Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: July 3, 2018 Guest: Leon Neyfakh, Michael McFaul
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Thanks, my friend. Much appreciated.
Thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. Happy Tuesday. Happy 3rd of July, which means it is the eve of a major national holiday in our country, which means tonight, it is a good night that you`re watching the news, we are all the recipients today of what amounts to a fairly epic preholiday nighttime news dump.
You know how this dynamic works, right? A typical news dump is after the close of business on a Friday night under the assumption that people maybe don`t watch the news on a Friday night or don`t read the papers on a Saturday morning. That news dump dynamic gets turned up to 11 on the eve of big holidays sometimes, and tonight, this Fourth of July eve, it`s one of those nights.
So, NBC News has broken a disturbing big story today about alleged sexual assault of male athletes at Ohio State University by a doctor employed by the university who worked with the sports teams at the school, and specifically with the Ohio state wrestling team. Now, conservative Republican Congressman Jim Jordan was a coach on the Ohio State wrestling team during the time this abuse is alleged.
Multiple ex-wrestlers from the team have now come forward on the record using their names to allege that Congressman Jim Jordan knew at the time about the abuse when it was happening and he did nothing to stop it or report it. One student has gone on the record with NBC News, saying that he specifically complained to Congressman Jordan about being groped by the team doctor. He says despite that direct appeal for help to Jim Jordan, Mr. Jordan took no action in response.
Now, Congressman Jordan put out a statement in response to NBC`s new report denying that he ever knew about any abuse at Ohio State during his time there. He then amended his statement to later add an additional sentence supporting an investigation into the allegations. But the school has now hired a major law firm to investigate this matter and there are now some expectations that the congressman might be called in to that investigation as a possible witness.
Now, Congressman Jim Jordan represents a very Republican district in Ohio. He does have a Democratic challenger for his seat this year, a woman who is a former kindergarten teacher. She told CNN today, quote, Ohio State has an obligation to get to the bottom of this with a thorough and fair investigation. Jim Jordan has an obligation to cooperate fully with that investigation.
Again, these are serious allegations that have been made by former students and athletes at the school. They`re very serious allegations. The doctor in question worked in athletics department at Ohio State from 1981 to 1995. Jim Jordan overlapped with the doctor`s tenure for I believe eight years.
He reportedly had a locker in the wrestling team locker room that was right next to the accused physician. If this turns out to be a Penn State style scandal and expose, Congressman Jim Jordan of Ohio could end up embroiled in a very serious matter. Again, it is one thing to just be adjacent to somebody else`s scandal. It`s another thing to have multiple alleged survivors of this kind of abuse say on the record that you knew about it at the time, you were asked for help and you did nothing.
Now, Congressman Jordan is a favorite of hard right conservatives across the country. He is a high profile member of the so-called Freedom Caucus of Republican hard-liners. Tea Party groups have actually promoted Jim Jordan as the guy who should replace Paul Ryan as speaker of the House.
Outside of far right circles, Mr. Jordan has become increasingly famous this past year as he and Devin Nunes have led the most aggressive criticism in Congress against the special counsel investigation led by Robert Mueller. Now, again, Congressman Jim Jordan said he had nothing to do with anything related to this scandal. He had no idea that any abuse was happening if it was, in fact, happening while he was there.
But Ohio State seems to be taking this very seriously. There is a big law firm doing an investigation. And now thanks to this NBC News report today, there are multiple young men on the record saying they were victims here, and they are willing to talk about it, including the congressman`s role while it was happening. So, just watch that one. That could end up being a very big deal.
We also got news today of some important resignations. The head of the public corruption unit in the U.S. attorney`s office in the Southern District of New York has resigned. This is the lead public corruption prosecutor in that U.S. attorney`s office.
And the lead public corruption prosecutor resigning in some random U.S. attorney`s office somewhere in the country wouldn`t ordinarily be national news. But in this case, this is the Southern District of New York. And so, that means among other news stories of national significance, this is the prosecutor who has been supervising the criminal investigation into Michael Cohen, President Trump`s personal lawyer.
That criminal investigation thus far has not resulted in any charges against Michael Cohen, but as you know, multiple search warrants have been executed in the case. The government has seized millions of documents and files from Michael Cohen`s office and home. Mr. Cohen himself is talking openly to the press now what his plans are if he does end up criminally charged in that investigation.
This case in the southern district of New York against the president`s lawyer does seem to be really ramping up. But now, the woman supervising it, the head of the public corruption unit in the southern district of New York, she has resigned her job. She has left the office reportedly to go make a ton of money in the private sector. And sure, why not? The timing seems great.
Today, we also learned about an earthquake level resignation/retirement at Main Justice, at Justice Department headquarters in Washington. Now this is not Rod Rosenstein. It`s not Jeff Sessions resigning, but it is someone very senior, and it is somebody intimately involved in the Mueller investigation.
And also in every other Justice Department thing that has put up the hair on the back of democracy`s neck in the last year and a half. This is a surprise resignation we are learning about today from the top career official at the Justice Department. His resignation is a big deal. It is a surprise. We`re going to have more on that departure and more on what it means coming up in a few minutes on the show. You`ll want to see that.
Also on this holiday eve, we`ve had a no notice surprise drop of this little bombshell from the intelligence committee in the U.S. Senate. Quote, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence is conducting a bipartisan investigation into a wide range of Russian activities relating to the 2016 U.S. presidential election. While elements of the investigation are ongoing, the committee is releasing initial unclassified findings on a rolling basis as distinct pieces of the investigation conclude.
The committee has now concluded an in-depth review of the intelligence community assessment produced by the CIA, the NSA and the FBI in January 2017 on Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The committee has initial findings to share with the American people. The committee finds that the intelligence community assessment about Russian meddling in the election is, quote, a sound intelligence product.
Quote, in all of the reviews with those who drafted and prepared the intelligence community assessment, the committee heard consistently that analysts were under no politically motivated pressure to reach any conclusions. All analysts express that had they were free to debate, object to content, and assess confidence levels as is normal and proper for the analytic process.
As the inquiry has progressed since January 2017, the committee has also seen additional examples of Russia`s attempts to sow discord, undermine Democratic institutions and interfere in U.S. elections. Quote, the committee conquers with intelligence and open source assessments that the Russian influence campaign was approved by President Putin. Quote, Moscow did seek to denigrate Secretary Clinton.
So this is a resounding statement from the intelligence committee in the Senate saying when that report came out from the NSA and the FBI and the CIA in January 2017, as the Obama administration was leaving and the Trump administration was about to be sworn in, that intelligence community assessment that said Russia had meddled in the election to try to throw the election to Trump, now the intelligence committee in the Senate, the bipartisan intelligence committee, both Republicans and Democrats are saying, yes, that intelligence community report, that was sound. And over time, it has only been more proven out by what we`ve learned since.
Now, in contrast, this past week, President Trump has literally quoted Vladimir Putin and the Russian government in their denials that they ever meddled in the 2016 election. The intelligence community assessment from January of last year said oh, yes they did. And now, there`s bipartisan note to Senate report on that intelligence finding says that it`s bullet proof.
Quote, the committee believes the conclusions of the intelligence community assessment are sound and notes that collection and analysis subsequent to the assessment`s publication continue to reinforce its assessments, right? So, right, this seems important, particularly given the fact that the sitting president of the United States keeps denying that Russia ever did this.
This is an important report. Why did the intelligence committee sneak this out the door with no notice, no announcement on the night before the Fourth of July? They`ve released this big unequivocal report.
It took them months to do it. It directly contradicts the current assertions of the president of the United States. It directly contradicts the president`s defenders in the House of Representatives who have said, oh, yes, the intelligence community, they don`t know what they`re talking about. Russia didn`t do nothing, as far as we can tell, right?
This is a big deal from the Senate Intelligence Committee. This is controversial. This is big news. But they have timed its release and not announced its release in a way that is designed to ensure as little news coverage of this as possible.
See? This is why it`s good that you`re here. This is why it`s always good to watch the news on Friday nights and the night before a holiday. Any time when people are apparently counting on you not to be watching the news, that is when it pays to be here.
And that brings us to this. At the same moment the U.S. Senate was releasing this report today, affirming and doubling down on the intelligence community`s conclusions about Russia interfering in our last election in an unprecedented way, at this same moment, look, all these Republican senators were in Russia today talking to the Russian government about how excited they are to let bygones be bygones so we can all start working together again since we`re all such good friends and we`re all pulling in the same direction anyway.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. RICHARD SHELBY (R), ALABAMA: We know it`s going to be a big meeting. We hope it`s going to be very big between the president and yours in Helsinki in a few weeks.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Alabama Senator Richard Shelby telling the Russian government today that he hopes the meeting between Trump and Putin is going to be very big. We know there`s going to be a, we know there`s going to be a big meeting. We hope it`s going to be very big between our president and yours in Helsinki in a few weeks.
We hope it`s going to be very big. What do you mean by big? Why are you hoping for bigness? What does that even mean?
You`re meeting with the Russian government. Did you plan in advance what you were going to say? We`re hoping it`s going to be a very big meeting. I think it will be just those two guys. What do you mean big?
But watch where Senator Shelby really puts the screws to the Russians here.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SHELBY: So, we`re hoping that coming out of the Putin-Trump meeting in Helsinki, it will be the beginning, maybe, of a new day. We will have to wait and see, and go from there, but we recognize that the world is better off, I believe, if Russia and the U.S. have fewer tensions. We are competitive, but we don`t necessarily need to be adversaries.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Go get `em, Senator.
Did you wait until you saw the whites of their eyes?
As the meeting went on today between all these Republican senators and officials from the Russian government, "The Washington Post" had a reporter there who says that Senator Shelby told the speaker of the Dumas, the speaker of the Russian parliament, Senator Shelby told him, quote, I`m not here to accuse Russia of this or that or so forth. Quote, I`m saying we should all strive for a better relationship. That is not what the Russians have been striving for, big guy.
The list of senators on this trip include Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama, Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Senator Jerry Moran of Kansas, Senator John Hoeven of North Dakota, Senator John Thune of South Dakota, Senator Steve Danes of Montana, and Senator John Kennedy of Louisiana. Republican member of the House Kay Granger was also a member of the delegation. You`ll notice that those are all Republicans on this trip. More on that in a little bit.
Among the Russians they all met with was Sergey Kislyak. Remember him? Sergey Kislyak was the Russian ambassador to the United States during the Russian attack on our election. He is the guy who played such a key role in that intelligence operation, those active measures.
He`s now back in Moscow, received tons of awards as soon as he got back. He is now an elected official. And so, yes, why not hang out with him if you`re a visiting American?
Sergey Kislyak told "The Post" today, quote, the main thing about this is that our guests travel here in order to talk. This is probably good confirmation of a readiness to start a dialogue. To be clear, he presumably means the kind of dialogue for which you don`t need a back channel secure phone line at the Russian embassy to talk to Jared Kushner, right? That was a different kind of dialogue he was working on before in his other job.
The head of this inexplicable Republican-only Republican delegation to Russia, excuse me, ahead of this inexplicable Russian congressional delegation to Russia today, Bloomberg news reported in this sort of adorable headline that the Republicans traveling to Russia, quote, hope to tell Putin election meddling has to stop. That`s before they went. They hoped to tell Putin that.
Once they arrived in Russia, though, the Russian government told them, no, sorry, Putin isn`t going to have time to meet with them. That was nice. But, apparently, the whole issue of election meddling didn`t come up.
Another member of the Russian parliament told "The Washington Post" that whatever the Americans told the U.S. press, they hoped to do before they got to Russia, once they arrived, it didn`t quite go that way. Quote, Duma member Vyacheslav Nikonov said that he had met with American lawmakers in the past, but this meeting, quote, was one of the easiest ones in my life. This member of the Russian parliament told "The Washington Post" that the question of Russian interfering in U.S. elections was resolved quickly because, quote, the question was raised in a general form. He said, one should not interfere in elections. Well, we did not interfere.
So, the election meddling conversation was an easy one. One should not interfere. Well, we don`t.
Another Russian lawmaker bragged to an NPR correspondent in Moscow that the visiting Republicans not only didn`t pressure the Russian government about them monkey-wrenching our election, they also didn`t really press them about anything else either. Quote, Russian Senator Andrei Klimov tells me U.S. lawmakers did not bring up Crimea during the Moscow meeting. Quote, I did not hear the word Crimea once in two hours.
This is kind of a weird thing, right? I mean, these pictures sort of feel strange for a reason. This actually feels like maybe it might be a landmark moment in strangeness. After Russia hit our election in 2016, that gave us two big worries as a country, right? One is what that means in terms of our current president, and who they tried to help elect. But there`s also the prospect now, the expectation that Russia might keep doing it, right, that Russia will keep monkey wrenching our elections from here on out. They`ll keep monkey wrenching our elections and our politics to benefit the Kremlin and to hurt us as a country.
Those are the two concerns. What does this say about Trump? Is he compromised by Russia? Why were they interfering to help him? And does he now owe them in some way? Do they have something over him that led to that campaign of active measures? Concerns about Trump, right? but also concerns about whether Russia would keep doing this in future elections.
Well, now, concern A and concern B are coming together, because we`re heading toward the 2018 elections just a few months out. Trump administration officials say they have received no directions for protecting the nation against a rerun of the 2016 Russian attack, but this time on the midterms.
The president himself is not only warning the Russians that hey should back off and not mess with this election. He is now publicly quoting their denials that they ever interfered in the first place in 2016. He apparently believes them.
Now, Trump in the lead-up to the 2018 elections, he`s embarked on this remarkable and seemingly rushed run of giving Russia stuff it wants. All right? We`ve had this long string of stuff that he has done all in a row, announcing that Russia should be allowed to rejoin the G7, which it was kicked out after it invaded Crimea. He is now saying maybe the U.S. would formally recognize that Crimea now belongs to Russia since they took it.
The president unilaterally offering to cancel joint military exercises between the U.S. and South Korea. It`s not necessarily something that sounds like it directly applies to Russia, but it is something which Vladimir Putin suggested to President Trump in a one-on-one phone call last year. He asked him to do it. We now know that President Trump didn`t consult with the U.S. military on that policy change or on making the announcement about it. He just did it after Trump was asked by Putin to do so.
Since then, we`ve learned that President Trump has also offered France financial incentives if they too would leave the European just like the U.K. did, so it would be like a Frexit on top of a Brexit. Trump says he`s willing to pay France to do that.
We`ve learned today that the president sent letters to every member of NATO, all criticizing all of them, implicitly threatening that the U.S. might leave NATO. The sound you just heard in the distance is Vladimir Putin summoning his photographers ripping his shirt off and pounding his chest in delight at that prospect. I mean, on top of -- on top of all, David Ignatius now reports at "The Washington Post" that the big give away Trump appears to be planning for his one-on-one meeting with Putin in less than two weeks is to let Russia have Syria.
Russia`s big ally in the Middle East is Assad, the dictator of Syria. Syria is seven years into a civil war. Russia has been fighting on the side of Assad, their ally, the Syrian dictator. The U.S. before now has been supporting the rebels who have been fighting against Assad. But apparently, that`s about to change. We`re to be switch sides if David Ignatius`s reporting is correct.
He says at "The Post", quote: The catastrophic war in Syria is nearing what could be a diplomatic end game that will, quote, preserve power for Syrian President Bashar al Assad. Quote, Trump appears ready to embrace a policy that will validate Assad, an authoritarian leader who has gassed his own people. He appears ready to abandon a Syrian opposition that was partly trained and supplied by the United States.
Quote, Trump`s willingness to accede to Russian power in Syria and to give up hard won U.S. gains troubles many Pentagon officials. But they seem to be losing the argument.
We don`t know exactly why ahead of this year`s midterm elections President Trump has hastily arranged this one-on-one summit that he is about to have with Vladimir Putin. We don`t know why ahead of that summit, he is rushing to tick off all of America`s allies and to tick off every foreign policy box you can conceivably imagine Russia might have in terms of a wish list from the U.S. government, but that`s what he`s doing.
And before now, I think you could reasonably say there was at least a little awkwardness, a little distance between the Republican Party, between other elected Republican officials and President Trump on his unnerving and unswerving desire to do what Russia wants all the time. All right?
All through this weird interlude in American history where the president`s ties to a foreign adversary are as yet unknown and the subject of a very serious investigation, right? All through this time, President Trump`s inexplicable closeness to Russia has really been a President Trump problem and not a Republican problem more broadly.
At best, congressional Republicans were critical of the president for his stance toward Russia. At times they were even opposing him in terms of his friendliness towards Russia. At worst, they were awkwardly ignoring his friendliness to Russia and just pretending it wasn`t happening.
But now, look what happened today. I mean, a congressional delegation itself is not a bad thing. Congressional delegations happen all over the world to countries we get along with and countries we don`t. To countries we are allies with and countries we have a beef with.
Here is Richard Shelby and all these other run-of-the-mill Republican senators, not only visiting Russia right now in a partisan visit, no Democrats allowed, but really getting on board with Trump there, saying, you know, we don`t need to be adversaries. He literally said that. We don`t need to be adversaries.
Senator Shelby told the head of the Russian parliament today, I`m not here today to accuse Russia of this or that or so forth. We`re here striving for a better relationship. That used to be something that only Trump would say. But now, that has apparently also been stuffed into the mouth of the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee and everybody else on this trip with him. What`s going on here?
MADDOW: Scott Schools is the top career official at the justice department. You do a Getty image search for Scott Schools, this is the only result. That, of course, is not Scott Schools. That is Sean Spicer, who is President Trump`s first press secretary.
The reason it comes up for Scott Schools is that that piece of paper Sean Spicer is waving around in that picture, that piece of paper is a letter written by Scott Schools. You can zoom in and see his curly signature on the bottom of that letter.
Scott Schools has a super important job, but clearly not a high profile one given that this is what you get when you go looking for news photos of him. He is the top career official at the Justice Department. That`s him in the middle there, thank you, Google image search.
You know, political appointees are one thing. They come and go with each administration. But career officials say, and Scott Schools is the senior one at the Justice Department. And although he does have a really senior job, it`s a very strictly behind the scenes kind of role.
One of his former colleagues called him, quote, the most important unknown person in D.C., which became the headline of the most important and influential profile of Scott Schools ever written. Scott Schools is one of the only people at the Justice Department to receive regular briefings on the status of special counsel Robert Mueller`s work. This picture in fact is him leaving Robert Mueller`s offices a few weeks ago.
When then acting Attorney General Sally Yates was looking for guidance from the Justice Department ahead of her congressional testimony about her being fired, she went to Scott Schools for that advice. When the department sent instructions to Justice Department employees that they need to save records and documents to turn over to the special counsel, particularly related to the firing of FBI Director James Comey, that can request for preserving documents, that request came from Scott Schools. When acting Deputy AG Dana Boente had to let the higher ups at the department know he was being called as a witness in the special counsel`s investigation, that notice went straight to Scott Schools.
Look at the handwritten notes in some of these documents. Took notes to Scott Schools. Provided to Scott Schools. Scott Schools, Scott Schools, Scott Schools.
For the past year and a half, Scott Schools has been kind of -- seen as kind of a guardrail at the Justice Department, protecting investigations and the work that the investigators do, try to protect them from the chaos that has been rattling around the DOJ since Donald Trump became president, providing a kind of rudder for his colleagues in terms of the right thing to do ethically, the right thing to do in terms of sticking to the rule of law and sticking to Justice Department process and procedure.
Scott Schools` colleagues described as kind of a security blanket, sort of emotional Snuggie to keep everyone calm and carrying on and doing things by the book.
Today, Scott Schools quit. NPR broke the news that Mr. Schools is leaving the Justice Department. His last day is Friday this week. He is not being pushed out. He is not leaving because of a dispute with leadership. Snuggie to keep everyone calm and carrying on by the book.
Today, Scott Schools quit. NPR broke the news that Mr. Schools is leaving the Justice Department. His last day is Friday this week.
NPR reports he isn`t being pushed out. He is not leaving because of a dispute with leadership. He will be replaced apparently by another career lawyer at the Justice Department. But for whatever reason, the Justice Department is losing its Yoda at a time when the Justice Department is under a sustained, pointed aggressive partisan attack from the president of the United States and Republican members of Congress.
So, now, what happens?
Joining us now is Leon Neyfakh, who is a staff writer for "Slate". He wrote that aforementioned profile of Scott Schools last year, which was headlined the most important unknown person in D.C. as the Russian investigation deepens, Scott Schools has become the conscience of the Justice Department.
Mr. Neyfakh, thank you very much for being here.
LEON NEYFAKH, SLATE.COM REPORTER: Thanks for having me.
MADDOW: I say that this is the most influential and important profile of Scott Schools because it`s the one that has -- because you figured out who he was and what he was doing.
NEYFAKH: It`s the only one.
MADDOW: But you win. What`s your reaction to him leaving and has anything evolved since you -- since you wrote this last year, last summer?
NEYFAKH: Has anything happened since then?
MADDOW: Yes, in terms of understanding his role.
NEYFAKH: Well, I was surprised. I would assume that he came to this job in October of 2016 thinking he would stay in it for many, many years. His predecessor, David Margolis was in the job for over 20 years. I would suspect that Scott Schools who was sort of being groomed to replace Margolis for many years probably thought that he has a similar future.
He obviously didn`t know that President Trump would be elected. Maybe he thought it would be a different job. As you said, the report today said that there was sort of no instigating disputes, that there was no kind of duress that led to his exit. It seems like he just got another opportunity, but, you know, maybe another opportunity just looks like an opportunity when you hate your job. I don`t know.
MADDOW: So, he was an associate deputy attorney general.
MADDOW: And there are a number of people who have that job.
MADDOW: He is described, though, as the senior career official at the Justice Department and as being, as you wrote about, the sort of person who basically tells people what to do when they`re up against it, when they`re in a difficult or unprecedented or highly pressured situation with regard to the Justice Department, the rule of law, policies and procedures of the department.
What exactly was his job? What kinds of disputes would go to him?
NEYFAKH: So, basically, the thorniest, most sensitive situations go to his desk. If Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general needs to decide whether to appoint a special counsel, let`s say, he would ask Scott Schools for advice. If you tried to decide who to appoint to that job, he would probably ask Scott Schools for that that advice.
When Rod Rosenstein goes to testify to Congress, he probably talks to Scott Schools about what he can say, what he can`t say. You know, Schools` predecessor who I mentioned before, David Margolis, he was sort of seen as a fixer in the department. He was someone who you could trust to have the institutional memory, to know how to deal with weird situations, situations where there was political complications, where there were sort of issues of self-governance within the agency.
And he was given all the sort of most -- all the hottest potatoes. You know, a good example is he, you know, in the room when the decision was made not to prosecute Hillary Clinton. You know, years earlier, he was the one sent to the office of Vince Foster, the deputy White House counsel, after Vince Foster committed suicide. You know, the most sensitive situations are the ones in this job get.
MADDOW: And now, this person has left with no explanation.
NEYFAKH: That`s right.
MADDOW: I`m unnerved. Leon Neyfakh, thank you very much for being here.
NEYFAKH: Thanks for having me.
MADDOW: All right. Much more to come on what has turned out to be a very busy holiday eve, including some news we`re getting from overseas that you definitely don`t know about yet, but has big domestic implications. That`s coming up. Stay with us.
MADDOW: In December, there were plans for a small group of U.S. senators to go to Russia for a congressional delegation. John Barrasso of Wyoming and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, two Republican senators, they were scheduled to go, as was a Democratic senator, Jeanne Shaheen from New Hampshire. But then the Russians said no to the Democrat.
Senator Jeanne Shaheen has been a sharp critic of Russia in terms of them messing with our election. She was outspoken in support of sanctions on Russia in response to that meddling. She was aggressive on saying that RT, the Russian propaganda outlet funded by the Russian government, they should have to register as a foreign agent in this country. She was pushy as well about Kaspersky software which U.S. intelligence believes is being used as a spying tool on U.S. government computers for the Russians.
With that kind of critical record, the Russian government decided to deny a visa for Senator Shaheen to make that congressional visit along with her Republican colleagues. And so her Republican colleagues decided that they wouldn`t go either. They canceled the visit rather than go without her.
Nice, right? Bipartisan. Nonpartisan solidarity on that one. Oh, yeah, Russia? One of us can`t come? Then we`re not coming.
All three of those senators are on the Foreign Relations Committee together. They were all going to do this trip together. But if the Russian wouldn`t let the Democrat go, then they decide they wouldn`t go at all. Nice.
It was nice while it lasted. That was December. This time around, the Republicans just decided that they wouldn`t invite any Democrats to go with them.
Seven Republican senators, including Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, seven Republican senators and one Republican member of the House are in Russia right now as we speak, no Democrats among them. So that`s one way to solve the problem, right?
So far, the Republican delegation in Moscow has said to the press in advance of their trip that they hoped to meet with Putin while they were there. That was a genius move because that then gave Putin the chance to humiliate them by saying, no he didn`t have time. Members of Russian parliament have since been bragging about how the Americans came all the way to Russia to talk to them, how relations are back on now with the Russians not having to give up anything.
They`ve also been bragging about how the Americans haven`t raised any real complaints at all. Not on Crimea, not on them messing with the election. It`s been awesome. That is not how these things usually go.
Joining us now is Michael McFaul. He is a former U.S. ambassador to Russia.
Mr. Ambassador, thank you very much for being here. It`s nice to have you on a Friday, on a holiday eve, which is not a Friday.
MICHAEL MCFAUL, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO RUSSIA: A holiday. Yes, thanks for having me, Rachel.
MADDOW: Let me ask you just about some of the nuts and bolts here. I recognize that congressional delegations happen all over the world. They happen to friendly countries. They happen to countries that we have real beefs with. They happen in high profile ways and low profile ways. It seems like a good thing in term of what members of Congress do with their time.
Is it unusual, though, to have a big congressional delegation like this, seven senators and a member of the house all from one party?
MCFAUL: Yes, very unusual. It`s very unusual to have that many senators, first of all. That`s an incredible number of senators. But to have no Democrats, that is highly unusual.
And also, remember, I could be wrong, but I think almost all, if not all of these members are on the appropriations committee. They`re not from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that you just mentioned. That`s also unusual.
MADDOW: In terms of how they have conducted themselves on this congressional delegation, there was an announcement by these senators in advance of their trip that they hoped to meet with Vladimir Putin once they arrived in Moscow, apparently still with those hopes. The Russian government informed them that Putin would not be meeting with them.
The members of the delegation also said in advance that they planned to raise the issue of Russia attacking our election in 2016. Members of the Russian parliament who they have been meeting with say it hasn`t really come up. It hasn`t come up in any forceful way at all.
Is that dynamic also unusual? It strikes me as the kind of thing I haven`t seen when I`ve covered these in the past.
MCFAUL: Yes, you`re right. And I think it`s disappointing, you know, the account so far. I think they`re that one more day. So maybe they`ll have a chance to redeem themselves.
But one of the beauties usually of CODELs, by the way, Rachel, is they can say more difficult things because they don`t have to sit down with Vladimir Putin and negotiate about a START treaty or an Iran nuclear deal, right?
And when I was ambassador, I hosted CORDELs, bipartisan CORDELs. One of them, by the way, came on July 4th. That was in 2013. Representative McCarthy was the head of that CODEL.
And the important thing is that they can push back and then they can go on the record on public and say very basic things about we think it is horrible that Russia annexed Crimea, or supported this brutal dictator in Syria, or violated our sovereignty in the 2016 elections. That would be a normal thing to do.
And, by the way, the bipartisan thing keeps everybody honest. That usually happens when you have a bipartisan delegation and not just supporting the policy of the White House one way or the other.
MADDOW: We also have indication the NPR correspondent in Moscow, or NPR bureau chief in Moscow said today online that these Americans who are doing this delegation went out of their way to not talk to the press, to not meet with any reporters.
MADDOW: They also appear to not have any plans to meet with opposition figures that would also be a departure, wouldn`t it?
MCFAUL: Correct. I mean, first of all, they should have a press conference and sit down with NPR and everybody else, and, you know, just read out their meetings in a more muscular way, even if they actually didn`t say them. You were earlier tonight quoting a lot of people I know well from the Russian side. These are very experienced foreign policy hands, and they were very dismissive of what happened in those meetings.
By the way, I used to meet with a lot of Russians as ambassador. And you can have frank, tough conversations. There is nothing wrong with that, but you need to push back on things that I think are wrong.
But number two, I hope to goodness sakes that tomorrow they go out and at least meet some people in Russian civil society, the opposition, you know for all of the difficulties on policy we had with Congressman McCarthy, he did attend our July 4th celebration. I was the host with 2,000 other guests. But then they peeled away and they went and saw Boris Nemtsov, the opposition leader who two years later was killed.
That is the right thing to do. I hope tomorrow that`s part of their agenda during their time in Moscow.
MADDOW: Michael McFaul, former U.S. ambassador to Russia, I`m very glad we had you on to talk about this, particularly while they`re still there. This feels like a weird time to have such a weird visit by this very high profile of American delegation. Thanks for helping us put it in context.
MCFAUL: Sure. Thanks for having me.
MADDOW: All right. We`ll be right back. Stay with us.
MADDOW: As I mentioned a little bit earlier, that there is a breaking story that we`ve sort of been waiting on tape for tonight, something that`s happening live but very far away. This is not a U.S. news and politics story, but it is one with an incredible connection to the Trump administration and to the scandal surrounding the Trump presidency. We have now just gotten in the footage that we have been waiting for from a courtroom in a foreign capital, which means this thing we have been waiting for all day is really happening. You will want to see this. The story is next.
MADDOW: Take a look at this. This is footage we got in just in the last few minutes from Malaysia. In Malaysia right now, it is tomorrow. They`re 12 hours ahead of East Coast in the U.S. so this is Wednesday morning.
And this is the country`s former prime minister arriving at a courthouse after spending a night in jail. That`s him in the middle of that crush of people trying to make his way into the courtroom to be arraigned on the most serious corruption charges you can possibly imagine. Malaysian prime minister was voted out of office just a few weeks ago when despite his best efforts to rig the election in his own favor, he was defeated by an anti- corruption candidate who made the centerpiece of his campaign the fact that Malaysia`s prime minister is believed to be behind what might be one of the largest cash thefts in world history.
The prime minister and his family are believed to have engineered the theft of many billions of dollars from the Malaysian government, including hundreds of millions of dollars that he just stuck in his pocket, that he just piled up as cash in his own bank account. Now, the U.S. Justice Department has alleged formally that he laundered hundreds of millions of dollars through U.S. banks, which gave them grounds for bringing a U.S. case against him.
Last week, Malaysian anti-corruption officials finally seized objects of value from the prime minister and his wife that are believed to have been bought with some of this cash that they stole. You might have seen this last week when they announced what they actually had found, what he had actually seized when they went to go collect all the loot, all the spoils of the theft the prime minister and his wife had accumulated. You might have seen this. This is from the "New York Times."
Quote: among the items seized were 12,000 pieces of jewelry worth an estimated $109 million just in the value of their precious metals and gemstones alone. In addition, authorities seized cash worth $29 million in 26 currencies. Simply counting the cash took three days for 22 officials using six currency counting machines.
Anti-corruption officials also seized 423 watches, 234 pairs of sunglasses, 2,800 pairs of earrings, 2,200 rings, 2,100 bangles, what`s a bangle, 1,600 broaches -- I don`t see if you see broaches or broaches, 1,400 necklaces, 14 tiaras.
Think about that for a second. Presumably the prime minister himself is not even wearing the tiaras. It`s just him and his wife. How do you split up the responsibility for wearing 14 tiaras? If that`s just her that`s a lot of tiaras to get around to, never mind the bangles.
Mrs. Prime Minister appears to be particularly fond of designer handbags. The anti-corruption squad seized 567 different handbags. Purses.
The ones from Hermes alone were valued at $12 million worth of purses. The others are still being appraised but they apparently represented 37 different brands. Who`s the handbag appraiser that the government of Malaysia has to call in to put a dollar amount on that?
All in all, it looks like $4.5 billion in cash that the prime minister of Malaysia somehow spirited out of his government during his time in office. The U.S. Justice Department is one of the legal authorities that has been pursuing that crime that apparently did not at all trouble President Trump, who invited the Malaysian prime minister to the White House just a few months ago despite that active U.S. Justice Department investigation accusing him of stealing hundreds of millions of dollars. President Trump is reportedly quite fond of the now arraigned prime minister.
"The New York Times" reports that Mr. Trump once, quote, gave him a photo inscribed to "my favorite prime minister." Well, today we learned he was arrested. Tonight, we just saw the first images of him arriving at court to be arraigned.
You should also know there`s another Trump Republican Party connection here that is live and still unexplained. This Malaysia thing, this is the gigantic theft and corruption case for which Elliott Broidy until recently the deputy finance chairman of the national Republican Party, this is the case where Elliott Broidy offered -- reportedly offered the Malaysians a contract in which he and his wife would be paid $75 million for somehow making the justice department investigation into this matter go away. They could just pay them in handbags.
I mean, why did this Trump donor, the deputy finance chairman of the Republican Party, think he had the power to make this Justice Department investigation go away? How did he set a $75 million price tag as what he ought to be paid in order to do that?
I don`t know. But we do know that Elliott Broidy`s business partner has been granted immunity in exchange for his cooperation as a witness in the Robert Mueller investigation. So I have a feeling in the end we will eventually find out.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: Programming note. We`re going to have a report on tomorrow night`s show, on the 4th of July show, about the Supreme Court appointment that is expected any day now from President Trump and that has become a big freaking political deal when it comes to the midterm elections that are fast coming down the pike. It turns out there is a precedent for this in our politics that turns out there is a precedent for this in our politics that you should know about.
We`re going to have a report on that on tomorrow night`s show. So I will see you then.
Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL".
Good evening, Lawrence.
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