Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: October 10, 2018 Guest: Shelby Holliday
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Thank you, my friend.
CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: You bet.
MADDOW: Thanks to you at home for being with us tonight.
Top of mind tonight, all over the country, of course, is Hurricane Michael, churning its way across the Florida panhandle and Alabama and Georgia. We`re going to get a live update on the state of the storm coming up in just a couple of minutes here.
Unusually, though, for a day in which a huge category 4, almost category 5 hurricane hit the Continental United States, unusually, this has also been an otherwise busy news day. Usually, a storm this big hitting the United States broadside would eclipse all other news. But today, a lot of other stuff has been happening besides.
So, we`re going to be covering the storm. We`re also going to get to a bunch of these other stories alongside our hurricane coverage. You should know, for example, that just tonight, "The Washington Post" is reporting that the president has talked, quote, recently to the man who is now serving as chief of staff to the attorney general, Jeff Sessions. His name is Matt Whitaker.
Matt Whitaker, you might remember, recently made news when everybody thought Rod Rosenstein was going to be fired as the deputy attorney general and the overseer of the Mueller investigation. Matt Whitaker, that day that everybody thought Rosenstein was out, Whitaker was named by the Justice Departments as the person who was going to get appointed to replace Rod Rosenstein had Rosenstein actually been fired.
That was really controversial for a few different reasons. Number one, Rosenstein wasn`t getting fired after all that day. So, it`s weird that the Justice Department wrote a press release about who was replacing him and then that leaked to the press. That was weird.
Also weird, Matt Whitaker is not in the line of succession at the Justice Department to take over the deputy attorney general job. So inserting him into the Rosenstein job, had Rosenstein been fired, that would have been strange. That would have been the White House inserting itself into the Justice Department to hand pick the person to take over that important job.
The fact that Matt Whitaker, until recently, was a cable news pundit, whose main gig on TV was attacking the Robert Mueller investigation, that made it seem clear to a lot of people why the White House might have wanted to pick him exactly to insert into the Rod Rosenstein job, presumably so Whitaker could hamstring the Mueller investigation he`s been so critical of and protect the president from that high post at the Justice Department.
Well, tonight, what "The Washington Post" is reporting is that Matt Whitaker once again is in talks with the White House, according to "The Post", in talks specifically with the president to replace a high ranking Justice Department official, only this time "The Post" reports that the president is talking to him about him about him replacing Jeff Sessions, the attorney general. Not Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general.
Trying to make Matt Whitaker attorney general of the United States, or even acting attorney general of the United States, that would be a spectacularly radical move by the White House, given Mr. Whitaker`s minimal experience and his emphatically and unequivocally declared hostility to the ongoing special counsel investigation into the president, with whom he is reportedly personally negotiating about getting this gig.
What "The Post" is reporting tonight, though, is that those talks are under way. They involve Whitaker and the president himself, and those talks have happened again in "The Post`s" terms, quote, recently.
Briefly, today was also the day that special counsel`s investigation produced its longest jail term yet. We`re going to have more on that coming up in just a moment. We have just got in the transcript from that sentencing hearing today. The prison sentence that was imposed at this hearing today for this defendant in the special counsel`s investigation was described by his defense lawyer today as a shock. So, we`ve got that transcript coming up in just a moment.
We also had a surprise announcement from the Justice Department today that a Chinese military intelligence officer was arrested and extradited to the United States to face federal charges that he was part of a plot to steal technology in the United States from a U.S. company. It was specifically airline technology, and whether or not the technological secrets of GE Aviation are things that are of interest to you.
What is particularly interesting to all of us about this case with this Chinese military intelligence guy today is that this is a foreign military intelligence military officer who has been picked up, arrested, extradited, and sent here to face trial in a U.S. courtroom. The U.S. has indicted Chinese military officers before, including for hacking crimes. The U.S. has indicted a whole bunch of Russian military intelligence officers, quite recently, including by the special counsel`s office, for their role in the attack on the 2016 election.
And every time there`s one of these indictments of foreign military intelligence operators, the U.S. prosecutors who file those indictments, who bring those charges, they face the same criticism, right? Well, this is just naming and shaming. This is a purely symbolic act. Why even bother indicting? You`ll actually never get these guys in a court of law.
Well, in this case, today they did. This is a case overseen by the counterintelligence unit of the FBI. This Chinese military officer was arrested in Belgium. He was charged in a sealed indictment. The indictment was unsealed today, and he was extradited to the U.S. Today, he was arraigned in federal court in Ohio.
I mean, charge a foreign military officer, charge a foreign spy, and true, most of the time, you`re not going to get them in a U.S. court, but apparently, sometimes you do. The indictment, criminal information, the documents filed by prosecutors seemed to suggest maybe the way they got him is by keeping the charges against this guy sealed, luring him to Belgium, luring him to a country where we could have extradition under promises, that he might be able to obtain some more of that stolen information he was interested in from the aviation company if he traveled to Belgium. It was all set up, so that he could be nabbed there, and sent to the U.S. and now he`s here on trial.
Also, along somewhat the same lines, we have been watching fast-moving developments today related to the disappearance of "Washington Post" journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Khashoggi is the Saudi journalist who had become a mainstream, fairly moderate critic of the Saudi regime, the Saudi regime with which the Trump administration is so chummy. Jamal entered a Saudi consulate in Turkey last week to do some routine paperwork as a Saudi citizen, but then he disappeared.
And amid absolutely damning reporting now that suggests that a team of more than a dozen Saudi agents were dispatched to that consulate to lay in wait for him there, charges that that Saudi team not only killed Jamal, but may have videotaped it to prove the killing to the Saudi leader, to Muhammad bin Salman, who suspected of ordering the killing, amid reports that that kill team may have used the house of a nearby Saudi official to dispose of the remains. Amid reports that U.S. intelligence may have captured intercepts that overheard Saudi agents and officials discussing the journalist`s murder. Now tonight, a big bipartisan group of U.S. senators has written to the president in a specific way that legally triggers a U.S. investigation of this murder, that legally triggers an investigation into whether or not Saudi officials were involved in this apparent murder of this U.S. resident, Saudi citizen, journalist.
Now, I said this letter is designed to trigger that investigation. This is the mechanism that was created by the Magnitsky Act. This is the mechanism that was created in U.S. law in response to the Russian government torturing and killing its own critics and dissidents at home.
But the Magnitsky Act isn`t specific to Russia, and now that the chairman and the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee have written to the president, under the terms of that law, along with all these senators, the U.S. government, under U.S. law, now has 120 days to investigate, and then if they find culpability, they will need to lay down individual sanctions against anyone responsible.
Again, given how the Trump administration feels about the Saudis and in particularly about the Saudi leader, who is alleged to be behind this killing, that might be a tall order. But, again, tonight the letter has gone. That investigation into Khashoggi`s apparent murder should be triggered under U.S. law. We`ll see how the Trump White House handles that.
As I said, today has been a very busy news day, on top of all the hurricane news. I mean, the stock market fell off a cliff today, the Dow dropped more than 800 points today, led by huge losses in the tech sector.
Also, newly minted Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh today learned that a raft of judicial complaints against him, mostly related to issues with his testimony during his confirmation hearings and the temperament problems and bias that he may have displayed in those hearings, those complaints have now been referred for investigation to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. So this is his fellow judges saying, not his fellow justices on the Supreme Court, it started with his fellow judges on the court he used to sit on, but this is his fellow judges saying these complaints about him warrant investigation. If the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals substantiates these claims against Kavanaugh, it`s not clear how it will affect Kavanaugh`s time on the bench at the Supreme Court. Supreme Court justices tend to sort of be pretty much above the law in terms of their own conduct.
But now, he is the first Supreme Court justice to ever take a seat on that court while his fellow judges recommended that misconduct claims against him are serious enough to warrant judicial review, and now that judicial review will begin in the 10th Circuit.
So, all that is going on tonight. Plus, one other story that I think is potentially really important that just broke in "The Wall Street Journal". We`re going to have "The Journal`s" reporter here live to talk about that in just a few minutes, it relates to the old Peter Smith case, the Republican operative who was trying to pay the Russians to get Hillary Clinton`s e-mail -- big, interesting break in that case today. We`ll have more on that coming up, as well.
So, there`s a lot to keep track of tonight. But, of course, the biggest thing of all is this hurricane. At the storm`s height, wind gusts up to 175 miles per hour. That`s the force of an EF-4 tornado. That makes it the fourth strongest hurricane on record to make landfall in the U.S. ever.
The storm made landfall this afternoon in the town of Mexico Beach in Florida. These shards of wood and debris that you see is all that`s left of one house in Mexico Beach, Florida, after Hurricane Michael came ashore.
In nearby Panama City, the storm`s winds acted like a sandblaster, tearing the roofs off of buildings, tearing buildings down. After the storm passed, this is what it looked like. You can see a lot of trees just snapped in half mid-height there. Usually once a storm makes landfall, it fizzles pretty quickly.
Land is basically kryptonite to hurricanes. But this one, this one instead of falling apart when it hit land, Michael actually still picked up a little speed at landfall, it seems. For hours after landfall at least, it seemed to hold on and hold together. And tonight, the danger is still there.
Joining us now is NBC News meteorologist Bill Karins, who is tracking the hurricane`s progression over the course of today.
Bill, we know that it`s obviously decreased in strength by now, but this has been a remarkable trajectory today and a big swath of destruction.
BILL KARINS, NBC NEWS METEOROLOGIST: We`re almost eight hours after landfall and still dealing with a hurricane in central Georgia, we still have trees that are falling on houses, cars, power lines through Central Georgia, and people are sitting in their homes, hearing the whistling of the winds, and grabbing their kids and their kids, and heading into safe rooms. I mean, that`s just a fact that we`re going to go through.
It is weakening. It`s down to a category 1, but there are still wind gusts up to 70 miles per hour, heavily forested areas, just a ton of trees. That`s the pictures you`re going to see, is all the trees down throughout the region.
So, here`s the latest from the hurricane. Yes, we are down finally to 85- mile-per-hour winds. In a couple of hours, probably sometime around midnight, we`ll drop it down to a tropical storm. We like the fact that it`s moving at 17 miles per hour.
Let`s quickly try to get this out of here as we go throughout the overnight hours. But then again, the faster it moves, the more widespread the wind damage is. You just can`t win with these things anyway.
And overnight tonight, we send it through South Carolina. We wake up tomorrow morning over the top of Augusta. Then we go to North Carolina. By that time, it`s much weaker and will turn into a hybrid type storm, as it heads off to the Norfolk/Virginia Beach area.
And all of this region is going to get drenched by a lot of heavy rain. So, it`s not only the problems of additional wind and trees. We could have some minor flooding to deal with, too.
But I`d say as far as the damage from this storm, we are about 80 percent, maybe 85 percent. We`ve seen most of it. So, here`s the winds throughout tomorrow. This is the potential for tropical storm force winds. Again, we`re targeted in the Carolinas. As far as the rainfall forecast goes, the heaviest rains will be found throughout the night tonight, and then eventually sliding up the east coast.
And I mentioned flood watches up through southern New England. This pink is about four to five inches of rainfall. It`s been a very wet fall and the ground is very saturated. It`s just been a really crazy, historic -- I mean, this thing just intensified so quickly and kept going all the way to landfall. If it had been had two or three more hours over water, it would have been a category 5.
A hundred and fifty mile per hour winds, the strongest hurricane to make landfall in our country since 1992, when Hurricane Andrew came ashore. So, like, I mean, that was 1992, so it was 26 years ago we haven`t seen a storm this strong. And as far as the intensity, the lower pressure, usually the lower pressure, the stronger the storm, this goes down as the third strongest.
And, Rachel, by far, we have never seen anything like this in October. Before this landfall, the strongest was 130-mile-per-hour winds. We were 155. That`s off the charts stronger and more intense.
MADDOW: So we keep breaking terrible records, we keep seeing what everybody talks about as 100-year storms or 500-year storms and floods and all these things happening. I mean, is it -- does it feel like things are more extreme, both with individual storms and in terms of the frequency of extreme events, just because we`re seeing them in close proximity or are things getting worse?
KARINS: That`s what everyone wants to know, did we hit the tipping point?
KARINS: I mean, that`s what everyone wants to know with these storms. I think the message has changed. I think that`s the most important thing. It always used to be, you know, this storm happened because of climate change. You don`t hear that now.
Now, what you hear now is, this storm would have changed. We always had storms in the past. But this storm was stronger than it should be because of climate change. And what they do now is they`ll take this storm, they`ll take a study of it and then they`ll put it in the computers and they`ll actually see, you know, did a warmer planet, did warmer gulf water temperatures make it that much stronger than it normally would have been?
And that`s where the science has taken us. So we`re trying to advance the narrative. So, it`s not just -- did this storm happen because of a warmer planet. It`s -- was this storm worse because of a warmer planet?
MADDOW: And it does seem like the warm waters of the gulf were a factor in terms of the rapid intensification that we keep hearing about with this one.
KARINS: Guaranteed. Now, was that because of a warmer planet? This is usually the peak of the warmth there anyways. In October, we`ve had monster storms in the gulf before. A lot of times they fizzle before they get to land. This one decided not to and we`ll figure out why, you know, in the weeks and months ahead when we study it.
But -- so the water temperature was a little warmer than normal, nothing crazy for this time of year. It just happened to be a perfect ingredient that the wind shear just -- you know, where the jets fly, the winds weren`t tearing apart the thunderstorms, the storm was able to hold itself together and put on an amazing show. Where it hit, you know, we`ve seen the pictures. Panama City, the Tyndall Air Force Base, Mexico Beach, that area was devastated.
Storm chasers that I trusted, that have traveled the world, say, you know, it looks like a bomb went off in those areas. We didn`t even see the worst pictures yet of that region. We`ll see that tomorrow, at daybreak, when the helicopters get up. It will be worse than what we`re showing now.
I mean, we were limited by about two hours of daylight to show you the best we could. But, you k know, there`s a couple of communities that are going to have to make tough decisions on whether to rebuild or not. And Mexico Beach will be one of them.
MADDOW: Uh-huh, especially given now that we have a new understanding of the strength of storm that can hit in that part of the world.
KARINS: That`s the other question, right? Do we rebuild it? If we rebuild it, at what standards?
NBC News meteorologist Bill Karins doing yeoman`s work today. Bill, thank you.
KARINS: Thank you.
MADDOW: Thank you very much.
Now, a long night ahead, but still, much more to get to tonight. Stay with us.
MADDOW: February this year, on the same day that the special counsel`s office unsealed a gigantic indictment of 13 Russian citizens and three Russian companies under the control of an oligarch close to Vladimir Putin, same day as that indictment in the Russia investigation, the special counsel`s office also unsealed a plea agreement from an American who had apparently unwittingly helped out those Russians in their effort to influence the U.S. election.
The American`s name is Richard Pinedo. And what we learned the day of that indictment when they unsealed this plea agreement is that he agreed to cooperate with prosecutors, and agreed to pled guilty to identity theft for his role in the scheme.
Basically, what we learned was that Pinedo had been running an illicit business online where he bought and sold bank account information and helped people set up PayPal accounts using that stolen information. The Russians involved in the online propaganda effort to try to tilt the 2016 election to Donald Trump, they used accounts that they had set up with his help to buy online ads and to pay for other stuff related to their part of the election interference scheme.
Well, today, Richard Pinedo got sentenced for that. He got six months in prison, six months` house arrest and two years` probation after all of that is over. But we also found out at the sentencing hearing today, because we just got the transcript from the hearing, we also found out what happened when the special counsel`s office caught Richard Pinedo in the first place.
So, here`s what happened today at the sentencing. At this point, the judge is asking the prosecutors from the special counsel`s office to explain how much Richard Pinedo helped them as a cooperator, because, of course, the judge needs to factor that in when deciding on the sentence. OK. So, here`s the judge.
Can you elaborate on how he saved you time and resources? Rush Atkinson, the prosecutors, says, quote, in this case, the government asked one agent to go out to California to interview Mr. Pinedo. During that initial interview, Mr. Pinedo admitted his own misconduct, agreed to fly to the District of Columbia, in order to meet with the government. He also arranged for counsel, meaning his lawyer, to come over to the District of Columbia.
In that first meeting, Mr. Pinedo was forthright. He admitted his own misconduct. It was, I would say, frankly, your honor, pretty close to the unvarnished truth, much better than you get in most first interviews with a defendant. He identified how the scheme worked, which the government frankly at the time did not have a full appreciation of, where Mr. Pinedo was getting these bank account numbers that weren`t his own, and then he was able to identify his upstream seller.
He also subsequently at the government`s request, voluntarily produced records that the government didn`t possess related to his contact with upstream sellers. It was chat communications that he had on his own computer. He voluntarily produced those chats as well as made his own computer available.
So that was his own misconduct judge, and I would say that in a normal course, in a normal investigative office, we would assess that Mr. Pinedo had provided substantial assistance vis-a-vis his upstream sellers. If this was just a normal prosecution, he would have identified people above him that were more culpable and he would have led probably to the charges of other individuals.
The judge, did he, in fact, implicate other folks? The prosecutor: He did, your honor. The judge: and the government could pursue them? The prosecutor: It could pursue them. However, given the mandate of the special counsel`s office, the special counsel`s office did not pursue those because they did not relate to our core commission.
The judge: but why can`t they be referred to another U.S. attorney`s office to pursue? The prosecutor: without speaking to what has actually happened ink this case, in the normal course, the special counsel`s office has been referring information like this to other U.S. attorney`s offices to prosecute and investigate.
The judge, is there any question that the information he`s given you is truthful? The prosecutor, we have every reason to believe that the information he has provided is truthful and fully fulsome. The judge: and his information could well lead to future prosecutions? The prosecutor: could well lead, yes, exactly right.
The judge says: and yet, and yet the government will not at any point commit to filing a rule 35 motion, which is one of the ways that you tell the judge it`s OK to let this guy off, he gave us good cooperation.
The prosecutor says, judge, I think rule 35 would be considered down the line. I just don`t think the government can commit at this point, given -- the judge says, no, I understand. The prosecutor says, that`s not to undersell Mr. Pinedo`s cooperation and acceptance of responsibility.
The judge, so he is really prejudiced by being part of this investigation as opposed to a regular U.S. attorney`s investigation. Prosecutor, prejudiced is maybe a little extreme, judge, because there are other instances which the U.S. attorney`s office wouldn`t be interested in the information that Mr. Pinedo provided. But we think a prosecuting office that had a wider ambit, that might possibly be right. And the judge says, without revealing too much, you would provide this information to another office? The prosecutor says, correct, your honor.
So, what are they hinting about here? What is all this I can`t say, I know you can`t say, but what I mean is, that`s what I mean, what is all -- this guy, Richard Pinedo, 23 year old from California, has been selling bogus bank account information online to who knows who from what knows purpose. This guy is here to be sentenced. He has pled guilty. He is cooperating.
The judge needs to figure out how helpful he has been to cooperators -- excuse me, to prosecutors as a cooperating witness. That`s because the judge needs to decide how much of a break he`s going to get on his sentence. The government, for example, is supposed to tell the judge if this guy provided information on bigger criminals than himself, more culpable criminals on himself, things that lead to other prosecutions. That`s the sort of thing that gets you a lighter sentence.
But in this case, this is the special counsel`s office. These are prosecutors who work for Robert Mueller. And so, the prosecutors from the special counsel`s office kind of don`t have normal options like that like normal prosecutors, and they have to pussyfoot around this issue in open court with the judge because they can`t talk about open investigations and cases that haven`t been charged yet. But they basically -- can we put that up again?
Yes, they basically say, because Richard Pinedo gave them information that could be used to prosecute people, people that have crimes on their -- crimes on their conscience, that have nothing to do with what Robert Mueller and the special counsel are investigating, the special counsel can`t prosecute those things. They don`t have a remit to prosecute just anything.
And so, yes, they might have handed off those potential prosecutions to other U.S. attorneys, even though they can`t totally spell that out. But these are prosecutions they can`t undertake themselves because they`re just supposed to be investigating Russian interference in the election.
Quote: the special counsel`s office did not pursue those, because they did not relate to our core mission. So, this is interesting, in terms of the fate of Richard Pinedo today, but also the question of whether or not more prosecutions are going to come, that derive from his help. They can`t say overtly, but that was the big hint in court today and the big worry for Richard Pinedo and his lawyers, realizing if he had been prosecuted in the normal course of events, we might be in a better circumstance here with regard to this sentence and this judge.
Then towards the end of the hearing, the judge says this, Mr. Pinedo, you have the right to make a statement. Is there anything you want to say to the court? The defendant Richard Pinedo says, yes. Hello, your honor. I want to start by telling the court that I take full responsibility for what I`ve done, and what I`ve caused to those who are involved as a result of my actions.
Throughout the life of the business, meaning his online business, I was convinced that the services I was offering put no one at risk, or that I was stealing from anyone. What I now understand is that after all this, that was not the case.
By helping people open fake accounts on PayPal, I was helping them commit fraud and potentially other crimes on many different levels. Never did it cross my mind, though, that the services I would be offering would be used in crimes to the highest degree, as I witness and come to find out through this investigation.
In other words, I didn`t think I was doing anything that wrong. I realize it could have been used by fraudsters and criminals. I didn`t know it was going to be used to sway the presidential election.
Pinedo then explains to the court how difficult his life has been since his guilty plea was unsealed, the loss of privacy, the accusations and threats he`s been facing. Then he says this about his dad, who unfortunately is also named Richard Pinedo.
Quote, what`s even worse is what happened to me, is what my family had to go through, especially my father, who shares the same name and who is also in the court with us today. As a result of him sharing the same name as me, he`s often been mistaken as a person involved in this case. He`s been harassed at work, and there have been clients of his boss who demanded that he`d be fired because he is a traitor to this country. All he`s tried to do is support me, both emotionally and financially through this process, and he does not deserve to be thrown in the mix for what I have done.
I want to apologize for to my entire family for all the grief and pain that my actions have caused. Ever since this whole thing started, I`ve tried to be completely honest. I`ve complied with the FBI and the prosecutors have asked me to do. I testified in front of the grand jury and told them the truth.
I`ve handed over every document and spreadsheet that the FBI asked for. I`ve tried to do everything possible that I can to help in this investigation. I hope that what I`ve done has helped, but I also know nothing I can do can ever fix the mistakes I have made. Your honor, thank you for taking the time to listen to me. Thank you.
The judge says, thank you, Mr. Pinedo, I really appreciate your remarks. The defendant says, thank you. And then the judge says, I will now indicate the sentence to be imposed.
The judge then goes on at length explaining the reasoning behind her sentencing. She says Pinedo deserves credit for his cooperation. She says she can tell that he was remorseful for his actions, but in the end, she says he`s going to jail, six months in federal prison, and then six months` house arrest and two years` probation.
And that`s a lot, but that is sort of the lowest end of what she could give him still within the sentencing guidelines. Still though, that`s the longest sentence yet in the Mueller investigation. And as such, it probably means something to these guys, who are all awaiting their own sentences in the Russia scandal. Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, Trump deputy campaign chairman Rick Gates, Trump national security adviser Mike Flynn, Trump personal lawyer Michael Cohen, all awaiting federal sentencing right now.
Among them, it has to land with a thud that the other cooperator with a guilty plea in this case, the one nobody who has ever heard of, not like them, the bit player, today, he got six months in federal prison -- with the special counsel`s office still not tipping their hand as to which shoes are next to drop, even in cases related to him, and which charges are still to be unveiled.
Watch this space.
MADDOW: As pictures go, this one, I`ve always thought as a little on the nose. Michael Flynn and Vladimir Putin sitting elbow to elbow at a fancy dinner in Moscow. Come on, make it more subtle.
The photo was taken December of 2015. General Flynn was about to take a job at the Trump presidential campaign. Vladimir Putin was working behind the scenes to attack our election to help swing the election in Trump`s favor. It`s all a little obvious.
We`re going on three years now since that picture was taken. Given all that`s happened since then, the picture almost looks weirder by the day that General Flynn -- it looks weirder now than the day that General Flynn was sitting there in Putin with Moscow just ahead of joining the Trump campaign, right? Why would he do that? What was he doing there in Moscow that day?
Tonight, thanks to some new reporting from "The Wall Street Journal," we do know a little bit more about the circumstances there. We now know, for example, what Mike Flynn was doing right before he flew to Moscow to have that dinner. It turns out he was talking to this guy, Peter W. Smith.
Peter Smith was a longtime Republican operative. Last May, he was found death in a hotel room. His death was ruled by authorities as a suicide. Just a few days before Mr. Smith died, he had done an interview with "The Wall Street Journal", in which he somewhat cheerfully told them about a project he`d been working on during the 2016 campaign, trying to track down what he believed were thousands of e-mails that had been hacked from Hillary Clinton`s private e-mail server.
He contacted people who he believed were Russian hackers online to encourage them to get Clinton e-mails, so those emails could be used against Clinton in the election for Trump`s benefit. In other words, Peter Smith, U.S. citizen, volunteered to "The Wall Street Journal" last year that he, as an American citizen, really had tried to collude with Russia to influence the presidential election in Trump`s favor.
Since then, one important question about that story has been -- well, was he just doing this as Peter Smith, private citizen, or was he doing this as an agent of the Trump campaign?
Well, tonight, "The Wall Street Journal" has figured out a piece of that. Tonight, "The Wall Street Journal" adds the somewhat startling news in which the story of General Flynn and that dinner in Moscow and the strange story of Peter Smith and his attempted collusion around Hillary Clinton`s e-mails, those stories kind of come together.
Quoting from "The Journal", quote, a veteran Republican activist whose quest to obtain Hillary Clinton e-mails from hackers dominated the final months of his life, he struck up a professional relationship with Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser to Trump, as early as 2015, and told associates he was using the retired general`s connections to help him on the email project.
Quote: the late Peter Smith met with General Flynn in 2015, according to people familiar with the matter. Quote: In an e-mail reviewed by "The Wall Street Journal", one of Mr. Smith`s former associates wrote to a friend last week, as you are aware, Peter started a business relationship with General Mike Flynn in November 2015. We spoke with him on the day he left for his trip to Moscow.
So that`s what Mike Flynn was doing before he hopped that plane to Moscow. Apparently, he was talking to Peter Smith, the Republican operative who was trying to reach Russian hackers online to get Hillary Clinton`s e-mails. We spoke with him on the day he left for his trip to Moscow.
"The Wall Street Journal" has done incredible reporting on this story. They had been pulling at this thing for more than a year. As has Robert Mueller, the special counsel. He has reportedly questioned witnesses connected to the late Mr. Smith, including at least one before the grand jury. He apparently has a trove of documents and hard drives that belong to Peter Smith.
But, I mean, sort of bottom line here, this one American, now deceased, who cheerfully admitted to colluding with Russia to try to get Hillary Clinton`s e-mails to influence the election, he is dead now. But according to "The Journal`s" reporting, he does appear to have had a real working relationship at the time with someone at the top of the Trump campaign.
What exactly does that mean and what happens next here?
Joining us now is Shelby Holliday. She`s a reporter at "The Wall Street Journal" who was part of breaking this story today.
Ms. Holliday, thank you for being here.
SHELBY HOLLIDAY, REPORTER, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: Thanks for having me.
MADDOW: So, first, let me ask you, did I get any of that wrong?
HOLLIDAY: No. Factually, it was correct.
MADDOW: OK. So, in terms of this e-mail, which says that there was a relationship between Flynn and Mr. Smith in 2015, a sort of crucial time for this timeline, what can you tell us about that e-mail, circumstances of it, and whether you see it as, I guess, hard and fast evidence that that relationship did exist?
HOLLIDAY: Well, the person who wrote the e-mail declined to talk to us. We`d love to speak to him to get more context, hear more about this relationship. But we`ve seen the e-mail and the e-mail led us to believe that yes, in fact, there was a relationship between these two men before Flynn, as you said, took off to Moscow and then later joined the Trump campaign.
We`ve been able to confirm that with sources. We do know that they were in touch in 2015. We don`t know if any business deals came of that. We don`t have any reason to think they did, and we don`t know what they spoke about before Michael Flynn left and hopped on that plane to Russia, we don`t know.
MADDOW: And at the time, Mike Flynn had left the Defense Intelligence Agency under difficult circumstances.
MADDOW: He had formed a private intelligence group, and you suggest in the story that it`s possible that Peter Smith was looking at a potential investment opportunity, maybe wanted to become involved in Flynn`s business.
HOLLIDAY: Right. And Peter Smith was a man who had his hands on a lot of different business. He was an investor. He had a lot of different connections. He was a Republican. His friends describe him as an ardent conservative.
So it would make sense if these two were trying to connect on a business level, that they would have a meeting. Not sure if anything came of it, and again, we don`t know if anything came up related to Hillary Clinton`s e-mails. But we do know that Peter Smith, for a long time, was convinced that Hillary Clinton`s e-mails were out there, that he could get them, and they would be very damaging to her, that they would spill secrets that she didn`t want revealed related to her work in the Obama administration.
MADDOW: Now, the other part of this that has rung for so long, since "The Journal" first broke this story is that Smith kept saying when talking to other people about this project, about his efforts to get Hillary Clinton`s e-mails, he talked about how he was trying to get them, how he was happy to try to get them from Russian hackers, if that`s who had them. But he also bragged about his relationship with the Trump campaign, including, didn`t he brag about having a relationship with Flynn?
HOLLIDAY: Yes, he used Flynn as a person who was helping the effort. So, when he approached investors, that was somebody he said was working on his side.
MADDOW: He dropped his name.
HOLLIDAY: He dropped his name a lot. He also had documents that said Steve Bannon was involved, Kellyanne Conway. Those people have completely denied involvement. Some of them have said, we don`t even know who Peter Smith is, it`s nuts that our name is on these document.
Michael Flynn has declined to comment. He pleaded guilty and he is cooperating with investors, sort of make sense he`s not talking, but he hasn`t pushed back as much. He hasn`t pushed back as fiercely as some of those others in the Trump campaign.
MADDOW: See, that`s -- to me, that`s the super clarifying thing about this story. I followed every incremental development of the story, as "The Journal" has reported. And the reporting team on this has just been amazing.
HOLLIDAY: Thank you.
MADDOW: But for me, this is sort of like we`ve now taken a turn, because without knowing anything about Peter Smith other than his activism, and what we know about what he was doing before he died, him dropping lots of people`s names and saying, I`m in with all these guys, don`t worry, this is totally legit, the Trump campaign actually has me working on this, he might be a crazy dude.
But if there`s corroborating information that when he was dropping Flynn`s name, that might have been about something real, because him and Flynn did actually meet. They did have some sort of ongoing relationship. That implicates at least Flynn, if not the Trump campaign more broadly in what Smith was doing.
HOLLIDAY: Well, yes. And I think that`s a really good point, because he could be a crazy person and some of his friends think he was a deluded old man who was on this crazy mission to get Clinton`s e-mails. But he wasn`t crazy in the way he went about it. He formed a company. It was very secretive. He had a dummy e-mail account. We reported this a couple of days ago, a dummy email account where he had people leave drafts but didn`t want them to send e-mails. Because then they couldn`t be traced.
MADDOW: The old al Qaeda trick.
HOLLIDAY: And he was raising money from at least four donors. We reported that he raised at least $100,000 for these efforts. And the big question is, did he go off and pay hackers? He told "The Journal" that he was in touch with five groups of hackers. Two of them he believed were Russian and had ties to the Kremlin.
So, you know, it raises questions about whether or not he was crazy and if he was very aware of what he was doing and whether or not what he was doing was wrong.
MADDOW: And just to be clear, in terms of following the money here, you guys have now been able to track people, Americans from whom Smith raised money for this project. We don`t yet know if Smith actually sent money to --
HOLLIDAY: To the Russians.
MADDOW: To the Russians or anybody else in order to pay for what he thought he was getting.
MADDOW: Shelby Holliday, reporter for "The Wall Street Journal", keep going. Good luck.
HOLLIDAY: Thank you. Thanks for having me.
MADDOW: Thank you. It`s great to have you here.
All right. We`ll be right back. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Georgia`s hard-line conservative secretary of state has been kind of a pioneer in ways to make voting harder in Georgia. His office has been really gung-ho about canceling people`s voter registrations in that state. His office canceled over 600,000 voter registrations last year alone. Think about that. Six hundred thousand people who thought they were registered, he canceled them.
They have been closing voting precincts, often in poor and minority districts. He`s been doing this kind of thing since we started covering him years ago. This year, however, that hard line elections official, that Republican secretary of state, Brian Kemp, is not just the state of Georgia`s hard line top elections official. This year, he`s also running for the state`s highest office.
Republican Secretary of State Brian Kemp is running against Democrat Stacey Abrams to become Georgia governor this year. And that means that Secretary of State Brian Kemp is now in charge of an election in which he`s running at the top of the ticket. What could possibly go wrong?
Tonight, "The Associated Press" reports that more than 53,000 voter registration applications are sitting in a desk drawer at the Georgia secretary of state`s office, on hold. So, these are applications from people who are trying to register to vote this year. Many of these tens of thousands of voter applications are being held and not processed by Kemp`s office, because of a system he`s implemented called exact match, which means if you, like, you know, drop a hyphen in your last name or somebody`s election office types in your information with one letter wrong, so it doesn`t match information already on file with the state, well, your application is put on hold indefinitely. And the state doesn`t tell you how to fix it, if it even tells you the application is on hold at all.
You may or may not be surprised to hear that the system of exact matching affects certain groups of Georgians more than others. Quote: An analysis of records obtained by the A.P. reveals racial disparity in the process. Georgia`s population is approximately 32 percent black. But the list of voter registrations on hold with Kemp`s office is nearly 70 percent black.
Oh, it`s affecting black Georgians at more than double the rate of their prevalence in the population. This would be a flashing red light story less than a month out from any election, but especially approaching the Georgia governor`s race. Polls in that race show a toss-up, 53,000 votes is a lot of votes in a race that close. And again, these are people who have filled out the application, who are trying to be registered to vote. Many of these people may not even know that their effort was not successful.
The Democratic candidate, Stacey Abrams, the first black woman major party nominee for governor in American history, particularly her campaign strategy explicitly depends on turning out black voters and registering new voters and her opponent Brian Kemp is the Republican secretary of state who`s holding up 53,000 voter applications in his office.
You know, past Georgia secretaries of state who have run for governor have stepped down from being secretary of state in order to run, because it`s a bad look to be in charge of your own election, right? But Brian Kemp, he`s not stepping down, he`s staying in charge, saying everything is just fine, you can absolutely trust him.
If you are a Georgia voter and your registration is in limbo on Election Day, you can still cast a provisional ballot, which I suppose maybe counted eventually once your application is processed, if it is processed. But this is the situation in Georgia right now 26 days before the election. And honestly this is outrageous enough, it seems almost impossible that the courts will allow this to stand.
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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Try to let everybody know I`m all right. I mean, it`s stressful. I`m all right, though. This is what it is. By the grace of God, I`m still here.
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MADDOW: As Hurricane Michael barreled through the Florida panhandle today, 155-mile-an-hour winds. One of things that happened just in the news gathering process today is that it was really challenging for us here at MSNBC and NBC News to even transit videos that our crews were taking on the scene to get those back here to headquarters so those tapes could be broadcast. Conditions were just too terrible to send a lot of the footage back.
But on the ground, residents of the panhandle did their best to do their own documenting. Even as they reckon in real time, with the destruction of their own homes and their own neighborhoods, Kanisha Clark (ph) of Panama City, you just saw at the top there, she told NBC News tonight that she`s ridden out many hurricanes in her lifetime, and she said this one was different and she will not stay for the next one.
Streets are all torn up from the ferocious winds. A lot of houses have not fared much better. Hurricane Michael is on its way into Georgia right now as a category one storm. But the aftermath of the panhandle is bad.
Officials in Tallahassee, the state`s capital, are telling everybody to stay inside until daylight. They`re saying downed trees and power lines are still blocking roadways there and they don`t want anybody outside.
Bay County includes Panama City, which was hit very hard. A curfew is in effect there until tomorrow morning. At daybreak tomorrow, we presumably will have a fuller picture as to how much damage exactly this fast moving hurricane wrought today.
But what it left behind on the panhandle, we can already tell it is bad. Watch this space.
MADDOW: This is a day where the hurricane in the Southeast is, of course, dominating the news. But it`s also a day which I didn`t really expect. But there`s also a day in which there`s been a lot of other breaking news on top of that.
So, I want to thank you for being with us so far tonight. You will want to stay with us throughout the night tonight.
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