Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: July 12, 2018 Guest: Jerrold Nadler, Victoria Nuland
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.
All right. It started just after 10:00 this morning and only just wrapped up this past hour. I told you last night this was going to be an all-day spectacle. But honestly, even I had no idea it was going to be this much of an all-day spectacle.
So, all right. The man of the day Peter Strzok, Peter Strzok until recently was the head of the counter intelligence division at the FBI, which means he was literally the person in the U.S. government in charge of countering foreign countries` intelligence operations in the United States. Like, say, let`s say, for example, if the Russians or someone mounted a massive active measures effort to the swing our presidential election and buy themselves a pet U.S. president in the process. Peter Strzok would lead the counterintelligence division of the FBI in the effort within our government to find that out, to investigate it, and to stop it.
Part of the fallout of the Russia investigation and the Republican backlash against that investigation is that Peter Strzok`s career has been dismantled and the president and Republicans who support the president have held Peter Strzok up for public scorn as a terrible person. That`s one of the ways that Peter Strzok will go down in history when all this is said and done. America, big picture, right, America was hit by a massive Russian intelligence operation that infected our democracy, right? That was designed to sway an election the way Russia wanted it swayed, and to hurt our country in the process.
The political party that the benefited from that attack responded to that attack in part by destroying and removing the top official in the U.S. government in charge of fighting Russian intelligence operations on our soil. So, that`s one of the ways Peter Strzok will go down in history.
Another is the remarkable fact that while the FBI was mounting this major counterintelligence investigation into a presidential campaign and the question of whether that campaign was in cahoots with a hostile foreign government in its intelligence operation that was designed to sway the election, while that was happening, that FBI investigation was never leaked to the public. Ever. That too will go down in history, right?
The existence of the counterintelligence investigation into what Russia was doing and whether or not the Trump campaign was in on it, that investigation was only publicly confirmed by FBI Director James Comey in March 2017, two full months after Donald Trump had been sworn in as president. The FBI kept that information secret for the entire campaign, and then refused to confirm it until months into the Trump presidency. Despite media reports starting to get wind that maybe something there was going on, right?
The FBI didn`t tell anybody about it before the election. They didn`t confirm it publicly until months after Trump was sworn in. They kept it completely mum because it was an ongoing investigation, right? That is a remarkable thing about that investigation. On which Peter Strzok was the senior counterintelligence agent.
It`s also one of the very first points that Peter Strzok made today when it was his turn in front of the microphone.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PETER STRZOK, FBI AGENT: In the summer of 2016, I was one of a handful of people who knew the details of Russian election interference and its possible connections with members of the Trump campaign. This information had the potential to derail and quite possibly defeat Mr. Trump but the thought of expressing that or exposing that information never crossed my mind.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: The Republican case against Peter Strzok, them defining him as enemy number one, right, the way they have made him subject to public pillory, right, is by claiming that his work on the Russia investigation was motivated purely by his partisan wish to hurt the presidential campaign of Donald Trump.
If that`s the case, then honestly, why didn`t he? Why didn`t he or anybody else at the FBI tell the public at any point before the election that Donald Trump`s campaign was in fact the subject of a very serious counter intelligence investigation? If the whole thing was motivated by bias to try to make sure Trump didn`t get elected then why didn`t they tell the American public that Trump shouldn`t be elected?
It`s awkward, right? It`s a foundation little awkward thing. That`s how the day started but then Peter Strzok went on to make the whole day quite awkward for Republicans today.
I mean, Republicans have been salivating over the prospects for this hearing. The name Peter Strzok has filled Republicans with glee. For months, they have gone after him, especially in the conservative media. They were super excited to berate Mr. Peter Strzok over his personal texts that he sent during the campaign to an FBI lawyer he was involved with, a woman named Lisa Page.
The problem is, it is a lot easier to beat up a guy who isn`t sitting right there fully live more than able to explain exactly what he meant.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STRZOK: Sir, if I -- if I may, what is important is that these texts represent personal beliefs just like those that you`d find on my personal phone. What these texts do not represent is any act, any suggestion of an act, any consideration that we need to do this or not do this, and furthermore, I would encourage you as a believe I forget who I said this to earlier this morning, you need to read these texts in the context of what was going on at the time.
So when I make the comment about Trump having no idea how destabilizing his presidency would be, that came on the heels of a speech where then candidate Trump said he didn`t know whether or not the United States should honor its commitment to mutual defense under NATO.
REP. DARRELL ISSA (R), CALIFORNIA: I appreciate that.
STRZOK: Sir, think about that.
ISSA: Thank you very much.
That`s not briefly. Mr. Chairman, in light of this actual --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: May the witness be permitted to finish.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He should be permitted to answer his question.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everyone will suspend. I told the gentleman he could answer briefly. He has answered briefly.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He has not finished answering.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We will now turn to the gentlewoman from Washington, D.C. for her questions.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Oh, you want to ask me about what I meant there when I said the Trump presidency might be destabilizing? That was about NATO.
On the night before Trump officially accepted the Republican nomination, the day before the then candidate had publicly questioned America`s commitment to defending our allies in NATO in an interview with the "New York Times." this is a real thing that happened. That Peter Strzok responded to as an American.
Quoting from that "New York Times" article, quote: Asked about Russia`s threatening activities which have unnerved the small Baltic States among the more recent entrants into NATO, Mr. Trump said that if Russia attacked them, he would decide whether to come to their aid only after reviewing if those nations have fulfilled their obligations to us.
"The Times" wrote, quote, "Mr. Trump`s statement appeared to be the first time a major candidate for president had suggested conditioning the United States defense of its major allies, right? That`s very familiar, right? That is the same dynamic we saw today this very morning where the president threatened that if fellow members of NATO didn`t commit to raise defense spending, he would, quote, do his own thing. We will have more on that coming up.
So, not only was Peter Strzok responding to a real thing in the world where the idea of Trump having a destabilizing presidency might be a reasonable observation, right, it`s also something in this moment in this day in our lives we`re living through the manifestation of that now that he is president.
That`s why Darrell Issa really didn`t want to talk about that. OK, OK, NATO, we`re not going to talk about that. Let`s move on.
At another point in today`s hearing, under hostile questioning from Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy, Peter Strzok did get to explain the context of an August 8th text message from 2016, one of the ones that Republicans really, really love quoting. In the exchange, Lisa Page had written to Peter Strzok, quote, Trump`s not ever going to become president right, to which Peter Strzok responded, no, no, he`s not. We`ll stop it.
Well, today, given the chance to actually explain the context of that text and what he meant, Peter Strzok did so, on TV, out loud and it was not what Republicans wanted.
Also, check out the response in the room whether he finishes up here.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STRZOK: I think it`s important when you look at those texts that you understand the context in which they were made and the things that were going on across America, in terms of the texts that we will stop it.
You need to understand that that was written late at night, off the cuff and it was in response to a series of events that included then candidate Trump insulting the immigrant family of a fallen war hero and my presumption based on that horrible, disgusting behavior, that the population would not elect somebody demonstrating that behavior to be president of the United States. It was in no way unequivocally any suggestion that me, the FBI would take any action whatsoever to improperly impact the electoral process for any candidate. So, I take great offense and I take great disagreement to your assertion of what that was or wasn`t.
As to the 100 million to one, that was clearly a statement made in jest and using hyperbole. I, of course, recognize that millions of Americans will likely to vote for candidate Trump. I acknowledged that is absolutely their right. That is what makes our democracy such a vibrant process that it is. But to suggest somehow we can parse down the words of shorthand, textual and conversations like there`s some contract for a car is simply not consistent with might or most people`s use of text messages.
I can assure you, Mr. Chairman, at no time in any of these texts did those personal beliefs ever enter into the realm of any action I took. Furthermore, this isn`t just me sitting here telling you. You don`t have to take my word for it. At every step, at every investigative decision, there were multiple layers of people above me, the assistant director, executive assistant director, deputy director and director of the FBI, and multiple laser of people below me, section chiefs, supervisors, unit chiefs, case agents and analysts all of whom were involved in all of these decisions.
They would not tolerate any improper behavior in me any more than I would tolerate it them. That is who we are as the FBI. And the suggestion that I in some dark chamber somewhere in the FBI would somehow cast aside all of these procedures, all of these safeguards and somehow be able to do this is astounding to me. It simple couldn`t happen.
And the proposition that is going on, that it might occur anywhere in the FBI deeply corrodes what the FBI is in American society, effectiveness of their mission and it is deeply destructive.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: You can see from the reaction from the Democrats in the room there how that landed.
This is not what Republicans were expecting or hoping for from their data, put Peter Strzok in the hot seat, right? They thought this would be beat the pinata day. Turns out it is alive and has its own bat.
Here`s Republican Congressman Trey Gowdy trying again, though, again questioning Peter Strzok about a text. This one was from after President Trump was elected. And he`s explaining that -- Peter Strzok is explaining that his "we will stop him" tweet meant he thought it the American people would stop him because for obvious reasons that he spelled out.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. TREY GOWDY (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: You wanted him to resign two months into his presidency?
STRZOK: My sense was and a personal belief that I was not pleased with the direction and things being done with the presidency.
GOWDY: I thought you trusted the American people. I thought that was what you said in August of 2016 that the American people would stop him and then they didn`t stop him and --
GOWDY: -- all of a sudden, not trusting the American people anymore.
STRZOK: Sir, what -- I utterly trust the American people. What I worry about is when the government of Russia puts their fingers on the scale and causes the will of the American people to be something other than America electing a president.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: I utterly trust the American people, Congressman. What I worry about is when the government of Russia puts their finger on the scale and causes the will of the American people to be something other than America electing our president.
Right, Mr. Gowdy? You are with that, Congressman, don`t you? Why we`re changing the subject? OK.
We also heard Peter Strzok explain in his own words today for the first time what information he was working with in those frantic last few days of the campaign, the start of the investigation, the nature of the information that had come into the FBI about Russia`s actions, and where that information had come from.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. SHEILA JACKSON LEE (D), TEXAS: And during your June 2016 -- excuse me, June, 2018 interview, I noticed some concern in your voice when recalling that 2016 campaign season, specifically October 2016 and specifically as it relates to the state of the Trump Russia investigation.
Why were you so concerned about what was happening at that time?
STRZOK: Well, I think trying to keep this at a level not talking about open or open investigations.
LEE: On your --
STRZOK: Yes, ma`am. So the predicating information, the information we had which was alleging a Russian offer of assistance to a member of the Trump campaign was of extraordinary significance. It was credible. It was from an extraordinarily, sensitive and credible source.
And as we looked what that represented, the key time was obviously coming into the election. And so, for us, there was absolutely a need to, one, this was a serious allegation. Two, of extraordinary gravity and three, given the fact that the election was upon us and that if in fact, then candidate Trump were elected, that whether he or certainly more likely or possibly members of his campaign were actively working with the Russians, we need to get to the bottom of that.
It could be none of them were. It could be that some or it could be on a far worse scale. But the urgency for us to understand what was going on in advance of the election certainly in advance of any inauguration I can`t overstate the importance of that.
MADDOW: That was from an extraordinarily credible and sensitive source. The information we had, predicating information, the information we had which was alleging a Russian offer of assistance to a member of the Trump campaign, that was of extraordinary significance. It was credible from an extraordinarily credible and sensitive source. This was a serious allegation of extraordinary gravity.
The urgency for us to understand what was going on in advance of the election and certainly in advance of the inauguration, I can`t overstate the importance of that.
We haven`t heard that kind of detail before about the status of the Russia investigation and what the FBI had started investigating. We at least haven`t heard that before from the senior counter intelligence chief leading it at the time.
Another thing we learned came during questioning by the top Democrat on the committee, Congressman Jerry Nadler tried to get Peter Strzok to explain why he had prioritized the Russia investigation over the Clinton e-mail investigation in the last month of the 2016 campaign. That`s, of course, one of the big criticisms Republicans leveled at Peter Strzok, right, is the idea he was somehow acting unfairly when he prioritized the Russia investigation over the Clinton e-mail investigation in the final month of the campaign when new e-mails were discovered on the laptop of Anthony Weiner, the husband of Hillary Clinton`s top aide Huma Abedin.
Peter Strzok`s lawyer, we sort of knew that there was going to be something coming on this because Peter Strzok`s lawyer had already taken a swing at this ahead of today`s hearing. He had already put out a public statement ahead of the hearing today essentially saying, yes, of course he prioritized the Russian investigation. Anybody would.
Quote: Not every FBI investigation is of equal importance to U.S. national security. There`s simply no equivalence between an investigation into the possible mishandling of classified e-mail, a relatively commonplace occurrence on the FBI`s Washington field office, and credible evidence suggesting that the presidential campaign of a major party candidate was actively colluding with a hostile foreign power in a way that could undermine the integrity of an American presidential election.
Quote, to require senior national security officials to profess fealty to this false equivalence is both short-sighted and dangerous.
So, that had been Peter Strzok`s line on this question through his lawyer before today`s hearing, when he finally got to sit down in front of a microphone today at the committee hearing today, he was able to give his own account in his own words of why he did that, which included some completely new information that had never been revealed before.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STRZOK: The first reason I did it is because the director told me. The director said it was a top priority relayed from him and the second thing was, yes, clearly, when you look at allocation of resources based on threat to national security, the Russia influence investigations are of much greater impact than a mishandling of classified information investigation.
REP. JERROLD NADLER (D), NEW YORK: Thank you. But the first reason is because the director told you to?
STRZOK: Yes, sir.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: The director told you to. That is something new we learned today. Then-FBI Director James Comey ordered Peter Strzok to focus on, to prioritize the Russia investigation ahead of the Clinton e-mail investigation at that point because of the far graver and more urgent threat it posed at that point.
We did not necessarily expect to get that kind of information today but hey, when you spend ten hours questioning the country`s senior counterintelligence official looking into Russian matters, you`re going to learn some things you might not expect.
Republicans have been waiting for this day. They`ve been so excited for their opportunity to dig their teeth into Peter Strzok and make him more of an enemy. They knew and they hoped that it would result in all kinds of headlines, except what we saw today from allies of the president didn`t necessarily produce the kind of headlines they were after.
It was sort of clear heading into this today they might have bitten off more than they could chew with Peter Strzok. Ten hours in front of this committee today where they didn`t lay a finger on him problems that more than true. Top Democrat from today`s hearing joins us next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOWDY: How many Americans have been indicted for conspiring with Russia to impact the 2016 election?
STRZOK: None to my knowledge.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
That was the voice of Congressman Jerry Nadler of New York, who is the top Democrat on the judiciary committee in the House which hosted this mammoth hearing today. Congressman Nadler reminding everybody at today`s hearing with that "yet" that special counsel Robert Mueller is still working. There may yet be more indictments.
That moment came after Congressman Nadler`s colleague, Elijah Cummings, reminded everybody visually of the work that Robert Mueller has already done when he had his staff hold up giant more than life sized photos of all the Trump administration and Trump campaign connected people hope have already pled guilty in the special counsel`s investigation.
So, that`s what Ricky Pineda (ph) looks like.
Today`s hearing ended barely an hour ago, ten hours after it started. The top Democrat in the room, Congressman Nadler, spent much of this long day honestly trying to get the Republicans on the committee to abide by their own rules and to let Strzok get his answers out. At one point, Congressman Nadler actually tried to get the whole thing adjourned after Republicans threatened to hold Peter Strzok in contempt over his very first answer today.
Congressman Nadler joins us now.
Congressman, thank you very much for being with us. It`s a pleasure to have you here. You must be tired.
NADLER: Pleasure to be here.
MADDOW: What is your bottom line take away from today`s hearing? I was struck by your opening statement in which one of your closing lines was, leave the special counsel alone. You were critical of this hearing today, critical of Republicans` intentions behind bringing this witness out in the way they did.
How do you think it went?
NADLER: Well, I think it went very well. I mean, this whole hearing and the hearing with Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein a couple weeks ago, they`re shows. They`re shows intended to help Donald Trump as the walls seem to be closing in on him. They`re intended to use people who turned out to be fairly minor characters, Strzok and Page, in the investigation because remember, Strzok was let go from the investigation as soon as -- just about as soon as Mueller came in.
And they`re trying to show that because he was clearly, his personal political opinion and his girlfriend Page were very anti-Trump. This somehow biased his decisions and therefore, biased the investigation whereas the inspector general found there was no evidence in any bias in any of the decisions and his answer that he and others -- a lot of people participated in all those decisions.
All of this was intended to throw mud to undermine the integrity of the investigation and to undermine its integrity and its credibility. And, of course, it`s headed by demanding that he answer questions and a few weeks ago, Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein answered questions that they cannot answer -- questions that go to the heart of an ongoing criminal investigation which they may not answer according to long-standing department of justice policy. It puts him in a position where if he answers the question he`s violating the proper policy not to interfere with an investigation. If he doesn`t, he risks contempt of Congress which they`re deliberately threatening.
And they`re trying to do all this to distract from the investigation and to poison the jury pool as Mayor Giuliani said. All of this is propaganda to undermine the credibility of the investigation so whenever it comes out with a report, people won`t believe it. But the facts are clear. Several facts.
One, in a year -- little over a year, they have -- the investigation has resulted in 20 indictments, many of them of people close to the Trump campaign or administration. Five guilty pleas, also of people close to the Trump administration, high up in the campaign.
And we know that the best evidence that the investigation is not a witch hunt and is in fact being fairly conducted is there have been no leaks. There`s been a one-sided propaganda campaign by the president, as a witch hunt by his Republican henchmen in Congress to try to discredit the investigation. But there have been no leaks.
All we really know, and they haven`t answered the accusations. All we really know about the investigation are what the charging documents and indictments say, what the guilty pleas say and what various court filings say, period. It`s remarkable there have been no leaks. And that tells me that the investigation is being fairly conduct and the fact that there have been so many indictments and guilty pleas in only a year and a year and a quarter, is remarkable for an investigation of this breadth.
When I compare it to the two and a half year Benghazi investigation chaired by Mr. Gowdy, for example, it is remarkable.
And one other thing -- you looked at the hearing today and half the Republicans would not permit the witness to answer questions. They just cast aspersions on his character. They made speeches. They kept coming back to the same expressions of political opinion in his texts to his girlfriend.
But again, the inspector general found that there was no evidence whatsoever that their political opinions influenced the decisions in the investigation in any way and again, remember, that Mr. Strzok was removed from the investigation very early on, not because he did anything terribly wrong, but because I assume because Mueller, Mr. Mueller being wise in the ways of Washington knew that his investigation if it went anywhere would be subject to unfair accusations and besmirching and wanted to remove a possible target and he did. But they`re using that anyway.
MADDOW: One of the controversies that arose during the hearing today was whether or not the previous testimony by Mr. Strzok, he testified behind closes doors for 11 hours not long ago, not that many days ago. There was some discussion among members of your -- members from your side of the aisle today maybe the transcript from that 11 hours of testimony should be released, as well, even a suggestion that the Democrats might release it over the objections of the Republicans.
Is that likely to happen?
NADLER: Well, Chairman Cummings -- ranking member Cummings of the Oversight Investigations Committee and I sent a letter to Gowdy and -- to Chairman Gowdy and Chairman Goodlatte a number of days ago requesting precisely. We`ve been demanding that.
Now, there has to be some scrubbing of personal information. But basically, those transcripts should be made public and the fact that Goodlatte and Gowdy have refused to make it public tells me that they know that that would detract from all the accusations they`re making because he handled himself as well in that 11-hour interrogation as did he in today`s ten-hour interrogation.
MADDOW: Yes, today was a reminder that one of the -- one of the underappreciated qualities you need in public service is stamina. Congressman Jerrold Nadler, that top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, this was a very, very long day and a fascinating one. Thank you for your time tonight sir. Much appreciated.
NADLER: Thank you.
MADDOW: All right. Much more to come tonight. Stay with us.
MADDOW: December 10th, 2013, the government of the nation of Ukraine decided that they were going to clear out demonstrators who had been protesting for ten days against the Ukrainian president`s decision Viktor Yanukovych`s decision to move Ukraine away from Western Europe and toward Russia instead. This was the guy who Paul Manafort worked for for all those years.
Demonstrators have taken over independence square in Kiev. The U.S. government had been try fog for days to broker some sort of peace between the two sides. But after that violent government crack down against the protests on September 10th, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry put out a statement expressing disgust with that government`s decision to send riot police armed with batons and bulldozer into the crowds of civilian protesters. He said, quote: The United States stands with the people of Ukraine.
This is Victoria Nuland. At the time, she was America`s top diplomat in Europe. She had been in Kiev as part of that American effort to try to broker some sort of peaceful ended to that standoff in Independence Square. The day after Kerry`s statement criticizing the government of that country for its violence towards its own people, saying the United States stands with the people of Ukraine, Victoria Nuland, herself, one of the top officials in the U.S. State Department went down herself to Independence Square into the middle of that ongoing standoff in key effective and started handing out snacks, snacks and goodwill all around to the protesters, to police, everybody got something to eat.
Victoria Nuland is one of America`s most experienced career diplomats. In the last generation or two, she has been America`s top diplomat in Europe. She has been the spokesperson for the State Department. She was America`s ambassador to NATO.
She is a nonpartisan career diplomat who has worked closely with everyone from Dick Cheney to Hillary Clinton. Victoria Nuland is a heavyweight and she has been for a long time, and it turns out she is not averse to getting down onto the street herself if that`s what the diplomatic situation demands.
You know, don`t let the bulldozers and live ammunition bother you for an instant. One of the top officials in the U.S. government is here in person with snacks. The U.S. government is here. We see what you are doing. Victoria Nuland was willing to go there and that made her a target.
Just a few weeks after her visit to Kiev in that incredibly tense moment, audio from her private phone calls got hacked and stolen. Now, it`s not unusual for a U.S. diplomat to have her phone tapped overseas, right? That presumably happens all the time.
What was not a thing though was a high level U.S. diplomat having her phone tap and then the content of that phone call getting extracted and leaked out of context onto the Internet to try to create an international incident and specifically to try to embarrass her.
Now, at the time that happened, that was new. And it was no real mystery as to who had done it. The Obama administration noted at the time that the first tweet of that audio clip of Victoria Nuland swearing in a private phone call, that was tweeted out by the Russian government.
It turned out that was our first big preview of what would go on a couple years later in the 2016 elections, right? In the 2016 elections, it was Russia again but what happened to Victoria Nuland was sort of the first iteration, right? Not just spying, not just hacking into systems and stealing information from U.S. government officials, right? It was hacking and stealing that information and then repurposing that information and weaponizing it and putting it back out through social media.
What happened to the Democratic Party and the Clinton campaign with their computer servers in 2016 happened to Victoria Nuland on her phone in 2014 in the middle of her work in Ukraine. When she and the U.S. government were trying to push Putin back, trying to shore up Western alliances.
Russia, of course, still is on the other side of all that, right? Still working as best they can to break up all Western alliances. Confrontation over that was fraught back then, right, when Victoria Nuland stepped into the middle of the square. It`s in a different way right now.
But this former diplomat, this former top diplomat in Europe for the United States, former U.S. ambassador to NATO, Victoria Nuland, joins us here next live and in person for the interview.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: The good news is the president didn`t unilaterally announce today that the United States is leaving NATO. The bad news is that that is actually news because there was a realistic possibility that he might have tried to do that today.
NATO is a 69-year-old alliance that was founded in 1949 while the planet was still reeling from World War II. Soviet Union, of course, lost millions of people in World War II, but they also emerges from the war aggressive and expansionist with a goal to oppose Soviet style communism anywhere they could all over the world.
And so, NATO, an alliance of countries that agreed to stick together behind one key pledge -- anyone attacks any one of us, then they attack all of us. That`s the basic idea of NATO.
All members of NATO are obliged to respond if any one member of NATO is attacked. That`s the idea. That mutual defense pledge among NATO countries has only been invoked once in the 69-year history of the alliance, once. After 9/11 when we invoked it after that attack and our NATO allies came to our aid.
NATO was initially set up in 1949 as a dozen nations, including us. Over the years, it has expanded to now include 29 countries. And whether it`s because it has expanded to 29 countries or whether it`s just because the thing still exists, NATO, you should know, is the bane of Russia`s existence. If you want to dig down to the spinal column of Russia seeing itself in opposition to the west and what we used to call the free world, it`s NATO.
If you gave Vladimir Putin a magic wand and one wish, he would wish for the dissolution of NATO. Or that he was taller. One of the two.
So, today, President Trump did not blow up the NATO alliance. Congratulations! He did use the NATO meeting as an occasion to publicly insult and lie about these countries, our fellow NATO members who till about a year and a half ago used to be our closest allies in the world.
Then having arrived late, he proceeded to walk out early so he could reassert his positive feelings about Vladimir Putin, his excitement about their forthcoming summit in a few days.
So, here`s my question. Actually, I have a bunch of questions. But here`s the first one. If, say, you find yourself in the middle of what you think might be a fundamental reshaping of the international order, one that appears to be happening quickly and it appears to be wildly to the detriment of your beloved country and the West, and you think that might be happening for the worst possible reasons, what is a girl to do with that? What`s a citizen to do with that information?
Joining us now for the interview is one of the most experienced American diplomats walking the earth, former U.S. NATO ambassador and former assistant secretary of state for European affairs, Victoria Nuland.
Ambassador Nuland, thank you so much for being here.
VICTORIA NULAND, FORMER ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE FOR EUROPEAN AFFAIRS: Thanks for having me, Rachel.
MADDOW: I`ve looked forward to talking to you for a long time.
NULAND: Thank you.
M ADDOW: What would -- what would change in the world if NATO did go away? I mean, NATO has shaped the world since World War II. Can we imagine what would happen if President Trump decided to act on his plainly hostile feelings toward NATO and if he tried it or struck us from it?
NULAND: Well, first and foremost, the United States would be all alone when it faced any strategic challenge out there in the world. As you said, the only time NATO invoked its mutual protection was after we got hit in Afghanistan by -- from forces in Afghanistan and it wasn`t even our idea to invoke Article Five. It was our NATO allies who said you`ve been hit. We want to help you. We would be all alone in any situation.
President Trump himself put out a national security strategy that said, we`ve got to wake up because we have a strategic competitor in Russia, in China. He could have used these two days to pull the family together and say how are we going to deal with that? And instead, he spent the time attacking the family.
MADDOW: Do you think that President Trump actually had anything to do with that national security strategy? Doesn`t it seem like H.R. McMaster, the then national security adviser got that done and then got fired and president Trump probably has no idea what was in that?
NULAND: You know, it`s pretty bizarre as a 32-year veteran of the U.S. government that we now have now governance where not only is the president issuing and signing documents that then he publicly takes positions as opposed to, every single member of his cabinet is in 180-degree different place than he is.
We now have -- we have Pompeo, we have Bolton, we have all of them warning about Russia. But President Trump believes this is going to be the easiest meeting for him to do this week.
MADDOW: What could go wrong? What is the worst case scenario for Trump`s meeting with Putin? You have spent time with Putin.
NULAND: I have been support staff in meetings with President Putin. He is a very wily guy. He will have studied president Trump and what makes him happy and what makes him move. He will have watched very carefully the Singapore summit with Kim Jong-un where that was also supposed to be a summit where they just got to know each other and then the hard work would get done. And instead, our president comes out and announces the suspension of a major military exercise, and it`s not really clear what we get back from the DPRK.
So, I think, clearly, Putin is thinking about all the things that he wants. He wants president Trump to make good on his pledge, or his belief that Crimea ought to be a part of Russia.
MADDOW: That Russia ought to be reward ford invading another country and taking their territory by the U.S. saying that`s fine.
NULAND: Exactly, and, you know, watch out for Alaska next. They might want that back, right? So, that would be one piece.
You know, we know that the Russians are now violating the intermediate nuclear forces treaty. We had banned nuclear weapons at that range and now the Russians are cheating. So he may very well say to President Trump, hey we don`t need this treaty at all. Why don`t we both break out of it? And that rewards him very much.
He may say, hey, you`ve done your job in Syria. Why don`t you get out now and I`ll take care of Iran and we`ll keep Assad in power. And we know President Trump has been talking about it.
MADDOW: Inclined towards that outcome anyway.
NULAND: Absolutely. And, you know, the Russians will say we`ll keep Iran to a dull roar in Syria. But this is the same country that has used Iran as its foot soldiers in this campaign to strengthen Assad and keep him in power. So, the notion they`re going to keep him in check is pretty hard to imagine.
So, there are a lot of things that Putin wants. He may want sanctions relieved, of course, you know?
MADDOW: I mean, if -- speaking hypothetically, if Vladimir Putin for some reason hypothetically was in a position to be able to give orders to the U.S. president, right? We`re told that President Trump has tried to arrange the summit so that at one point in the summit, it will be him and President Putin in a room with no other Americans. As far as we understand, maybe not even an American translator there.
So, if President Putin were hypothetically in some sort of position where he could give orders to an American president behind closed doors, no other American would know what those orders were. If he had that sort of magic wand, what would be the thing he would want most? What kind of order would he give?
NULAND: Well, first of all, we know the summit is going to start with an extended one on one between these two presidents. The thing he wants most is money. Russia is not in good financial shape. Putin is not in good financial shape.
So, he wants sanctions relief. He wants relief from the sanctions for the invasion of Ukraine and also for some of the things that happened in Syria. That`s the number one thing he wants.
MADDOW: And the U.S. president could deliver that.
NULAND: Well, you know, thanks to the Congress, these sanctions are now legislated because very soon after President Trump came into office, members from both parties and both houses were worried that he would give this away for free and so they put them in legislation. So, it is more difficult than it might have been.
But there are lots of things a president could do by executive order. He certainly wants his occupation of Crimea legitimized because that would be you know, a great validation in front of the of his own people who are according to the polls less enamored of his leadership than they used to be.
MADDOW: And he would want the U.S. to pull the rug out from under NATO and continue to destabilize the European Union, and other Western alliances.
NULAND: He`d want more trouble between us and our closest allies like Germany. He may want U.S. and NATO exercises in the Baltic Sea cancelled. You know, Kim Jong-un got that. Why couldn`t he get that?
MADDOW: Victoria Nuland, would you mind staying with me just for a moment? We have to take a quick break, but there`s something that came up today in the very dramatic Peter Strzok hearings that I wanted to ask you about. Would you mind staying with us?
All right. Victoria Nuland is our guest tonight for the interview.
Stay with us. We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: Joining us once again is Ambassador Victoria Nuland. She was a former U.S. ambassador to NATO, former assistant secretary of state for European affairs, a long-time high level experienced diplomat.
Thank you for being here.
NULAND: Thank you.
MADDOW: I want to ask you about the Russian interference in the 2016 election. You were a very senior State Department official at the time that was happening. Also at the start of the counterintelligence investigation into what was going on. That was the subject of ten hours of testimony today by the director, former director of counterintelligence of the FBI.
Do you know of anything improper or anything that doesn`t sit right with you about the way the investigation into that matter was handled?
NULAND: Well, I have to say that because of the way the FBI does its work, I wasn`t privy to anything with regard to the investigation and that was absolutely appropriate. I frankly didn`t even know that there was an investigation until it was made public. I did know that the FBI was very concerned about what the Russians were up to in the summer of 2016.
In fact, they came to us and were concerned about the number of Russians who were coming on temporary duty that summer to the embassy who seemed to have extreme technical skills. So, we had some conversation about that and about whether visas could be slowed for those people.
MADDOW: Was the implication those people coming from Russia under diplomatic cover to be part of the active measures campaign on site in the United States?
NULAND: Right, and that was in the context of the august concern that we knew the Russians were into some of the voting rolls and whether they actually technically get their hands on votes and switch purchases which was the concern in August of 2016 when CIA Director Brennan and Homeland Security Chief Jeh Johnson first made their public warnings to the states.
MADDOW: I know that you can`t talk about some of the stuff. I know you`ve given classified testimony on this.
But am I right at the State Department in your senior role there, you were actually shown parts of Christopher Steele`s so-called dossier, these memos he wrote that were research on Trump and Russia, you saw that before it was published.
NULAND: So, what happened, Rachel, was that during the Ukraine crisis, Steele had been working for a number of private clients and he was doing a lot of work on the relationship between Russia and Ukraine and reporting on, you know, the back channels between them to settle the Ukraine crisis. So, I got to know his work because he offered to us as an information source. So, I was reading his stuff in 2014, 2015.
So then when he got this information in 2016, a friend of his who was at the State Department brought (INAUDIBLE) of it to us and my immediate reaction at that time was this goes to U.S. politics. This is not our business at the State Department. This is the FBI`s business.
So, we notified Secretary Kerry. He had the same view and our advice was this needed to be handled by the FBI, not by us.
MADDOW: Victoria Nuland, former NATO ambassador, top American ambassador and diplomat in Europe, please come back. It`s really nice to have you here.
NULAND: Thank you so much.
MADDOW: Thank you for your decades of service.
NULAND: Nice to be here. Thank you so much.
MADDOW: We`ll be right back. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Today was one of those days in the news that kept going and going and going and going and you couldn`t believe this was still happening. It`s going to be like that for the next few days with the president now in the U.K. He did an interview with the British press that was published basically upon him landing in the U.K. which he essentially tries to shove the British prime minister out of office, criticizing her and praising her rivals as a time of political crisis in the U.K. anyway. This is all heading into the president`s meeting with Vladimir Putin early on Monday.
The news feels a little overwhelming right now, I know. It`s going to be like this in high gear for the next few days. Hold tight.
We`ll see you again tomorrow.
Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL".
Good evening, Lawrence.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END
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