Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: May 14, 2018 Guest: Robert Costa, Eric Swalwell, Evan Osnos, William Barber
JOY REID, MSNBC HOST: I`m overscheduled. Anyway, thank you. Can`t wait to hear the podcast, man. Thank you very much. Appreciate it.
CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST, ALL IN: All right.
REID: Thank you.
And thanks to you at home for watching us for the next hour. Rachel has one more night off. Just one more. But she will be back here tomorrow. We promise.
Now, there is, of course, a lot going on tonight. We`re of course watching developments on the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip after a day of violence and bloodshed there. The Israeli military opened fire on thousands of protesters who they said were trying to break through the border fence, killing -- and they killed over 50 Palestinians and wounded by one count more than 2,500 people.
This was the bloodiest day since protests began at the border a month ago. And today`s violence coincided with a ceremony marking the opening of the new U.S. embassy in Jerusalem, where the U.S. was represented by Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump, and a couple of very controversial Christian pastors. We`ll have more on all of that later in the show, including a live report from NBC`s Richard Engel who`s on the ground in Jerusalem.
Also, today, Melania Trump underwent a medical procedure for what the White House called a, quote, benign kidney condition. And we`re told the procedure was successful and the president tweeted this afternoon that the first lady is in good spirits.
Now, we`ve been watching this week for the criminal trial of the Republican governor of Missouri, Eric Greitens. Greitens was accused of felony, invasion of privacy stemming from his allegedly taking a compromising photo of a woman he had an affair with back in 2015. Out of the blue today, the local prosecutor announced that her office was dropping the invasion of privacy charge against the governor. They`re asking the judge to appoint a special prosecutor and start the case again.
Governor Greitens still faces a felony count of computer tampering related to campaign fund-raising. And he could end up being impeached by his own Republican Party in a special session that starts on Friday. We`ll keep an eye on that as well.
But we`re going to start tonight with a footnote. A footnote in a legal filing submitted today in federal court in Washington, D.C. OK. Are you ready? Here`s the footnote.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Major Strasser`s been shot. Round up the usual suspects.
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REID: That`s an honest to goodness footnote in a real live legal filing today. A serious legal filing. Look, here it is.
And it`s nice to see that lawyers sometimes have a sense of humor. But the reason that it`s important, the reason we`re starting with this today, is that what you can start to see here is an article of faith on the right and among hardcore defenders of the current president about the Mueller investigation making its way into courtroom arguments over that investigation.
OK, here`s what I mean. In February, the special counsel indicted 13 Russian individuals and three Russian businesses for engaging in a conspiracy to interfere with the 2016 election through an information warfare campaign. None of the Russian individuals who were indicted have responded formally to being charged. But one of the corporate entities, a company owned by a Russian oligarch, a man known as Putin`s chef, that company hired itself some American lawyers who did file a response to Mueller`s indictment.
They filed for lots and lots of discovery, meaning if you`re going to prosecute our client, you have to show us your evidence. Specifically, they asked for seven decades of American foreign policy and intelligence information about Russia. Seriously. Seven decades.
Quoting from their discovery request to the prosecutors, quote: The government is 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 United States 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.
So, you prosecutor guys can pull that together real quick, right?
Well, today the American lawyers representing that indicted Russian company filed a motion saying basically we think the special counsel`s charges are horse pucky, we think they`re completely made up, as in literally make believe charges, like a Grimm`s fairy tale.
Here`s a taste. Quote: the deputy attorney general acting for the recused attorney general has rejected the history and integrity of the DOJ and instead licensed a special counsel who for all practical political purposes cannot be fired to indict a case that has absolutely nothing to do with any links or coordination between any candidate and the Russian government. The reason is obvious and is political, to justify his own existence. The special counsel has to indict a Russian. Any Russian.
And this is where they footnote "Casablanca", round up the usual suspects.
The lawyers say in their motion that their client, the Russian company run by Putin`s chef, has been charged with, quote, the make believe crime of conspiring to interfere in a United States election.
And there`s a lot going on in this filing today. It`s kind of a kitchen sink approach, throw everything at this indictment and see what sticks. It argues that the crime these Russians are charged with doesn`t actually exist. It argues that even if they did it, they didn`t know it was illegal.
It argues that the indictment is hypocritical because the American government has done plenty of election meddling too. But the central thrust of this filing is that Robert Mueller is not acting in the legal realm, that he`s acting in the political realm, that he`s making up crimes and going after random Russians just to justify his own existence, that the special counsel is not unraveling a plot, that he is the plot.
And that theory has always had its adherents in certain conservative circles. The words witch hunt and hoax may sound familiar, but it`s a theory that`s really on ten right now.
Natasha Bertrand at "The Atlantic" today reports on a book that`s set to be released next month called "The Faking of Russia-gate" written by two associates of Joseph Mifsud, the Maltese professor who told Trump campaign foreign policy advisor George Papadopoulos that Russia had dirt on Hillary Clinton.
The authors claim that Papadopoulos, who has pleaded guilty to lying to federal agents about his conversations with Mifsud is really, wait for, it, a western intelligence operative who was placed in the Trump campaign by the FBI. See?
Bertrand writes their, quote, prevailing thesis is that Papadopoulos` mission was to bring Trump into contact with Russian officials.
That, of course, lines up nicely with the barely contained excitement in right-wing media that Congressman Devin Nunes`s crusade to get the Justice Department to hand over law enforcement sensitive materials from ongoing investigations is about to reveal the existence of an FBI spy inside the Trump campaign.
So, all of this constitutes what the "Washington Post`s" Greg Sargent today describes as one of two Russia probes. First, he writes there`s the Mueller probe, the real Mueller probe that exists in the Fox News -- I mean, the Mueller probe that exists in the Fox News addled mind of President Trump and his supporters which features dark conspiracy mongering about a deep state coup against Trump, out of control federal agents and jackbooting poor hapless Trump allies and of course the corrupt failure to prosecute Hillary Clinton.
But then there`s the second Mueller probe, the one in real life that presents in every way as, quote, a team of investigators mostly going by the book, never leaking, methodically following the facts, albeit very aggressively, wherever they lead.
So, the actual special counsel investigation is entering its second year, and we now have a remarkable profile of what that investigation actually looks like courtesy of a team of amazing reporters at "The Washington Post." "Buckle up" is the title, the headline. And here are some of the fascinating details in the piece.
Quote: The grand jury witnesses arrive one by one at the windowless room in the federal courthouse on Constitution Avenue in downtown Washington. They`re struck first by how commonplace the setting feels, more classroom than courtroom. One of the special counsel Robert Mueller`s special prosecutors stands at a lectern. The jurors, diverse in age and ethnicity, are attentive and take notes.
The questioning is polite yet aggressive, surprising witnesses with its precision and often accompanied by evidence, including text messages and e- mails displayed on a large old-fashioned overhead projector. Three witnesses who describe their experience of being subpoenaed to appear before the brand jury said Mueller was not present for their initial interviews, which instead were conducted by one of his prosecutors standing at a lectern and peppering them with questions and presenting the case to members of the jury who scribbled notes.
The cramped room complete with inelegant furniture one witness said looks like a courtroom from an underfunded junior college in the 1970s. Aside from a few witnesses who have shared glimpses of their experiences with Mueller`s team, the exact contours of the investigation remain opaque, even for Trump`s lawyers, who have been in regular contact with Mueller`s investigators. Only last week, for instance, did the public learn that Mueller had been probing payments made by Fortune 500 companies to Trump lawyer Michael Cohen since at least last fall.
Now, it`s worth stopping on that point just for a second. I mean, if Mueller was looking into those payments to Michael Cohen last fall and we only found out about them last week, what is he looking into right now that we`re going to find out about in another six months? And we`re also reminded today that just because the special counsel referred that investigation of Michael Cohen to prosecutors in New York, that does not necessarily mean that the special counsel is not also still investigating Michael Cohen.
Remember that strange story about a subpoenaed Ukrainian peace plan handed off to Michael Cohen shortly after Trump`s inauguration? Except it was actually just a plan to hand Crimea over to Russia permanently and then also lift U.S. sanctions on Russia? And Michael Cohen told "The New York Times" he delivered that plan to then national security adviser Mike Flynn`s office, but he told "The Washington Post" that he definitely did not do that. He threw it away.
Well, "Politico" reports tonight that the Ukrainian lawmaker who work out that plan with Michael Cohen -- well, he`s been called to testify before a grand jury in the Mueller investigation and he will testify this coming Friday. So, there`s a lot of work going on in this investigation, work that we`re still learning about, learning new things every day, which is impressive for a guy who`s supposedly just rounding up the usual suspects.
Joining us now is Robert Costa, national political reporter for "The Washington Post" and one of the authors of that blockbuster piece in "The Post" today.
Robert, great to have you here.
ROBERT COSTA, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Good to be with you.
REID: Excellent. So, this insight that we`re getting into the Mueller investigation is very rare because, of course, the Mueller team doesn`t leak. They`re notoriously tight-lipped. But you now have people who are witnesses coming in and talking about the investigation.
Do you get the sense from people that you spoke with for this piece, that you guys reported on, that they see the Mueller investigation as ramping up or ramping down or can they tell?
COSTA: You nailed it, Joy, when you talked about how narrow the window is for many of these witnesses when they interact with the Mueller investigation. They sometimes only hear snippets, they only get a bit of information. Some people have compared it to a submarine, something that`s below the surface all the time, maybe comes up with an indictment from time to time.
And they know, though, we`ve gleaned talking to the president`s -- people close to the president and lawyers who are familiar with the case that there are two tracks. It`s going to be about the president`s conduct, a report on that, and they`re going to have the Russia collusion aspect. It`s that Russia collusion part of the investigation that`s really taken a lot of time and that has sprawled out.
REID: You also, when you and your fellow reporters at "The Post" talk about the way that Donald Trump has reacted to parts of the investigation, and you really get the sense that the raid on Michael Cohen`s office was a flash-point for him just in terms of his sense of the case but also emotionally.
Can you talk a little about that?
COSTA: It really was a flash point. And working with my colleagues, we wanted to get a picture of what is it like inside of this White House one year in to the Mueller investigation. One of the big takeaways is that the president was inching close to perhaps agreeing to a voluntary interview with Robert Mueller and his investigators just a couple months ago, but it was that Cohen raid that really pushed him away from that, it led to really controversial debates with his lawyer John Dowd and others. Dowd later resigned. Giuliani comes, in the former New York mayor.
Now, they`re moving away from that voluntary interview preparing in many respects for a possible legal battle over a subpoena from Robert Mueller if it comes.
REID: And you write, you and your colleagues write that many Trump aides and associates say they`re confident that the president will be exonerated but they privately express worries that the probe may yet ensnare more figures in Trump`s orbit, including family members and there`s particular worry about the eldest son, Donald Trump Jr. and Jared Kushner, his son-in- law and senior adviser.
Do aides fear that because of something that could turn up in the Cohen raids and if so, why wouldn`t they worry about Donald Trump himself since he`s the one who`s close to Cohen?
COSTA: It`s complicated when you`re dealing with the president of the United States. With Mueller, he will likely issue a report where then Congress will decide whether to pursue impeachment or a trial in the Senate. But with regard to the president`s family, the White House is in that narrow window that it can only see parts of this investigation. They know some of the questions that White House officials have been asked, the White House has cooperated with interviews. And they do hear questions about that Donald Trump Jr. meeting with the Russian lawyer.
They do at times hear questions about Jared Kushner and his meetings during the transition with foreign officials. So, all these things are out there as questions for a White House that feels under siege.
REID: And I`m struck by another line in your piece that says, the biggest challenge for the White House is that the special counsel is conducting an investigation properly, meaning they`re not leaking, meaning they`re not subject, I guess in a sense to being sort of treated kind of the way they treat sort of larger Washington, through leaks and sort of bullying and other things like that. That is pretty striking, that the White House, their biggest constraint is the sort of proper -- the propriety of the Mueller team.
COSTA: And it`s always the caveat we have in our reporting because we`re talking to people who are familiar with the witness experience, talking to people who are close to the experience of being a lawyer, dealing with Robert Mueller, people who`ve interacted with him, spoke to Mayor Giuliani for this piece about his own face-to-face meeting with Robert Mueller. But it`s very hard to crack open the Mueller investigation itself. And because reporters are not able to tamper or interact with grand jury witnesses -- excuse me, jury members. It`s legally and reporting-wise a challenge, but we`re trying to give as much information as we can one year in.
REID: Yes. And I love the details about the `70s underfunded classroom aspect of it. It`s very sparse, very interesting. Great details.
Robert Costa, great job -- national political reporter for the "Washington Post" -- thanks very much.
COSTA: Thank you.
REID: All right. Joining me now is Congressman Eric Swalwell who sits on the House Intelligence Committee.
Congressman Swalwell, great to see you in person.
REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D-CA), HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Yes, thanks for having me on.
REID: OK. So, we were talking about the two Mueller probes. There`s the one in the minds of Donald Trump and his supporters that`s really this deep state conspiracy that isn`t even real. They`re literally just rounding up Russians and trying to throw them in prison because they want to hurt Donald Trump. Then there`s the real Mueller probe.
How much of a risk is there that those two separate things have collided in the minds of the chairman of your committee and that what he`s trying to do is unravel Mueller probe number one?
SWALWELL: Yes, you know, the Russian letter that you read earlier defending the Russians, that could have come from the Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee. There`s not much daylight between what is being alleged on behalf of the Russians by Russian lawyers and the fixers that Donald Trump has in Congress through Chairman Nunes and others who have gone out of their way to obstruct, to delay, to, you know, prevent us from understanding what the Russians did.
Fortunately, Bob Mueller is moving as aggressively as the Russians have been. You know, what is holding him up I think are the lies. Lies cause investigations to take longer. So when Vice President Pence says wrap it up, well, just come clean, because when you lie it takes a lot longer.
SWALWELL: Two, they`re still counting Russians, right? Out of every rock, out of every tree is a Russian.
And then three, the president has literally been given the questions to -- has been given a copy of the questions that Mueller wants to ask and he still won`t sit in the chair. If he sat in the chair I think this would move a lot faster.
REID: Well, one of the caveats, of course, to that is that according to, you know, Robert Costa and other reporting, it was characterized on the phone to his attorneys and then of course his attorney produced that 49 list of questions that immediately leaks to the paper, which is why Mueller`s team doesn`t talk.
But I wonder -- I think when the American people watch what`s happening with the committee you that sit on, the intelligence committee, they`re astounded by the lengths that Devin Nunes in theory can go to even potentially, you know, violate the sort of sacredness of sources and methods. He`s now trying town uncover a memo that he`s being warned could unmask sources, could hurt national intelligence.
But then he`s allowed to do that on taxpayer dime. Why is he allowed to do that?
SWALWELL: Shouldn`t be. And Paul Ryan is the only person who can remove him from doing that because he`s a direct appointment from Paul Ryan. So, the day after Comey told us that the president`s campaign was under criminal and counterintelligence investigations, he goes to the White House, puts out this memo. It was offensive to us that he would undermine the intelligence community. As a former prosecutor, for me, it was offensive that he would put in the hands of subjects of an investigation evidence that exists in the case.
He`s reading the memo on what the FBI has. And now, to essentially go to Rosenstein and ask for keys to the FBI`s evidence locker, I mean, that`s -- again, you don`t give witnesses or potential targets of an investigation the evidence that exists against them. Otherwise, they tailor their testimony or fix and cook up a case.
SWALWELL: And now, the case could be compromised if they`re successful.
REID: And I guess the question would be if they`re willing to go this far, to share information with the White House, to essentially behave as a sort of committee to protect the president, then what chance is there that the house of representatives would pass legislation to make sure that the president of the United States can`t simply fire Rod Rosenstein or Bob Mueller? Is that going to happen?
SWALWELL: You know, it will take people to be as loud as possible. We`ve only seen movement on this because people care. In the Senate, you saw bipartisan legislation come out of the Judiciary Committee there. That`s because people spoke up. They called their senators. They showed up at town halls.
In the House, they haven`t paid a price yet, so they think they`re invincible. And so, they`re just going to just keep this guy in office because they get what they want out of him, tax cuts, repeal of the Affordable Care Act, very close on that.
So, until people, you know, really put the pressure on I don`t think they`re going to speak up. I don`t think I`m going to be able to change their minds. I`ll keep trying. I think we`re going to have to change the seats.
REID: Yes, a change of election may be the only thing that protects Robert Mueller. Thank you very much, Congressman Eric Swalwell. Thank you for being here. Appreciate it.
SWALWELL: My pleasure.
REID: All right. And there is a lot more to come on this busy Monday night. We`re just getting started. Stay with us.
REID: Here are a couple of snapshots from the Middle East today. On the left, there`s the daughter of the president of the United States, Ivanka Trump, announcing the grand opening of a -- of the United States` new embassy in Israel, moving the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, the city that three major religions consider to be holy and have fought over for generations. The photo on the right was taken around the same time today, a few dozen miles away. Palestinian protesters carrying one of their own to safety amid the deadliest protests the region has seen in years.
It was 70 years ago today that Israel declared its independence. Tomorrow marks what Palestinians call the Nakba, the day of catastrophe, the day that they commemorate the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who were forced are from or fled their homes inside of what became Israel. There have been six weeks of Gaza protests in the lead-up to tomorrow`s anniversary. Protesters launched a large-scale effort they call the great march of return, a return of descendants of refugees to Israel.
The marches were intended to be peaceful, but as almost any analyst could have predicted, there has been violence. And today was the bloodiest day, as protesters approached the barrier fence between the Gaza Strip and Israel, Israeli defense forces opened fire on them with tear gas and live gunfire. Israeli defense forces claim they were responding to protesters who were throwing fire bombs, explosive devices and rocks at the barrier. But the death toll was high.
According to the health ministry in Gaza, at least 56 Palestinians were killed, including at least six people under the age of 18. The health ministry also says more than 2,700 people were injured today.
The Committee to Protect Journalists said that at least seven Palestinian journalists were injured by Israeli gunfire. Gaza hospitals are struggling to handle the wounded. The International Committee of the Red Cross reporting that, quote, the health system is on the verge of a collapse. The same day -- after seeing a day this deadly along the Gaza Strip.
The Trump administration flew Jared and Ivanka and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on this day to celebrate the opening of the new embassy in Jerusalem. Donald Trump had promised to switch the location of the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in December and on the campaign trail, much to the outrage of Palestinians who believe that this made it clear that the U.S. was not serious about working out a peace plan between Israel and the Palestinians that would result in a two-state solution.
And today`s ceremony was quite the affair. Billionaire conservative donor Sheldon Adelson was there, as well as an evangelical pastor from Dallas who once said that Jewish people are going to hell after the Armageddon. And another pastor from San Antonio who once claimed that Hitler was part of god`s plan to return the Jews to Israel.
But it was not like the Trump administration entirely ignored what was happening just a few dozen miles away from them. Jared Kushner said, quote, as we have seen from the protests of the last month and even today, those provoking violence are part of the problem and not part of the solution.
Again, that was Trump`s senior adviser and ostensible Middle East peace negotiator Jared Kushner earlier today , placing the blame on the Palestinian protesters, some of whom were being killed children included. Those comments were mysteriously not included in the official White House transcript of Kushner`s remarks.
Later, the White House deputy press secretary called it a great day for Israel and the United States and blamed the militant group Hamas, which administers Gaza, for the deaths of those 52 Palestinians. As recently as this weekend, the White House was touting the progress that it had made on an Israeli-Palestinian peace plan, telling "The Washington Free Beacon" that the administration was in the, quote, late phases of finalizing a deal.
If what happened today is any indication, the reality of that prospect seems dubious indeed.
And joining us now from Jerusalem is NBC News chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel.
Richard, thanks for joining us this evening. Good to see you.
RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. It`s good to be here.
REID: Thank you. I know we have a bit of a delay.
So, I want to start with the White House called this a good day and they were sort of touting moving the embassy as an unambiguously good thing. They were less -- they were very reluctant to answer the questions from our NBC News personnel that were in the briefing with Raj Shah about whether or not they are made uncomfortable by the level of violence used by Israeli defense forces against protesters today.
Do you have any further, you know, sort of reporting on that and whether or not that continued unabated all day?
ENGEL: I spoke to the U.S. ambassador at the conclusion of the ceremony, and I asked him specifically, how do you square what is being said at the ceremony -- there was a lot of talk about peace, how the embassy move was going to open the door for peace, that this was a move that would restart a new kind of dynamic, potentially between Israelis, Palestinians, other Arabs, the region, and that the peace process in the past had been failing anyway, so that this could be a disruptive move that would lead to a new generation, a new kind of dialogue.
So, there was a lot of talk about peace in Jared Kushner`s speech today, and I think his speech was probably the longest speech where he laid out that was more or less a peace plan, a peace vision in which Arabs and Israelis live together in harmony. I asked the U.S. ambassador, how do you square all of this talk of peace that we just heard at this ceremony, including from the U.S. ambassador with the dozens of people who`ve been shot dead in Gaza? And he echoed very much that same line that was given at the White House, that this was Hamas`s problem, that Hamas was keeping the people of Gaza hostage, that Hamas was forcing them to engage in violent activities near the Israeli border which was resulting in them getting shot.
You have to -- most people don`t necessarily understand the geography here. The Gaza Strip is a relatively small area, maybe the size -- double the size of Washington, D.C. Nearly 2 million people live there. And it is completely cut off.
You have Egypt to the south which cuts it off. You have the sea. And then you have Israel along all of the borders.
The people inside Gaza, many of them compare it to a prison. They can`t leave. They need extraordinary permission from Israel or from Egypt to leave, which is rarely given. It`s very difficult for them to do any kind of business or commerce. They need special permission to do that too, which is also very rarely given.
So, if you imagine it as a prison with Hamas as the warden, it is a very difficult place to live. Not a lot of people like -- even in Gaza the way that the place is being run. So, it is an incredibly desperate place, and a lot of the people who went to the borders today according to numerous interviews, including the hospital officials say they felt they had nothing to lose, better to die for some sort of principle because living the way they were living was no way to live at all.
REID: Richard Engel, it is an incredibly tragic situation and reminding people there are children in schools, moms and grandparents in Gaza and it`s a really horrible situation. Thank you very much for bringing us some perspective on it. Richard Engel, thank you very much. Appreciate your time tonight.
REID: And we have much more ahead tonight, including what the phrase "turkey farm" has to do with the Trump administration. We`ll be right back.
REID: Adtalem. It`s a mouthful. Adtalem is allegedly from the Latin phrase to empower. At least that`s according to one of the largest for- profit college chains in the country. Adtalem global education.
If that name doesn`t ring a bell, that`s because up until a year ago, Adtalem went by the name DeVry Education Group. The company changed its name in the wake of a scandal in which DeVry agreed to pay $100 million to settle a Federal Trade Commission lawsuit alleging that DeVry misled tens of thousands of students about their post-graduation job and income prospects.
DeVry denied the allegations. The company says the settlement is not why they changed their name from DeVry to Adtalem, which Harvard Latin professors say does not in fact mean to empower. It`s actually just gibberish, like a completely made-up word.
But DeVry had problems beyond nomenclature and giant lawsuits from the FTC. In late 2016, a special SWAT team at the Department of Education was deployed to investigate, quote, widespread abuses by for profit colleges like DeVry.
"The New York Times" reports that during the final months of the Obama administration, the team had expanded to include a dozen or so lawyers and investigators who were looking into advertising, recruitment practices, and job placement claims at several institutions.
But a funny thing happened just as Donald Trump took office. Quote: The investigation into DeVry ground to a halt. Members of that SWAT team were, quote, marginalized, reassigned, or instructed to focus on other matters.
After months of paralysis, the SWAT team has dwindled to just three employees, whose mission has been scaled back. And in what can only be a strange coincidence, the members of that team, the now anemic SWAT team, got a new boss, a former dean of DeVry, the very for-profit college that was under investigation. Fox, meet henhouse.
That new boss was installed by none other than Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.
This tactic of putting civil servants like that SWAT team on ice is not unique to Betsy DeVos or to the Department of Education. A bombshell new report tonight suggests this is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg and that the Trump administration may be taking a page from a secret Nixon-era playbook. And that is next.
REID: On January 29th, "The New Yorker" published this bombshell. The title alone hit like a thunderbolt. "Jared Kushner is China`s Trump card: How the president`s son-in-law despite his inexperience in diplomacy became Beijing`s primary point of interest. It read like a spy thriller and opened up a whole new rabbit hole of questions about Jared Kushner. It was the work of "The New Yorker`s" powerhouse reporters Adam Entous and Evan Osnos.
And tonight, Evan Osnos is back with yet another must-read page-turner. This time, he takes us inside the White House drama, quote, below the water line, invisible to ordinary situations with echoes of Watergate to boot. During the Nixon administration, White House aides crafted a secret 80-page manual on how to purge undesirable careerists. It included a grading system for civil servants, measuring their dependability. In other words, their loyalty to Nixon.
Quote: the troublesome ones were assigned to an apparently meaningful but essentially meaningless new activity.
Nixon`s secret manual was exposed during the Watergate hearings and later outlawed, but Osnos reports that the tactic of marooning civil servants in obscure assignments persists today. It`s called being sent to the "turkey farm". And the idea is to encourage the ones who aren`t sufficiently loyal to Trump to resign out of sheer boredom or shame.
Osnos reports that in a kind of revival of Nixon`s technique, the Trump administration has consigned hundreds of people to the turkey farm, banishing them to, quote, a bizarre form of purgatory. High-level Obama civil servants were reassigned to grunt work, processing FOIA requests, a move that, quote, seemed designed to demoralize. Civil servants who think they`ve been mistreated can file an appeal, but their complaints, Osnos found are piling up literally in a storage room, cardboard boxes full of complaints. The backlog is 896 and counting and they`re, quote, running out of space.
And joining us now is Evan Osnos, a staff writer for "The New Yorker".
Mr. Osnos, congrats on the peace. We appreciate your time tonight. Thanks for being here.
EVAN OSNOS, STAFF WRITER, THE NEW YORKER: My pleasure. Thanks for having me.
REID: Let`s go back to Richard Nixon. I want to read a little quote from your piece here. It says that Richard Nixon`s aides produced an 80-page manual on the removal of undesirable careerists which proffered a system for grading civil servants on political dependability, ranging from L, meaning let`s watch this fellow, to O for out, to marginalize the troublesome ones, it suggested a new activity technique, create apparently meaningful, but essentially meaningless activity and they are transferred therein.
Is the Trump administration version that or some permutation of that?
OSNOS: Well, you know, that playbook was supposed to be outlawed in 1978. The Congress passed a series of laws that were designed to prevent precisely that, political retaliation against civil servants. These of course are the career professionals who join the government, they have no partisan affiliation, they are independent experts.
But what we saw when I went out and started talking to people across the government, these are people who work in a number of the 250 agencies that constitute the federal workforce, and I found that people were describing very similar tactics. At the State Department, as you mentioned, one of the things that`s happening is that people, hundreds of diplomats have been assigned to FOIA duty.
This is, as one of them put, it something that smart interns could be doing. It`s clerical duty. In some cases it`s data entry. And they were assigned this and they just quickly discovered that a number of them had been working on high-profile assignments under the Obama administration, things like the Iran deal, working on immigration issues, working on environmental issues, refugee issues, and all of a sudden, they found themselves really sort of put on the shelf or in the classic Washington term, sent to the turkey farm.
REID: Yes, and one of the other fascinating pieces of information about the way that the Trump administration apparently decides whether you go to the turkey farm or whether you get to have a meaningful job is obviously based on loyalty, we know that Trump prizes loyalty, but you write that Trump has elevated loyalty to the primary consideration. Since he has no fixed ideology, the White House cannot screen for ideas, so it seeks a more personal form of devotion.
Kellyanne Conway, one of his most dedicated attendants, refers reverently to the October 8th coalition, the campaign stalwarts who remained at Trump`s side while the world listened to a recording of him boasting about grabbing women by the genitals. Literally, Donald Trump decides if you stayed with him after the "Access Hollywood" tape, you`re in.
Is that what is going on not just in the White House but down to the civil servants?
OSNOS: That`s the interesting thing. I think you hit it right on the head. There`s a -- we reached a moment now where many of the president`s allies and loyalists say that he has been now liberated because the people who were in the White House at the senior ranks, people like H.R. McMaster who were willing to speak up and provoke debate and willing to try to introduce alternative ideas into the policy-making structure, they`ve really been engineered out of there.
And what you`re now seeing is some of that culture, that culture of fealty, of conformity, is trickling down into the civil service, across this workforce of 2.8 million civilian employees. And I heard it in one agency after another, that there`s an expectation that if you are not believed to be as Ryan Zinke, the secretary of the interior, puts it, loyal to the flag, by which he means himself and the president, then you are suspect.
REID: And how has James Mattis escaped that?
OSNOS: James Mattis is the exception to the rule. And as I describe in the piece, you know, members of Congress who pay close attention to the power and the independence of the Defense Department have said he has been able to do that because he maintains some distance from the president. The president, as we know, respects Mattis, regards him as a military hero, somebody who deserves his respect, but that is a tenuous position. And as we`ve learned, anything over the last 15, 16 months, it`s that if you can be close to the president on one day, you can also end up on the wrong side of that another day.
REID: Yes, Steve Bannon used to call deconstructing the administrative state. Very interesting. A great piece.
Evan Osnos, staff writer for "The New Yorker". I recommend everyone read it. Thank you very much, sir. Appreciate it.
OSNOS: My pleasure, thanks.
REID: Thank you. And coming up, a grassroots campaign from half a century ago, started up again today. And you will want to see this. Stay with us.
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DEMONSTRATORS: The people united will never be defeated!
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REID: Marks, Mississippi, is a small town on the northern end of the Mississippi delta. In 1968, Marks, Mississippi was the poorest town in the poorest county in the poorest state in America. And in May of that year, about 100 people packed up and shipped out of Marks, Mississippi.
They left in a caravan of about 15 covered wagons, pulled by mules, headed for Atlanta in May of 1968. Once they made it, they put the whole thing, the people, wagons, the mules, everything on to a train which took them to Washington, D.C.
They marched through the streets of the nation`s capital, up to the national mall. They wanted justice for the poor, they wanted economic reform. They wanted change for people living below poverty in America and people in their small rural Mississippi town. The demonstration that started with a hundred people and a handful of mules snowballed into a weeks-long occupation of Washington. Three thousand people from all over the country set up camp on the Mall for six weeks in the summer of `68 demanding economic justice.
This movement was the brainchild of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., planning that protests, that caravan from Marks, Mississippi, was one of the last things he did before he was assassinated. He called it the Poor People`s Campaign and they carried it out the month after his death in 1968.
Now, 50 years later, the Poor People`s Campaign is back. Today, thousands of low wage workers and civil rights leaders relaunched the Poor People`s Campaign, they marched to the capital in Providence, Rhode Island, and in Kansas City, Missouri, and in Little Rock, Arkansas. In Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, they sang song from the steps outside the statehouse, and sat down in the middle of the road outside the building.
They blocked traffic in Boston, Massachusetts, and in Columbia, South Carolina. When police came and arrested them they stood in a line and chanted, "who`s street, our street".
Protesters all over the country showed up at more than 30 different state houses today to pick up the work that began 50 years ago, demanding higher wages and better living conditions for Americans living below the poverty line. The new Poor People`s Campaign is planning 40 days of action, and today is just day one.
Joining us now is Reverend William Barber. He`s a co-chair of this new, revival of the Poor People`s Campaign and he was arrested earlier today in Washington, D.C. for leading one of those nonviolent protests that we saw all across the country.
Reverend Barber, always good to see. Good to see you here tonight.
REV. WILLIAM BARBER, POOR PEOPLE`S CAMPAIGN CO-CHAIR: Good evening. Good evening, Joy. Good evening to all your listeners as well.
REID: Absolutely. Well, Reverend Barber, tell us, what is your impetus for restarting the campaign? Obviously, the issue of poverty remains salient 50 years after Marian Wright Edelman, you know, gave that idea that became Dr. King`s idea and that Bobby Kennedy supported.
Why now, and what is the goal?
BARBER: Well, Mother Edelman certainly is a powerful force and advised us. Today our focus is women in poverty, children in poverty and the disabled in poverty, and we`re taking on the attention violence and the policy violence that`s being directed towards these communities where we`re not even talking about the poor, let alone passing policies that address -- really address the poor. In some ways, we have an impoverished democracy that`s going backwards.
Today, a woman spoke whose daughter died in her arm because the government and the legislature in Alabama refused to expand Medicaid. Another woman whose son died because she works without living wages and couldn`t help get a car and he ended up getting killed trying to get to work. Another woman from the Apache Nation spoke because right now, in their reservation, there`s drilling going on that`s poisoning the aquifers and the dust from the drilling and the residue from the drilling is poisoning the air.
And another woman who was disabled, talked about disable-phobia, and what`s going on in the disabled community and how the current tax bill threatens to undermines program that help the disabled. And all of them understood that the same people that deny health care, the people that are denying the right to protections to the Apache people. I heard a Muslim woman named Linda and woman denominational leader named Terry and a female rabbi named Sharon, they stood together, three women of three different faith, to say it`s time for us to take on this policy violence.
We`re talking about 140 million poor and low wealth people in this country, 73 million are women and children, 37 million without health care, 64 million people working every day without a living wage, 13 million households that can`t even afford water. And more than a quarter people die every year in this country from poverty and low wealth. That is why this movement is declaring we cannot be silent anymore. We have to change the narrative of this country. And you can`t change the narrative without changing the narrator.
And we have to challenge systemic racism, systematic poverty, ecological devastation, the war economy, militarism, and also this false narrative that all you have to do is be against gay people and against abortion, and for prayer in school and for states rights and for gun rights and somehow you`re doing the right moral thing, that is wrong. And we must challenge it, and that`s what people are doing, and we`ll be challenging every Monday at 2:00, the rally is 3:00, non-violent, moral, direct action civil disobedience in capitals around the country.
REID: Well, the Reverend Jackson William Barber, I wish we have more time, the co-chair of the new revival, the Poor People`s Campaign. I`m glad you brought us that information tonight. Be safe and we will be paying attention to what you`re doing. Thank you so much.
BARBER: Thank you so much. God bless.
REID: Thank you. You too.
And, OK, there`s a lot more to come here tonight on MSNBC. In just a few minutes, attorney Michael Avenatti will be Lawrence`s live guest on "THE LAST WORD".
And now that we have covered the Poor People`s Campaign, we`re going to look at what sure looks like a campaign in Congress against the poor. That`s next.
Stay with us.
REID: When it comes to legislative victories the in the Trump era, Republican accomplishments have been few and far between. The only major victory today, if that`s the right word for it, was the $1.5 trillion Republican tax bill signed in December, whose benefits went overwhelming to corporations and the super rich.
This week, Congress is gearing up for its next big policy fight over the only significant legislation that`s expected to be on the docket before the November midterms. This week, the farm bill hits the House floor, and along with it, the federal government`s role in the fate of millions of Americans. That`s because approximately 80 percent of the farm bill goes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP, which used to be known as food stamps.
Every five years, Republicans try to take an ax to the food stamp program. In the last go round, in 2014, they succeeded in getting Democrats to sign off on cuts of about $800 million a year. This time, Republicans are not seeking cuts to the funding program but instead are hoping to shrink the roles of the 43 million low income Americans who receive SNAP benefits by imposing more stringent work requirements.
If a family fell short for a single month, even if they just had problem with a paperwork, or their hours got cut, or they need to care for a sick child, that family would lose their benefits for a year. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said those requirements would succeed in knocking 1.2 million people off the program over the next decade. At least for now, a plan to allow states to impose drug testing on recipients is not in the bill. So, there`s that.
But that may still come back. As Republicans debate and offer amendments this week. So, fair warning: expect to see a lot of floor speeches about the takers needing to work harder while the makers enjoy their sweet, sweet April tax cuts.
So, that does it for tonight. Rachel will be back here tomorrow.
And now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD" with the great Lawrence O`Donnell.
Good evening, Lawrence.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END
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