Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: May 21, 2018 Guest: David Kirkpatrick, Jim Himes
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: You`re allowed to book your wife?
CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST, "ALL IN": I am. I am. Isn`t that great? It was so fun. It`s really, really --
HAYES: -- it`s been a dream of mine for a while, and now people can listen to it.
MADDOW: You know, Susan has long threatened that if I ever really start taking this show for granted, if I start taking this job for granted, if I stop appreciating it, she`s going to come in one day and bigfoot it and she`s going to take a burner cell phone, she`s going to put it here on the desk and she`s going to take on-air gardening calls for an hour to make me appreciate how good it is to have this job.
HAYES: That`s good of her. You can lose sight sometimes. I`m happy to hear that.
MADDOW: Well done, my friend. Thank you.
And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. If you`d like to vote for Susan to host the next RACHEL MADDOW SHOW, taking your calls live on the air about gardening tips you can vote -- you can`t.
All right. Happy Monday. You know, there`s been a lot of complaining, public complaining by the president. There`s been a lot of all capital letters misspelled tweeting by the president.
There`s been a lot of cheerleading by the president for people who go on the Fox News Channel and make arguments disparaging the FBI or Robert Mueller or the special counsel`s investigation into the Russia issue. There`s been a lot of noise. A lot of complaining. A lot of yelling.
But if you clear aside all that noise, if you treat this president and this administration as a silent movie, and you pay no attention to what they say and you only observe what they do, it really is twice now that the president has taken official action as president to try to thwart the Russia investigation.
The first was a year ago when he fired James Comey. The president later explaining that it was the Russia investigation that what was on his mind when he made the decision to do that. So, that was the first time. He didn`t just complain or sort of squawk about the investigation, he actually did something. That was a year ago.
Now, a year later, for a second time, he has acted. This time, he ordered a Justice Department investigation of the Russia investigation. He wants the people investigating him to themselves be subject to a DOJ investigation which he is demanding.
The president has made a lot of noise. He`s expressed a lot of opinions. He has taunted and derided people about the Russia investigation in his usual way. But when we`re talking about action, we`re talking about overt actions he`s taken as president using the power of the presidency to effect some sort of change when it comes to that Russia investigation, what happened with him yesterday, with him demanding this investigation, that`s basically only the second time he`s acted overtly and officially to interfere with the Justice Department to try to affect that inquiry.
That said, to the extent that the Justice Department has been interfered with, at least a few times as it has tried to conduct this inquiry, it should also be noted that the Justice Department hasn`t exactly been a brick house here. The Justice Department itself has been swaying a little bit in these prevailing winds. Not just in the face of the president`s actions but even just his squawking, even just his making noise to put pressure on the Justice Department and the investigation.
We saw it first around the Comey firing. You might remember that Comey`s firing was bolstered by a memo from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, which attested to a fictitious premise that Comey was being fired because he`d been so unfair to Hillary Clinton in the Clinton e-mail investigation during the campaign.
We know that was a fictitious premise because we`re not dumb. But also because within 48 hours of that memo being released and Comey getting fired, the president himself went on NBC News and said, actually, I fired Comey because of Russia. The president also explained to high-ranking Russian officials who turned up in a surprise visit to the Oval Office, he told them that firing Comey would relieve the great pressure that had been on him over the Russia investigation. That`s all over now.
The president was clearly going to fire James Comey. He admits he was going to fire him because of the Russia investigation to try to thwart that investigation. Given that, why did the Justice Department, why did the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein specifically, have to help the president with that by providing this false cover story about Comey? To make it seem like Comey was being fired for some other reason? Why did the Justice Department do that?
The Justice Department also showed itself to be responsive to pressure from Republican members of Congress and conservative media when they released to Congress and to reporters personal text messages between two FBI officials, even though those officials were still serving at the FBI and their personal relationship and their text message conversations were at that time the subject of an ongoing investigation by the department`s inspector general.
I mean, the Justice Department of all agencies is well within its rights to say sorry, that matter is the subject of an ongoing investigation, the public will not have access to any internal documents relevant to that investigation until the investigation is complete. Right? Of -- everyone can say that when there`s ongoing investigations, right?
But the Justice Department in particular, they could have said that when it came to the text messages between two FBI officials. But instead, they just released the texts, gave them to reporters, gave them to Congress. Why did they do that? They did not have to do that.
Justice Department also released James Comey`s memos that he had written about his interactions with President Trump before he was fired. By all accounts, those memos are believed to be key evidence in the obstruction of justice inquiry into the president`s behavior. That obstruction of justice inquiry is still under way, but the Justice Department nevertheless handed over that key evidence in the middle of that investigation.
Why did the FBI and the Justice Department do that? Justice Department and the FBI also have shed nearly all of the senior officials who were corroborating witnesses for James Comey at the time he wrote up those memos, when he was documenting his interactions with the president because those interactions were very irregular, they were seemingly improper. Comey wrote those memos to document those interactions. He confided in other senior law enforcement officials at the time in order to create a record of those interactions with the president in case it someday needed to be used as evidence.
The Justice Department and the FBI have since shed or demoted most of those officials who Comey confided in, while the president has led a systematic campaign of attacking them one by one, often by name. Within the Justice Department, the inspector general investigation into one of those corroborating witnesses, into FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, that investigation was inexplicably accelerated to match a time frame demanded by President Trump so Andrew McCabe would not just get in trouble from that I.G. report, he would get in trouble by a specific date that would result in him losing his accumulated pension from decades of service at the FBI.
Inspector general investigates all sorts of allegations and issues within the Justice Department and the FBI. There`s no other known instance in which they have pursued that kind of an investigation on a specifically accelerated time frame to make sure they nailed that official in a way that would inflict maximum public humiliation and maximum financial pain. But the president explicitly demanded that when it came to the case of Andrew McCabe, and that is what the inspector general did. Why`d they do that? They didn`t have to do that.
The Justice Department also did push back initially on demands from pro- Trump Republican members of Congress when those members of Congress wanted to see FISA warrant applications that were used to obtain a court`s permission to conduct surveillance on a former Trump campaign aide named Carter Page. Members of Congress supporting President Trump demanded to see those warrant applications. The Justice Department initially pushed back.
I mean, FISA warrants and FISA warrant applications, that kind of information is very, very highly secret. It`s never handed over. They never even admit to the existence of FISA warrants in public.
But in this case they caved. They hand over those FISA warrant applications to Congress. As far as we know, that is totally unprecedented. Why did they do that? They did not have to do that. They`ve never done it before.
They also handed over to Congress what`s called the electronic communication, which is a very generic-sounding name. In this specific instance, it is a term of art which means they handed over the initial document. We think it`s a two-page-long document that created the Russia investigation at the FBI. The initial document setting out the investigation and setting it in motion. Justice Department handed that over.
All these things were handed over to Congress. All this information about an ongoing investigation that the Justice Department nevertheless decided to share with Trump-supporting members of Congress in the middle of that investigation. And there`s no -- honestly, we`re being realistic here -- there`s no reason to believe that those documents and that information only went as far as Congress. Why wouldn`t pro-Trump members of Congress just convey that stuff directly to the White House once they got their hands on it, right? It might help the president in his defense.
If you`re the subject of a criminal inquiry, imagine how helpful it would be to have access in the middle of that investigation to the prosecutor`s theory of the case when they open their investigation into you, to have their physical written documents about what they were coming after you for. I mean, to have the supporting materials that were shown to a judge in order to justify a surveillance warrant against somebody who was working for prosecutor`s theory of the case when they open their investigation into you, to have their physical written documents about what they were coming after you for.
I mean, to have the supporting materials that were shown to a judge in order to justify a surveillance warrant against somebody who was working for you. That would be very helpful if you were the subjective of a criminal investigation, to have that kind of window in the middle of an investigation into the prosecutor`s approach and their evidence and their strategy. I mean, the Justice Department incrementally, piece by piece, has just been handing all of this stuff over.
And when they hand it over to pro-Trump members of Congress, presumably those pro-Trump members of Congress are just directing that stuff to the attention of the White House and the president and his legal team so they can help him in his case.
None of this is the way things usually are done. And honestly, however this all shakes out, what`s already been done by the Justice Department in the past year and a half will inflect forever any future assertion by the government that they can`t hand something over because it pertains to an ongoing investigation, forever now. There is a rejoinder that oh, yes? Look what you did during the Trump administration. Look at all that ongoing investigative material you that handed over.
They`ve already broken those norms for the Trump presidency. Why have they done that? I don`t know. But even with that very difficult history of the last year, now the Justice Department is crossing yet another Rubicon.
When the president demanded yesterday that the Justice Department open an investigation into the way the Russia investigation has been conducted, the Justice Department responded instantly by saying, yes, sir, will do. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein announcing right after the president tweeted his demand yesterday, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein responded that in fact, yes, the Justice Department would direct the inspector general to investigate the president`s latest claims that there`s something terrible and improper about the Russia investigation into him and his campaign.
It was only three weeks ago that Rod Rosenstein gave those dramatic public remarks at an event in Washington where he insisted that the Justice Department will not be extorted. He gave an eloquent series of public remarks about the importance of the rule of law and the Justice Department maintaining its independence and not bending to any external pressure or threats.
But now, three weeks later, Rod Rosenstein and the Justice Department are letting the president and his supporters in Congress cross another line in the sand, to encroach on and in some ways get access to this ongoing investigation that really is about him and his campaign. And it`s not like acceding these demands is buying them all thatch breathing room.
After Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein announced that he would tell the inspector general to start investigating the president`s new claims about the Russia inquiry -- well, the president today summoned him, summoned Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and the director of the FBI, summoned them to come to the White House to talk about this matter.
I mean, step back from there for a second. Under normal circumstances, it would be astonishing for the president to summon the head of the Justice Department and the head of the FBI to come to the White House to discuss the ongoing case against him. But that is what happened today.
It wasn`t like a meeting with the White House counsel. It was the president calling them up there to meet with him, to talk about the investigation into him.
And then it appears to have gotten worse. At least it appears to have gotten worse. We`re not totally sure what happened thereafter. Republican members of Congress for several weeks now have been demanding that the Justice Department should also give them all information that the department has concerning a confidential source who reportedly made contact with three people on the Trump campaign who were believed to have some sort of contact with Russian agents while Russia was interfering in the election.
I mean, even in the abstract that kind of information is the Holy Grail for the Justice Department and the FBI, right? You don`t -- you don`t out your confidential sources. If you do, why would anybody ever be a confidential source for the FBI ever again?
You don`t reveal the identities of your sources who take action and collect information surreptitiously for the FBI or the CIA. You don`t expose them because you don`t want to engage those sources. You don`t want to blow any investigations they might be part of in an ongoing way. That`s supposed to be sacrosanct, right?
Well, in this case, Republican Congressman Devin Nunes, the head of the intelligence committee in the House, his subpoena for information about the confidential source that talked to members of the Trump campaign, his subpoena reportedly demands all information that the Justice Department has related to that individual, which means what Devin Nunes has demanded from the Justice Department is not just the identity of that source and what actions he has taken on behalf of the U.S. government while operating in a covert capacity, that subpoena would also appear to be an effort to pry out of the Justice Department whatever evidence he turned up, whatever information and evidence that informant was able to turn up when in fact he talked to people on the Trump campaign about Russia, what Russia was doing.
The Justice Department has been sliding down this slippery slope for months, handing over the kind of information they never release about ongoing investigations. But the identity of a confidential source, all Justice Department records about that source? The evidence that sort was able to turn up in an investigation that is still ongoing?
You`re going to hand that over to people like Congressman Nunes, who is absolutely going to turn that around and hand it to the president whose campaign is being investigated here? That`s insane.
He was a senior official on the Trump transition. He was part of the Trump campaign. You`re going to give him this documentation, this never -- the kind of information you never hand over about if I investigation, you`re going to hand it to him in the middle of the investigation? That`s insane.
After Rod Rosenstein and Christopher Wray, the FBI director, were summoned to the White House today, the White House communications director then released a sort of vague statement which implied that this insane eventuality had come to pass.
Quote: It was agreed that White House Chief of Staff John Kelly will immediately set up a meeting with the FBI, the Justice Department, and the director of national intelligence together with congressional leaders to review highly classified and other information they have requested.
Review highly classified and other information they have requested.
Does that mean the Justice Department is going to slide further down the slope today and actually hand over this information that Nunes has tried to subpoena from them, this information on their confidential source, on whatever evidence he gathered in the Trump campaign?
We don`t really know. Here`s how the "Washington Post" put it tonight. I thought they summed up the ambiguity here pretty well.
Quote: The significance of that statement was not immediately clear. Justice Department leaders have fought vigorously against revealing to Congress materials on the confidential source. It was not clear whether they had backed down from their position and would now allow Republican leaders to look at the documents or whether there would simply be a follow- up meeting for further discussion.
So, "The Washington Post" is saying OK, they had this meeting, they summoned to the White House for the president to talk to them about his case, then afterwards they`re setting up a meeting where members of Congress are going to get this information they`re demanding? What are they actually going to get?
We followed up as well with the Justice Department tonight to find out if in fact the Justice Department is handing over the documents that Nunes has subpoenaed on this FBI confidential source. Justice Department spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores clarified to us tonight that the exact word choice, the specificity of the White House statement on this is important. Let me put that statement back up there.
So, the White House statement said specifically that this meeting will be set up with congressional leaders to review highly classified and other information that they have requested. Information that they have requested is not the same as documents that they have requested. From the justice department spokesperson, information is different than documents.
OK. So, it sounds like Justice Department and the FBI and the Director of National Intelligence have agreed to maybe brief congressional leaders, maybe describe information to them about this confidential source but not hand them pieces of paper, not hand them documents related to this source, which is what Republicans have been trying to get.
So, that`s where we think we are. At least that`s the insight we have into the ambiguity tonight.
Bottom line: how`s the old rule of law holding up? How are the institutions of law enforcement in this country and counterintelligence holding up against pressure from a president and his supporters in Congress who are leaning on them with all their might? It sort of depends on how you look at it right now.
Either Rod Rosenstein and the Justice Department are pursuing a strategy of appeasement, which never works. You keep giving in to increasing demands for more and more information and more and more compromise of the independence of the department and it will never be enough, and all you do is make yourself weaker with every new concession, with every new unprecedented encroachment on the investigation and its integrity. Bad.
Or from the sunny side of the street, maybe they`re playing three dimensional chess. Maybe Rod Rosenstein and the Justice Department are pursuing a strategy of strategic flexibility. Maybe. Where they make it look like they`re giving in so the president eases up for a second.
At least nobody has to resign in protest. Nobody gets fired. And they all get to live to fight another day. But really these concessions they`re making, these allowed intrusions are more carefully calibrated than we can tell at first glance and they`re really not doing too much damage?
To that, to bolster that sunny side way of looking at it, you should look at the statement that Rosenstein actually made when he gave in to the president`s demand that the Russia investigation itself get investigated. The statement from Rosenstein was really spectacularly specific. The investigation he ordered is supposed to determine, quote, whether there was any impropriety or political motivation in how the FBI conducted its counterintelligence investigation of persons suspected of involvement with the Russian agents who interfered in the 2016 presidential election. That`s the investigation that he ordered after the president`s tweet.
So, on the one hand, he is giving in to the president`s tweeted demand for a new investigation. On the other hand, he`s confirming in his statement that the FBI was engaged in a counterintelligence investigation of people who were suspected of involvement with the Russian agents who were interfering in the election at the time. And those people who were the subject of that counterintelligence investigation were on the Trump campaign.
It`s kind of actually good to have that all laid out in black and white. That`s all confirmed now. OK.
And honestly, if he`s confident that there wasn`t any, what does he say, impropriety or political motivation in how the FBI conducted that investigation, then maybe it`s not giving away much, to allow the inspector general to look into it.
How do we know? How do we know whether Rod Rosenstein is doing the right thing? Is there something about the way he and the Justice Department are acting that can tell us whether they`re being smart and strategically flexible to protect the Mueller investigation, to insulate law enforcement from the worst of what the president and his allies have in mind, or are they just giving away the store, giving, in caving, and leaving us with a new world, right?
From here on out where the Justice Department is expected ever more to hand over FISA applications, to hand over live evidence from ongoing investigations, to brief members of Congress on their confidential sources and the evidence those sources turned up in highly sensitive investigations that have not yet come to their natural end. I mean, that`s the precedent that is already created forever more by the behavior of this Justice Department under this president, during this investigation.
Was that all given away for nothing? Has this all been pointless appeasement, or is there some genius at work here? How do we tell?
Joining us now is Benjamin Wittes. He`s editor-in-chief of "Lawfare".
Mr. Wittes, thank you for being here.
BENJAMIN WITTES, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, LAWFARE: Thanks for having me.
MADDOW: It`s oversimplifying to say appeasement versus strategically flexible genius, but with the understanding that that`s an oversimplification, do you come down clearly on one side or the other of that?
WITTES: Actually, I don`t think it`s a particular oversimplification. I think it`s pretty accurate. And I`m going to throw you a curveball and say I think what they`re doing is both. I think they are -- I think they are in an impossible situation and they`re handling it by making a whole lot of incremental adjustments and accommodations that set terrible precedents and that are on their own terms really bad rotten deals and they are also playing for time to give the Mueller -- to protect the Mueller investigation.
They`re keeping their eye on the big picture, which is that they have a major investigation to protect whose integrity they need to protect and that needs time to finish its work. And whether at the end of the day the more important component is what you call the appeasement or the more component is the tactical rope-a-doping that allows the -- that buys time for Mueller and that protects that investigation, I think we`re just going to have to wait and see to find out.
But I think, you know, I am at once very uncomfortable with the accommodations that they`re making and very sympathetic to the situation that they find themselves in.
MADDOW: And with that understanding, is there something you that feel like absolutely cannot be traded away, that there is something that feels to you like a Rubicon, once you`ve gone, there there`s no coming back, there`s nothing that`s worth trading away for that? Is there one thing that you`re watching for in terms of something that should be seen as a breaking point?
WITTES: Yes, there are two. But one of them unfortunately isn`t up to them. So, one of them is whether the executive branch turns over material about a confidential informant to Congress for purposes of discrediting an investigation of the president.
I mean, I think that is an unthinkable thing to do. The problem is that that`s not really up to them. That`s actually up to Donald Trump whether, you know, the executive branch, which is Donald Trump, turns over that information is really his decision to make unfortunately. The one that is up to them, you know, is whether the Justice Department launches a criminal investigation as distinct from, you know, kicking something to the I.G. of -- based on a fantastical conspiracy theory that the president and his supporters dreamt up.
And for the FBI to open a real investigation of such a matter is a Rubicon that they really must not cross. And that`s really what the president demanded. And I think what Rod Rosenstein was trying to do in kicking it to the I.G. was to deflect it both in the way that you`re describing but also, you know, kicking something to the I.G. is a little bit less -- it`s a lot less of a step than opening an investigation in a formal criminal sense.
MADDOW: Benjamin Wittes, editor in chief of "Lawfare", always clarifying to speak with you, sir. Thank you very much for being here.
WITTES: Good talking with you.
MADDOW: All right. Lots to get to tonight. The news gods filled a reservoir of news over the course of today and over the course of this weekend. Swim across it with us, when we get back. Stay with us.
MADDOW: If you`re like me, when you read this headline in the "New York Times" above a picture of Trump Tower, Trump Jr. and other aides met with gulf emissary offering help to win election, you may have thought to yourself -- yes, sure. I`ve known about this for a long time, the Trump Tower meeting with Donald Trump Jr. and the -- hold on. What`s that word "gulf" doing there? Gulf emissary?
I thought the Trump Tower meeting was with Russians. Is this a whole different Trump Tower meeting? Yes. Yes, this is a whole different Trump Tower meeting. Pinch yourself.
Quote: Three months before the 2016 election, a small group gathered at Trump Tower to meet with Donald Trump Jr. One was an Israeli specialist in social media manipulation. Another was an emissary for two wealthy Arab princes. The third was a Republican donor with a controversial past in the Middle East as a private security contractor.
The emissary from the two wealthy Arab princes told Donald Trump Jr. that the princes who led Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were eager to help his father win election as president.
OK. Now, they were eager to help, Emirates and Saudi. But it`s not clear from this article exactly what the help was that they were offering. They wanted to help. But how did they want to help? That brings us to another one of the guys at this meeting.
Joel Zamel, who`s been described as a specialist in social media manipulation from "The Times`" reporting. His company, quote, employed several Israeli former intelligence officers. However much the guy representing the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia was expressing that those countries were eager to help Trump win the election, the way "The Times" reports it, this other guy, Joel Zamel, was the guy at the meeting who came in with something specific to offer.
According to "The Times," he, quote, extolled his company`s ability to give an edge to a political campaign. By that time, the firm had already drawn up a multimillion-dollar proposal for a social media manipulation effort to help elect Mr. Trump. The plan involved using thousands of fake social media accounts to promote Trump`s candidacy on platforms like Facebook.
Now, Joel Zamel`s lawyer says his client never pitched such a proposal at all. He told us that Mr. Zamel, quote, offered nothing to the Trump campaign, received nothing from the Trump campaign, delivered nothing to the Trump campaign and was not solicited by or asked to do anything for the Trump campaign. OK.
What we do know from previous "New York Times" reporting is that Mr. Zamel was stopped at a Washington, D.C. airport in February and had his electronics seized by federal agents working for the special counsel. Mr. Zamel also reportedly later appeared before the grand jury that`s been impaneled by the special counsel. His lawyer says he`s just a witness in the probe.
But this reporting about a supposedly offered social media manipulation proposal possibly related to this offer of help from the emirates and Saudi Arabia, this is all new. It`s also super weird, right? Because this Trump Tower meeting was in August 2016.
We know by then a social media manipulation project that sounds an awful lot like that was already happening in the presidential campaign. It was what we`ve come to know as the Russian government`s interference in our election. Robert Mueller this past February indicted 13 Russians and three companies for carrying it out.
So, this plan that was reportedly pitched by Joel Zamel, this plan that he ostensibly put together, what was that? "The Times" reports that Joel Zamel`s companies do have some ties to Russia, having done work for Putin- linked oligarchs. Is that the connection? If representatives from the Emirates and Saudi Arabia were pitching the Trump campaign, a social media manipulation plan to help Trump win the election, was that plan in fact the election interference operation that we`ve been calling the Russian interference effort all this year, or part of it?
If not, why prepare a proposal for something that`s already being done, something that was already happening at that moment?
Hold that thought.
MADDOW: So, "The New York Times" now reports that three months before the 2016 election, Donald Trump Jr. met at Trump Tower with an emissary from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
At that meeting, that emissary told Mr. Trump that those two countries wanted to help Donald Trump win the presidential election. Also at that meeting a man named Joel Zamel described as an expert in social media manipulation who reportedly had prepared a multimillion-dollar proposal to help Trump win through tactics like using thousands of fake social media accounts to promote Trump`s candidacy online.
Now, Mr. Zamel`s lawyer denies his client prepared anything or offered anything to the Trump campaign, but according to "The Times`" reporting this guy Zamel was paid 2 million bucks right after the election. What for? I don`t know.
Joining us is David Kirkpatrick, "New York Times" international correspondent.
Mr. Kirkpatrick, thank you for joining us. I know it is a very late hour for you in England tonight.
DAVID KIRKPATRICK, INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, NEW YORK TIMES: It`s a pleasure to be here.
MADDOW: Am I correct that your reporting indicates that Joel Zamel`s company drew up this proposal for a social media manipulation campaign but we don`t know whether this proposal was ever actually picked up by the Trump campaign, we don`t know what happened to the proposed campaign?
KIRKPATRICK: Correct. So I think you`re overstating his lawyer denial, by the way. I don`t think there`s any dispute that he drew -- this proposal was drawn up, although there are some conflicting accounts of who commissioned it prior to the meeting. And at the meeting, he spoke about what his company could do for the Trump campaign.
Now, maybe in his mind that wasn`t a pitch. Certainly in the formal statement we got from Donald Trump Jr., he understood it to be a pitch. So, that`s where that`s left.
And then as you mentioned, later on after the campaign is over during the transition, George Nader, the adviser to the United Arab Emirates who was present at that meeting turns around and pays Joel Zamel to put together -- or one of his companies, a company called White Knights based in the Philippines, to put together a presentation showing basically how effective it was. So, maybe the proposal wasn`t executed. But he, Nader, appears to have paid Zamel quite a bit of money, and one of the things he got for that money was a presentation that could have been shown to the Trump campaign to demonstrate that this social media campaigning got them over the line.
So, it`s quite a murky picture.
MADDOW: So we don`t -- sorry to interrupt you for a second. We don`t know that the social media campaign was actually enacted, but we do know that it was pitched and we do know that there was an effort after the election to brag about its effectiveness.
KIRKPATRICK: It seems that way. The other thing that`s interesting about this is the August 3rd meeting is sort of the beginning. Before then George Nader didn`t know the up from campaign and they didn`t know George Nader. But after that he begins to have a series of high-level meetings with Kushner, with Bannon, with General Flynn.
So whatever happened in that campaign, maybe Don Jr. said, I`m not interested. But somehow that campaign was the genesis of a relationship between George Nader, the adviser to the United Arab Emirates, and the Trump campaign that went on through the transition and even into the period when Trump was in the White House.
MADDOW: One of the other things that strikes me about your reporting, David, is that the described campaign, the social media manipulation campaign sounds very much like a description of what we, in fact, saw during the campaign that`s been attributed among other places in the indictment of Russian individuals and businesses that was unsealed by the special counsel in February.
What Zamel is reportedly pitching according to your reporting sounds a lot like what we believe the Russian government did. Is that coincidental? Is that -- is there some overlap there we should understand?
KIRKPATRICK: I think it`s close to coincidental. I`m pretty sure this is a different operation. I mean, there may have been some coordination between the UAE and Russia. That`s certainly something Mueller`s looking into.
But I have to say, if you take a step back, if you are someone who wants to set out to influence an election outside the campaign finance structure, in this new world, we now live in a way that that`s quite easy to do and it`s social media. You can go on social media. Nobody`s regulating that space. You can do all kinds of mischief. It can be totally anonymous.
Basically, if you`re a foreign government and wanted to try to influential an election, it`s the first place you would turn. So, it`s not improbable that two different foreign governments might strike upon that scheme at the same time.
MADDOW: David Kirkpatrick, international correspondent for the "New York Times," up into the dead of night to join us live from overseas tonight -- thank you, Mr. Kirkpatrick. Really appreciate it.
KIRKPATRICK: You`re welcome.
MADDOW: I will say, just also underscoring the drama of what Kirkpatrick and his colleagues have just reported at "The Times," don`t forget, George Nader, who is like the key figure in all of this, is cooperating with the Mueller investigation. He is one of the only people who is a witness to that investigation who we believe has been offered immunity in exchange for his cooperation with prosecutors. So if there is something here, Mueller`s team absolutely positively has it in great detail.
Much more ahead tonight. Stay with us.
MADDOW: In these troubled times, we have all had to learn advanced citizening. We`ve had to learn grad school-level international affairs. We`ve had to at least learn some elementary lawyering. Much to the frustration of real lawyers everywhere.
But we`re called upon to grow by the circumstances in which we find ourselves. And you can tell you`re learning new things and crossing over into new intellectual territory when you find yourself learning to say things you really have never had to say before.
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BARBARA MCQUADE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY IN MICHIGAN: I think this falls into the category of what we as prosecutors would analyze and ultimately conclude is awful but lawful.
MADDOW: Awful but lawful.
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MADDOW: Awful but lawful. Needlepoint that onto a pillow for the 4th of July this year. We`ve all had to learn about it. Awful but lawful.
Tonight, we have learned about something new in our politics that is definitely awful. But whether or not it is also illegal is a point of considerable and very interesting contention. And that`s next. Stay with us.
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SEN. MARK WARNER (D-VA, VICE CHAIRMAN, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: When the president or his allies in the House start going out and trying to threaten that they want to reveal classified information.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You`re talking Devin Nunes, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.
WARNER: When the individuals want to reveal classified information about the identity of an FBI or CIA source, that is against the law.
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MADDOW: Senator Mark Warner, who`s the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee this weekend saying that efforts by the president or his Republican allies in Congress to reveal a confidential FBI source in an ongoing investigation, he`s suggesting that would not only be dangerous, it would be illegal.
Republican supporters of the president in Congress have been specifically demanding access to all documents at the Justice Department that relate to an FBI confidential source who made contact during the Trump campaign with Trump campaign advisers who the FBI believed had suspicious contacts with Russia. What is reported to be that source`s name, the name of the confidential source has now surfaced in multiple news outlets.
Well, today, the president summoned the head of the FBI and the deputy attorney general in charge of the Russia investigation to come meet with him at the White House, which is remarkable enough given that he is the subject of an ongoing investigation. After that meeting, the White House released a statement saying that it would, quote, immediately set up a meeting with the FBI, Justice Department and DNI, together with congressional leaders, to review highly classified and other information that they have requested.
Handing over information on a confidential FBI source in the middle of an ongoing investigation because the president and the president`s supporters want to undermine that investigation, the investigation to which that source has contributed, that`s something. That is a break with all kinds of precedent.
But given that this pressure on this confidential source has also now led to what is purportedly the revelation of the identity of this source in multiple news outlets, is there a real question as to whether or not this pressure on this confidential source and the revealing of his purported identity, is there a question as to whether that might be itself illegal.
Congressman Jim Himes is a member of the Intelligence Committee in the House.
Congressman, it`s really nice to have you with us tonight. Thank you for being here.
REP. JIM HIMES (D-CT), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Hi, Rachel. Good to be with you.
MADDOW: Do you share this concern from Senator Warner that the revelation or at least the purported revelation or the identity of this confidential source might be evidence of a crime?
HIMES: Well, there`s no question that giving up the name of a source, whether it`s in the intelligence world or law enforcement world, if something is classified, putting that out there is absolutely illegal. Look, the case most Americans would remember would be the famous one where one Scooter Libby was convicted of blowing the identity of a CIA operative, Valerie Plame, convicted of that, sentence commuted and then, lo and behold, one President Donald J. Trump pardoned Scooter Libby for that. So, clearly that is illegal.
Interestingly enough, maybe not for the president. The president is, after all, the declassifying authority. But, Rachel, there is a much bigger thing at stake here, which is that as we speak, FBI agents are in places all over this country trying to persuade informants and others to trust them, to help them on a case.
As we speak, in places like Moscow and Rome and Baghdad, CIA officers are trying to convince people to help us in keeping the country safe, to betray their country, to hand over secrets, and that does not happen if they can`t look those sources in the eye and say, come hell or high water we`ll keep you safe.
Now, we have the president, now we have Devin Nunes, now we have Mark Meadows and any number of congressmen in a political environment saying, hey, we need to know who this is. That is going to, legal or illegal, badly, badly damage this country`s national security and its ability to prosecute crimes.
MADDOW: We got a statement tonight from the White House, congressman, which the White House communications director explained that the chief of staff, John Kelly, will convene a meeting with the Justice Department, the FBI, the director of national intelligence and congressional leaders to review highly classified and other information they have requested.
Do you know what that is about? And do you have any sense of how the Justice Department could handle this, in terms of the range of responsible versus reckless?
HIMES: Well, you know, what`s happening here is just -- look, it`s not a mystery. This has been going on for a year right now. This is driven by Devin Nunes and by a number of representatives of the freedom caucus and they are setting about to damage this investigation.
Remember, they don`t have to prove anything, and they haven`t proved a single thing. We`ve been dealing with this for a year. The president, Obama, you know, bugged Trump Tower, Susan Rice and Samantha Power were overexposing, unmasking people`s names. This is just the latest spaghetti on the wall.
The problem is this one is very, very serious because apparently, and you made this point, apparently, we are introducing a new concept into American law, which is if you are the subject of or of interest in an investigation, you get to demand that the investigators tell you what they know.
Now, obviously, that only happens with Donald Trump because he`s president of the United States but ever car thief out there, every embezzler, every white collar criminal, they can point to this and say, hey, I want to know what the prosecution has on me. That`s just a terrible, terrible place to go for the judicial system in this country.
MADDOW: It sounds like you fault the president and his supporters in Congress for pushing us to that point, but you also fault the Justice Department for giving in?
HIMES: Well, you know, these guys have a -- they`re caught between a terrible rock and a hard place, right? On the one hand, you know, the fact that they have entertained Devin Nunes and others who have demanded to see FISA warrant applications, this is brand new that they`re siccing the inspector general on this crazy idea that there may have been a, quote/unquote, spy in the Trump campaign. It`s wrong.
On the other hand, I got to believe that some of these people are saying to themselves, if we don`t give them something, we will wake up -- and the president, upon who all of these concepts, legal, illegal, constitutional, all of these concepts are completely lost, the president will wake up one morning and end this investigation. And now, we`ve got protests in the streets, we`ve got a president whose very legitimacy is questioned.
So, my guess is they`re trying to give a little to calm the president without throwing this country into the kind of constitutional crisis that would ensue if the president ended this investigation.
MADDOW: Congressman Jim Himes, member of the House Intelligence Committee, thank you, sir. Much appreciated.
HIMES: Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: All right. We`ll be right back. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Quick programming note: Tomorrow night, right here live in studio, here for the interview will be James Clapper. James Clapper was the director of national intelligence during the Obama administration. He served as director of national intelligence right up until inauguration day 2017 when Trump was sworn in. He has a lot to say, and he`s going to say it here tomorrow night in an extended interview. I`m very much looking forward to it, which means I`m nervous.
See you again tomorrow.
Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL".
Good evening, Lawrence.
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