Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: May 11, 2018 Guest: Emily Jane Fox, John Burnett, Michael Carpenter
JOY REID, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. I have my phone and we`ll be subscribing as soon as we get to commercial break.
CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST, "ALL IN": I`m excited. Yes.
REID: Very excited.
HAYES: All right. Have a weekend.
REID: OK, thank you. You too.
All right. And thank you for -- to you -- for at home for joining us this hour. Rachel has the night off.
OK. So it`s Friday, which these days means there`s a lot going on in the news. There are no slow news days anymore.
We`re learning more about the Russian oligarch affiliated with an American investment firm that paid half a million dollars to Trump lawyer Michael Cohen. The president`s chief of staff gave a rare media interview, which has been making headlines all day and not in a good way. We`ll talk about both of those stories tonight.
Plus new details about that time EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt`s security detail busted down the door of his apartment for no reason. Remember that? You do not want to miss this story and the new weird information about it.
So like I said, big show ahead. But I want to start tonight with this photo. You remember this photo. It`s the picture that launched a thousand memes. This was Donald Trump in May of last year on his very first trip abroad as president to Saudi Arabia. There he was with the Saudi king and the president of Egypt, all with their hands on that mysterious glowing orb. Also, there was the sword dance.
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REID: Look at him groove. It was quite a trip.
And for the Trump administration it had to be a really nice distraction because just days before that trip and that sword dance, Robert Mueller had been appointed special counsel to take over the Russia investigation and to look into Trump`s firing of the FBI director, Jim Comey, earlier that month.
But it turned out the Trump trip to the Middle East and the Mueller investigation were on a collision course. Shortly after Trump got back from that trip to Saudi Arabia, he completely upended his U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East by a tweet, by backing an aggressive move by Saudi Arabia against the nation of Qatar, a staunch American ally that hosts a giant American military base.
And for many months that whole weird foreign policy shake-up remained just that, strange, kind of inexplicable, but solely a foreign policy issue. And then our understanding of the entire affair suddenly changed radically. What had been as far as we knew two completely separate stories, Trump`s seemingly seat of his pants foreign policy in the Middle East and the ever- churning Mueller investigation, suddenly it turned out they were connected.
In March of this year, we learned Mueller`s team was investigating whether essentially the Trump administration may have sided against Qatar in its fight with Saudi Arabia because Qatar declined to invest in Jared Kushner`s troubled family real estate project at 666 Fifth Avenue here in New York City.
Then we learned that Mueller was focused on a guy named George Nader, who had been lobbying the White House against Qatar, and whether he may have funneled money from Qatar`s enemies to Trump`s campaign. And then George Nader became a cooperating witness in the Mueller probe. This is a phenomenon we`re having to get used to in the Trump era. Things we thought were completely separate stories, important and complex and dark stories in their own right turn out to be connected, often in even darker ways than we`d imagined.
Well, today it appears to be happening again. Only the turnaround this time is apparently getting shorter. This time we did not have to wait months for two giant seemingly unconnected stories to merge into a larger Trump scandal. This time it only took a week.
Let us recall how this week started. On Monday evening, Jane Mayer and Ronan Farrow at "The New Yorker" published this deeply disturbing report of accounts by four women, two of them named on the record, who said they had been physically abused by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. And in what has to be some kind of land speed record for cause and effect, Schneiderman resigned his office within hours.
At the beginning of Monday night`s show, Rachel was reporting on the New York story, interviewing Jane Mayer about it. By the end of Monday night`s show, Rachel was reporting on Schneiderman`s resignation. It was lightning quick.
Now, I know that seems that was already months ago but that really was just Monday night. So that`s how the week started.
Then Tuesday brought new revelations about Trump lawyer Michael Cohen courtesy of a document released by Michael Avenatti, the very able, very TV-savvy lawyer for adult film actress Stormy Daniels, who is suing Trump and Cohen to get out of a non-disclosure agreement covering allegations of an affair with Trump. On Tuesday, Michael Avenatti released this document, which laid out several financial transactions involving Cohen`s Delaware- registered shell corporation, Essential Consultants LLC, which was the vehicle that he used to pay $130,000 in hush money to Stormy Daniels just before the 2016 election.
Now, we learned from this document that Essential Consultants was apparently so much more than just an account to pay hush money to one porn star. It paid out over a million dollars to Michael Cohen himself. And it took in a lot of money too. Hundreds of thousands of dollars from Korea Aerospace Industries, from AT&T, from global pharmaceutical giant Novartis. And these payments were last year, while Donald Trump was already president. Some of them were even this year.
And yes, there was the half million-dollar payment from an American investment firm linked to a Russian oligarch. And what has spooled out over the rest of the week is that all of these big companies have confirmed that yes indeed they paid Michael Cohen those amounts or in some cases much more than those amounts and they`ve been frantically changing and updating their explanations for why they paid him and for what. As they`ve come to realize that no one`s buying the idea that Michael Cohen was retained by some of the world`s biggest corporations for his health policy expertise or his advice on how to restructure the internal accounting systems for major aerospace manufacturers.
Oh, and also special counsel Robert Mueller`s team spoke to these companies about their payments to Michael Cohen months before federal investigators raided Cohen`s office, his home, and his hotel room last month. Even tonight, this story continues to unfold with "The Wall Street Journal" reporting that Michael Cohen offered his ostensible consulting services to Ford Motor Company in January of last year but Ford said no.
"The Journal" reports, quote, "Mueller`s team has since requested information from Ford about the outreach, including e-mails and records and has interviewed Ford`s head of government affairs, who was the person who rejected Cohen`s offer.
Also tonight, Michael Avenatti continues to tweet teases about further information he claims to have about Cohen`s finances.
So, just this week, what started out as a story about hush money payments over an alleged sexual liaison became a story about some of the world`s biggest corporations pouring money into the president`s lawyers, what do we call it? His slush fundy LLC thingamajig.
And today, it turns out this whole sordid Michael Cohen consulting business now appears to be tied up with the story that started the week. Now, you may have seen this tweet resurface this week. A tweet that looked like a really prescient 2013 era Donald Trump predicting the Eric Schneiderman scandal. Quote,: Weiner`s gone. Spitzer is gone. Next will be lightweight A.G. Eric Schneiderman. Is he a crook? Wait and see, worse than Spitzer or Weiner.
Well, it turns out not only was that tweet predictive of the actual scandal, but the way Trump may have known to tweet that today became tied to the Michael Cohen case, too. Right now, what`s happening in the Michael Cohen case is that a special master appointed by the court is going through all the materials seized from Cohen`s office, his home, his hotel room, and making determinations about what`s protected by attorney-client privilege and therefore should not be turned over to federal prosecutors.
In fact, just today, the special master notified the court that she has finished going through the first batch of material and now, lawyers for Cohen and Trump have until Monday to raise any objections to her decisions.
But also today, new twist, this letter was sent today to the judge in the Michael Cohen case by a lawyer named Peter Gleason. And his story is a little convoluted. So stay with me here.
But here`s the bottom line. Gleason says that in 2012 and he was contacted separately by two women who claimed to have been, quote, "victimized" by the New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. Gleason tells "The New York Times" today that these two women are not among the four women whose accounts were reported in the "New Yorker" on Monday. These are two different women, two other women entirely.
Gleason says he did not refer these women to the Manhattan district attorney because he did not believe or trust that the D.A. would do anything about it. Instead, and here`s where it gets weird, here is what he says he did. Quote: I discussed the matter with a retired journalist by the name of Steven Dunleavy who suggested and offered to discuss the matter with Donald Trump. Mr. Dunleavy did indeed discuss this very matter with Mr. Trump as evidenced by a phone call received from attorney Michael Cohen.
During my communications with Mr. Cohen, I shared with him certain details of Schneiderman`s vile attacks on these two women. The extent of Mr. Cohen memorializing any of our communications is unknown. However, these two women`s confidentiality as victims of a sexual assault should be superior to that of any unrelated subpoena. Further, it is respectfully requested that the court issue a protective order and seal any and all correspondence that Mr. Cohen may have memorialized regarding our communications, which pertain to Mr. Schneiderman`s assault on these two women.
So, this lawyer is saying to the court, if you find anything in Michael Cohen`s correspondence about these two women please seal it and make sure it does not get out. And I have so many questions. For starters, why would this lawyer tell Donald Trump of all people about these alleged sexual assaults?
Well, just as a possibility, Schneiderman was going after Trump University at the time. So was Trump collecting dirt on Schneiderman? And if so, why was this lawyer giving it to him and why is he admitting to it now?
Why did this lawyer write this letter at all? Does he really fear that someone`s going to leak Cohen materials about these women`s allegations from years ago? Is there some other end game here? Honestly, what is going on here?
Joining us now is Emily Jane Fox, senior reporter at "Vanity Fair," and Paul Butler, former federal prosecutor and professor at Georgetown School of Law.
OK, Emily and Paul, if that was not complicated enough, I have to start with you on this, Emily, because you of course are working on a book, a highly anticipated book about Donald Trump. The idea that if this lawyer finds out about allegations about Schneiderman, who is investigating Trump at the time, does it make sense to you that instead of this going to law enforcement it goes to the tabloids, who go right to Donald Trump?
EMILY JANE FOX, SENIOR REPORTER, VANITY FAIR: That there`s a connection between the tabloids and Donald Trump is the least surprising part of this story.
FOX: But there are two things that just don`t make sense to me. Why this person would go to a tabloid in the first place. Perhaps to get it published.
And the second more confusing thing is, why didn`t Donald Trump use it? If he knew about it, this is not someone who does not part with his money lightly, and he ended up settling for I believe $25 million in the Trump University cases.
FOX: He had this dirt on him. It would be very surprising he didn`t use it to oust Schneiderman earlier.
And the other thing is, this went through, according to this attorney, this went through Michael Cohen.
FOX: And Michael Cohen is a self-described fixer. So why wouldn`t he have fixed that problem for Donald Trump?
So, there are a couple things that don`t necessarily add up to me, but as with many things in this story, I`m sure we`ll have a drip, drip, drip of information and possibly get an answer at some point or possibly not.
REID: But having written a lot about Donald Trump and just for those who are not familiar with New York, the Trump New York of the `90s, the late `80s and early `90s, when he was really in his heyday. How did he interact with the tabloids? And how extensively did he?
FOX: Very extensively. This is someone who used to pretend -- had a pseudonym, or several pseudonyms --
REID: John Barron.
FOX: Exactly. Calling in stories about himself to the tabloids. And he had a very public divorce, mostly because he would plant stories about the divorce himself.
FOX: So, this is someone who had a very close relationship. I believe there`s one story I came across in my reporting for the book where reporters had to stop talking to him as a source at one point because his name was quoted so often that people worried that their readers would have fatigue seeing Donald Trump`s name. He was such an easy guy to get to comment on the record about anything.
REID: He was like that during the campaign.
FOX: Yes. But they had to stop calling him.
REID: And just lastly, would Michael Cohen have ever been involved? Was he in the middle of those kinds of transactions? Because it is interesting that Since Trump had a direct relationship with these tabloids, this lawyer finds out the information. He goes to a tabloid, who goes to Cohen. Was it typical for Cohen to be that kind of fixer, to be in the middle of the tabloids giving dirt on essentially an opponent, a prosecutor who could be out to get him and being a go-between between that person and Trump?
FOX: Michael Cohen has a very thick rolodex of reporters that he also knows and as we know, he had conversations with "In Touch" and David Pecker who owns AMI, "National Enquirer." This is someone who also grew up in New York in that world in the `80s and `90s and 2000s too relating to tabloids and other reporters and news outlets. And so, it wouldn`t be shocking if there was a relationship there. But this -- the way it is described, this relationship, I have more questions than answers.
REID: And you know, Paul, let`s get to this. During this period Donald Trump obviously is embroiled in a pretty big legal case, the Trump University, for which he as Emily pointed out settled big bucks. There`s also the question of whether or not some donations that went to Pam Bondi, who`s the attorney general of Florida, was related to the fact that Florida was starting to look into Trump University as well.
If Donald Trump is solving his Trump University problems potentially that way with one D.A. and potentially has kompromat basically on his local hometown D.A., it does beg the question what did he do with it, did he use, it is there something illegal about -- I don`t know. It is just a strange case.
PAUL BUTLER, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: It`s very strange. One of the other people Schneiderman is going after is Trump`s own son. So, he`s got real beef, Trump does, against Schneiderman. So, if he`s got this really damaging evidence, why wouldn`t he use it?
The only thing that makes this juicy, it is kind of like a page turner, is how did Trump know to lump Schneiderman with Weiner and Spitzer?
BUTLER: He does that in 2013. And part of the big story about Schneiderman is still recently, nobody suspected this about them.
BUTLER: But, again, Weiner, Spitzer, their sexual improprieties. Trump lumps Schneiderman in there. How did he know?
BUTLER: So that provides, I don`t know if you`d say credibility to Gleason. Gleason`s wacky, colorful, weird. But some kind of way, Trump knew something was up.
REID: And publicly tweeted about it. The other question then would be this question of asking the court to seal the information. We already now know about these other four women. What do you make of that request to seal the information about these two women?
BUTLER: The judge was like you want to give me some law? Because it`s not attorney-client privilege because Cohen wasn`t representing any of these people. What Gleason is saying is that these women have privacy issues. That`s not a legal claim.
So, the judge says the letter`s fine, even though you did misspell Schneiderman, but put some law on this because the judge doesn`t know what to do.
REID: Yes. And the question I guess would be then, given the fact that we do have a record of Michael Cohen being the go-between to pay women, you know, in certain cases, because this is now connected to the Cohen case, could these women`s identity be discoverable? Would it be relevant in any way since Cohen is now involved?
BUTLER: So collusion collision. This is like way messy because this LLC is just doing all this stuff. So, we knew it was about these payments to Stormy Daniels. Now, AT&T is involved.
BUTLER: All these other corporations, and this Russian oligarch. So, again, that`s the connection to collusion. We go from Stormy to Cohen to Russians to Trump because Cohen`s the fixer.
REID: How are all these stories related? It doesn`t seem possible. And yet they`re all related all the time.
Emily Jane Fox, senior reporter at "Vanity Fair," thank you very much. Paul Butler, thank you very much, former federal prosecutor and our very own MSNBC contributor. Thank you all very much.
And much more to come tonight.
Up next, the Republicans` latest plan to try to shut down the Mueller investigation and what some Democrats are trying to do to stop it.
Stay with us.
REID: You have of course heard of a ream, as in a ream of paper. Well, there are 500 pieces of paper in a ream, which is not news. But someone might want to remind Congressman Mark Meadows, who`s officially requested a whole lot of reams.
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REP. MARK MEADOWS (R), NORTH CAROLINA: For us, it`s all about getting the documents, making sure that we actually get the documents that we have a constitutional right to have. A little over 12,000 documents have been delivered to our office out of 1.2 million.
(END VIDEO CLIPO)
REID: One-point-two million documents. That is more than 2,000 reams of paper. Be careful what you wish for, Mark Meadows.
So the strategy for congressional Republicans fighting the Trump Russia investigation tooth and nail is twofold. Part one, use document requests to see what kind of information they can dig up on the Russian investigation to see if they can prove that the investigation is somehow biased or tainted. Part two, if the Justice Department says no, try to freak out or even force out anyone who gets in their way.
Right now, the document fight centers around this -- a classified memo written by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. It`s basically a road map for the Russia investigation. It spells out for Mueller and his team exactly what they`re allowed to investigate. Most of it is redacted. And Republicans really, really want to know what`s behind those black boxes, so that they can prove once and for all that this whole thing has gotten out of hand, total witch hunt, end it now.
Republicans have tried asking nicely for that memo. They`ve tried writing nasty notes to the Justice Department. And now, they`re trying another way.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MEADOWS: There will be a request for us to audit the financial resources of this investigation.
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REID: An audit. Well, that`s a new gambit to try, to pry the top secret memo out of the justice department. Republicans say that they`re going to ask for a federal audit of the Mueller investigation as a way to unearth a classified government document. That is not what federal audits are for. But Republicans say they`re going to try anyway.
Both the White House and the Justice Department have refused to turn over that memo. They say it could endanger a top secret intelligence source. And as this standoff continues between a group of Republicans in Congress and the guy in charge of overseeing the Mueller investigation, there`s a real chill in Washington right now. There`s a real worry that Republicans could use this whole incident as a pretext for firing Rod Rosenstein.
And so now, Democrats have come up with a new backup plan. Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal told NBC News that lawmakers in the Senate are cooking up a plan B, a kind of last-ditch break glass in case of emergency effort to make sure the Mueller investigation can continue to run its course unimpeded, even if Rod Rosenstein ultimately does get fired.
This plan has support from both sides of the aisle. It`s a logistical Hail Mary to keep the Mueller investigation bulletproof, even if there is no Robert Mueller or Rod Rosenstein to keep it going. So what would that look like? And would it work?
Joining us now is Heidi Przybyla, the NBC News national political reporter who broke this story today about shielding the Mueller investigation.
Heidi, great to have you here. Good evening.
HEIDI PRZYBYLA, NBC NEWS NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: Good evening.
REID: All right. So, tell us what this plan is that Democrats and I suppose some Republicans have cooked up.
PRZYBYLA: Right. So as you know, Joy, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell nixed plan A. Plan A is a bipartisan bill that, by the way, has the support of many Republicans who are not known as the typical centrist reaching across the aisle like Charles Grassley.
Nevertheless, McConnell says he`s not bringing it to the floor. This happened in the past week or two. Members went on recess. I spoke exclusively with Senator Blumenthal about what is now plan B. A bipartisan effort to try and circumvent some of the reasons that McConnell and other conservatives gave for nixing this.
Here`s their argument. Their argument is that hampering the president`s ability to hire and fire, hovering over his personnel decisions is unconstitutional. A number of members including Republicans disagree with that. Nevertheless, that`s where we are.
So this new attempt would be to simply talk about transparency. Robert Mueller is not operating under the same principles that previous special counsels did. For instance, Ken Starr had a statute that said Congress got to see the product of his work. We don`t have that with Mueller. Which means in a worst case scenario this investigation could never be seen by the public or by Congress.
So this new legislation would ensure that wherever this goes the public, Congress gets a look at it. It would ensure that if Mueller were pushed aside he could release his work. And it would ensure that if Mueller started to feel like he was being squeezed, if Rod Rosenstein was pushed aside, someone else, a Trump loyalist came in and squeezed off resources, that he could raise alarms, quit, and also release his information to the public.
This is important, Joy, because there`s no more constitutional argument here. This is only about transparency and about the same standards that have been applied to previous special counsels. I`m told by Senator Blumenthal that there are a number of Republicans who want to work with him on this because they want to avoid a constitutional crisis.
Publicly, many of them say the president will never do this, it`s unnecessary. Privately, a number of them are working with him. I don`t have any indication yet of whether McConnell will feel compelled to bring this to the floor or whether he`ll say, I will not engage on this either.
REID: Right, and they would need to do it in a veto-proof majority, obviously, because if Trump decided to veto it, but the question then would be, would Mueller or Rosenstein be able to release their report to the public and to Congress simultaneously or would it have to go to a committee? Oh, I don`t know, let`s say the House Intelligence Committee that would probably just bury it.
PRZYBYLA: That is a great question, Joy, because according to this, and this is only a draft at this point, it would be to release it to Congress. So, you`re right. Even under that scenario, it`s possible that we would have some hurdles in Congress, but you know how things work when Congress gets its hand on a document and there`s portions of it that maybe aren`t classified. The public pressure to release that report once a number of members of Congress have their hands on it, I don`t see it happening.
REID: Or it just leaks.
PRZYBYLA: More likely.
REID: NBC News political correspondent Heidi Przybyla, have a great night. Thank you for being here.
PRZYBYLA: Thanks to you too, Joy.
REID: All right. Thank you.
And still ahead here tonight, it`s now been exactly one year since Lester Holt interviewed Donald Trump, the president`s last interview with a non- conservative news outlet. But someone else in the White House has talked to the press even less, until now. And that`s ahead.
REID: OK. See if you can spot the pattern. Quote: After receiving the president`s order to fire Mr. Mueller, the White House counsel Don McGahn refused to ask the Justice Department to dismiss the special counsel, saying he would quit instead.
Quote: Officials said General H.R. McMaster has stormed out West Wing or threatened to quit in front of his staff.
Quote: Mr. Trump`s chief economic adviser Gary Cohn warned the Chief of Staff John Kelly that he might resign.
Quote: Steve Bannon even threatened at one point to quit.
Quote: Former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson before he was fired by tweet, quote, was on the verge of resigning last July.
FBI Director Christopher Wray reportedly threatened to resign if Andrew McCabe was removed from his job as deputy director of the FBI. Attorney General Jeff Sessions offered to resign when the president expressed his rage over Sessions` recusal on the Russia investigation.
And Chief of Staff John Kelly has reportedly threatened to quit so many times that it`s becoming his thing. Getting chewed out at work to the point of threatening to quit is becoming just another regular day at the office for this administration. A small number go through with it, like Gary Cohn. A larger number get pushed out. And there are a few on the list whose fates are still up in the air. Hello, Jeff Sessions.
For the latest who joined the club has a secret weapon, and that`s next.
REID: So it looks like the White House will not be in the market for a new homeland security secretary after all. That`s despite "New York Times" reporting that Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen almost quit on Wednesday after the president chastised her in front of the entire cabinet for not securing the borders to his liking. But after a homeland security spokesman flatly denied "The New York Times" report, Secretary Nielsen herself released a statement, aligning herself with Donald Trump saying, quote, that existing loopholes and the lack of congressional action have prevented this administration from fully securing the border and protecting the American people. I share his frustration.
This afternoon, Fox News`s White House correspondent John Roberts updated the story, reporting that it was the president`s Chief of Staff John Kelly who talked the secretary, his protege and his successor at the Homeland Security Department, out of quitting.
Just a little over one month ago the shoe was on the other foot. Back in March, "Axios" reported that John Kelly blew up at the president in the Oval Office and threatened to walk off the job after former V.A. Secretary David Shulkin was fired, although the spat was reportedly unrelated to that day`s staff shake-up. That time, it was Secretary Nielsen`s turn to talk her former boss into staying on board. And it worked.
Today, Kelly can celebrate being on the job for nearly 10 months. Today`s also his birthday, incidentally.
But March was not the only time Kelly flirted with the White House`s ever- revolving door. There was that time last may when he was still homeland security secretary that John Kelly reportedly threatened to quit after former FBI Director James Comey was fired. Then, in October, he had to pressure everyone -- he had to reassure everyone that he was not quitting after reports of a shouting match between him and the president.
Just last month, there was fallout after NBC`s reporting that Kelly had called the president an idiot for not understanding how the DACA program works. And the list goes on.
According to the "New York Times," Kelly would even use the threat of resigning strategically, which is interesting, because in an interview that just aired on NPR today, the four-star marine general talks about taking on the White House gig as a duty.
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JOHN BURNETT, NPR: Do you have any regrets about taking this job nine months ago?
JOHN KELLY, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: I -- first of all, didn`t get a vote. I took a $30,000 a year cut to take this job from what I was doing at DHS. And I say that only because I`m one of probably the few people around here that isn`t really rich, at my age anyways. You know, the sense of duty. It was clear from my perch at DHS that the White House was less organized than our president deserved. So when he said I really need you to come down, what do you say, I came down.
BURNETT: You seriously considered leaving?
KELLY: No. There`s times of great frustration, mostly because of the stories I read about myself or others that I think the world of. And you wonder if it`s worth it to be subjected to that. But then I grow up and suck it up.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
REID: Or maybe John Kelly just fits this White House. Despite reporting that he had called Trump an idiot, Kelly also sounds a lot like him in a lot of ways. When asked about the new DHS policy announced by Attorney General Jeff Sessions this week to separate parents who cross the U.S.- Mexican border from their kids, from their children, he said not all immigrants are, quote, bad people.
And I`m going to quote here from the transcript of the interview that NPR published online today.
They`re not criminals. They`re not MS-13. Some of them are not. But they`re also not people who would easily assimilate into the United States or into our modern society. They`re overwhelmingly rural people in the countries they come from, fourth, fifth, sixth grade educations are kind of the norm.
They don`t really speak English. Obviously that`s a thing. They don`t speak English. They don`t integrate well. They don`t have skills.
They`re not bad people. They`re coming here for a reason, and I sympathize with the reason but the laws are the laws, quote.
And joining us now is John Burnett, a national immigration correspondent for NPR News, who got the scoop and interviewed Kelly.
Thank you so much for being here, John.
BURNETT: Happy to be here, Joy.
So, you know, one of the things about John Kelly is he doesn`t do a lot of interviews but when he does do them, he typically does them at a conservative news outlet like Fox.
REID: So, you know, sort of one of the theories of the case of Donald Trump is that when his team, when his cabinet want to speak to him they speak to him sort of through media, through the TV. But NPR is not exactly what we think of as where Donald Trump would hear him say that he doesn`t think he`s an idiot, right?
I guess a lot of people are wondering, why NPR? Why -- how did you manage to get hi to talk to you?
BURNETT: Well, it`s not that general Kelly picked NPR so much as I knew him from 15 years ago when he was the brigadier general in the First Marine Division and was moving through the southern Iraqi desert towards Baghdad. I was an embedded reporter in the headquarters battalion, and John Kelly was our briefer. And we were all in combat together and eating MREs together and sleeping in the sand together, and we all got to know each other pretty well and established a really nice rapport. We remembered each other.
And so, here I am. Now I`m based in Texas, and I cover immigration for National Public Radio and I sent a note to Mr. Kelly`s office and I said, it`s me, the guy from, you know, the Iraq war, we`ve been in touch a little bit over the years, and I said, I`d like to talk to you about your views on immigration and some other news. And through his deputy, he said, John come on over.
BURNETT: So it was -- it is an unusual on the record briefing with a mainstream news organization that has gotten a lot of traction today.
REID: Yes, absolutely it has. And it`s interesting. There`s a part at the top of the interview where he talks about that relationship and feeling like it was a very different kind of interaction with the media because, of course, in war time it is a different interaction with the media.
I want to get to some of the things you guys spoke about. Obviously, there was the comment recently where reports said he called the president an idiot. He didn`t -- you ask him about his perceptions of Donald Trump`s intellect.
And I`m interested in the way he speaks now that sound kind of like Donald Trump, things Donald Trump would say and whether this is how he always has sounded. He`s very smart, he`s a smart guy -- I mean, a super smart guy. He`s very strong. He`s very strong in trade, taxes, business, like he says things that sound like Donald Trump.
Is that the same -- does he sound the same way he sounded to you when you were interviewing him back then in the Pentagon days?
BURNETT: Oh, God, he`s a completely different person. I mean, at the time, you know, he was in the chain of command. Actually, General Mattis, who`s now the defense secretary, was the commanding general of the 1st Marine Division. And so, General Kelly was junior to him.
But no, in the battlefield he was -- he liked the press. He was very open. And he tried to tell us what he could of the battle plan and the success.
But now, he`s just completely metamorphosed into the chief of staff in what`s the most mercurial and chaotic administration in recent history. And so, I think a lot of people consider that this is sort of his last command, that he still is very loyal to the commander in chief, and so, when he asked General Kelly to come from DHS, where he was chief, to the White House, he said I`m going to do this.
REID: And he also has evinced a lot of views on immigration. He made sort of an exception for TPS and seemed to think people who`ve been here for TPS for 20 years should stay. But his views on immigration are very hard line and he didn`t back down from any of that, including his criticisms of things like DACA, right?
BURNETT: Yes, Joy, it was really interesting. He was sort of nuanced. And that`s what I really appreciated, having 25 minutes with him to sort of -- to work through some of these.
For instance, he said on the one hand, you know, we -- not all immigrants who come across the border illegally are criminals and are bad people and are MS-13, and so, he was -- that`s definitely sort of more moderate than what you hear from this extreme rhetoric from the president. And then, in the same section of the interview, he said but in these -- you know, that we -- they should -- they`re not assimilating, they`re not speaking English, you know?
And there have been a lot of comments in Twitter and online that General Kelly`s own family from the Brighton section of Boston, his father was Irish, his mother was Italian, his great grandfather was a wagon driver who was reportedly illiterate, Italian, didn`t speak English. His maternal grandmother had a fruit cart. She didn`t speak English either.
So, some people have said, you know, before he criticizes immigrants who don`t assimilate to their liking, perhaps he should look back at his own family tree.
REID: Yes. There are a lot of ironies there, but congratulations (AUDIO GAP) taking a look at it. So, people who haven`t should do so.
John Burnett, southwest correspondent for NPR news. Really appreciate your time.
REID: It may be Friday but there`s still a lot of news to get to. Really. Tonight. Stay with us.
REID: In 2014, the FBI`s Boston field office issued a rare public warning. It alerted tech companies and universities in the Boston area to the, quote, possible perils of entering into joint partnerships with foreign venture capital firms from Russia. These partnerships the FBI said were primarily promoted by the Skolkovo Foundation, a Russian organization promoting start-ups and often described as Russia`s answer to Silicon Valley.
As the FBI warned, quote: the foundation may be a means for the Russian government to access our nation`s sensitive or classified research, development facilities, and dual use technologies with military and commercial applications. The head of that foundation that the FBI warned about four years ago is this man, Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg. Vekselberg`s $15 billion fortune currently puts him at number 75 on the world`s richest list. As such he is closely connected to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Unlike other oligarchs, Vekselberg is not believed to have ties to Russian organized crime. And though there is disagreement over whether he`s a member of Putin`s inner circle, he certainly interacts with the Russian president on a regular basis. He sat at the table next to Putin at the infamous RT dinner in 2015, the same one attended by Trump`s former national security adviser Michael Flynn, and Green Party candidate Jill Stein. That FBI warning about Vekselberg`s foundation four years ago was dug up today by Tim Mack at NPR.
Vekselberg has been in the news a lot lately. Most recently, his name appeared in documents released by Stormy Daniels` lawyer, Michael Avenatti, alleging that the U.S. affiliate of Vekselberg`s company, Columbus Nova, paid 500,000 into a shell company controlled by Michael Cohen.
Columbus Nova has denied that those payments to Cohen had anything to do with Vekselberg. Although the company`s CEO happens to be Vekselberg`s American cousin, Andrew Intrater, the American cousin, donated $250,000 to Donald Trump`s inauguration committee, a donation that has attracted the scrutiny of special counsel Robert Mueller.
Vekselberg and his cousin both attended Trump`s inauguration where they reportedly met with, who else, Trumps longtime attorney and fixer Michael Cohen. Vekselberg was one of seven Russian oligarchs sanctioned by the government in April for his close ties to Putin. Separately, "The New York Times" reported last week that Vekselberg was questioned by federal agents working for Mueller after he stepped off a private plane at a New York airport earlier this year.
Vekselberg has not been identified as a suspect in that investigation and he has not been charged or accused of any wrongdoing in connection with the investigation into Michael Cohen. But his ties to the Kremlin and his newly resurfaced connection to a warning issued by the FBI four years ago continue to raise questions.
And joining us now is Dr. Mike Carpenter, former director for Russia at the National Security Council during the Obama administration and senior director of the Penn/Biden Center for Global Diplomacy.
Dr. Carpenter, thank you very much for being here tonight.
So, the first question I guess I have to ask you whether someone is an inner circle member of Putin`s or not. If someone is this rich, is there a way somehow for them to not be in Putin`s inner circle?
DR. MICHAEL CARPENTER, DIRECTOR, PENN BIDEN CENTER FOR GLOBAL DIPLOMACY: Well, so someone like Mr. Vekselberg is probably not best friends with Vladimir Putin, but I think the question is irrelevant. If you have $15 billion in Russia today, you must do the bidding of the Kremlin when the Kremlin calls on you, and, in fact, you probably got out of your way to do good deeds to make yourself in the good graces of the presidential administration. And certainly Mr. Vekselberg has shown he`s willing to be the Kremlin`s money man, that he`s willing to do their bidding when they call on him.
REID: And there`s you know, all of these ties. Vekselberg and his cousin, whose company gives money into the inaugural fund, they both attend the inauguration. Then there are other things, right? So, you have Vekselberg and Wilbur Ross were co-investors in the Bank of Cyprus, Ross and Vekselberg were each major investors in a Cyprus bank, linked to dirty Russian money, a connection that Ross tried to downplay when he faced confirmation last year.
Just -- I mean, is this just one more instance where because Trump and Cohen and others just knew so many Russians and were doing different levels of sort of business or deals with them, that this is just sort of inevitable or is there something we should be noting about that he is also tied up with the Bank of Cyprus?
CARPENTER: Well, this is a classic case of how the Kremlin uses oligarchs to export corruption on the one hand and on the other hand to co-opt Western political business, media, cultural elites. And often times it`s very difficult to tell which one of those things is going on. And so, for example, Mr. Vekselberg`s investment in the Bank of Cyprus may have been purely a commercial venture that was meant to enrich himself and his entourage.
CARPENTER: Or maybe it was something more than that. I mean, we know for sure, for example, that Mr. Vekselberg`s investment in the Skolkovo Innovation Center outside of Moscow was meant to curry favor with the Kremlin. This was a project that was essentially co-opted and became a means to try to pilfer U.S. intellectual property and particularly dual use technologies that have a civilian and a military application.
So, in that case, Vekselberg was doing the Kremlin`s bidding. In other cases, he`s just trying to get rich. It`s very hard to tell them apart.
REID: Yes, and you don`t get on the U.S. sanctions list for nothing. Michael --
CARPENTER: Well, that`s the thing. And, by the way, I should point, that Mr. Vekselberg was sanctioned in connection with Ukraine. And so, although, you know, I`ve been out of government now for over a year, a highly suspect that there is some intelligence that points to Mr. Vekselberg`s involvement in something that is Ukraine-related because that was the rationale, that was the executive order that was cited when he was sanctioned last month.
REID: The plot thickens.
Mike Carpenter, former director for Russia at the National Security Council during the Obama administration -- thank you very much. Have a good evening.
REID: Thank you.
And the news has been running so fast today, we are turning to Ferris Bueller to help us catch it. Really. That story is next.
REID: He`s been one of the more visible cabinet secretaries on the Trump administration. But on a random Wednesday last March, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt disappeared. According to "the New York Times," Pruitt was not feeling well. He told his staff that he was groggy, he had a headache.
The next day he was still feeling crummy so he ducked out of work early. That`s when I kind of just dropped off the face of the earth. Quote: On March 29th last year, Scott Pruitt vanished for several hours after recording to his staff that he was feeling ill. The Pruitt staff made repeated phone calls that went unanswered. Scott Pruitt`s security detail rushed to his condo, you know, the one owned by the energy lobbyist, to make sure he was he was OK.
They tried calling him. They tried pounding on the door, thinking he might be unconscious. So, finally and, they just straight up broke down the door. What they found on the other side what a very accused EPA administrator waking up from a nap. Oops.
The EPA ended up footing the bill for that expensive nap. They charged taxpayers 2,500 bucks to replace the front door they busted down. This has been by far one of the stranger Scott Pruitt scandals, even notwithstanding the secret phone booth.
But now, "The New York Times" has filled in some of the blanks with e-mails that they obtained from the EPA through a Freedom of Information Act request. We now know what time Scott Pruitt security detail came charging through his front door, at 5:20 p.m. on March 29. An official writes, quote, redacted is on site and breaching redacted door to gain access.
Thirty-seven minutes later, the whole thing is done and dusted; 5:57 p.m., quote, all good except for a couple of doors we`ll have to pick up the tab for.
OK. So, Scott Pruitt tells his staff he`s sick, he leaves the office, several hours go by. No one can track down the boss. So, in a last-ditch effort to make sure Scott Pruitt is not in some sort of serious distress, at 5:20 p.m., they bust down his door and find him sleeping in his bed. That`s the timeline.
And, frankly, it makes you want to ask a million more questions, because take a look at this. A watchdog group called American Oversight has obtained the phone logs from Scott Pruitt`s desk phone in his office at the EPA on the day he reportedly went missing. The day his door got smashed down a little after 5:00, he made two phone calls, one at 8:04 in the morning and one at 4:11 p.m., 4:11 p.m., an hour before his security busted into his condo because he had reportedly vanished for several hours.
Hey, guys, did anyone think to check his office? Was it like a scene in "Ferris Bueller`s day off" where he rigs the basketball trophy to make the dummy on his bed move like he was in the bed, when someone opens the door? The security guys smashed the door, and they can see the Scott Pruitt, roll over and they`re like, oh, sorry, Mr. Administrator, we see you`re just napping, we`ll get right out of your way, out of your hair and let you sleep. Sleep tight, sir.
Or was it like that other seen in Ferris Bueller where he quick hangs up the phone and runs from his office to his house to slip into the PJs and into his bed before they break down the door?
Now, we had no idea who made that phone call from Scott Pruitt`s desk phone. For all we know, the EPA doesn`t have enough phones and they all share a phone. We reached out to the EPA to ask who made that phone call from Scott Pruitt`s personal phone and we did not hear back.
But for now, we have very conflicting evidence about whether or not Scott Pruitt was actually missing in the hours before his security detail took a hatchet to his front door. He was either vanished, or he wasn`t vanished.
And that`s do it for us tonight. I`ll see you again tomorrow morning at 10:00 a.m. for A.M. JOY.
And now, it`s time for THE LAST WORD. Ali Velshi is in for Lawrence tonight. THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END
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