Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: May 23, 2018 Guest: Adam Schiff
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Thank you, my friend. Much appreciated.
And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.
A serving Republican U.S. senator, Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona, has given a blistering speech today. He gave a speech today at Harvard Law School in which he levied not only harsh criticism at President Trump, but he also described President Trump as posing a great danger, a severe danger to American democracy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: Not to be unpleasant, but I do bring news from our nation`s capital. First, the good news. Your national leadership is, well, not good, at all.
Our presidency has been debased by a figure who seemingly has a bottomless appetite for destruction and division, and only a passing familiarity with how the Constitution works. And our Article I branch of government, the Congress, that`s me, is utterly supine, in the face of the moral vandalism that flows from the White House daily.
Now, you might reasonably ask, where`s the good news in that? Well, simply put, we may have hit bottom.
This is it, if you`ve been wondering what the bottom looks like. This is what it look likes when you stress test all of the institutions that undergird our constitutional democracy at the same time. How did we arrive at such a moment of great peril wherein the president of the United States publicly threatens on "Fox & Friends," historians will note, to interfere in the administration of justice and seems to think that the office confers on him the ability to decide who and what gets investigated and who and what does not?
And just this week, the president, offering an outlandish rationale, ordered an investigation into the investigation of the Russian attack on our electoral process not to defend the country against future attacks, mind you, but to defend himself. Obviously, ordering investigations is not a legitimate use of presidential power.
Rule of thumb. If the only acceptable outcome in a matter of law or justice is a result that is satisfactory to the leader, then you might be living in a democracy that is in trouble. If the leader attacks the legitimacy of any institution that does not pay him obeisance, say, the independent judiciary or the free press, you might live in a democracy that is in trouble.
The rule of law is an elemental value, a value that preceded and gave rise to our Constitution. It is not an ideology subject to the pendulum swings of politics or something to be given a thumbs up or a thumbs down during a call to your favorite morning show. It is the basis of our system of self- government. America without the rule of law is no longer America.
My sounding this alarm against the government that was elected under the Republican banner and that calls itself conservative makes me no less Republican or conservative. And opposing the president and much of what he stands for is not an act of apostasy. It is rather an act of fidelity.
We will get through this, of course, but we are at the moment, we are in it. And we must face it squarely.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Serving Republican Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona speaking at Harvard Law School today, speaking in his usual amiable sort of easy-going style, but saying things that kind of scream off the page when you read them back.
Rule of thumb, the only acceptable outcome in a matter of law or justice is a result that is satisfactory to the leader. You might live in a democracy that is in trouble. America without the rule of law is no longer America.
How did we arrive at a moment of such peril? This is what the bottom looks like. This is a stress test of all the institutions that undergird our constitutional democracy, all at the same time.
Now, Senator Flake, it should be noted, is making this eloquent pitch to stand and fight, to fundamentally oppose this president, because this president is a grave danger to the most fundamental core Democratic assets of this country.
But Senator Flake himself is quitting. He has already announced that he will be leaving the U.S. Senate this year, rather than even trying to run for re-election, and his voting record even since he has announced his retirement doesn`t reflect any meaningful effort by him at all in his capacity as a U.S. senator to try to stop what the president is trying to do with the government.
So, very stern and stirring words today from this Republican senator, matched with a pattern of behavior on his part that doesn`t quite square with the seriousness of the alarm that he is sounding.
But going forward, these remarks by Senator Flake, I think, are strong enough that they may inflect the news cycle, at least for the next few days, at least on that point of the rule of law. The White House today confirmed that there really is going to be a meeting tomorrow at which the justice department and the FBI are going to be expected to hand over to two pro-Trump Republican congressional chairman some law enforcement sensitive, highly confidential information about a confidential human source that the FBI used in the early stages of its investigation into whether or not the Russian government and Russian intelligence agencies were trying to penetrate Donald Trump`s presidential campaign, to compliment the ongoing at the time Russian government efforts to interfere with the presidential campaign to benefit Trump`s candidacy.
And we`re going to be speaking with presidential historian Michael Beschloss later tonight. So, we will check with him for sure, but as far as we can tell, there`s no historical precedent for anything like this. For the FBI and the Justice Department being directed to hand over information about a confidential human source. And that is the type of information that the FBI and the Justice Department hold basically sacred.
And they have considered it to be a fundamental responsibility, as law enforcement institutions, to protect their sources. To protect that kind of information, because human sources are vital to the law enforcement function. And if the U.S. government is seen as no longer protecting them or respecting the confidentiality of their service, then we won`t get any anymore.
It`s also unprecedented for the FBI and the Justice Department to be forced to hand over any information, let alone confidential human source law enforcement-sensitive information about an investigation that is ongoing. But that is apparently what`s going to happen tomorrow.
Now, the White House`s big concession on that remarkable plan for tomorrow is that they now say that some time after the Memorial Day recess, the same information on this human source might get briefed to the Gang of Eight, which is the bipartisan leadership of both houses of Congress and the intelligence committees, which is how these things might conceivably be handled through normal channels, if there was anything normal about this. But even if that happens, that`s not going to happen until later.
Tomorrow, they really are just giving this information to Trey Gowdy and Devin Nunes, which means, in effect, that the Justice Department and the FBI will be giving the president and his own legal defense team this previously secret information about an ongoing investigation, information about what evidence was collected on the Trump campaign as the investigation was starting. Absolutely remarkable. So, we`ll have more on that coming up this hour.
I have to admit, though, that I am seeing developments like this in today`s news through a slightly darker lens in this past 24 hours since speaking last night with the immediate past director of national intelligence, James Clapper. He has this new book, "Facts and Fears."
And in that book, Director Clapper comes to this remarkable and blunt conclusion about how Donald Trump became president of the United States. Director Clapper says, quote: of course the Russian efforts affected the outcome of the presidential election. Surprising even themselves, they swung the election to a Trump win. To conclude otherwise stretches logic, common sense and credulity to the breaking point.
That -- that bombshell is the ultimate conclusion that Jim Clapper leads up to in his new book. I`m sort of amazed that it`s not becoming a more dominant story in the news right now. This is the guy who was director of national intelligence for the last seven years, saying that he has concluded that based on everything he has seen, that the current president of the United States was only installed in office because of a successful Russian intelligence operation. That the guy who is currently president right now would not be president if it were not for what Russia did to put him there.
The implication is that Donald Trump is not a legitimate president of the United States and that Hillary Clinton would and should be president now, and she only isn`t because of an illegal operation that was mounted against us from outside our borders to keep her from winning that election and taking that position. That seems like a really freaking big deal. And it puts a very different light on what Jeff Flake is amiably shouting about today at Harvard Law School and what Democrats are losing their minds about today and what the Department of Justice and the FBI are apparently being expected to do tomorrow.
I mean, if the director of national intelligence is right and this president is only in office because of an illegal foreign intelligence op that installed him in this office, then the law enforcement and counterintelligence effort to investigate that and to hold people accountable for that, that`s not just some fight about ordinary crime and punishment, right? That`s not a typical Washington scandal, even. It`s a -- that is -- that makes it a critical nexus between both the rule of law and national sovereignty, our ability to determine our own leaders without other countries messing with it.
Efforts to impede that investigation or to pressure that investigation into blowing up -- through that lens, those efforts are almost matters of existential concern for us as a democracy. So, there`s a lot to talk about on that front tonight.
There is one story, though, that I want to put on your radar specifically, before we talk to Michael Beschloss, before we talk to Adam Schiff, before we get to these other stories that we`re going to get to tonight, there`s one item I want to put on your radar that`s from a BBC reporter named Paul Wood. Paul Wood definitely not a household name, not a high profile person in U.S. news. He`s had a very interesting reporting history over the course of this particular scandal, though.
The day after "BuzzFeed" first published the Christopher Steele dossier in January 2017, Paul Wood published a long piece at the BBC that seemed, honestly, a little woo-woo at the time. That`s a term of art. Since then, though, what -- at least most of what Mr. Wood wrote about in that piece the day after the dossier was published, most of it has borne out over time. It`s been proven out by other reporting. Its claims that seemed controversial, even outlandish at the time have been borne out by other reporting and by congressional testimony and court documents.
Paul Wood reported the day after the dossier was published in January 2017 that the CIA had been given information during the summer of 2016 by a foreign intelligence agency that had obtained some puzzling information about contacts between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign. We didn`t know that at the time, that Paul Wood reported it in January 2017.
Outgoing CIA director John Brennan would later confirm it. He would later tell Congress that that was, in fact, the case. But Paul Wood had it first.
Paul Wood also reported at the time that the CIA and the FBI had formed a joint working group, that among other things had been looking during the campaign at the connections between the Trump campaign and Russia. And specifically, they`d be looking at the question of whether Russian money had made its way into the U.S. presidential election.
Well, we didn`t know anything than at the time, that Paul Wood first reported it, a year ago January, but ultimately, that was borne out. It`s one of the things I ended up asking James Clapper about last night, because that`s in his new book, too. He writes about that joint intelligence and law enforcement working group that met together in the United States during the presidential campaign, just as Paul Wood reported last January.
James Clapper says in his book about that, quote: We all agreed that Russia was behind an unprecedented aggressive multifaceted influence campaign, using cyber theft and cyber espionage, propaganda across the broadcast spectrum and all the largest social media platforms, and an influx of Russian money, perhaps even laundered and funneled into campaigns. So Paul wood had that in January 2017. Now, people involved in that law enforcement counterintelligence effort say yes, that actually what they were looking at the time.
So, BBC reporter Paul Wood was first to report a lot of that stuff that kind of seemed like crazy outlier reporting when he first published it, because nobody else had the story yet. But all that was later proved to be true. Paul Wood would go on several months later to report new information that was also later borne out by other reporting about Christopher Steele and Steele`s contact with the FBI and his years of providing credible and useful information on Russia to various agencies within the U.S. government.
So, Paul Wood is this interesting reporter who has often been out ahead on this story, on the reporting around this particular scandal. Well, now today, as we are grappling with these rule of law questions in our government and these unprecedented encroachments on the FBI and the Justice Department during an ongoing investigation by a person who is the subject of that investigation, the president of the United States -- now, in the midst of this unprecedented pressure we are seeing on law enforcement and counterintelligence, now this same reporter, Paul Wood, has a new report about something that seems to have maybe gone wrong, in the Mueller investigation, or, at least an effort to try to slow things down or stop the flow of evidence to the Mueller investigation.
It had previously been reported by "The New York Times" earlier this month that the government of Ukraine had ordered prosecutors and investigators in that country to stop giving information to, to stop cooperating with the special counsel`s office in this country, special counsel`s office has been investigating links between the Trump campaign and Russia. The special counsel`s office obviously has been prosecuting Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort for a whole bunch of things related to his business arrangements with the pro-Russia magnificently corrupt previous government in the Ukraine. Ukraine`s new government obviously had some information about Paul Manafort in those previous business dealings in that country, and they had previously been providing that information to the United States.
Well, today, Paul Wood is reporting at the BBC is that when Ukraine made that decision that they would stop providing evidence to the Mueller inquiry, they would stop helping effectively with the Paul Manafort prosecution, that decision by Ukraine`s government followed almost immediately a visit to the White House by Ukraine`s new president. A visit to the White House that was reportedly arranged on behalf of the Ukrainian president by Michael Cohen, President Trump`s long-time personal attorney.
Now, NBC has not verified this reporting. But what Paul Wood of the BBC is reporting is that Michael Cohen was paid hundreds of thousands of dollars by Ukraine to arrange what amounted to a surprise in-person Oval Office meeting between the president of Ukraine and President Trump. Paul Wood reports that one week after the Ukrainian president got that Oval Office meeting, a meeting he so handsomely paid Michael Cohen for, he went back to Ukraine, and within a week, he ordered prosecutors in his own government to cut off any help they were giving to Robert Mueller.
One source in Kiev telling Paul Wood of BBC that after that Oval Office meeting that was reportedly secretly bought with a large payment to Michael Cohen, quote, President Poroshenko had given Trump a gift, making sure that Ukraine would find no more evidence to give the U.S. inquiry into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia.
This is obviously a firecracker of a story, right? For obvious reasons. Both the Ukrainian president and lawyers for Michael Cohen are denying it categorically.
It`s interesting, though. President Trump`s lead lawyer on the Russia matter didn`t exactly deny it. He had, instead, a sort of strange response to this story being published today by the BBC.
Rudy Giuliani was asked to respond to this BBC report, and this is how he answered today. Quote: payments can be proved pretty easily. So, it would be silly to deny if it happened. Oh.
And speaking about Michael Cohen, he said, quote, he never registered as a foreign agent, and as far as I know, he never acted as one.
Michael Cohen, the president`s long-time personal attorney, is already the subject of an ongoing federal criminal investigation in New York. Prosecutors and federal agents already have documents and computers and electronic devices seized from his home and his office and his hotel room and his safety deposit box.
Last night, we reported that a long-time business associate of Michael Cohen has himself flipped and pled guilty and signed a cooperation agreement with prosecutors in an effort to keep his own butt out of jail.
Pressure on Michael Cohen, in other words, is enormous and getting worse for him by the day. The question of whether or not he will flip and cooperate with prosecutors and help them in their investigation of whether or not the president and his campaign worked with the Russian government in their attack on the U.S. election, that pressure is increasing. Pressure on Michael Cohen is increasing by the day.
Pressure on the independence of law enforcement and the ability of even existentially important counterintelligence investigations to proceed where the evidence leads regardless of political pressure from the subjects of those investigations -- well, the pressure there is getting incredible as well, day by day.
Tomorrow`s potentially going to be a breaking point, and that story is next.
MADDOW: Republicans in Congress for several weeks now have been demanding of the Justice Department hand over all the information that it has on a confidential human source used by the FBI in its investigation during the campaign of the Russian effort to interfere with the 2016 election. As part of that investigation, this confidential source reportedly made contact with three people on the Trump campaign who were believed to have had some sort of contact with Russian agents while Russia was interfering in the election.
Confidential human sources are supposed to be the safest secrets inside U.S. law enforcement and counterintelligence, because if U.S. law enforcement and counterintelligence are known not to be able to protect their sources, they`ll never get anybody to be that kind of source again, which would very much hurt American law enforcement and intelligence.
Nevertheless, Trump-supporting Republican members of Congress are demanding all information that the Justice Department has on that confidential source. Their inquiries have already led to the source`s name being exposed in the media, and now it appears Republicans are about to get a briefing by the Justice Department and the FBI about that source, and apparently, about the evidence that source collected for the FBI in this ongoing and open investigation.
They`re apparently going to get that tomorrow. The White House has set up a meeting tomorrow for the FBI director, the director of national intelligence and a top Justice Department official to give that briefing to Republican Congressman Devin Nunes and Trey Gowdy. The White House says the meeting is for Nunes and Gowdy to, quote, review highly classified and other information they have requested.
Now, whatever sensitive information the White House is ordering the Justice Department to reveal, it`s only going to get revealed to those two pro- Trump Republican members of Congress, which is unusual, and we`ll talk about that in a moment. But it`s not like anybody is hiding what the purpose is of this meeting. The president`s Russia lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, said a couple of days ago, as his client, the president had started publicly demanding exposure of this FBI source, Mr. Giuliani told reporters that his client, the president, needs more information about this confidential FBI source, so he can know what the special counsel has on him, in terms of evidence, before he agrees to an interview with the special counsel.
Quote, we can`t let our guy go in and be questioned without knowing this. Giuliani, quote, acknowledged that the FBI releasing information about the source would benefit Trump`s defense. He said, quote, I don`t care so much about the name as I do about the content. What prompted them to do it? What did they learn from it?
Yes. What did he turn up? What did he get on me?
I mean, everybody who is under investigation would like to know in the middle of the investigation exactly what information an FBI confidential informant was able to collect on them, right? Everybody would want access to that kind of information if they were the subject of an ongoing law enforcement investigation.
But you`re not allowed to get that. That`s not how this works, unless, apparently, you`re the president, and you order your Justice Department to turn over that information to your allies in Congress who are not even pretending that they`re not going to turn around and give it to you.
Joining us now is Congressman Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.
Congressman Schiff, it`s nice to have you with us. Thanks for the time tonight.
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), RANKING MEMBER, HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Thanks, Rachel.
MADDOW: What`s your reaction to this briefing, this meeting that has been scheduled for tomorrow? I know you`ve been critical. It wasn`t clear to me until tonight that it`s actually going to happen. Now that it is going to happen, it`s just those two Republican members of Congress, what`s your reaction?
SCHIFF: Well, it`s still not clear to me what was going to happen. I was informed by the head of one of our intelligence agencies earlier tonight that the meeting or briefing tomorrow would be a bipartisan briefing at a Gang of Eight level, and that would be it. And I expect them to live up to that commitment, that is the right procedure, if there`s any information that could compromise a source or sources and methods. So that`s the practice that has been around for decades, and they need to follow it. And I expect them to honor their word.
But we are hearing conflicting things from the White House. If the White House somehow brow-beat the intelligence agencies into submission, then it`s another affirmation of what you were talking about earlier, in terms of Jeff Flake`s speech. Our democracy really is in deep trouble, deeper trouble than we might have imagined.
And I think we have to look at the context here. This takes place at a time when the indictments are multiplying, the guilty pleas are multiplying, and the number of witnesses cooperating are also multiplying. And I think that has led the president to decide he needs to know the evidence that might be used against him.
As Giuliani said, the president has a right to see the evidence against him. That`s true if he`s been indicted. And unless Mr. Giuliani has something to tell us, he has not been indicted. A defendant or a witness or a target or someone who is an innocent bystander of an investigation has no right to see the product of an ongoing investigation.
And the members they choose to show it to is significant. You have a chairman who was forced to recuse himself earlier for working in combination with the White House. And in Mr. Gowdy you have someone who is not even a member of the Gang of Eight, who has no right to see the material, but often during the Russian investigation acted as a lawyer for the president.
That is completely inappropriate. And they need to follow the procedure and they need to observe our system of checks and balances. This should be Gang of Eight or not at all.
MADDOW: And, Congressman, just to be clear about what you said right at the outset there, you said that you have been told by the head of an intelligence agency that tomorrow`s briefing actually will be for the Gang of Eight?
SCHIFF: That`s what I was told, I was told when it would be and I was told it would be at the Gang of Eight level. That the White House would open the meeting and then leave the room, and that`s what I expect to happen tomorrow. No one has called me to contradict what I was informed by the head of one of our intelligence agencies.
If we learn that through pressure from the White House or partisan pressure from the Hill that the intelligence community has abandoned the protocol of meeting with the Gang of Eight, it will be another sign that our system of checks and balances is being broken down by this president. Not only members of Congress, but members of the Justice Department, FBI and our intelligence agencies need to stand up to this president. As I have expressed frequently in my conversations with Rod Rosenstein and others, if they try to appease this president, it is just going to invite more demands from him. At some point, they have to say no.
MADDOW: Congressman, can you tell us which official, the head of which agency told you that tomorrow`s meeting will be open to the Gang of Eight?
SCHIFF: I don`t want to get into the specific cabinet member that I spoke with, but this is something that was conveyed to me and others in no uncertain terms and I heard nothing to the contrary and I expect them to live up to their commitment.
MADDOW: One last question for you, sir. You referenced Rudy Giuliani`s comments about the president at least through his lawyer believing that he has a right to the evidence that may have been collected against him, even though as far as we know the president has not been indicted. Is there any protection?
If this Gang of Eight meeting happens tomorrow, if you`re in the room, if you`re one of the people briefed, if this confidential source information is briefed tomorrow, is handed over to some select members of Congress, is there any way to protect that information from ending up with the president and his legal team for use in their defense in this matter? Obviously, in any law enforcement investigation, it would be very improper to give information like this in an ongoing investigation, evidence collected by a live source and a live investigation that hasn`t been concluded. It would be improper for that to be conveyed to the subject of an investigation or his defense team.
Is there any means by which that can be protected?
SCHIFF: Well, first of all, Rachel, I don`t think this information should be conveyed to Congress at all. I`ve heard no legitimate reason for this except that the president and his lawyer want to see it. That is not a legitimate reason, even to present this information to the Gang of Eight.
So, the first question to be asked during the Gang of Eight is, why are we even meeting? Why is this being initiated by the White House?
But the reality is that, all too often when the Department of Justice and FBI have capitulated and shared information with the GOP members of Congress, it has ended up being published on Fox News or through "The Washington Examiner" or other outlets of choice for the committee Republicans.
After all, the whole point of this is two-fold. It`s to share the information with the president`s defense team, as Giuliani made to abundantly clear, but it is also to pick a fight with the Justice Department, to make a series of escalating demands, so that when ultimately the department is forced to refuse, as Rod Rosenstein said that the department cannot be extorted, then the president has the pretext that he wants and needs to fire people.
So, we need to be aware of this. Ultimately, there`s only one remedy, and I know people are saying, you know, as the minority, what can you do? At the end of the day, there is only one remedy, and that is to make sure the party of power is not -- the party out of power is not the minority, is to throw the bums out who are not living up to their institutional responsibilities and protecting our system of checks and balances.
MADDOW: Congressman Adam Schiff, who is the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee -- thank you for being with us tonight, sir. Thanks for breaking that news here. I appreciate you being here.
SCHIFF: Thank you.
MADDOW: Again, Congressman Schiff there, breaking news, saying that he has been informed by the head of an intelligence agency, by a cabinet member, he said, that tomorrow, at that very, very controversial meeting that the president has apparently ordered, in which he has directed the Justice Department to hand over information to some members of Congress about a confidential FBI source involved in the counterintelligence investigation into his campaign and its contacts with Russia. Congressman Schiff telling us, despite what we heard from the White House, that he`s been informed that briefing will be for the so-called Gang of Eight. That`s the bipartisan leadership of both houses of Congress, plus the bipartisan leadership of the Intelligence Committees in both houses of Congress.
If that`s true, if that is what`s -- the way it`s going to be briefed tomorrow, that`s very different than what the White House has been saying is what`s going to happen. And if the intelligence community and the White House have two very different ideas about what`s going to happen at that meeting tomorrow, we could be in for a very serious confrontation.
All right. A lot more to get to tonight. Stay with us.
MADDOW: We`ve got Michael Beschloss here in just a moment, as promised. This is turning out to be a big news night. He is the right guy to have here.
I want to let you know, though, that Congressman Adam Schiff just did break some important news here live just a moment ago. You have been hearing for the last couple days about this very controversial, totally unprecedented move which the White House has announced. The White House is apparently going to be convening a meeting tomorrow, at which the Justice Department and the FBI have apparently been directed to hand over information about a confidential human source who was involved in the counterintelligence investigation into the Russia attack on our election in 2016 and specifically contacts with Russia by three people on the Trump campaign.
That counterintelligence source, that FBI human source, is the kind of thing, the identity of that source, the evidence collected by that source, is the sort of thing that would typically be held very, very closely by the intelligence community and by the FBI. The president has nevertheless campaigned publicly that information on that source should be released and that it should be handed over.
Now, what the White House has announced thus far is that when that information gets handed over tomorrow, it`s going to be two pro-Trump Republican congressmen, oddly, Trey Gowdy and Devin Nunes. Devin Nunes was part of the Trump campaign. He was an official in the Trump transition. Giving him information is basically the same thing as giving to it the White House.
What Adam Schiff just told us, though, is that he has now been informed that it`s not going to be Gowdy and Nunes in that room, it`s going to be the so-called Gang of Eight. When very sensitive and confidential intelligence matters are shared with Congress, because Congress does have an oversight role on intel, the Gang of Eight is who typically gets briefed.
It`s the speaker of the House and the majority leader in the Senate. It`s then their counterparts on the other side of the aisle. So, it would be the top Democrat in the Senate and the top Democrat in the House. But then, it`s also the top Democrat and Republican from the Intelligence Committees this both the House and the Senate. That`s the Gang of Eight.
Congressman Schiff telling us that he`s been informed by the cabinet member that actually it`s the Gang of Eight who is going to get that briefing tomorrow. It`s still a totally improper thing to be briefed to anybody in Congress, but it would make more sense. It would be less provocative if they were briefing the Gang of Eight rather than just these two Trump partisans.
Now, we don`t know who told Congressman Schiff about that tomorrow, when he talks about a head of an intelligence agency that is also a cabinet member, that could be the head of the CIA, who is now Gina Haspel, that could be the director of national intelligence, Dan Coats. We don`t know.
But if the head of one of these intelligence agencies, especially somebody who`s got cabinet rank, and the White House have totally different ideas about who is the appropriate guest list for this totally unprecedented controversial meeting tomorrow, that could be a remarkable confrontation between the intelligence community and the White House. Both sides can`t win that.
We`ve been sort of watching and wondering when the real confrontation might come as to how far law enforcement and intelligence can be pushed by this president, who insists that this investigation should bend to his will. Congressman Schiff suggesting tonight that that confrontation may be happening now or may happen tomorrow.
All right. We`ll be right back.
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MADDOW: Stevenson. Even if you can`t pronounce Adlai, just remember Stevenson.
Adlai Stevenson was the Democratic nominee for president in 1952, but he didn`t win. He lost to Dwight Eisenhower that year. Four years later, 1956, he tried again.
He campaigned in part on the promise that he would stop the testing of nuclear weapons. He would stop making new nukes. He would slow down the arms race we were in with the Soviet Union.
For holding that position in the 1956 race against then incumbent President Eisenhower, Adlai Stevenson got hammered. His opponent said that stopping nuclear tests would give Russia the upper hand. We would fall behind in the arms race. Russia would win.
Stevenson got called soft on the Soviet Union. And he lost his second presidential race against Eisenhower. He lost in `52 against Eisenhower. He lost again against Eisenhower in `56, two times in a row.
But Adlai Stevenson remained a powerful figure in Democratic politics. When 1960 rolled around, you remember, he ran in `52, in `56, the next time was 1960, he considered running for president for a third time. He would have been a very serious contender.
Right around the time, Stevenson was deciding whether or not he was going to jump into the race in 1960, though, he got a surprise phone call, an invitation from the Russian ambassador to the United States. Russian ambassador told Adlai Stevenson that he would like him to visit the Russian embassy, because Russia had gifts for him.
So, Adlai Stevenson flew to Washington to meet with the Russian ambassador. He says they gave him wine, he says they fed him fruit and Russian caviar. But it wasn`t just gifts. They actually wanted to make him a pitch for much more.
The Russian ambassador at that meeting ended up reading Adlai Stevenson a letter from Moscow.
Quote: We are concerned -- we are concerned with the future and that America has the right president. When we compare all the possible presidential candidates in the United States, we feel that Mr. Stevenson is best for mutual understanding and progress towards peace. These are the views not only of Nikita Khrushchev but of the presidium in Russia, the party hierarchy.
We in our hearts all favor him and ask him which way we could be of assistance to those forces in the United States which favor friendly relations.
Could the Soviet press assist Mr. Stevenson`s personal success? How? Should the press praise him? Should it criticize him? And if so, for what? Mr. Stevenson will know best what would help him.
January 1960. So, months before the American presidential election that year, Adlai Stevenson`s deciding whether or not he is going to run again. The Russian government invites Adlai Stevenson to their embassy for a meeting to tell him to run, and to offer help so Russia could get the president they preferred into the White House. Russian ambassador reportedly offered Stevenson not just propaganda, not just Soviet press help to help him get the presidency, they also offered him Russian money.
What is the right thing to do in that circumstance? This was 1960. What`s the right response?
Well, when Adlai Stevenson got home from that surprise meeting at the Russian embassy, he wrote the whole thing down. He took a contemporaneous notes, contemporaneous memos of everything the ambassador had told him in that meeting. He wanted to document and memorialize that offer from a foreign power to help him win the presidency.
Stevenson wrote, quote: I made the following points to the ambassador. My thanks for this express of confidence. My thanks for this proffer of aid, but also, quote, my grave misgivings about the propriety or wisdom of any interference direct or indirect in the American election.
I said to him that even if I was a candidate, I could not accept the assistance proffered. I believe I made it clear to him that I considered the offer of such assistance highly improper, indiscreet and dangerous to all concerned.
No, sir. And for years, the whole incident with the wine and the fruit and the caviar, that whole story about how Russia had tried to encourage Stevenson to run in 1960, because they wanted to prop up an American presidential candidate, they thought he`d be nice to Moscow, so, they wanted him. For years, that whole thing stayed secret.
The public didn`t find out about it until Stevenson`s biography was published 17 years after that crazy meeting. But when it happened, Adlai Stevenson did report it to someone at the time. He did tell someone at the time about that overture that he had received from Russia.
He reported it to Eisenhower. He reported it to the Eisenhower administration. He told his arch political enemy, the person who nabbed the White House from him, not once, but twice, Stevenson told that person, the commander-in-chief, for the good of the country.
He thought the U.S. government need to know that a foreign country had come to him and offered to help make him president, offered the help swing an election toward their desired candidate.
He did not accept that help. He said no, thank you. And then he alerted the U.S. government. That was 1960, Russia trying to swing a U.S. presidential election for the candidate of their choosing. Russia has since tried to do it again, of course.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: In your book, you say that the Russian attack did affect the outcome of the election, it did, in effect, elect Trump. Why do you feel like you can say that?
JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: When you consider the fact that the election was settled by less than 80,000 votes in three key states, which is where the Russians targeted, it just stretches logic, to me, and that it didn`t have huge impact on the election.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Former Director of National Intelligence Jim Clapper was here last night with this new book that he`s got about his years of service and intel. He writes about what he saw when Russia was attacking our election in 2016. He says unequivocally that he thinks Russia swung the election to a Trump win. He said here last night that what Russia did to interfere with our election worked, and that is how we got Donald Trump as president.
Clapper says when he was the DNI, he watched Russia and the Trump campaign employ parallel messaging, parallel strategies. He called it a putative team effort by the Russian government and the Trump campaign to get Trump elected.
Because of Adlai Stevenson`s notes in 1960, we know that 2016 wasn`t the first time that Russia tried overtly to prop up a presidential candidacy in our history. What James Clapper is telling us this time is that it worked and that has some pretty profound consequences.
Michael Beschloss is here next. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Michael Beschloss is NBC News`s presidential historian.
Mr. Beschloss, terrific to have you with us tonight. Thanks for your time.
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS, NBC NEWS PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: So, I wanted to get your reaction as a historian to the assertion by the immediate past director of national intelligence, James Clapper, who now says that Donald Trump won the presidency because of the Russian interference campaign to accomplish that. James Clapper is now saying that Trump wouldn`t have won had he not been for what Russia did.
We know there have been previous efforts by other countries, including Russia, to influence an American election. Has it ever before been the case that the top intelligence officials in the country think that that worked? That it actually swung the thing?
BESCHLOSS: No, absolutely not. And I think logic tells us, Rachel, that James Clapper is probably right, because you got an election that was decided by those 80,000 votes in three states, and we know what the Russians were doing and they were targeting voters in those three states. Almost anything could have swung it, and you have to assume that if you delete the actions of the Russians, Donald Trump may not have been elected president.
MADDOW: I highlighted the experience of Adlai Stevenson in 1960, who was - - he says he was approached by the Russian government in 1960, them telling him to run again. He told them no, and then he immediately reported it to the U.S. government. Was that a scandal when it came to be known?
BESCHLOSS: It was so much later it came out as you were saying in 1977, that it didn`t cause the kind of furor that it might have had it been known in 1960. But we now know, this is sort of one of the things that you find out when you, you know, look at these events later on as an historian, the Russians tried this a lot. When Stevenson said no, the Russians went to John Kennedy in 1960 and said, you know, Premier Khrushchev likes you, he would like to see you elected, and Kennedy did the same thing. He said thanks but no thanks.
1964, Lyndon Johnson was president, 4th of September, the Soviet ambassador, Anatoly Dobrynin, and we got this on tape, calls up Johnson and says, I just saw Nikita Khrushchev, he really likes you, he`d like to vote for you in his heart, how can we help? And Johnson quite rightly said, that`s not the way we do it in this country, you know, let the American voters decide.
MADDOW: So, we have norms in this country about how to handle this sort of thing?
BESCHLOSS: We do. I hope we still do.
MADDOW: Yes. It`s not an unprecedented thing for them to attack. It`s unprecedented to be accepted.
BESCHLOSS: That is absolutely right.
MADDOW: Let alone to succeed.
Michael Beschloss, NBC News presidential historian, thank you, my friend.
BESCHLOSS: Thank you, Rachel. Talk soon.
MADDOW: We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: So that does it for us tonight. We will see you again tomorrow.
Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD" where Ari Melber is in for Lawrence O`Donnell tonight.
Good evening, Ari.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END
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