Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: July 18, 2018 Guest: David Hickton
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.
Today, the White House said it was considering a request made by the Russian government to hand over to Russia for questioning America's former ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul. The White House and this president have done a lot to shock people over the last 72 hours. This is kind of at another level.
The great national security reporter, Spencer Ackerman, rounded up response tonight from even some serving U.S. officials. Quote: Current and former American diplomats are expressing disgust and horror over the White House's willingness to entertain, permitting Russian officials to question a prominent former U.S. ambassador. One serving diplomat -- serving so, currently in the government -- one serving diplomat who spoke on condition of anonymity said he was, quote, at an F-ing loss. He didn't say F-ing.
Quote: It's beyond disgraceful. It's fundamentally ignorant with regard to how we conduct diplomacy or what that means. Quote: By failing to reject the idea out of hand immediately and forcefully, Trump signaled that absolutely nothing is off-limits when it comes to Putin.
Again, this is a currently serving U.S. official, saying about this threat, basically, that the White House is now making that they might hand over Mike McFaul to Russia, saying, quote, the president has first and foremost his interests, his interests at the top of his mind as opposed to the government. That is very clear over the past week and a half between bleeping -- a word that starts with SH -- bleeping on our NATO allies and kissing Putin's butt -- but he didn't say butt.
This is a serving U.S. diplomat. Quote: He cares more about himself than the nation and any of us who serve it.
The diplomat continued, quote: Either he's compromised by Putin or he's a - - a word that starts with the P -- in which case he should grab himself.
This is a serving U.S. official, a current U.S. official who just said that tonight.
And there's more from America's former ambassador to Afghanistan who is now president of the American Academy of Diplomacy. Quote: If the U.S. would make a former diplomat available for questioning by a foreign government without evidence of wrongdoing, that would be quite horrifying.
Susan Rice, former national security adviser, former U.S. ambassador to the U.N., calls it, quote, beyond outrageous. If the White House cannot protect and defend our diplomats like our service members, they are serving a hostile foreign power and not the American people.
Former chief of staff at the State Department saying the White House refusing to disavow Putin on McFaul, refusing to stand up to Putin on McFaul, crosses a line for American diplomats, quote, from demoralizing to dangerous.
I mean, literally, what the White House said today in response to a question about this Russian demand that the U.S. government hand Michael McFaul over to Putin, what the White House said in response to that was, quote, the president is going to meet with his team and we'll let you know when we have an announcement on that.
Oh, yes, they're talking it over. The president is meeting with his team because they need to do some thinking, some cogitating, they need to do a little chat-chat over whether or not we're going to hand over an American ambassador to Putin so Putin can do whatever he wants to. Might do it. They've got to talk about it. Putin asked. So, it's not like we'll just say no, right?
This is unbelievable. To the extent that this seems like a marginal new development, in a worrying week, this is not that. This is a qualitatively different thing, right? We have these abstract ideas and ideals about patriotism and not betraying your country.
We have a sort of ominous but maybe vague worry about what it might mean for us as individual American citizens if there's somebody in power in our government who is subordinate to a hostile foreign government, right? It sounds very ominous and very bad. But what's the real concrete nuts and bolts threat to any one of us? I mean, what could that really mean in our daily lives?
Well, it could mean people you know, Americans you know are handed over to foreign dictators when those dictators ask, not because that American has done anything wrong, not because there's any real allegations against him or her, but because that foreign dictator doesn't like that American, wants him or her eliminated. And that dictator hold sway over somebody in power in this country who he can order to do what he wants and so an American gets handed over. That's what it could mean.
I mean, yes, this president could be trying to dissolve NATO. He could be trying to tear apart the European Union and all of America's most important international alliances. Yes, he can continue to do his best to attack and weaken American law enforcement and American intelligence. So, among other things, Russia can keep running whatever operations they want to keep running over here. I mean, we've been watching all these things that Russia wants, that this president has been working diligently to get done.
But another one of the things he could start doing is handing over to Putin Americans who Putin wants dead. The president, the White House says as of today, the president is meeting with his team about that, talking it over, thinking about it.
We will have the man in question, Ambassador Michael McFaul, here to respond in just a moment tonight.
Today in Washington, there was one expected but rather ominous development in one of the criminal cases brought in the Russia scandal. In another one of those cases there were a few surprises, starting with the expected but ominous category, that was this order today from the federal judge in D.C. who's hearing one of the two felony cases that concerns Paul Manafort, the campaign chair.
Today, that judge in D.C. denied Paul Manafort's latest motion in which he was trying to deny prosecutors the right to use evidence that they had seized from him with a search warrant. Now, if that sounds familiar, it's because Paul Manafort keeps losing motions like this over and over again in both jurisdictions in which he's being tried. In fact, I think this gets us pretty close to the end of the road in terms of Manafort's attempted defense thus far.
I mean, with the exception of a few motions very early on after he was initially arraigned, where his lawyers did succeed in briefly loosening the conditions of his House arrest for a while, before even that fell apart and Manafort ended up in jail, which is where he is right now, I think today's motion means the president's campaign trail, Paul Manafort has shot the moon. He is now I believe batting 1.000. He has a perfect record now of losing on every single substantive motion that has been brought before the judge in both of his cases.
I mean, I think he's lost every single thing his defense has tried thus far, every one. That is not a good sign for the president's campaign chairman, especially not now, when his -- the first of his two felony trials is due to start one week from today. So that was not unexpected, but it was ominous for Paul Manafort today.
In the other case we're watching very closely today, in the Mariia Butina case today, they were definitely some surprises. Now, we knew she would be appearing in this Washington courtroom whether or not she would continue to be held in jail before she's put on trial. Mariia Butina did appear in court today. She was formally arraigned on charges of operating as a secret foreign agent of the Russian government in this country, she pled not guilty.
But then, there was this little surprise. This is from the transcript of today's hearing. Courtroom deputy, quote: This case is on the calendar for detention hearing and arraignment. The judge says, good afternoon.
And then Mr. Kenerson speaks, that's Eric Kenerson, the federal prosecutor who appeared at Monday's hearing as well. Kenerson says, good afternoon.
But then look at this, somebody else pops up and says hello. You see that in the transcript? Ms Curtis? Who's Ms. Curtis?
Ms. Curtis says, good afternoon. At which point the judge says, Mr. Kenerson at the table with you is a lawyer the court recognizes but whose name was not called. Maybe we'd ask you to please add for purposes of the record your name please? And Ms. Curtis says, thank you, your honor, good afternoon your honor. Deborah Curtis on behalf of the United States.
This is new. We knew that Mariia Butina was not being charged and prosecuted by special counsel's office by Robert Mueller's office. We knew she was being charged and prosecuted by the U.S. attorney, the federal prosecutor in D.C. We knew that at her initial appearance earlier this week while her case was still under seal, the prosecutor from that U.S. attorney's office who was leading the government's case was this is Eric Kenerson.
But then today, they added another prosecutor in the courtroom. And the person they added is the deputy chief of the national security division at the D.C. U.S. Attorney's Office, an experienced counter espionage prosecutor. Before her current national security division gig, she was at Main Justice in the National Security Division in the Justice Department, where she was the deputy chief in the espionage division at the U.S. Department of Justice.
So, they have brought someone who was the lead counterespionage prosecutor for the U.S. government into the Mariia Butina case.
So, there's this moment in today's hearing, we got the transcript, where Butina's defense lawyer is arguing that his client should not be in jail. I mean, his client, you can see from the sketches, she's sitting there in an orange jail jumpsuit. And her lawyer standing there arguing to the judge about the injustice of that and how unnecessary that is that she is being held in jail.
The lawyer says, quote: I submit to you, your honor, that she is entitled to leave on her own recognizances and that, at worst, there could be other conditions that could be set that could give the court assurance of her return. But certainly keeping her in jail for what is -- this is not an espionage case, this is not a spying case, her lawyer says.
Actually, dude, don't look behind you, but veteran counterespionage prosecutor from the national security division of the Justice Department has actually been brought in to try this case. You may not want this to be an espionage case, but there's a counterespionage prosecutor and your client is being charged as a Russian secret agent, which is something that rhymes with pie but starts with an "S."
In this hearing today and in the filings in her case today, prosecutors argued at length that Mariia Butina should not be released from jail. She should not be released from her own recognizance or recognizances. They argue that she has to be held in custody because otherwise they believe she will try to flee the country. They describe at length her contacts and relationships with multiple Russian government officials and her meeting with a suspected Russian intelligence agent who was operating out of the Russian embassy in D.C.
And then prosecutors say this, quote: Due to international law and treaty restrictions, law enforcement would be prevented from stopping Ms. Butina from entering the Russian embassy. Under such circumstances, a passport would not be necessary for Mariia Butina to depart the jurisdiction of the United States. Accordingly, even with the full combination of the most restrictive measures, for example, house arrest, electronic monitoring, high intensity monitoring, any monetary or bond agreement to forfeit property or a retained passport or a third party custodian, despite -- even with a full combination of the most restrictive measures, the defendant need only seek refuge in a diplomatic facility well before pretrial services would ever be alerted, let alone be able to respond.
Simply put, neither the court nor law enforcement could stop her or has any recourse or remedy in the event Miss Butina decided to seek safe harbor in a diplomatic facility. Saying you let her out of here, judge, she will go to the embassy and we will never see her in a courtroom again.
And this is interesting. At the hearing today, the prosecutors actually brought in a witness from the diplomatic security service, which is the security part of the state department, to explain that it wasn't only that she might seek refuge at the physical Russian embassy. He explained that the way diplomatic immunity works, she could also just get picked up by an accredited Russian diplomat in this country in that diplomat's car.
And if she were in the car, the car would offer her safe harbor, too. That would essentially be a mini Russian embassy an that would allow her to escape from having to turn up in court, too.
The prosecutor says to the witness, are you familiar with ways in which a foreign country could get a foreign national out of the country lawfully if they so desired? The witness says, yes.
Question, what are some of the ways? Answer, if they chose to put somebody inside of a vehicle and drive it, we cannot stop and search or arrest anybody inside the vehicle for the inviolability meaning for the inviolability attendant to diplomatic immunity. If they got inside the embassy compound, we could not -- we cannot execute any kind of law enforcement, arrest or search warrant, anything like that.
So, this is the prosecutors arguing and bringing forward witness testimony to show that she is a dramatic flight risk and she must be kept in jail because she's not just some random Russian in the United States. She's charged with operating as a secret agent for the Russian government and it would be very easy for the Russian government to spirit her out of this country and out of the reach of the court if anybody lets her set foot outside of the courtroom before her trial. She'd go to the em bates or she would get picked up in a Russian diplomatic registered vehicle and then game over, never see her again.
That was one big argument today from the prosecutors. The other big argument from prosecutors today was interestingly about the unnamed American person who is basically described as her co-conspirator in the indictment. You might have seen headlines about this today because it was about sex and deceit and there was therefore too juicy for anybody to avoid writing about it.
But whether or not you saw coverage of this today, you should know why the sex part of this is legally important. It sounds so weird to say. I'll show you what I mean.
This is the prosecution laying out their case why Mariia Butina needs to be in jail, why she might flee, right? Why she has to be kept in custody, can't be released on her own recognizance. And in this part of the court filing from the prosecutors today, you see their headline there. Number five: Butina's, quote, tie to the United States is a duplicitous relationship.
Prosecutors continue. Quote: During the course of this investigation the FBI has determined that Butina gained access through the U.S. person one to an extensive network of U.S. persons in positions to influence political activities in the United States. Butina, age 29, and the U.S. person 1 age 56 are believed to have cohabitated and been involved in a personal relationship during the course of Butina's activities in the United States, but this relationship does not represent a strong tie to the United States because Butina appears to treat it as simply a necessary aspect of her activities.
For example, on at least one occasion, Butina offered an individual other than U.S. person 1 sex in exchange for a position within a special interest organization. Further, in papers seized by the FBI, Butina complained about living with U.S. person 1 and expressed disdain for continuing to cohabitate with U.S. person 1. Ouch, ouch, ouch.
I mean, if you're U.S. person one, that probably hurt your feelings, right? But legal reference here is that, listen, she's only got ties to Russia. She doesn't have real ties. She has purported ties, but not real ties to the United States. We let her out of this courtroom on her own recognizance, awaiting trial, she will be in Russia faster than you can say borsct.
She is connected to Russia. Her supposed American boyfriend is an intel operation. It's not love, right? This is the national security division of the U.S. attorney's office in D.C., including this veteran counter espionage prosecutor saying, dude, wasn't love. It was spying and we've got the documentation to prove it.
And that probably hurts the feelings of U.S. person one. That said, if you are U.S. person one, you may have bigger worries. It is noted basically in passing late in today's hearing that U.S. person 1, who is again the American basically implicated as a co-conspirator in this spying case, U.S. person 1 is apparently the subject of another federal investigation involving the FBI and the U.S. attorney, the federal prosecutor in South Dakota.
From the transcript, Mr. Kenerson, who's the prosecutor says, quote, it's my understanding that Ms. Butina's defense lawyer's offer in that matter was one in a case in which she is not a subject. U.S. person 1 is the subject. The judge said, what is the basis of your contention that that's so? The prosecutor says, it is in both conversations with counsel and with the FBI agent who is in South Dakota.
So, this appears to be the first direct Russia collusion indictment we have seen in this whole scandal. We've got U.S. persons accused of knowingly conspiring with agents of the Russian government in a secret influence operation that's designed to affect politics in the 2016 campaign. Now, the accused Russian agent in this alleged scheme is now being held without bond.
The unnamed American alleged co-conspirator apparently thought he had a real girlfriend here. Prosecutors say he did not. But there is also apparently another federal case, at least another FBI investigation already unfolding related to him, where he lives in South Dakota. So, lots more shoes to drop there.
The other important person in this indictment, the other important unnamed person, is Russian government official. He's easier to figure out. He's believed to be Aleksandr Torshin, former members of the Russian parliament, currently a senior official in Russia's central bank.
He's believed by European prosecutors to have significant ties to Russian organized crime. He is now sanctioned by the U.S. government. So, Mr. Torshin can no longer visit people like Scott Walker in the United States. But prosecutors essentially accused Mariia Butina of acting at his direction secretly in this country and provided a lot of evidence of their interactions.
Some of the evidence we know of their interactions, though, is on public facing social media, like this photo of them together, for example. This is from Mariia Butina's Facebook page. Mr. Torshin himself also maintains a robust presence on Twitter which gives did us lots to go through including this rather remarkable post from July 6th, 2016 in which he shows these pictures of a medal he says he received that day from the FSB, the Russian spy agency.
I mean, this guy is supposedly somebody who works at the Russian central bank. Why did they give him a medal for his work, a medal of appreciation right after Donald Trump clinched the Republican nomination for president? I don't know why the FSB gave him a medal.
But here's just one last thing that you want to hear. In the case against Mariia Butina, who's accused of being a secret federal agent working for Torshin on this Russian influence operation in the U.S., one of the things we learned in the charging documents in her case is how she spent election night for 2016. According to online conversations the FBI says it obtained, just a couple of hours after the election was called for Trump, Mariia Butina and Torshin discussed online who Trump was going to nominate as secretary of state.
And just a couple of days later, according to the FBI, Butina sent Torshin a message who she predicted might be the secretary of state. She, quote, asked Torshin to find out how our people felt about that potential nomination. Here's why is that should jump out at you and why we should consider why federal prosecutors might have put that you conversation in particular in this public charging document.
In March, Jane Mayer at "The New Yorker" published a profile of Christopher Steele, very famous person now, right, former British intelligence officer who's memos on the alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia became the infamous Steele dossier. One little bombshell on that article from Jane Mayer was that in addition to the dossier of Christopher Steele's memos that "BuzzFeed" published last January and we all saw, there was also a previously unknown, previously unreported additional memo that Christopher Steele wrote after the election.
Quote: One subject that Steele is believed to have discussed with Mueller's investigators is a memo that he wrote in late November 2018 after his contract with Fusion had ended. This memo which did not surface publicly with the others is shorter than the rest. It's based on one source described as a senior Russian official.
That official said he was merely relaying talks circulating in the Russian ministry of foreign affairs. But what he heard was astonishing. People were saying that the Kremlin had intervened to block Trump's initial choice for secretary of state, Mitt Romney.
So, Jane Mayer published that scoop a few months ago. A couple days later, "The Wall Street Journal" showed in during that same period right after the election, November 2016, quote, Russian-backed online trolls flooded social media to try to block Mitt Romney from getting the secretary of state job. Quote: Several of the most popular accounts linked to a pro-Kremlin propaganda agency slammed the former Massachusetts governor, encouraging their tens of thousands of followers to take action.
So, we all know how the story ends, right? Of course, Trump picked as his secretary of state, not Mitt Romney, but out of nowhere, the Exxon CEO, Rex Tillerson, to whom Vladimir Putin had previously ordered the Russian role of friendship in honor of the big oil deals they had signed together. Tillerson is someone who Trump had never met before the presidential election. He had any dealings with.
Where did he come up with that as a choice for his secretary of state? The Russian trolls who were so up in arms about the prospect that Romney might be the choice, they were publicly delighted when Trump instead pick this had guy he had never met before when he picked Rex Tillerson.
The idea that a foreign adversary may have exercised some kind of veto power over our president's cabinet choices, that is an explosive allegation, right? That's not affecting the election. That's affecting the conduct confident U.S. government after the election.
At this point, we have potential evidence that may have happened and it comes from several different sources including now a federal indictment. I mean, there's the medal that Russian official number one from the latest indictment got from the FSB when Trump got the nomination. There's also the medal that Russian President Vladimir Putin gave Trump's surprise pick for Trump's secretary of state right after Russian official 1, an accused Russian spy Mariia Butina talked about checking out whether Trump's choice for secretary of state was OK with our people.
I mean, that seems like something probably warranted looking into. Did Russia just not help elect Donald Trump? Did they pick the cabinet?
And if Republicans in Congress professing to be so concerned and puzzled and concerned by Trump's behavior in Helsinki this weekend, if they were genuinely interested in uncovering exactly what has gone on between Trump and Russia, what the extent is of Russian involvement in our democracy, this is exactly the sort of thing they could hold hearings on if they wanted to, and a lot of other things besides.
Ambassador Michael McFaul joins us next.
MADDOW: This is the Russian state news agency TASS. The Russian prosecutor general's office is asking to question one of America's former diplomats. They want to question former U.S. ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul. They would like the United States to make McFaul available to Russia for questioning.
Being a diplomat in a country that's an adversary of the United States can make the host country really mad at you, right? Sure. But diplomacy is like that. Diplomacy is hard. An d we protect our diplomats as a matter of course.
You might expect that the U.S. government would just instantly tell Russia that when they made this demand about Ambassador Michael McFaul. But, nope, today, the Trump White House said actually they're considering it. The White House press secretary telling reporters today, quote, the president is going to meet with his team and will let you know when we have an announcement on that.
Well, that went off like a rocket today. Here's a taste from Democratic Congressman Eric Swalwell saying online today, quote: Take this to the bank, Donald Trump. You turn over former U.S. Ambassador McFaul to Putin, you can count on me and millions of others to swiftly make you an ex- president.
So, we know how at least one member of Congress feels about this.
What does Ambassador McFaul think about the White House's apparent willingness to consider handing him over to Russia?
Joining us now is Ambassador Michael McFaul, former Russia ambassador under President Obama.
Mr. Ambassador, thank you for being with us. I imagine this has been a pretty weird couple of days for you.
MICHAEL MCFAUL, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO RUSSIA: Definitely a weird couple of days, Rachel. But thanks for having me on.
MADDOW: My guess just for having had conversations with you over the past couple of years, is that you are not necessarily surprised that Russia has made this demand, this request that they want to question you. I imagine that you are surprised by the U.S. government fielding the request, not rejecting it and essentially saying they're considering it?
MCFAUL: Correct. You're right. I mean, you know, Vladimir Putin has been after me for a long time, even when I was ambassador, harassing me in ways that no other U.S. ambassador there has ever experienced.
I wrote a whole book about it to try to educate the American people about this man. He's done some outrageous things around the world but even to our diplomats and even to me personally.
What I was totally flabbergasted by was the White House would not defend me. I'm an American citizen. I worked for the government for five years. And it would have been so easy to bat it back.
And it's not just about me. I want to make sure people understand this. By not doing that, they are allowing moral equivalency between an indictment issued by Mr. Mueller last week against Russian intelligence officers and a handful of us. It wasn't just me, it was several American government officials, to request, you know, for this cockamamie crazy scheme.
No -- nothing is true in what they said about it and by the president allegedly just saying, OK, I'm going to look into it. In fact, he said at the press conference in Helsinki, I think it's a great idea.
And then 48 hours later, you'd think they could like come up with a policy and understand why this is so crazy and not in America's national interests. For some reason, they didn't get it right at the White House. I wish them well. I hope maybe tomorrow, they'll get a better statement out.
MADDOW: What is the understanding in the American diplomatic community, in the world of state craft and conflict among nations about these things, what is the understanding about how a normal White House would be expected to respond to this kind of thing? I mean, if as you say, you're being generous here, you expect the White House might eventually find their way to getting this right and saying the right thing, responding the right way, what is the right way for them to respond?
MCFAUL: See, aren't I great diplomat, Rachel? You know, actually, they should call up their counterparts over at the State Department. I think the statement they put out today was correct. I would add a few more adjectives. It's just outrageous.
You can't establish this precedent. You can't put people like me -- let's be clear, they don't just want to question me about this crazy scheme that Mr. Browder laundered money and then gave $400,000 of it to the Clinton campaign. Actually, President Putin in Helsinki said $400 million but then they corrected the record.
But they are insinuating that I and these other Americans were part of the conspiracy -- we're criminals, that's why they want to question us. And you just have to push back on crazy stuff like that. It's in not just the interests of people like me and the others, but it's in the American national interests. You can't in any way dignify such and outrageous claim of tit for tat, moral equivalency, which for some reason, our president continues to do when it comes to Vladimir Putin.
MADDOW: I mean, I think the reason -- I mean, I don't mean to -- I'm not even playing devil's advocate here. But I can see a reason why they're doing this, which is that to create an equivalence between the indictments brought by the Justice Department --
MADDOW: -- over the Russian interest interference in our election and a crazy conspiracy about there being Russia trying to help elect Hillary Clinton, and it being a scam against Vladimir Putin where he's the real victim. I mean, to create that kind of equivalence is the kind of thing that the Trump administration would love to do in order to undermine the Justice Department's investigation. I mean, that to me doesn't at all seem nuts.
My question, though --
MADDOW: -- for you in terms of being at the sharp end of this is, does this put you in danger? Does this change the way that you think about your ability to travel? Are you worried about your safety?
MCFAUL: Well, it's a good point about, you know, that's a classic Putin ploy, right? I think there was even 11 Americans, if I'm not mistaken. So, the equivalence was very clear.
And, you know, just imagine that one-on-one meeting between the two presidents, no note takers there. He's laying this all out.
And I've been in those meetings with Putin half a dozen times. He's a good storyteller, adding little facts. You know, not real facts but pieces of information to spin it together. And I hope our president didn't just nod along.
With respect to me, you know, I have confidence, I still do, in the American government, the system, the Department of Justice. I don't see how they will let this go forward.
Just to remind you, Vladimir Putin actually outlined the treaty in the press conference in Helsinki under which people can be interrogated in this way. But I expect them to push back.
I do have to worry about Interpol if ever they go farther and indict me. I don't know -- I hope that doesn't happen, but if it does happen, then I will have to experience the horrific harassment that Mr. Browder has been living under for several years now.
MADDOW: And the U.S. government officials can usually expect the defense of their own government in protecting them against.
Michael McFaul, former U.S. ambassador to Russia -- I'm sorry talking to you in these circumstances and I'm sorry that this is -- that you're one of the Americans caught up in this. But thanks for talking to us about it tonight, sir.
MCFAUL: Sure. Thanks for having me.
MADDOW: All right. We'll be right back. Stay with us.
MADDOW: We need a cleanup on aisle three, please. We need on aisle three.
At the top of the show, I referenced a report from "The Daily Beast" tonight in which a whole a bunch of American diplomats, including some serving current U.S. officials expressed disgust and disbelief that the Trump White House is apparently entertaining the idea of handing over to Russia be former Ambassador Michael McFaul because Russia demanded to question him.
The diplomats responding to that matter in "The Daily Beast" used some swear words in their statement about this matter because they were upset. We apparently showed some of that on the screen without blurring it or putting in the asterisks. We had an asterisk failure, which makes me a giant asterisk. I'm very sorry.
That was absolutely not intentional. It's my fault. I'm very sorry, won't happen.
Be right back.
MADDOW: Special counsel's indictment of 12 Russian military intelligence officers last week was remarkable for lots of reasons. It told us a lot more detail about what is going on with the Russia scandal and the Russian attack on our election in 2016. It was also really detailed.
I mean, it included information about specific named Russian military intelligence officers using specific computers at specific addresses on specific dates at specific times. It revealed this incredible level of penetration into Russian operations by U.S. counter intelligence and U.S. law enforcement. It was surprising to read, including I think some people in the law enforcement community were surprised to read it.
Like wow, A, we can do that and, B, we're letting everybody know we can do that. But while the amount of forensic detail in that indictment was extraordinary and made for fascinating reading and makes for a very airtight indictment, it wasn't necessarily unprecedented. Indictments like this are rare but they exist, they're relatively new phenomenon. Prior to 2014, we had never seen an indictment like there.
That all changed when for the very first time, the U.S. government brought a criminal indictment, law enforcement indictment against military workers -- excuse me, military hackers who were working for a foreign government, 2014.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: The Justice Department today filed the first ever criminal charges against officials of a foreign government for stealing U.S. economic secrets by a computer. Inside this building in Shanghai, prosecutors say, five members of the Chinese army each named in an indictment hacked directly into the computers of U.S. companies.
They concede here at the Justice Department, it's unlikely these five men charged today will ever see the inside of a U.S. courtroom. But they say it's a way of letting the Chinese know that the U.S. is watching more closely than ever.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: It's a way of letting them know that the U.S. is watching that closely.
Question, I think both then, with that ground breaking indictment and now with this new blockbuster one, is, what's the overall strategic benefit here? Why disclose all this technical information about what the U.S. government knows and how it knows it, when those same foreign military hackers really won't ever see the inside of a U.S. courtroom, right?
You spell out exactly what America knew about the Russian hack, how we penetrated their operations. That means we all know and the Russians all now know that America was on to in this whole time and what America's capabilities are for looking at that kind of foreign operation. From what they call a sources and methods standpoint, it kind of just seems like a lot of information to give up, particularly if the people you're charging are never going to jail because they're never coming to this country.
I mean, like Mueller's indictment last week, that 24 indictment of the Chinese military attackers was meticulous in its detail, down to specific actions and locational information about individual named Chinese hackers.
The architect of that 2014 indictment and strategy behind it was a former U.S. attorney for the western district of Pennsylvania, cybersecurity expert named David Hickton. He's the guy who started the U.S. government down this path. Now we're seeing how it works in the Russia scandal.
Joining us for the interview is that former U.S. attorney from the western district of Pennsylvania. He's now the founding director of the University of Pittsburgh Institute for Cyber Law, Policy and Security.
Mr. Hickton, thank you so much for coming in. It's really nice to have you here.
DAVID HICKTON, UNIVERSITY OF PITTSBURGH INSTITUTE FOR CYBER LAW: Thank you for the invitation.
MADDOW: Was that a fair description that that indictment -- that Chinese hackers indictment was sort of the first time this had been done?
HICKON: Well done. That was the first time that tool had been used and we indicted nation state adversaries. And we're very proud of that.
It was very important not only because it was a legal event, but it was also representative of describing what hacking meant to our citizens --
HICKTON: -- because we put a face on not only the adversaries who were attached to the back of the indictment, but we were able to describe the victims and tell the story about what hacking meant in the context of the Chinese signature.
MADDOW: And am I right in that indictment, the U.S. -- the American public, anybody who bothered to read that indictment, any of us who saw news reports about it, essentially learned something not just about what China was doing but what our government could do to witness that, to document it, to trace it back to the bad actor who did it, and to monitor those kinds of activities in the future.
We learned a lot about America's counterintelligence capabilities.
HICKTON: We did. And I'm among those who believe that we needed to reverse a default position in the government to allow hacking to occur without any consequence because it was difficult. Our four principal state adversaries are China, Russia, North Korea and Iran. That was about China and it reflected our unmasking of their signature.
I personally believe long term, Russia is our most significant adversary and they have a different signature which was reflected in the Mueller indictment of last week. But because being invisible is the principal currency of our hacking adversaries, unmasking them is very important.
MADDOW: How does it hurt them to show what they are doing? Obviously, it means for the individuals who are charged, they can't come to this country, in some cases depending on the jurisdiction, they may find it hard to travel internationally writ large not just travel to the United States.
How else does it hurt them if their government is never going to send them here to be tried?
HICKTON: Cyber hacking is not an incident, it's a campaign. And therefore, our response to it has to be a campaign.
HICKTON: So, by bringing these indictments, we are opening up the toolbox to expand the number of tools we can use against this.
Now, I brought that indictment against China and another one against Russia two weeks after that with the full expectation that we might be able to bring them to an American courtroom. But I was not limited in that. In an actual fact, the Chinese indictment led, one year later, to an agreement between President Obama and President Xi in September 2015, where there was an agreement between the two countries about the difference between spying and intellectual property theft.
There are other forums we can take these cases to. We can take them to Treasury. We can take them to Commerce. We can debar companies.
They can be used as President Obama did as the basis for sanctions against North Korea where we can identify who the adversary is but we can't necessarily get our hands on them now. We've done this before in this country in regards to the drug wars we had in the '90s with a country named Colombia which we now have you good extradition with and we have largely -- we haven't solved the drug problem but we've largely improved the situation in places like South Florida. And that was the same campaign.
And some of the same naysayers made arguments that time, well, you're going to let them know what evidence you have on them. You can't get them in the courtroom and therefore, this is futile. And that is a reasonable point of view which I strongly disagree with because we cannot -- we have to treat the effort to stop hacking like the effort to go to the moon. President Kennedy said we do this not because it's easy but because it's hard. I said that many times as U.S. attorney.
Sure, it's going to be more difficult to bring someone from China to Pittsburgh for a trial. But what had we do otherwise? Surrender? I wouldn't accept that.
And I think the significance in the recent disclosures in the case brought by special prosecutor Mueller is not only the specificity with respect to the timing, sequence and synchronicity with regard to the campaign and the tease with regard to who might be the Americans who might be connected to these Russians, but it reflects another very important general proposition. The Russian architecture in this country sitting there which creates the avenue for them to do hacking.
MADDOW: The malware that they installed, the work that they did to implant things in our systems here and leave them behind.
HICKTON: That has to be taken account of. That is -- that circle is now complete.
MADDOW: David Hickton is our guest for the interview. We'll be right back with him for more right after this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HICKTON: Hacking, spying and cyber theft for commercial advantage can and will be prosecuted criminally, even when the defendants are state actors.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That was David Hickton, who was then the U.S. attorney in the western district of Pennsylvania. That was him announcing in 2014 the first criminal indictments against state actors for hacking. In that case, it was five Chinese military hackers.
It's widely considered to be the blueprint for how to bring these basically counterintelligence charges as criminal actions against foreign government actors. We are now living through a very big important development in that history with the special counsel bringing a big indictment against Russian agents for hacking the 2016 election.
Back with us again is David Hickton.
David, let me ask you about, I guess, a narrower question about how to pursue these things. Organization one in the GRU indictment from Friday, everybody believes that's WikiLeaks. International organization, we don't know how big an organization it is anymore.
They seem to have clearly have known they were dealing with Russian military intelligence, certainly that they had an active strategic role in disseminating that stolen information to try to influence the U.S. election from outside U.S. borders. Why aren't they charged? Would you expect a group that's identified that way in an indictment to be charged? Do you expect there's going to be more indictments related to that hacking?
HICKTON: I expect there are going to be more indictments. I can't answer the question why WikiLeaks hasn't been charged because I don't have enough information.
HICKTON: That would be within the province of the special counsel.
I think that the important point to make is our principal adversary is Russia. Unlike China which was seeking economic advantage through theft of our innovation and our patents and our discovery for purposes of commercial purposes, Russia seeks to destabilize us by attacking our infrastructure, our air traffic control system, our energy grid. These are the things that are at risk. And in the world's leading democracy, our election infrastructure.
And when we deal with Russia, it's a different approach. And I would -- not knowing all the facts -- consider addressing the Russian threat to be the principal challenge. And I think it is important for your visitors to -- your viewers to know that not only is it the principal challenge, it's a grave threat, but we can do something about it.
MADDOW: David Hickton, a former U.S. attorney in the Western Pennsylvania, groundbreaking thinker on these matters -- thank you very much for coming and talking to me. I really appreciate it. Thanks.
HICKTON: I appreciate this very much. Thank you.
MADDOW: We'll be right back. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Very quickly, we're going to have a big night here tomorrow. Sally Yates, former deputy attorney general, former acting attorney general, the woman who personally brought the warning to the White House that national security adviser Mike Flynn was compromised by Russia, Sally Yates who stood up to the president when he ordered the first Muslim, who was fired when she said she wouldn't defend it because it was unconstitutional. Sally Yates will join us live in person tomorrow for the interview.
I have wanted to talk to her for a very long time. Tomorrow night 9:00 p.m. Eastern. Sally Yates right here. Can't wait.
That does it for us tonight. 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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