $130,000 to pay Stormy Daniels, he had to take out a home equity line of credit.
A new lawyer for the president, Rudy Giuliani, says that ultimately that $130,000 was slowly reimbursed to Mr. Cohen over a period of months when the president paid Michael Cohen $35,000 a month over time during 2017. Well, we now find out that that little company that paid out the 130 grand to Stormy Daniels apparently causing significant financial hardship to Michael Cohen, that little company also paid Michael Cohen over a million bucks and tons more money was being paid into that company. Not by Michael Cohen`s home equity loan, but by AT&T. AT&T, Korea Aerospace, Novartis Pharmaceuticals, and an investment tied to one of the richest men in Russia.
Viktor Vekselberg is an oligarch. He is one of the original oligarchs. He is one of the richest men in Russia. He is considered to be close to Vladimir Putin. He was sanctioned last month by the U.S. government because of his linked to Putin. As was his company, Renova.
Now, the firm that apparently paid Michael Cohen $500,000 and landed itself on the front page of "The New York Times" right now, it`s a private equity firm that used to call itself on its Website, used to call itself the U.S. investment vehicle for the Renova Group. They have since dropped that description on their Website, now that Renova Group and its founder have been sanctioned by the U.S. government. It`s now illegal for anybody in the U.S. to do business with Viktor Vekselberg or the Renova Group, so, nobody would want to advertise themselves as the U.S. investment vehicle for that group, right?
We learned last week that Vekselberg was stopped by agents working for Robert Mueller and his investigators as he landed in a private plane at a New York area airport some time in the past couple of months. Mueller`s team reportedly questioned Mr. Vekselberg, including, it`s being reported tonight, about these payments to Michael Cohen. It`s also been reported that investigators asked to search Mr. Vekselberg`s electronic devices, but we don`t know if they actually did so. We only know they asked.
Now, tonight, we`re getting statements from some of the companies mentioned in this document, allegedly giving funds to Michael Cohen, paying into Essential Consultants LLC. A spokesman for Columbus Nova, which is the U.S. affiliate of Vekselberg`s company Renova, had this to say, quote, Columbus nova is a management company solely owned and controlled by Americans.
After the inauguration, the firm hired Michael Cohen as a business consultant regarding potential sources of capital and potential investments in real estate and other ventures. Reports today that Viktor Vekselberg used Columbus Nova as a conduit for payments are false. The claim that Viktor Vekselberg was involved or provided any funding for Columbus Nova`s engagement of Mar. Cohen is patently untrue. Neither Mr. Vekselberg nor anyone else other than Columbus Nova`s owners were involved in the decision to hire Michael Cohen or provided funding for his engagement.
Now, I mentioned that giant telecom company, AT&T, also reportedly paid $200,000 to Essential Consultants LLC. They released this statement tonight, quote: Essential Consulting was one of several firms we engaged in early 2017 to provide insights into understanding the new administration. They did no legal or lobbying work for us, and the contract ended in December 2017.
Now, a couple of things interesting about that. First of all, AT&T is hiring Essential Consulting to provide insights into understanding the new administration. As far as we know, Essential Consulting is just Michael Cohen. When they say they did no legal or lobbying for us, I don`t know who they is, unless they consider Michael and Cohen to be two different people.
But AT&T is saying they needed to hire this firm, Michael Cohen`s weird little shell company that pays porn stars, they needed to hire them for multiple hundreds of thousands of dollars to get insights. Now, why would AT&T want to put Michael Cohen on the freaking payroll in 2017? Well, I mean, they`ve got important government business, right? They`re trying to go through this big merger with Time Warner? They are -- had very strong interest in the net neutrality matter, right?
Finally, we got what I consider to be a surprising statement from Novartis, from the pharmaceutical company. A spokesman for the pharmaceutical company did not take the same tack as AT&T and Columbus Nova took here, saying, no, no, nothing to see here, nothing is weird here, this was a normal business/not really lobbying relationship. This is what Novartis says, quote: Any agreements with Essential Consultants were entered before our current CEO taking office in February of this year and have expired.
Oh. Right? Different kind of statement. Not a denial that any such agreement was entered into, not a defense of any such agreement, just throwing their former CEO under the bus, saying, wasn`t us, it was definitely the people here before us. Noting for the record any such payments were made not by its current leadership.
I have to say, you know, the other thing that we should tell you right now in terms of the Russia investigation is that Alex van der Zwaan, the lawyer from -- the Dutch lawyer working in Britain in behalf of the American law firm who was lying to FBI, Alex van der Zwaan is the first person who has been convicted, or has pled guilty in the Mueller investigation, who has gone to prison. Mr. Van der Zwaan reported to federal prison yesterday to start serving his 30-day sentence.
The question is, with these new revelations about Michael Cohen, the linking of the Stormy Daniels payment through this shell company to somebody who has been questioned in the Mueller investigation and indeed is a sanctions Russian individual running a big sanctioned Russian company, raises the question if there`s new criminal liability here in these revelations about Michael Cohen, or if this is just decorative financial information that fleshes out the picture more than we knew.
Joining us now is Joyce Vance. She`s a former U.S. attorney from the great state of Alabama. And she`s here in person tonight, which is a treat.
Joyce, thank you for being here.
JOYCE VANCE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: Thanks for having me.
MADDOW: I never know what I`m going to end up talking to you. We book you to talk about something and the news changes.
MADDOW: Yes. At a former prosecutor, looking at information like this about these previously unknown uses of the shell company used to funnel this payment to this adult film actress, how would read this with a prosecutor`s mind?
VANCE: So, the first thing that I want to know, when I see this document, is a lot more about the facts. Because the minute details of the facts will determine whether any of this conduct was criminal. We immediately -- you know, it`s so easy to leap to conclusions in these situations, and this just stinks of influence peddling of, what prosecutors call pay to play, or what federal statute calls bribery.
But without knowing more details about who was paid, when they were paid, what circumstances surrounded the payments, did money actually reach Trump ever or were these perhaps just the sort of payments people make that smell bad but aren`t really illegal? We can`t tell without more factual determination.
MADDOW: When you say money reaching Trump, I mean, obviously that`s one of the first things that leaps to mind here.
MADDOW: At least the partial story that`s been told about the payment to Stormy Daniels is that this company, Essential Consultants LLC, was used to funnel Mr. Trump`s money through a sort of roundabout way to Ms. Daniels. If money is also flowing into this company, that does raise the question as to whether or not the ultimate recipient of that money is not just Michael Cohen, who is the person that registered the company, but potentially could be the president himself?
VANCE: You know, it raises that, Rachel. But again, it`s so dangerous to leap to those conclusions. Bob Mueller and his team are certainly five or ten steps ahead of everyone else on these issues. And it actually worries me a little bit, my prosecutor DNA doesn`t like to see these sort of details that should be held closely within an investigation, leaking out into the public.
They could certainly, if the Mueller investigation is still in progress on some of these fronts, particularly involving the Russians, they could trigger awareness on the part of people who are under investigation. And these sort of banking details, it`s really very surprising to seeing them become public. These are details that prosecutors would subpoena. I`ve not seen this sort of information be public domain before.
So, there are a lot of questions in my mind about, where does this information come from, is it accurate, what conclusions can we reach? But at the end of the day, like Watergate, this is, follow the money.
MADDOW: Yes. I have to -- on that issue of where this information is coming from, we`ve seen, initially from "The Wall Street Journal" and subsequently from some other news outlets, there has been interesting reports about the finances surrounding Essential Consultants, surrounding Mr. Cohen, stuff that I`ve been surprised to see make it into the public domain, before "The New York Times" and NBC News confirmed they had seen financial documents that backed this stuff up.
I would have had no idea to do with these assertions from Mr. Avenatti. Because I have no idea how he would obtain this information. This doesn`t seem like the kind of document that would have been produced in discovery thus far in any of the civil cases.
VANCE: It really seems like there`s someone on the inside putting it forward, even details like wire transfers. Usually just come with a number attached to them. You don`t usually identify who the individual making the transfer is. So, knowing that this is Novartis and AT&T and other companies seems really unusual.
MADDOW: Yes, just unusual to see those big name companies in the middle of a story that at times has seemed so small and so tawdry and personal.
Joyce Vance, thank you so much. It`s great to have you here, my friend. Thank you.
VANCE: Thanks for having me, Rachel.
MADDOW: I moved the desk. Sorry. The earth moved.
We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: A whole bunch of interesting results already. Tonight is election night in a bunch of states. In Indiana, Mike Pence`s older brother, Greg, see, he`s got the family hair-do, he won the Republican primary race for Mike Pence`s old congressional seat. That seat is filled by Republican Congressman Luke Messer. Luke Messer left the seat, though, because he wanted to try to run for Senate, instead. He wanted to be the Republican candidate, trying to unseat Democratic Senator Joe Donnelly in Indiana.
Luke Messer is one of two Indiana congressmen who gave up his seat in Congress to try to run for Senate instead against Donnelly. Congressman Todd Rokita also left his seat to try to go for that Senate instead. But both of them had to face off against a third Republican candidate, a former state rep and local businessman in Indiana named Mike Braun. Mike Braun has been poking fun at Congressman Luke Messer and Todd Rokita for being too hard to tell apart, and he does have a little bit of a point.
NBC News projects tonight that Mike Braun, not the guy who looks just like the other guys, well, depending, has, in fact, won this primary in the Indiana Senate race tonight. That means Rokita and Messer both gave up their seats in Congress to run for Senate instead and neither of them will be the Republican candidate for Senate this November.
In Ohio, Republican Governor John Kasich is being term-limited out. There was a primary race in both parties tonight to see who will vie in November to replace him.
On the Republican side, the state`s lieutenant governor, Mary Taylor, and the state`s attorney general, Mike DeWine, former senator, they have been engaged in a brutal months-long primary campaign. Tonight, the lieutenant governor of Ohio lost that primary. Mike DeWine is the projected winner.
On the Democratic side, the front runners, Richard Cordray, who`s the former head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, who has Elizabeth Warren`s powerful endorsement for that race, he was facing off against, blast from the past, former U.S. congressman and presidential candidate, Dennis Kucinich, who`s had the endorsement of the Bernie Sanders founded group, Our Revolution.
Kucinich had tried to assert his progressive positions by calling for assault weapons ban in Ohio, touting his F-rating from the NRA. He endorsed on Medicare for all, single-payer health plan for Ohio. But NBC News projects tonight the Democrats have not picked Dennis Kucinich. They have chosen Richard Cordray as their nominee for Ohio governor. So, it will be Cordray versus Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine in November, running to succeed Ohio Governor John Kasich.
Now, the big race we`re watching tonight in West Virginia is the Senate race there. Republicans are hoping to unseat Democratic Senator John Manchin. West Virginia Congressman Evan Jenkins and West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrissey have been upstaged in the Republican primary for that Senate race by a former coal company CEO named Don Blankenship. Blankenship was the CEO of Massey Energy. He was in charge of Massey Energy when in April 2010, an explosion at one of his coal mines took the lives of 29 people.
Blankenship was sentenced to a year in prison for conspiring to willfully violate safety standards. He is less than a year out of prison. Blankenship has been hoping to win the Republican nomination to unseat Joe Manchin in November. In the process, he has ticked off the Republican Party in part by making really overtly, proudly racist comments about Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell`s wife and her family.
President Trump weighed in in this race. It was interesting, though. He told people not to vote for Don Blankenship. He said, Don Blankenship can`t win the general election in your state. He said, instead, vote for one of the other two guys, which means Republicans have no one guy who can stop them from Don Blankenship. The president literally advising Republicans to split their vote against Don Blankenship, to keep Don Blankenship from winning.
Well, according to NBC`s statistical models and the raw vote thus far, Don Blankenship appears to be in third place right now, behind Morrissey and Jenkins. NBC has also noted that Blankenship is not currently leading in any geographical regions of West Virginia, but he`s still getting a lot of national attention for obvious reasons.
So, what should we look for in that race and other races tonight? Let`s consult our in-house expert and yours -- joining us now is MSNBC national political correspondent Steve Kornacki.
Steve, thank you. Tell us what`s going on in this primary.
STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, well, you got it with that NBC characterization. Blankenship, frankly, with about half the vote in is looking buried in this thing. He looked and stuck in third place. We`ll see how it shakes up.
But, as you said, the key is when you look at the map of West Virginia. There are a lot of votes to come in. There is suspense about this first and second place. Here`s the thing, you don`t see a natural geographic base for Blankenship, I don`t see a corner or a pocket of the state where he`s running in first, where there`s a lot of vote left where he`s going to make ground.
This is simply, you`ve got Jenkins of the southern part of the state, ancestrally Democratic coal country, this is the Jenkins congressional district. You see that`s the Jenkins color. You get to the northern part of the state, especially this is small, but the eastern panhandle, the fastest growing part of the state and right here in Jefferson County, this is where Patrick Morrissey lives. And check this out. That wasn`t supposed to happen.
Check this out. Look at the vote right now in Patrick Morrissey`s home county. A big county we`re talking about, 71 percent of the vote.
And so, you see statewide, Morrissey is leading by about 3,000 votes. The biggest piece of real estate left on this map is right here. No votes have come in from Berkeley County, this is the second biggest county in the state. We have seen Morrissey running up the score in that part of the state.
So, if that pattern holds, Morrissey is due to get a big boost out that was county. What is left for Jenkins? You got to go to the southern part of the state. Huntington, that`s Marshal University, a couple thousand votes, Jenkins could shave off there. You see he`s running and again, that`s a very close race there. That`s changed since the last time I looked.
It`s not a -- that`s the state wide. That`s much more like it. OK, Jenkins is running ahead. Not going to net as much out there was if this holds. Morrissey is up here.
So, Morrissey, you see with that edge of 3,000, with the vote to come in. You don`t see a path for Blankenship. Where was the Upper Big Branch Mine catastrophe? Down here in coal country.
And there you go, Blankenship running very far back there, 22 percent. That`s where the mine disaster was. It resulted in 29 deaths and him going to prison. So, that`s where it stands in West Virginia right now, Rachel.
MADDOW: Steve Kornacki, I know we will be following this to the end tonight. Thank you very much.
MADDOW: Much more to get to. It`s been a very, very busy news night. I feel like we have 15 different lead stories. Stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN BOLTON, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: As unattractive as the use of military force against Iran`s nuclear program would be, it`s even more unattractive to consider an Iran with nuclear weapons.
I have been very clear on my view of the regime in Tehran for quite some time. I believe it should be the declared policy of the United States to overthrow the regime.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It`s an eye catcher. To stop Iran`s bomb, bomb Iran. What do you mean?
BOLTON: Just as Israel twice before has struck nuclear weapons programs in the hands of hostile states, I`m afraid, given the circumstances, that`s the only real option open to us now.
And that`s why, before 2019, we here will celebrate in Tehran. Thank you very much.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Before 2019.
Iran, once upon a time, was on its way to building a nuclear weapon. You can build a nuclear weapon using highly enriched uranium or using plutonium. At its apex, Iran appeared to be publicly denying it wanted to build any nuclear weapons at all, but it appeared to be proceeding along both a plutonium path and the uranium path to try to get itself to a bomb. Nobody outside Iran wants Iran to have a nuclear bomb.
During the Obama administration, a negotiated solution was arrived at that would result in them not getting the bomb and nobody having to go to war with Iran or bomb them to smithereens in order to make sure they didn`t. It took years of negotiations.
But in 2015, the deal was signed. It was not an American deal with Iran. It was signed by the U.S. and Iran, but also the U.K. and France and Germany and Russia and China and the E.U. There was a deal. A unanimous U.N. Security Council backing for the deal.
Now today, the U.S. government has announced that we are breaking the deal. Again, it`s not a two-party agreement between us and Iran. Everybody else, at least for the moment, is staying in. But this is sort of turning out to be one of the repeated tests of the Trump era, right? What happens to all these areas of international concern and conflict where the U.S. used to take a leading role and now we don`t, or worse?
When it comes to the U.S. breaking the Iran deal, expert opinion seems to be that it might technically be possible for the deal to stay together with everybody else minus us, but not really. Effectively, we are grabbing the ball off the field, popping it and telling everybody we`re about to tear gas the pitch. And so, it seems unlikely that this game will keep going for long.
If and when the whole deal now collapses because of President Trump breaking it today, bottom line, that will end up putting an end to international inspections of Iran`s nuclear facilities. Right now, because of the deal, international nuclear inspectors are literally in Iran, testing and inspecting their potential nuclear sites every single day of the year. When the deal ends, that will end.
Iran will likely get back on the path to start making nuclear fuel again, which is the main thing they`re going to need to do if they`re going to build a bomb.
In the short-term, this announcement today puts the U.S. in the position of trying to unilaterally enact sanctions against Iran, sanctions that nobody else is part of. In terms of our capacity to do that, you should know that Rex Tillerson actually closed the sanctions office at the State Department while he was secretary of state. The director of the sanctions office at the Treasury Department just quit last week. His last day was Friday. Nobody is running that office.
So, in us against the world unilateral new sanctions regime against Iran, where, in fact, most of the people we`re going to end up sanctioning are our closest allies who are still in a deal with Iran, that`s going to be awkward and difficult and sensitive. I have no idea who could even work on that or which office could try to handle it. But that`s what starts in the short-term by program practical means.
I guess in good news, John Bolton is getting the war he has always wanted. It took him less than a month as national security adviser before he started us down the path for his beloved Iran war that he missed by just that much in the Bush administration. My question with this remarkable announcement today are pretty simple, I guess.
Is there some silver lining here that`s not initially obvious, please? Is there a secret plan B that we don`t know about? Does the Trump administration have some idea of what they`re going to do instead of this deal?
But also, in practical terms, for people who understand this stuff, how long`s the runway here? I mean, the U.S. broke this deal today. The other countries in the deal say they`re going to try to keep it going, but how long does that really last with us out of it?
And if and when the deal finally breaks, because of what Trump did today, how long will it take Iran to start building toward a bomb again? How long before Bolton gets his war?
Hold that thought.
MADDOW: Say you`re North Korea, and you`re about to have a summit with the president of the United States for the first time in history, you`re about to have this summit because you`re supposedly about to start talking about a deal, a negotiated deal to stop your nuclear program in exchange for something from the United States.
What does it say to you that the United States just today unilaterally broke the last deal that it did with another country to try to stop a nuclear program? Right on the precipice of the North Korea summit, the United States announces we`re breaking the Iran deal, we`re out. That`s like telling somebody, my neighbor took out a restraining order on me, would you like to hire me to house sit for you?
Joining us now is Joe Cirincione, MSNBC nuclear security analyst, president of the Ploughshares Fund.
Joe, it nice to see you. Thanks for being with us tonight.
JOE CIRINCIONE, MSNBC NUCLEAR SECURITY ANALYST: Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: I know you think that this was a bad decision by the president. How seriously bad a decision is this? Is there a possibility that this deal might stay together with everybody else except us?
CIRINCIONE: This is the most devastating and destructive act of Trump`s presidency. It`s impossible to overstate the seriousness of what he just did.
It isn`t just that he destroyed a key national security arrangement for the United States. It isn`t just that he betrayed our allies. It isn`t just that he damaged the credibility of the United States on the world stage. It`s that he doesn`t have a plan for how to replace this.
I read the transcript for the State Department background briefing today. The reporters were all over these briefers. It was a mess. It`s clear they have no idea how to put back sanctions that they claim will now force Iran to come crawling back for a better deal.
It`s clear that we have lost our allies, we`ve lost our credibility, so, that gets to the point you were raising in your opening segment on this. What is the real plan here? And the fear is that it`s John Bolton`s plan. It`s a plan to actually go to war with Iran.
I wouldn`t say that Bolton is manipulating the president, but John Bolton operationalizes Trump`s worst impulses. And that could get us into the biggest conflict yet in the Middle East.
MADDOW: Joe, on this point of what we`re going to do instead of this -- instead of the deal, instead of the plan, now that we have broken out of the plan, ostensibly, what they`re saying is that the United States is going to embark on a sanctions regime against Iran and we`re going to do it alone, without our allies, and we`re going to do it after the State Department closed its sanctions office, after the head of the sanctions office of the Treasury Department just left.
I have question, even if you take them at their word and they do have some plan at what`s going to replace what we just got out of, as some sanctions thing, I have concerns that the U.S. government couldn`t just, as a capability, couldn`t institute some complex new sanctions plan against our allies even if we wanted to.
CIRINCIONE: I think that`s right. The State Department officials had a great deal of difficulty of explaining how this would work. Remember, we don`t do -- the United States doesn`t do business with Iran, so, you can`t sanction our companies, so, that means you have to sanction European companies, Japanese companies, Chinese companies, people who are doing business.
Really? You think our allies are going to put up with that, that that`s your plan? And even if you did have a plan to do this, how are you going to operationalize it? Which is why you`re so worried about where this path leads. As you increase tensions in the region, and just today, Israel had new strikes against Iranian positions in Syria, you`re worried that Donald Trump has in effect poured gasoline on these conflicts, that whether he wants to or not, the U.S. will be drawn into the conflicts that Saudi Arabia and Israel are having with Iran.
MADDOW: Joe Cirincione, MSNBC nuclear security analyst, president of the Ploughshares Fund, I know that we knew this day was coming, it is -- it`s still hard to get your head around it now that it`s here. Thanks for helping us understand tonight, Joe. It`s nice to see you.
CIRINCIONE: Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: All right. We`ll be right back. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Friday, prosecutors working for Robert Mueller and the special counsel`s office went to federal court in D.C. to get a continuance, basically an extension in the case against 13 Russian individuals and three Russian businesses who were all hit with felony charges by Robert Mueller in February. None of the Russian individuals who were charged by Mueller have responded formally to the fact that they`ve been hit with these felony charges, but one of the corporate entities that was charged, a company that is owned by a Russian oligarch, that company actually hired American lawyers, who did file a response to the indictment.
What these American lawyers have filed for is tons and tons of discovery, which is legal speak for oh, OK, if you`re going to prosecute our client, you have to show us your evidence. You have to show us what you`ve got.
Well, the first hearing in this case is scheduled for tomorrow. The basis of the Mueller filing trying to delay tomorrow`s hearing was basically twofold. Mueller`s prosecutors were saying, we`re not sure that these lawyers are even going to show up, we`re not really totally sure that these lawyers actually represent this Russian company, but meanwhile, you should know that what they`ve asked for in terms of discovery is seven decades of sensitive American foreign policy and intelligence information about Russia. Seriously.
Quoting from the discovery request to prosecutors, this is what they`re demanding. Quote: The government has requested to turn over to defense counsel and to disclose from 1945 to present each and every instance where any officer, employee, and/or agent of the U.S. government engaged in operations to interfere with elections and political processes in any foreign country, including but not limited to information relating to whether any such activity utilized propaganda in any format, including but not limited to the use of social media.
This disclosure should include any and all information regarding the use of computer infrastructure inside and outside the United States, false foreign identity, goals to sow discord in a foreign political system, assistant to a foreign elected official or candidate, attacks on a foreign elected official or candidate, assassination or conspiracy to assassinate a foreign elected official or candidate, buying political advertisements, posing as foreign persons and/or failure to honestly identify to foreign voters the involvement of any officer, employee or agent of the United States government. From 1945 to the present. Oh, is that all?
Prosecutors in that filing on Friday said, basically, to the court, we`d rather not hand all that over, at least until we`re sure that this is actually an issue of legal representation for this defendant and not just the Russian government using our courts to extract sensitive information that`s going to go to the Russian government for their our own purposes. We`d like a little more time, please, to make sure we`ve sorted this all on.
Well, the judge who is hearing this case said no to Mueller`s prosecutors. Oh. The judge said actually, the first hearing in this case is going ahead as scheduled tomorrow. Discovery can proceed.
Presumably, Mueller`s team knew what they were doing when they decided to bring criminal charges against Russian individuals and entities in this case. But one of the things it has now done is it has made Russia a stakeholder and a legal combatant in this fight now. And so, now, we`re seeing what they want to do with the access that that gives them in our legal system.
That court hearing tomorrow should be fascinating.
Watch this space.
MADDOW: In what is easily the most surprising news on a day of very big news, today, the lawyer for Stormy Daniels, Michael Avenatti, released a seven-page document in which he alleges that the shell company used by Michael Cohen to pay off porn star Stormy Daniels for the president, that company was used much more extensively than has been previously reported. Almost $4.5 million appears to have passed through that account after the 2016 election, including hundreds of thousands of dollars paid into that company from AT&T, from the Novartis Pharmaceutical Company, from a Korean aviation company, and half a million dollars from an American company linked to a Russian oligarch who was close to Vladimir Putin and is now sanctioned by the U.S. government.
These same payments have now been pored over by both NBC News and "The New York Times." Both news organizations are vouching for the accuracy of Mr. Avenatti`s claims. Tonight, the lawyer, Michael Avenatti, says, quote, we are just getting started.
Curious to know what he means by that. My curiosity is about to be satisfied because Mr. Avenatti is Lawrence`s guest coming up right now on "THE LAST WORD".
Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL".
Good evening, sir.
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